Wednesday, January 12, 2011

From the Comfort of My Bed (Radical, by David Platt)

One of my favorite Christmas gifts has been the book Radical by David Platt. I've never been one to read in bed, but for some strange reason, I've take up the practice with this book--I'll come back to that. Platt's choice for a subtitle is revealing and maybe even a little offensive to some. The subtitle: "Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream." Do you love the American dream? If you love it more than Jesus (come on, who's going to agree to that :), then you may feel the urge to burn this book. Those of you without the charred remains of an orange paperback in your hands may want to check it out if your looking for a good read.
The main premise of Platt's plea is that many of us, when we read about Jesus' call to radical discipleship in the gospels, simply ignore the implications or rationalize our way to a less demanding version of faith. I'm not going to go on quoting Radical now. I think that would defeat the purpose. Instead, let's turn our attention to Jesus' words as he addressed those who wanted to follow him.

"As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, 'I will follow you wherever you go.'
Jesus replied, 'Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.'
He said to another man, 'Follow me.'
But the man replied, 'Lord, first let me go and bury my father.'
Jesus said to him, 'Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.'
Still another said, 'I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say good-by to my family.'
Jesus replied, 'No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.'--Luke 9:57-62

"Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: 'If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters-- yes, even his own life-- he cannot be my disciple. And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." --Luke 14:26-27

"As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. "Good teacher," he asked, "what must I do to inherit eternal life?"...
Jesus looked at him and loved him. "One thing you lack," he said. "Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me." --Mark 10:17, 21
One of the opening stories from Platt's book keeps popping back into my head as I go about my day, living out the American dream. He recalls a visit to an undisclosed village in Asia where a group of 20 local pastors traveled miles to meet in a dimly lit room for prayer and encouragement. They left their homes at different times of the day to avoid suspicion. They were meeting in secret. If caught they could loose their land, jobs, families, or lives.
As they gathered, one of the men poured out his heart and asked that the others pray for his church. Many of the believers in his congregation were being kidnapped an tortured. Another said that members in her church had been threatened by government officials to stop meeting and studying the Bible or they would loose everything they had. Everyone in the room was moved to tears and began crying out to God, Platt says. They didn't pray with theological eloquence. They simply prayed,
"O God, thank you for loving us."
"O God, we need you."
"Jesus, we give our lives to you and for you."
"Jesus, we trust in you."
They wept before God as each leader prayed. After about an hour of this, they sat in silence; then they rose from the floor and went back to the work of being and making disciples.
Like I said, I've been reading this book while lying in bed. Maybe you need to lie down for this kind of thing. It's not to be taken lightly, for sure. But lying in a warm bed in a comfortable house while my kids sleep peacefully in their rooms is a stark contrast to Jesus' call to radical discipleship and those who are taking up that call around the world. The church leaders in that village in Asia, may have similar thoughts about their own beds; but there's no doubt that they are willing to risk everything to be Jesus' disciple.
When I'm honest with myself, this kind of reminder shakes me to the core. We live in a place where the supreme value is to get what we can for ourselves and our families, to live comfortably, and to allow others the freedom they need to do the same. Our Lord's supreme value is that we give it all up, even our families if necessary, and to subject ourselves to his will. Very often I'm more obsessed with radical comfort than radical devotion to the creator of the universe and savior of my soul. I'm content to have treasure on earth, and forget--because it's not flashing in my eyes daily--the treasure of heaven.
When you lay down tonight, look around your room. Be honest with yourself as you contemplate your view of your possessions. Think about what your living for. Think about what you want for your children. Then, think about Jesus' invitation to give it all up for his sake. Maybe it's time to rise from the comfort of our beds.

-A Disciple of Jesus


Thursday, December 16, 2010

Patience is a Virtue

"Patience is a virtue, my dear."
--The Wisdom of Ross

The origins of this phrase are unclear, but, according to my wife, it used to rank pretty high among the famous, cliched words of wisdom often spoken by my father-in-law (hi, Ross). He has dozens of them; but among his favorites are,

  • "It hurts to be beautiful" (when his girls needed to have their hair brushed).
  • "If 'ifs' and 'buts' were candy and nuts, what a wonderful Christmas it'd be" (when someone uses the words "if" or "but").
  • "If you're gonna be dumb, you gotta be tough" (when he does something dumb).
  • "Ra, ra, ree, kick 'em in the knee. Ra, ra, rass, kick 'em in the other knee. (when.... Oh, I just got that one.)
As cliched' as these sage words might have been, they all express some pretty deep truths (except maybe the last one). But the virtue of patience, may be the deepest. As the always poignant Henri Nowen explains:

"A waiting person is a patient person. The word “patience” means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her womb."
-Henri Nouwen, Eternal Seasons

Here's to the daring virtue of patience and to people, like my father-in-law (hi again, Ross), who have discovered the wisdom of actively waiting.

A Sometimes-Patient Disciple

P.S. Thanks to for sharing this quote.

P.P.S. My father-in-law (hi, Ross) would love to be your Facebook friend.

P.P.P.S. Ross has some other great sayings. For example, whenever my kids ask where grandma is, he responds, "She broke her leg, and we had to shoot her." The response usually results in dropped jaws; but he still says it..., every time.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Reinstating the Draft

As most of you know, tomorrow is Veterans Day—the day we set aside to honor those men and women who have served and are serving in our armed forces. Not only am I grateful to those who have willingly taken up the responsibility to defend our freedoms and fight for peace, I’m indebted to them. I am moved by the gravity of their sacrifice. They deserve to be honored. So, like so many of you, I will take every opportunity to honor U.S. soldiers tomorrow, and I make it my practice to thank men and women in uniform whenever I see them. They put their lives on the line for my freedom and way of life—it’s the least I can do.

That said, I can’t help it, I often feel the need to clarify my patriotism—I am a Christian first and an American second; I am an American-Christian not a Christian-American (you grammarians out there know that the firs name qualifies the second). My reasons for clarification go beyond my desire to make Jesus the most important person in my life (thought that’s certainly part of it). I qualify my allegiance to America for pragmatic reasons, really. The truth is that God is equally as concerned with Africa as he is with America. He is just as concerned that Jesus would reign in the hearts of the Chinese as he is for Americans. When the trumpet sounds (as in 1 Corinthians 15:52, which we’ll be reading this weekend :0) nationality won’t really matter for us anymore. Jesus is not going to be all that concerned with our patriotism at that point. He will, however, be concerned with our allegiance to him. As I stand in front of the one with flaming eyes and a sharp sword coming from his mouth (as in Revelation 19:12-16), the eternal ruler of the universe, I want to be able to say with all sincerity (not that my sincerity or insincerity will really matter all that much, since he knows the truth) that he was more important to me than a nation that started less than 300 years ago. So, while I want to have integrity and make Jesus my first priority, from a pragmatic stand point, I know that he’s the one out of whose mouth “comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.”

To come back to our veterans, those over the age of 37 remember a time in the U.S. when military service wasn’t voluntary. In years past, when America was at war and our military needed to be strengthened, congress “ramped up” the draft. The rules of the draft changed from time to time, but in its most recent form all males between the ages of 18 and 26 were required to register with the military (today, the Selective Service System requires registration by all males over the age of 18); they were then were selected for military service by lottery. There we’re, of course, exceptions, but, by and large, when someone’s number was up, whether they wanted to or not, their options were to serve or to go to prison. In the Vietnam era, approximately 10,000 men were convicted and imprisoned for “dodging the draft.” Luckily, today, the U.S. has an all-volunteer military. Congress has the power to reinstate the draft, but hasn't seen the need to do so, despite our recent military surge in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Like I said, I want to honor those who have served. I especially want to honor those who serve willingly. But, I’m a Christian first and an American second. So my greater concern is the Kingdom of God, and those who serve in it. Are you willingly serving in the Kingdom of God? I suppose that God could enact the draft—“all eligible males and females over the age of 13 should report for duty.” But, for good reasons, he has left that choice up to us—to reach out to a neighbor in love, to extend Jesus to those at your work place, to minister to those who need encouragement, to join arms with the church, according to the gifts you’ve been given, as we make disciples. Jesus' expectation is that his followers will “take up their cross and follow him.” It’s not a draft, it’s a call to serve wherever you may be, in whatever situation you may find yourself.

So, my fellow disciples, whether you’re in Mozambique, Europe, China, Moscow, Chili, America, Florida, Seminole County...I hope you will respond to the call and, regardless of your reasons, join the good fight (as in 2Timothy 4:6-7).

~A Willing Disciple


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How He Loves Us

I'm pretty excited about a concert coming to Discovery Church in Orlando next Friday (8/27). John Mark McMillan has quickly become one of my favorite singer/songwriters. Now, I get that his style might not be your cup of tea—his has an alternative/progressive country/rock sound to it. I love it, personally. And, I especially love the fact that it's unique. He's not trying to redo the top 40 for a Christian audience.

Most of John Mark's music is not really worship music; at least not music fit for congregational worship. I think he refers to it as "gospel" now-a-days, but most of his songs are more like artistic expressions of the mysteries of God, and the hope he offers. His influences seem to be people like Dylan, Springsteen, and some of the Alt. Country bands of the last two decades, rather than the wave of pop-sounding worship songs that swept the Christian music scene in the new millennium. That said, McMillian is best known for a song that we sing on Sunday mornings at Safeharbor from time to time. When David Crowder covered it in 2009, churches across the world started singing it too. It's a song that either turns you off, or causes your heart to swell in appreciation for the love of God. Here's the story behind that song:

For a while, I was turned off by the reference to a "sloppy wet kiss" in this song. That is, until I heard about the meaning behind it and the emotional birthplace of those lyrics. (There's actually much more to the story behind that song than what is relayed in this video, but I'll save it for another time.) McMillan has said that "gory mess" is probably a more appropriate lyric, "but it didn't have the same ring to it." His point: God loves us despite our failures, despite our awkwardness, despite our ugliness. His reaching down into humanity is beautiful and amazing, even if a little sloppy due to the mess we've made. What I want you to notice in the video, however, is the people singing at the end. John Mark looks like a mess—I think that's intentional; it's how he sees himself and the world—seriously flawed. But check out the young adults in the background. They need to be reminded of God's love. That, despite the mess they've made, God's love can turn their lives into something good.

Yesterday, I talked to someone who needed to hear that message. I need to hear it too. God loves us—even the music geeks and pastors. God loves us—even the imperfect parents. God loves us—even those who have barely survived a wreck of a marriage. God loves us—the tired and poor. God loves us—even the enslaved addict. God loves us—even the self-righteous. God loves us—even the disciple who's grown apathetic. God loves us—even the disciple who is being reinvented. God loves us—even the retired and the tired. God loves us—even the complainers. God loves us—even the confused and disappointed. Yes, you too—as you sit and read cynically, wanting to believe. Yeah, he loves us...all.

So, the song gets a little repetitive at the end. Maybe we need that. Maybe we're hard to convince. "Yeah, he loves us. Oh, how he loves us. Oh, how he loves us. Oh, how he loves us." He loves us. He loves us. He loves us.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. --Romans 5:8

~A Loved Disciple


Thursday, June 10, 2010

"Good" Stewardship

As most of you know, we're taking the month of June to focus on the concept of stewardship. Christian stewardship begins with the idea that all things belong to God and that we have a responsibility to be good managers of the the things that he has entrusted to our care. When people talk about stewardship, usually they focus on money. But stewardship is bigger than just money; we ought to be good stewards of our time, our energy, our knowledge, our children, our spiritual gifts, our cars, our homes, our toothbrushes..., our attention--even the message of life in Christ. I don't think we ever stop growing in regard to stewardship. There's always some area of our lives where we could make better use of the things God has entrusted to us. But, I realized something new about stewardship this past week.
I want to take this opportunity to reiterate something that I said this past Sunday, because it has revolutionized my thinking about this issue. Any good discussion about stewardship has to include the parable that Jesus tells in Luke 19:12-27. Go ahead, read it.
... ... ... [you're reading, you're reading] ... ... ...
So did you read it? There are lots of important lessons to draw from this parable, but there's one that's beginning to change the way I think about the things God has entrusted to my care--especially the money and the stuff. What made the "good" servants pleasing to the harsh king was that they used what he had entrusted to them to do something good--they made the king more money. What offended the harsh king about the "wicked" servant was not that he was a poor accountant or that he wasn't thrifty--in fact, I'd be willing to bet that he was quite thrifty. One of the main problems with the "wicked" servant was that he didn't use what was entrusted to his care to do anything good. He didn't use it to do anything at all.
Growing up in the church, I've heard about the importance of financial stewardship from the time I was 8 years old. I specifically remember sitting in "Junior Worship," while the youth minister's wife helped us understand that 10 cents was a tithe of $1. And, I don't know if it was taught intentionally, or if it it's just the way middle-class Americans have been taught to think about money; but, for a very long time, I've held to the notion that Christian stewardship is essentially being a good accountant, being thrifty, and paying your tithes. However, it seems from this parable, and other verses ( 2 Corinthians 9:6, for instance) that God has something more in mind, he desires that we would use what he has given to accomplish something good. In fact, the more we use for good, the more he wants to entrust to our care! To hold on to our money, our time, our children, our gifts, etc. and to use them sparingly, is wicked!
So, I'm going to try to give as much as I can to those who need it--"my" time, "my" energy, "my" knowledge, "my" children, "my" spiritual gifts, "my" car, "my" home, "my" toothbrush..., "my" attention--even the message of life in Christ. And, I hope that I'll continue to grow in my ability to give more. It's all his anyway, and he has more for me to give.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Encouraging and Troubling Stories about Christianity in the Middle East

I listened to this on the way home from Ironman 2 this evening. Ironman was entertaining--Sam Rockwell and Robert Downey Jr. are fantastic actors--but it didn't do much to strengthen my faith; the following clip, however, did...well, for the most part, anyway. If you have a some time--say you're driving home from a movie--check out this radio program from 2009 about Christian missions in the Middle east.

BBC Player version.

Podcast version.


Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Weight of the Cross

We have a new cross in our church auditorium. I know; its not a news headline. All churches have crosses in their sanctuary, and it is expected that we’d purchase a new ones from time to time. But hear me out; there’s an interesting detail in regard to how we came to have the cross that we do.
When someone discovered that a large wooden cross, which we usually set up in the sanctuary around this time of year, was rotted out at the bottom, my favorite carpenter, Sal Palmeri, volunteered to build us a new one. Two nights ago, Sal shared with me the story behind the construction of this cross. Originally he planned to make the 10 foot cross out of a solid 6”x6” rough-hewn cypress beam. When the wood arrived, however, he noted the weight of the beam and quickly realized that if he were to make a cross from that beam, no one would be able to lift it (well, except, maybe, Sal, himself :) So, he went back to the drawing board. The cross in our auditorium is now both well constructed and liftable (I’ll let you ask Sal how he was able to solve this problem).
Scholars and archaeologists have given a lot of thought to questions regarding the facts Jesus’ crucifixion. If you’d like to know more about their findings you might find the Wikipedia entry for crucifixion informative—it’s well documented. It’s generally accepted that the cross that would have been used to crucify Jesus probably weighed around 300 lbs. Criminals sentenced to be crucified were often forced to carry the crossbeam (which weighed approximately 100 lbs) of their own cross; and this after being severely whipped or scourged to the point of severe blood loss and possible shock.

The gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John) are all pretty detailed in their accounts of Jesus crucifixion. In fact, if you have a Facebook account I hope you’re following along on our Safeharbor Fan Page and keeping up with the brief posts that describe the life of Jesus from the time he entered Jerusalem (on Palm Sunday) up through his resurrection (on Easter Sunday). As we near the time of his trial and crucifixion, the posts will become more and more frequent. Roman crucifixion was brutal; and, according to the Gospels, the way in which the Roman executioners crucified Jesus was no different. After they beat him brutally, mocked him (humiliation was part of the intent behind crucifixion, to begin with), and ripped his flesh, as was the custom, they forced him to carry his own cross at least part way, to Golgotha—a.k.a. the Skull (see John 19:17; Luke 23:26). What a weight to bear!
I suppose, though, that, for Jesus, the spiritual, psychological, and emotional weight of the cross well exceeded the weight of any cypress beam. I call your attention, once again (this passage has been on my mind so often lately) to the scene at Gethsemane, on the Mt. of Olives (Luke 22:39-45). As Jesus knelt to pray on the night before he was crucified, he was in such anguish over the reality of taking on the weight of our sin, that “drops of sweat like blood” were falling from his forehead. He desired, if it was at all possible, that God would take this responsibility from his shoulders. And as he hung on the cross, he cried out, while darkness covered the land, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me.” What a weight to bear!
The weight of course, was that of our sin. Paul states, in 2Corintians 5:21, that Jesus took on the weight of our sin, so that we might become the righteousness of God. And, as guilty as that may make us feel, the point of it all was that we would stand before God with no guilt—no weight of sin on our shoulders.
So, why do we walk around with a general sense of guilt? Why do we carry ourselves as if there is some great weight hanging around our neck, or chained to our ankles? Jesus bore the weight of our sin; he did it so that we could become the righteousness of God. What an insult it must be for us to hang our heads and mope around, as if we still carry the weight of our own sin. So let’s stand up straight, hold our head high, and live out the righteousness that we have been given, through faith in the one who took our sin upon his shoulders. Let’s walk around free, unburdened, joyful, and grateful, because our guilt was left on the cross.

~An Unburdened Disciple


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

E.T. Jesus ?

I heard a fascinating news story last week. Yes, it was on the Colbert Report--that's where I get all my news.

Back in November the Vatican (headquarters of the Catholic Church) sponsored a week-long special meeting where scientists, philosophers, and theologians met to discuss the current research regarding intelligent life on other planets. One conclusion of that meeting was that it is entirely possible that there is intelligent life somewhere else in the universe, and that to insist that God would not have created life elsewhere puts creative limits on God. One scientist said that either scenario (that there is or is not life on other planets) is “staggering.” If the universe is “abundant in life,” he said, then we should not be afraid of that truth. But if space exploration turns up nothing, then we will be reminded that “this planet is rather special.”

One main question that came up in the many discussions at this meeting was whether or not intelligent creatures on another planet would require a separate savior. Would Jesus have to become an Martian to save the Martians? (I’m reminded of C.S. Lewis’ 1938-1945 space trilogy, in which he imagines another planet where temptation was resisted by an Eve-like character.) I don’t expect the Vatican to find an answer to the question of life on other planets, or to resolve their speculation in our lifetime, but their discussion does remind me that the Christmas story features a curious notion about what was required from a savior for those of us who reside on planet Earth.

There are a number of Bible verses that remind us that Jesus became human in order to rescue humanity from the judgment that was required as punishment for our sin (John 1:14; Hebrews 2:17-18; Galatians 4:4; Philippians 2:5-8, to name a few). But as powerful as those verses are, none are as meaningful as the fact that Jesus chose to be born in the same way that all humans are. He was conceived in the womb of a woman and entered into this world just as all babies do. He grew physically and mentally, just as all young people do (see Luke 2:52). He was tempted by sin just as we all are (see Hebrews 4:15). In order for God to save us, He became like one of us.

As I picture the scene of Jesus’ birth in my mind (Luke 2:1-19), I see a humble home for animals with rough walls and hay all around. I see two humans tucked in a corner—one the mother of the Son of God, the other his protector. I see them crowded around a small feeding trough, stuffed with hay. And in that feeding trough is a baby, with soft hair, brown eyes, and olive-colored skin, wrapped in thin blankets; he’s rooting around for something to eat and blinking his eyes. This baby knows so much about humanity, but he has yet to experience it firsthand.

The beauty of the Christmas story—the story about God becoming one of us—is that God sought to empathize with his creation. He did not insist, as some religions encourage us to do, that we become gods, like him, in order to overcome our mistakes. No, as the Bible tells it, He became one of us, so that He could overcome our mistakes. That was his plan.

So, I suppose that if there were other intelligent creatures across the universe who needed to be rescued from their own mistakes, God could become like one of them too. But who am I to put limits on God’s creative freedom; he could have chosen a different plan. What I do know is that when God considered his lost sheep, He did not expect us to find Him on our own (Luke 15:3-6). Instead, He went looking for us on planet Earth, and I think that makes us pretty special already.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

~25 CSIL Tweets

For the month of December I'm tweeting daily about Christmas songs I like, in no particular order. I'll keep a running list on this post.

~25CSIL. Ok, "like" may be a strong word, but my Christmas playlist was incomplete 'till I heard this 1 by Ricky Martin

~25CSIL. There are better versions of this song, but its pretty cool to hear Weezer sing about Jesus.

~25CSIL. Fun album. So, technically, not a Christmas song, but I like Hanukkah Blessings by Barenaked Ladies

~25CSIL. If you don't know about the "A Very Special Christmas Series" you're missin' out. Heard this one last year,

~CSIL. This one for yesterday. #2 from Niche Christmas Series. James Brown's "Santa Claus Go Straight to the Ghetto"

~25CSIL (Christmas Songs I Like). Niche Christmas Series: British Class War. The Kinks' Father Christmas (Misfits '78) ~25CSIL--Fav. Christmas album from '08: Sara Groves' O Holy Night. Fav. track: #2, More to say 'bout this album later.

~25CSIL The Killers released their 4th Christmas single today (they do 1 every year). Still my fav (from 2007):

25 CSIL-Its hard to pick one from Sufjan Steven's 5 disc Christmas project, how about "Once in David's Royal City"

25+/- Christmas song's I like, in no particular order.
This one for the kids
Original version:
Original Follow-Up:
There's a reggae version too: