Saturday, April 13, 2013


Comic Art


How have we gone all of this time and missed talking about Marvel uber-villain Sabretooth? Named one of the top 50 baddies of all time, how could this oversight have occurred? What injustice as resulted in us not talking about the baddest of the bad, the meanest of the mean - Sabretooth?

Uh, maybe,just maybe, its because Toothy-boy is a direct rip-off copy cat, wannabe, always loser version of Wolverine, not to mention arch-nemesis of same. In some universes the two characters are brothers, one gone good and one gone bad.

I am sure literary types are going to tell me that tell me that these two characters represent an exploration of the line between good and evil. that two brothers so alike, yet one clearly evil and one clearly good help us to understand the very nature of right and wrong. And yet, it is therein that I find the real problem. Wolverine is "Cool," but I do not like him. That he and Batman represent the pinnacle of comic characters at the moment - two characters bound not by shining brightly as examples of good, as does Superman and as Spider-man used to, but as characters on the edge, dark, and just one slip of the weapon away from murder. Wolverines redemption story does make him far more compelling that the current versions of Batman, but the edge remains the same.

And Sabretooth? Well, Sabretooth is nothing but a foil for Logan to explore that edge to it's finest razor sharpness. I have said many times now that the Bats foil, Joker, is so evil that he should be killed. Bats failure to kill him in my mind is the place where Bats crosses over the edge into evil. To allow evil to stand is to participate in evil. Much the same can be said for Logan's unwillingness to put his animalistic brother down once and for all. These two do not explore the line between good and evil - they obliterate.
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Friday, April 12, 2013


Everyday God

A new writer at iMonk laments:
We live in a culture that celebrates the extraordinary, especially extraordinary people. Athletes, rock stars, actors, actresses, and even those who are famous for being famous have our barely divided attention. We single out the best in just about everything and then they become the benchmark for significance and meaning.

And Christians are not immune. The church has its own celebrities and we have been pointing to them time out of mind because of the extraordinary things they have done in the cause of Christ.

The church is awash in the belief that the extraordinary acts of faith – missions, vocational ministry, street evangelism – are our marks of meaning and significance.
“Do something radical. Or crazy. Whatever you do, don’t be ordinary. Because, obviously, you cannot live a mundane life unto God.”

I wish I had looked in the eyes of homemakers and electricians, accountants and actuaries, farmers and physical therapists and told them differently.

I wish with all my heart I had.

I wish I had asked them to read through Paul and Peter and the letters of John and see the stark reverse of extraordinary. The only thing that looks extraordinary in the recipients of these letters is that they believe at all. For the whole world is against them.

I wish I had told them that the most extraordinary thing they can do is be content with an ordinary life.

I wish I had told them to kick pop culture in the teeth and be a nobody.

I wish I had told them to trust the God who created them and then saved them. I wish I had told them the first vocation was gardener not pastor. I wish I had told them all work – even the most boring work you can imagine – can be kingdom work.

I wish I had told them that if you are trying to live a radical life, you will never be radical enough. And how would you know if you were?

I wish I had told them there is a God of the mundane.

As someone who, like the writer, is a former ministry professional, I have to share in this sentiment deeply. I will repeat something I have said here often. If God meant to change the world through the extraordinary, Christ would have come now when communication technology would have allowed him to reach far and wide. Or Christ would have appeared then not as a small man in a small place, but as a vision to all humanity. But he did neither of these things. He came to change the world one person at a time. Pretty mundane, but for real change, the only effective way.
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Thursday, April 11, 2013


Why Are They So Much More Committed

An interesting statistic from Ed Stetzer:
The Christians are particularly devout: Three out of four Asian-American evangelical Protestants (76%) say they attend church weekly, compared with 64% of U.S. white evangelicals.
Why would Asians be so much more devout than white Americans? Let me throw out one idea.
For them, Christianity is a new thing, not necessarily part of their culture. They must cling to it in a sort of defiance of the expected norm. This same thing could be said about Mormons who are also generally extremely devout and outside the cultural norm.

As we seek to transform our culture to a Godly one, we might want to consider that such is a two-edged sword.

Christianity was born and flourished in counter-point to the culture of Rome. Christianity sunk into a morass until the Reformation and the subsequent breakout to America.
God does not want to change culture. He wants to change us and have culture follow.
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Wednesday, April 10, 2013


Letting Go The Right Way

Justin Taylor recounts a book introduction by J.I Packer that is a powerful argument against some aspects of Pentecostalism:
Whether what I thought I heard was what was really being said may be left an open question, but it seemed to me that what I was being told was this. There are two sorts of Christians, first-class and second-class, ‘spiritual’ and ‘carnal’ (a distinction drawn from the King James rendering of 1 Cor. 3:1-3). The former know sustained peace and joy, constant inner confidence, and regular victory over temptation and sin, in a way that the latter do not. Those who hope to be of use to God must become ‘spiritual’ in the stated sense. As a lonely, nervy, adolescent introvert whose new-found assurance had not changed his temperament overnight, I had to conclude that I was not ‘spiritual’ yet. But I wanted to be useful to God. So what was I to do?

‘Let go, and let God’
There is a secret, I was told, of rising from carnality to spirituality, a secret mirrored in the maxim: Let go, and let God.


What I seemed to be hearing, however, was a call to deny personal self, so that I could be taken over by Jesus Christ in such a way that my present experience of thinking and willing would become something different, an experience of Christ himself living in me, animating me, and doing the thinking and willing for me.


At that time I did not know that Harry Ironside, sometime pastor of Moody Memorial Church, Chicago, once drove himself into a full-scale mental breakdown through trying to get into the higher life as I was trying to get into it; and I would not have dared to conclude, as I have concluded since, that this higher life as described is a will-o’-the-wisp, an unreality that no one has ever laid hold of at all, and that those who testify to their experience in these terms really, if unwittingly, distort what has happened to them.

Now, I am not prepared to go so far as to declare all experiences of this sort as distorted, but I agree whole-heartedly that thy are "will-o’-the-wisp," they are not ours to control, they are God's. When WE attempt to replicate that which can only come from God, then we are not in fact relinquishing any control at all.

Secondly, I agree that our created nature was to have a self and it is that self that God chooses to perfect, not subsume. There is a difference between reliance and sublimation.
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Tuesday, April 09, 2013


An Unusual Measure of Mercy

Jon Bloom @ DG:
God is merciful not to tell us everything. He tells us enough to sustain us if we trust him. But often it does not feel like enough. We really think we would like to know more.


God is also a wise Father who knows when knowledge is too heavy for us. He is not being deceptive when he does not give us the full explanation. He is carrying our burdens (1 Peter 5:7). If we think our burdens are heavy, we should see the ones he’s carrying. The burdens he gives to us to carry are light (Matthew 11:30).

God is very patient and merciful with us. Someday, when we are older and stronger, he will let us carry more of the burden of knowledge. But until then let us happily keep letting him carry our burdens.

I hate not knowing - I really hate it. Many is the time in my life I have forced people into saying very ugly things to me when they were trying to save me the hurt, becasue I hate not knowing.

The truth contained in Bloom's words is one of the hardest facts of Christianity that I know of. "I'm there God, but what's the plan? I can make better decisions if I know where we are going. Just let me know, I'll handle it from there." But that is the issue really - we are not supposed to "handle it from there." We are supposed, very much, to do as we are told. We, limited creations that we are, are not capable of understanding the plan. And God, Infinite Creator that He is, is completely trustworthy. And in the end, those two facts are the entire lesson.

The sooner we come to grips with our limited nature, the sooner we can get about trusting God, and finding the contentment He promises.

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Monday, April 08, 2013


Who Is The Bible About?

Sally Lloyd-Jones @ DG quotes "The Jesus Storybook Bible":
That the Bible isn’t mainly about me, and what I should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done.
How often we confuse those things. The old fall back Bible study question, "What does that passage mean to you?" Has become, in essence, "How is this passage ABOUT you?" But it is not about you or about me - it's about God.

Scripture is sometimes self-revelatory, sometime not, but it is always revelatory. It ALWAYS revels God and His ordering of and plan for creation. In reading scripture we are learning our place in that plan and order, but that plan and order is not about us.

That is a vitally important distinction we have been forgetting.
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Sunday, April 07, 2013


Special Sunday Reprint - Good Friday Reflections

I wrote this post for my church's Lenten blog and it appeared on Good Friday. They are going to take that blog down after a bit so I asked permission to reprint the post here to preserve it.

Since my visit to the Holy Lands in 2011, it is impossible for me to focus on Holy Week without reflecting on that visit. It is especially true this year since in just the last couple of weeks I have finished reading a history of Jerusalem. It was on my visit to Jerusalem that God demonstrated to me most vividly the importance of broadening my focus and taking the entire journey from the Hosannas of Palm Sunday to the Hallelujahs of Easter.

There is a tendency these days to de-emphaisze our sin and its cost - to focus on the pleasant happy portion of the gospel and to keep the less pleasant aspects out of focus. Too often, mainstream, best-selling Christian literature tells us the good news of Christ's "helping us towards wholeness," or His "granting us our hearts desire" - But what Christ did for us was so much deeper and so much more fundamental that to discuss such things in such a fashion is talk about Handel or Mozart as if they were mere ten bar jingle writers.

My friend Mark Roberts is writing a commentary on Ephesians. He is using a daily devotional he writes, or sometimes edits, as an occasion to work out many of the ideas and avenues he is pursuing in that effort. Back in January, he looked at Ephesians 2:1-3 and said:

There's no need to scream at the Apostle Paul as he begins Ephesians 2. He does not waste a moment getting to the bad news, and his news is really quite bad: "As for you, you were dead . . . ." Now that's not exactly news you want to hear from someone. It's also news that stirs up lots of questions: Dead? What do you mean? Dead in what way? How do you know I was dead? If I was once dead, am I still dead?

We'll get to these questions soon. For now, I want to note that bad news is an essential piece of the Christian Gospel, the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. If we don't grasp the bad news, we won't understand the good news. And if we don't feel the horror of the bad news, we'll miss the joy of the good news. Too often these days, Christians downplay the bad news because we don't want to put anyone off. But, by ignoring the bad news, we diminish the amazing goodness of the good news.
It has often been said that had Christ died on Good Friday and there was no resurrection on Easter, Jesus would be just another nattering nabob with messianic pretensions. That is indeed true, but what I have not seen written is that had Jesus merely been resurrected on Easter morning, that would not be such a big deal either. After all, Jesus had already established resurrection as a part of His bag of tricks. Lazarus and his family were more than willing to testify to the power of Jesus to bring the dead back to life. No, there must have been something about Christ's death on Good Friday that made this particular resurrection something special. Without Good Friday, Easter would be just another miracle in the life of a man that made so many miracles.

In point of fact, if we shift our focus but a bit, the deepest miracle of Holy Week may not be the Resurrection. As we just said, this miracle was already firmly established. The real miracle may just be that Jesus died at all. Think about it. He was, after all, God Incarnate. He is the Alpha and the Omega - He was before and He will be after - he is the eternal God. How can that which is eternal die? How can that which is forever terminate? And more ominously, what could kill the eternal and omnipotent Creator of all things? Certainly not a few nails and a bit of suffocation inducing hanging.
The Garden of Gethsemane

Which brings me back to my visit to Jerusalem. I related the story of my visit to the Garden of Gethsemane to Lee Cook not long after I got back. Lee wrote of it in The Messenger. The facts are simple. I entered the garden gates and tears began to flow - unbidden. They did not stop, despite my best effort, until I left the confines of the garden and the attendant Church of All Nations. When Lee related my story, he spoke of my being overwhelmed with emotion, but I must confess that is an imprecise description of what I was experiencing. I had gone to the Holy Lands cynical about the spiritual significance of the various sites. I attached to them no particular importance. Their authenticity is, and always will be, in some level of doubt and a large part of the message of Christ was that our experience of God is not bound by time or place.  This was not some mere overwhelming of awe or anything else.

Rather, what happened to me at the Garden was, I believe, a direct encounter with the Holy Spirit. This is something rare amongst the frozen chosen of the Presbyterian church, but it does happen. The best way I can describe it is that the Holy Spirit came up to me, grabbed me by the collar and shouted in my face, "THIS IS REAL!"  My focus was sharpened with the understanding that the events described in the Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were fact. Hard, cold fact. These were not literary means of expressing deep theological concepts. This was not crafting a narrative because an essay would not do. These were real events, involving real people. And more, the way the Holy Spirit chose to shout that message at me was to give me a taste, the smallest possible portion, of the agony that Christ experienced in that garden and then crescendo-ed to a culmination on the Cross on Good Friday.

Golgotha Chapel In Holy Seplechure

You see, it was not hard for the Holy Spirit to grant that small taste to me  All He had to do was bring me face-to-face with my own sinfulness.  Not the sort of peek-around-the-corner-with-your-eyes-all-squinty look we usually take, but make me focus to a hard, piercing stare lasting but the most fleeting of moments.  The reason we take peek-around-the-corner-with-your-eyes-all-squinty looks at our sinfulness is because the agony of truly focusing on our depravity is unbearable. And so it became clear to me what force it was that could kill the unkillable. Imagine confronting in such a straightforward look not just your own sins, but all the sins of history and all the sins yet to come. The agony of such is truly beyond our comprehension. Why else would Jesus cry out on the cross, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME?" (Matt 27:46)

Theologians have argued and argued about this cry of Jesus from the cross. Is He quoting Psalms merely to appear to fulfill prophecy? How could the Trinity be rent into multiple pieces? Can God forsake himself? It's a bit like analyzing the force vectors when a hammer drives a nail in a piece of wood, Who cares? What is apparent in the cries of the Psalmist and the cries of Christ is unbearable, unrelenting agony. This, then, is the force so great that it could kill the unkillable. My sin, and your sin, killed Jesus.

Many Good Friday services feature a ritual in which the congregants write sins they wish to confess on a piece of paper and they nail that paper to a cross. Most people feel relief from this action, But the symbolism runs deeper than we often realize. We are putting those nails into Jesus hands and feet when we nail our sins to the cross. We are killing Jesus because those sins are what killed Him. That was the source of my tears that day in Jerusalem - the shattering realization that I was responsible for the the very real agony that Jesus suffered.

Light from the dome onto the Tomb of Christ
Oh how sweet grace, the grace of Easter, becomes when one truly realizes what is being forgiven. Jesus is not just forgiving me "my sins," He is forgiving me for killing Him!

What response can we possibly offer to such revelation? I am certain nothing I ever do can in any fashion merit the grace I am granted nor compensate Christ for the agony He suffered. But I must make the effort -- with the total commitment of all that I am and all that I have. Every time I sin, each slip I make, is another hammer blow on one of the spikes holding Christ to the cross - or driving the spear just a bit deeper into His side. I do not wish to be a part of that hideous scene anymore. I MUST give my all to overcome it.

Good Friday is the blackest day in history. But the blacker we understand it to be, the deeper our focus on that blackness, the brighter the dawn of Easter becomes. To truly appreciate Easter we must take the whole journey to that glorious morning.

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