Saturday, August 08, 2009
Thank God for Jeph Loeb. His superb authorship of the "Hush" Batman story arc resurrected one of the great villains of comics. The Riddler is proof that what makes great comics does not always make great cinema. Frank Gorshun's TV Riddler was great television in the 60's and Jim Carrey's movie depiction was firmly rooted in Gorshun, even if over-the-top which is saying something for Carrey. But both rendered the character too silly for the printed page. Prior to "Hush," the Riddler had all but disappeared from the pages of the comics. Which was a shame because he certainly is an iconic image of the genre.
As conceived, The Riddler was a villain who created puzzles for the World's Greatest Detective (Batman) to solve. This made him a mainstay of the Comics Code days when Batman was not nearly so dark as he is today. The problem which confronted writers was how to turn such a villain dark as Batman returned to his own dark roots. He became a simply murdered with OCD about riddles as clues left at the scene - BORING!
Loeb returned him to greatness by making him a manipulative schemer. His riddles were now writ large in the plots he was behind. This is one of the greatest creative feats in the history of comics as far as I am concerned. Since "Hush," the Riddler as turned "good" - often helping Bats solve crimes for only the Riddler has the problem solving chops to match Bats, since only he could stump him. It's a thing of beauty.
In this case, Edward Nigma is, literally, so bad that he became good.
Friday, August 07, 2009
Today many value "honesty" and "openness," and it is argued that we should ventilate our feelings or else risk damaging ourselves by bottling them up. We are also told that cynicism is wise, and we should not be gullible, but instead critical. The truth is, little thought is given to how giving full vent to the evil that is bottled up in our hearts might damage others. The Bible instead repeatedly tells us to control ourselves. The following series of proverbs challenged me, and I want to try and live my life by them more and more in the future.Being Christian is not a psychoanalytical experience. How many small groups have you been in that were little more than self-directed group therapy with Bible verses quoted? Now, don't get me wrong - part of helping your brother or sister Christian is to help them deal with their emotions - but the church is more.
It seems to me that Adrian has really hit on something here. As Christians, we are not here to just help people "deal" with their emotions, but to help them "control" them. And no, for you snickering Trekkers out there, I do not mean we need to practice Kolinahr.
But like all things in our lives, we must sacrifice our emotional states at the Throne of Grace and allow God to rule over them. I really like the fact that Adrian points out that our emotional vomit can hurt others. How often we forget that. And yet, are we not admonished in scripture to "count others as more important than ourselves"?
I am reminded of a post by Jollyblogger a while back.
For most of my Christian life I believed that the mind was to rule the emotions, emotions are untrustworthy and must be disciplined by the mind. That bubble was burst when I learned about the noetic effects of sin. "Noetic" comes from the Greek word which is transliterated in English as "nous" and it means mind. The noetic effects of sin are the effects of sin on the mind. In other words, our minds have been corrupted by sin as has the rest of our being. Thus, it behooves us to ask why we think our minds are any more trustworthy than our emotions.AMEN!
In Psalm 73 the Psalmist describes all of these negative emotions but does not repent of them nor indicate in any way that they are sinful. They just are, but in saying that they just are, that doesn't mean that they are left unattended or untouched by the word of God.
They "are" but they "are" to be disciplined by God's Word. In Psalm 73 there is a higher principle guiding the Psalmist than his emotions, it is his knowledge of the character and ways of God. While he does not chastize the emotions he does not allow those emotions to govern his understanding of God nor his obedience to God.
There is a "higher principle" that can guide us so that we are not governed by our minds or emotions and that is the Word of God as ministered to us by the Holy Spirit. Of course we process the Word of God through our minds and emotions but we must always be ready to let the word of God challenge our thinking and feeling.
Thursday, August 06, 2009
When we die to ourselves, we live better here and we live forever with God! What’s not to like about that deal?I love the fact that Mark challenge both his parishioners and his congregation in this sermon. It set me to wondering how many good, godly people get together and build worldly congregations?
A young man approached a friend of his who had been telling him all about Jesus Christ. “If I follow Jesus,” he wondered, “will I have to give up the things I love?” “No,” the friend replied, “but if you follow Jesus Christ, God will change the things you love.” Are you engaged in the daily discipline of letting God change the things you love so that you can daily move toward becoming who God made you to be?
Dying to self in order to follow Jesus will change our priorities. We love the things God loves. We love the people God loves.
C.S. Lewis once said, “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God ‘Thy will be done’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right then, have it your way.’”
You and I have been given an awesome freedom by God. We can live for ourselves in this moment and die forever. God gives us that freedom. Or we can die to this world’s claims on us, live for Jesus Christ alone, and so, live with God forever.
You know the choice that our gracious, loving God wants us to make. I hope and pray it’s the choice we always make, as a congregation and as individuals each and every day!
It's so easy to do. We have a lot of words about how to be good, godly people. We have the Sermon on the Mount - We have the Decalogue - We have that wonderful list of fruits of the Spirit. But we have no similar guidelines for for churches. When it comes to churches, the rules are straighforward:
- Go and make disciples
- Some of you are good at some things and some at others - do what you are good at and let them do what they are good at.
That, dear friends, is about it. So what can we learn from this minimalist set of instructions on how to be and do church? May I suggest perhaps more than we realize.
Maybe, just maybe, the reason we have so much about how we as individuals are supposed to be, and so little about how we, as a group, are supposed to be is because if we are right as individuals, the whole group thing will work it self out on its own?! Which therefore, sets the first priority of the group - help us as individuals to become true disciples.
So many today view the church not as a body of Christ, but as a purely reproductive organ. Yet think for a minute how self-serving that is. The church exists to build the church. That is pretty much the definition of self-focus. (Mark even uses an appropriate illustration to this in his sermon, please if you have not yet followed the link, do so and read the whole thing.)
I know too many people that have died to themselves, but only so far as they have given of themselves to the church. And yet, they control the church so how much have the really died to themselves? You see, the real lesson here is not that we die to self, but that we die. The rest of it is up to God, wholly and completely.
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
How To Change The World
Is it the responsibility of the Church to transform governments to follow our values (i.e. school prayer, abortion, the definition of marriage)? Or is it our responsibility to introduce people to Jesus who is the only one who can transform hearts?There are all sorts of levels on which to attack this question. The clear narrative of scripture, from OT policy making to NT redemption would indicate the later choice. But yet, have you ever really considered the fact that the OT as necessary preparation for the NT story to take hold? Why did God send the Flood way back when - why wait so many millennia to send Jesus? Could Noah not have dealt with Christ? Surely we must conclude that there were certain necessary conditions that the policy-based approach of the OT made for the graceful message of the NT to be as effective as God wanted it. Let's call it "pre-evangelism."
Pre-Evangelism is a term that C.S. Lewis used concerning his first series of talks of the four series that comprise Mere Christianity. Lewis had a very specific idea of what those necessary conditions were, and I shall leave it up to you dear reader, to figure them out for yourself. I would suggest The Abolition of Man as Lewis' definitive statement of the conditions.
What I would like to consider in this post is the fact that while establishing the Kingdom is indeed the work of the church and not government, if we are to take our cues from the biblical narrative, then there must still be a role for policy based action as Christians. For it would appear that it is through policy based action that the pre-evangelistic conditions are established.
The religiously motivated politically active community stands at a brink. Indeed, we have blown it. Politically we are a very low ebb, on the brink of extinction. There is much talk of abandoning the field of play, of declaring the political experiment of the last few decades a mistake.
This would be wrong. Rather we need to refocus. There have been mistakes made, mostly by trying to do the church's work in the political arena. What we need to do is refocus. We need to do pre-evangelism in politics so we can do evangelism in society.
And the need was never greater....
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
Putting "Global Warming" Into Context
Do You Validate?
Sometimes we will never be validated, justified, or recognized as being right by anyone but God. The scriptures depict many righteous men and women being falsely accused. Sometimes they are vindicated, and sometimes, from an earthly perspective, they are not."Vindication," "Validation," and words like them are words for feeling justified, and for "feeling good about ourselves." Two very quick points.
Consider Joseph. Potiphar’s wife had accused him, but he was an innocent man. Yet, she had his garment, and he had probably been seen running away. She was royalty, he was a slave – it would be her word against his. So there was a claim by a more credible person of reputation, there was the physical evidence, and perhaps other personal witnesses to his fleeing the scene of the supposed crime. By all appearances, it would seem Joseph was guilty.
We always talk of how Joseph was vindicated, how he rose to fame and power, how he got out of the pit, out of the prison, and into Pharaoh’s highest courts. He was vindicated before his father and his brothers. However, we may have forgotten that Potiphar never saw him as right. There may be people who you will never look right to, no matter what you do with your life. Sometimes, you might have to let the garment go.
First, Christ justifies us whether we "feel" that way or not. What's amazing is that we are justified, even when we behave unjustly. That is the nature of God's grace. We do not "feel" justified because our lives to not line up with the reality of the justification we have received. You want to "feel" justified, all you need to do is work towards that alignment.
Which leads me to my second point, note how incredibly self-centered that is. You see, the biggest step we can take towards the alignment is to quit worrying about how we "feel" and start worrying about Christ and others.
To often we talk in church about how to make people feel good about themselves so they will be drawn to the church. What a wrong headed way to go about this whole thing.
Monday, August 03, 2009
A storm brews over West Los Angeles in February. Despite storms last winter, California remains in a drought and experts now recommend the state take steps to prepare for the effects of climate change.And yet, as Hugh Hewitt pointed out last week by linking to this story:
This is not a story about fish. Rather, it is a story about how efforts to save the fish through a court-ordered water shortage have pushed a region already brought to the brink by recession over the edge. [emphasis added]In this instance rainfall and drought are completely unrelated - and it sucks.
Working Like A Christian
Vocation isn't so much about what I do, but about what God does through me. Vocation is nothing less than the theology of the Christian life. God calls us to live out our faith in the world, in the ordinary-seeming realms of the family, the workplace, and the culture. The purpose of every vocation is to love and serve our neighbors, whom God brings to us in our everyday callings. Wingren shows that vocation is also about God's presence in the world--which He providentially cares for through ordinary people, believers and non-believers alike--and about Christ's presence in our neighbor. Luther's exposition of vocation is imminently practical, offering a framework for how Christians can work out their problems in their various callings. It is the key to successful marriages and effective parenting. It also solves that much-vexed question for evangelicals today of how they are to interact with the culture.To me it seems that somewhere something is broken in how we do Christianity if it is necessary to bring "spiritual significance into the realm of the ordinary." If faith, religion, spirituality does not sink deeply into my everyday life, then what good is it? - It is just more crap to fill up my existence.
Reading Wingren's book was one of those paradigm-shifting moments for me. It turned my life and how I see my life--its meaning, value, and purpose--upside down. It brought spiritual significance into the realm of the ordinary, where I live most of the time. I am convinced that recovering the Reformation doctrine of vocation--specifically, Luther's version--is a key not only in bringing Christianity back to the culture but bringing Christianity back into the everyday lives of contemporary Christians. [emphasis added]
And yet, we work so hard to design our ministries to be just that - more stuff to put into an already crowded life.
One of the reasons this happens is because we have not discovered this deep spiritual reality for ourselves. The church in America has grown so much to be about reproduction that it has forgotten the rest of its natural functions. We cannot teach what we do not know.
There have been many stories lately about how self-identifying Christians are on the decline. "Sprituality" yes, "Church" no - seems to be the buzz word. Could that be because we have been found out? Have the finally figured out that its all just window dressing?
The question is how will we respond? Will we run around in a panic looking for the next big thing to get the pews full again, or will we take a moment and try to figure this whole thing out? Maybe discover how to make faith relevant to common existence.
Sunday, August 02, 2009
Sermons and Lessons
They need not depart; give ye them to eat - Matthew 14:16
Some folks do not believe in miracles. I do. A denial of miracles is a denial of the virgin birth of Jesus. The Christian religion stands or falls on the virgin birth of Christ. God created Adam and Eve without human agencies. He could and did create Jesus supernaturally. I place no limit on what God can do. If you begin to limit God, then there is no God.
I read of a preacher who said that the miracles of the Bible were more of a hindrance than a help. Then he proceeded to spout his insane blasphemy. He imagined Jesus talking to the five thousand and like many speakers overrunning his time limit. The disciples, seeing night coming, said: “Master, you have talked this crowd out of their supper and there is nothing to eat in this desert place; dismiss them so they can go into the towns and country and get food.”
He imagined Jesus saying: “We have some lunch, haven’t we?”
“Yes, but not enough to feed this crowd.”
“Well, let’s divide it up and see.” So, Jesus proceeds to divide his lunch with the hungry crowd.
An old Jew, seeing Jesus busy, asked, “What’s he doing?” “Dividing his lunch.” “Huh,” grunts this old knocker, “he is the first preacher I’ve ever seen who practices what he preaches.” Shamed by the example of Jesus, this old tightwad brought out his lunch basket and began to divide. Others caught the spirit and followed suit and in this way the five thousand were fed. This heretic of a so-called preacher thought such an occurrence more reasonable than the Bible account. Every attempt to explain the miracles by natural laws gets the explainer into great difficulty and shows him up as ridiculous.
I wish to draw some practical lessons from this miracle of Jesus feeding the five thousand. The world is hungry. Jesus stood face to face with the problem of physical hunger just as we in our day face the problem of hunger, not only physical but spiritual, If one were to believe all the magnificent articles in current and religious literature, one would think the world is disgusted and indifferent to the religion of Jesus Christ. I believe exactly the opposite is true. In no century since the morning stars sang together has there been more real hunger for genuine religion than this. And yet, many a preacher, in stead of trying to feed this spiritual hunger, is giving some book review; staking a claim out on Jupiter or talking evolution, trying to prove we came from a monkey with his prehensile tail wrapped around a limb shying coconuts at his neighbor across the alley. The world is not disgusted with religion, but is disgusted with the worldliness, rituals, ceremonies and non-essentials in which we have lost religion.
There are some kinds of religion the world is not hungry for
A religion of formal observances. In Isaiah, first chapter, the Lord says: “To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices? I am full of the burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts. Incense is an abomination unto me; your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth. When you make prayers, I will not hear them. Your hands are full of blood. Put away the evil of your doings; cease to do evil, learn to do well.”
Their formalism didn’t make a hit with the Lord. He saw through their smoke screen. Religion does not consist in doing a lot of special things, even if branded as religious, but in doing everything in a special way as the Lord directs. Whenever the church makes its observances and forms the end instead of the means to the end, the world will turn its back on it.
Praying is not an act of devotion - reading the Bible is not an act of devotion - going to church is not an act of devotion - partaking of the communion is not an act of devotion; these are aids to devotion. The actual religion lies not in prayer, reading the Bible, church attendance but in the quality of life which these observances create in you. If the doing of these things does not change your life, then ft profits you nothing to have them done. Thousands forget religion and allow the forms of religion to take the place of religion. They are substituting religiousness for righteousness. Jesus alone can save the world, but Jesus can’t save the world alone. He needs our help.
The world is not hungry for a religion of theory. There was a time when people were interested intensely in fine-spun theological theories. You could announce a debate on the forms of baptism and pack the house with the S.R.O. sign hanging out. That day has passed; a debate on baptism or predestination would not draw a corporal’s guard. The average man has not lost interest in the vital truths connected with these topics, but he has lost interest in the type of religion that spends its energy in argument, word battles, and wind jamming. Religion should relate to life and conduct as well as theory
There has never been a time in my memory when religion has been so reduced to forms and ritual as today. In the mind of Jesus religion was not to build up the church, but the church was to build up religion. Religion was not the end but the means to the end. Jesus was so far removed from the formalism and traditions taught by the priests instead of teaching the commands of God that he was constantly at cross-purposes with them. A church of make-believers will soon beget a generation of non-believers.
The church in endeavoring to serve God and Mammon is growing cross-eyed, losing her power to know good from evil. Jesus dealt with fundamentals; his quietest talk had a torpedo effect on his hearers. Some sermons instead of being a bugle call to service are showers of spiritual cocaine. I am satisfied that there has never been a time when ft is harder to live a consistent Christian life than now. I believe the conflict between God and the Devil, right and wrong, was never hotter. The allurements oft have never been more fascinating. I do not believe there ever was a time since Adam and Eve were turned out of Eden when traps and pitfalls were more nu¬merous and dangerous than today.
The world is not hungry for a religion of social service without Christ. I will go with you in any and all movements for the good of humanity providing you give Jesus Christ his rightful place. You cannot bathe anybody into the kingdom of God. You cannot change their hearts by changing their sanitation. It is an entirely good and Christian act to give a down-and-outer a bath, bed and a job. It is a Christian act to maintain schools and universities, but the road into the kingdom of God is not by the bath tub, the university, social service, or gymnasium, but by the blood-red road of the cross of Jesus Christ.
The Bible declares that human nature is radically bad and the power to uplift and change is external; that power is not in any man, woman or system, but by repentance and faith in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ. The church is the one institution divinely authorized to feed the spiritual hunger of this old sin-cursed world.
You will notice that Jesus did not feed the multitude. He created the food and asked his disciples to distribute it. Jesus was the chef, not the waiter at this banquet. Jesus created salvation, the only food that will feed the spiritual hunger of the world; the task of distributing the food is in the hands of his human followers.
For every two nominal Christians, there are three who are not even nominal. Out of every two church members, one is a spiritual liability; four out of five with their names on our church records are doing nothing to bring the world to Jesus. There are twenty million young men in this country between the ages of sixteen and thirty. Nineteen million are not mem¬bers of any church; nine million attend church occasionally; ten million never darken a church door. Seventy-four per cent of our criminals are young men under twenty-one years of age. In the past twenty-five years the age of prostitutes has fallen from twenty-six years of age to seventeen years of age. Five hundred girls fifteen years old and under were divorced or widowed last year. Juvenile crime increased in one year from thirty-two per cent to a hundred and thirty-eight per cent.
There are many institutions that enter into competition with the church in preaching certain phases of religion, but not in preaching religion itself Associate charities preach charity sometimes with stronger emphasis than the church. Some organizations talk about justice and square dealing with more vehemence than the church. Some individuals thunder against vice and crime more than the pulpit. Many institutions and organizations preach one or more phases of religion, but it is to the church humanity must ever turn for the last word on salvation and eternal destiny.
People are dissatisfied with philosophy, science, new thought - all these amount to nothing when you have a dead child in the house. These do not solace the troubles and woes of the world. They will tell you that when they were sick and the door of the future was opening in their face, the only comfort they could find was in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Christianity is the only sympathetic religion that ever came into the world, for it is the only religion that ever came from God.
Take your scientific consolation into a room where a mother has lost her child. Try your doctrine of the survival of the fittest with that broken-hearted woman. Tell her that the child that died was not as fit to live as the one left alive. Where does that scientific junk lift the burden from her heart? Go to some dying man and tell him to pluck up courage for the future. Try your philosophy on him; tell him to be confident in the great to be and the everlasting what is it. Go to that widow and tell her it was a geological necessity for her husband to croak. Tell her that in fifty million years we will all be scientific mummies on a shelf - petrified specimens of an extinct race. What does all this stuff get her? After you have gotten through with your science, philosophy, psychology, eugenics, social service, sociology, evolution, protoplasms, and fortuitous concurrence of atoms, if she isn’t bug-house, I will take the Bible and read God’s promise, and pray - and her tears will be dried and her soul flooded with calmness like a California sunset.
Is the church drawing the hungry world to its tables? There is no dodging or blinking or pussy-footing the fact that in drawing the hungry world to her tables, the church is facing a crisis. That there is a chasm between the church and the masses no one denies. If the gain of the church on the population is represented by eighty during the past thirty years, during the last twenty years it is represented by four, and during the past ten years it is represented by zero. The birth rate is going on a limited express while the new birth rate is going by way of freight.
Need the world turn to other tables than those of the church for spiritual food? Jesus said, “They need not depart; give ye them to eat.” The church has the power and the food with which to feed the hungry world. It can feed the spiritual hunger of the world by doing what Jesus did when he fed the five thousand. By a wise use of what it has on hand with the blessing of God upon it, what has the church on hand with which to feed the hungry world! It has two things:
A set of principles which if put into practice in the life of the individual and society and business and politics will solve every difficulty and problem of city, state, nation, and the world. There is no safer or saner method to settle all the world’s problems than by the sermon on the mount. These principles are truth, justice, and purity. It has a person who has the power to create and make powerful these principles in the lives of men and women and that person is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
Many skeptics have said, “Bill, if you will only preach the principles of Christianity instead of the Person, we will find no fault with you.” Nothing doing, old top! Wherever a preacher or a church preaches a set of principles without the person Jesus Christ, that ministry, that church, becomes sterile and powerless. Truth is never powerful unless wrapped up in a person. I take truth and wrap it up in Christ and say, “Take it!” You say, “Give me truth but no Christ.” Then you will be lost. You are not saved by truth but by the person Jesus Christ. Why take truth and reject Christ when it’s Christ that inspires truth?
I take justice and wrap Christ up with it and say, “Here, take it.” You say, “I will take justice. I deal squarely in business, pay my debts, give labor a square deal; I take justice but not your Christ.” You are lost. Why take justice and cast Christ away when it is Christ that inspires justice.
I take purity and wrap it up with Jesus and say, “Here, take this.” You say, “I will take the principle purity but not the person Jesus Christ.” Then you are lost, for it is Christ that saves, not the principle of purity. “One thing thou lackest,” the person Jesus.
Other religions have preached good things, but they have no Savior who can take these things and implant them in the human heart and make them grow. All other religions are built around principles, but the Christian religion is built around a person Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Savior. Every other religion on earth is a religion you must keep, but the Christian religion saves you, keeps you, and presents you faultless before his throne. Oh, Christians! Have you any scars to show that you have fought in this conflict with the devil? When a war is over, heroes have scars to show; one rolls back his sleeve and shows a gunshot wound; another pulls down his collar and shows a wound on the neck; another says, “I never had use of that leg since Gettysburg”: another says, “I was wounded and gassed at the Marne in France.” Christ has scars to show - scars on his brow, on his hands, on his feet, and when he pulls aside his robes of royalty, there will be seen the scar on his side.
When the Scottish chieftains wanted to raise an army, they would make a wooden cross, set it on fire and carry it through the mountains and the highlands among the people and wave the cross of flame and the people would gather be¬neath the standard and fight for Scotland. I come out with the cross of the son of God—it is a flaming cross, flaming with suffering, flaming with triumph, flaming with victory, flaming with glory, flaming with salvation for a lost world!