Archive for February, 2010

Lenten silence

Five years ago I went with a short term mission team to northeastern China.  One of the nights we were blessed to have the opportunity to worship with a small deaf-mute congregation. We “listened” to the sermon as it was translated from sign language to Korean to Chinese to English. At one point, the pastor directed his signs/comments to us. He said that he felt sorry for us that we were not deaf! Because he could not hear the noise and distractions of the world around him, he said he had an advantage over us. He was better able to listen for and hear the voice of God. During Lent, we intentionally deprive ourselves of some things so that we can better devote ourselves to God. As we are literally drenched in noise all day long, both aural and visual, we will have to intentionally unplug to find stillness and silence. Choosing silence is always difficult for us, but we need to choose it if we are going to hear Him.

Psalm 46:10 “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”


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In view of God’s mercy may this prayer flow from our hearts. Thank you, puritan fathers:

Lord Jesus, I sin. Grant that I may never cease grieving because of it, never be content with myself, never think I can reach a point of perfection. Kill my envy, command my tongue, trample down self. Give me grace to be holy, kind, gentle, pure, peaceable, to live for Thee and not for self, to copy Thy words, acts, spirit, to be transformed into Thy likeness, to be consecrated wholly to Thee, to live entirely to Thy glory.

Deliver me from attachment to things unclean, from wrong associations, from the predominance of evil passions, from the sugar of sin as well as its gap; that with self-loathing, deep contrition, earnest heart searching I may come to Thee, cast myself on Thee, trust in Thee, cry to Thee, be delivered by Thee.

O God, the Eternal All, help me to know that all things are shadows, but Thou art substance, all things are quicksands, but Thou art mountain, all things are shifting, but Thou art anchor, all things are ignorance, but Thou art wisdom.

If my life is to be a crucible amid burning heat, so be it, but do Thou sit at the furnace mouth to watch the ore that nothing be lost. If I sin wilfully, grievously, tormentedly, in grace take away my mourning and give me music; remove my sackcloth and clothe me with beauty; still my sighs and fill my mouth with song, then give me summer weather as a Christian.

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I had an amazing conversation yesterday where someone blessed me with his naked honesty (and who doesn’t mind me using his story for this post). This man articulated a hesitation to allow himself to find all his joy in Christ alone because, frankly, he does not think that Christ can bring the kind of joy other things can. His association with finding joy in Christ alone is more involvement in church- more committee meetings, more events, and less “real life”. As the conversation progressed I realized the issue was not with Jesus at all but with his Bride, the church. Have we really gotten this far off, where our service and worship to our Savior and King encourages disengagement from participation in the joy of God’s mission because it is equated with disengagement from “real life”? This Lenten season is an opportunity to find more and more of our joy in the only place that can satisfy- in Christ alone who says, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be full;” and through this find joy in being more a part of God’s mission.  As you fight for this joy to be a reality in your heart and life, and if you can identify with the man I had the conversation with, then curb your reflections this Lenten season with the videos below. Fight for joy, fight to know the One who fought for His people with His life, and fight with me to reform His Bride that we may be faithful to His word, His mission, and live for His glory. We MUST stop associating finding our joy in Jesus with more meetings and events. Lord have mercy!

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Who is forming you?

I am consistently surprised by how little Christians fight the slow takeover of our hearts and loyalties by dominant world views in our culture that are contrary to our standard- Jesus Christ the Son of God, his work, his word, and the clear response of the lives of those who belong to Him. Instead of fighting opposing world views Christians seem to make friends with, and sometimes even join, world views and philosophies of our day. This morning I taught on Colossians 2:6-8 and we spent time wrestling with the reality of the aggressive nature of world views in our culture and the subtle ways with we we begin to make friends with them. The conversation was heightened with the illustration of where the South and her churches were just a few years ago with slavery, racism, and specifically lynchings. Southern Christians of the day had made peace with the hateful world view that pervaded their culture and the casualties were devastating. During the conversation in class we wondered together what are Christians making friends with today that is not on par with a Biblical worldview and an appropriate response the God’s work for us? Our image management? Our belief that money buys happiness, social status is king, or building our own empire is what life is really about? And what about how we relate to one another? how much we invest in our buildings, cars, clothes, or other resources that are here today and gone tomorrow? I am afraid we are more influenced than we would like to admit, much like the folks you see in the movie were just a few decades ago. Here is the video we watched. i would be very interested in any comments you might have  (WARNING: the video below contains graphic images).

Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 

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Thoughts on Avatar

Avatar is now the highest grossing film of all-time in the U.S., and is well on it’s way to doing the same worldwide.  It is overwhelming and beautiful and another quantum leap in what is visually possible in a movie.  There are mountains of reviews and analysis out there, discussing every possible angle of the movie- religious, anti-war political overtones, racism, eco-terrorism, etc.- in every media outlet from Christianity Today to Oprah to MTV. What all of the reviews agree on, besides it’s technological genius, is that the director, James Cameron, set out to make a deeply spiritual movie. 

Cameron’s story centers on the mineral that the humans have come to Pandora to get. Unobtainium. The humans think that more Unobtainium and the wealth it will bring is What They Need. That it will fill their deepest desires. This is contrasted with the contentment of the Na’vi. As the human protagonist, Jake Sulley, says “What do we have to offer them? Light beer? Blue Jeans? They will never leave the Hometree [their sacred land]. We have nothing that they want.” The movie makes it clear that this desire for wealth comes at terrible cost to themselves, the environment, and anyone who gets in the way. As implied by the name, their true desires cannot be satisfied by more wealth, it is Unobtainable. Or maybe we could say it this way: “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul?” (Matthew 16:26)

Another key to the movie is the phrase “I see you”. It is used by the Na’vi throughout the movie to express an acknowledgement of the dignity, value and “connectedness” of the person (or creature) to whom it is directed. It is looking past the surface to see into the other person- to truly respect them, connect with them, to “know” their true self. Once experienced, Jake and the viewers want more. It is a longing to “know and be known”, and having been known to be not just accepted, but loved. What Cameron is looking for is the unconditional love that leads to true community. This is the universal longing, to love and be loved.

Being unwanted, unloved, uncared for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat.
Mother Teresa

I believe that the critical and box office success Avatar is experiencing is not just due to the technological brilliance of the movie, but also to the hunger our culture has for a greater sense of purpose and authentic community.

As we think about these questions, perhaps the biggest flaw of the movie is the one-dimensional nature of the “bad guy” humans. They are so unreservedly and thoughtlessly destructive that no one watching the movie will possibly relate to them. With a few moments of doubt, with some emotional depth and respect for the humans, we could have walked away questioning ourselves. Instead, we will all be cheering for the Na’vi, and leave the theater thinking about the ways that we too are oppressed by ignorance and corporate greed. We will not see ourselves as the perpetrators, but as victims. And there’s the problem. The questions we need to leave asking are “what do I really desire?”, “at what cost  am I seeking it?”, “am I truly ‘seeing’ my neighbor?”. As we seek to “no longer conform to the patterns of this world” (Romans 12:2), these are questions well worth exploring.

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Try and guess whose words these are from an extremely prominent ecclesiastical figure, spoken in their Ash Wednesday sermon yesterday. I think you will be surprised:

“… conversion means changing the direction of the path of our lives. It is going against the current when the “current” is a superficial, incoherent, and illusory way of life that often drag us down, making us slaves of evil or prisoners of moral mediocrity. Nevertheless, through conversion we tend to the highest measure of Christian life, we trust in the living and personal Gospel who is Jesus Christ. He is the final goal and the profound path of conversion, the path that we are all called to travel in our lives, allowing ourselves to be illuminated with his light and sustained by his strength, which moves our steps. Convert and believe in the Gospel’ is not just the beginning of the Christian life, but the accompaniment of all our steps, renewing and penetrating all aspects of our lives. Each day is a moment of favour and grace, even when there is no lack of difficulties, weariness, and missteps, when we are tempted to abandon the path that follows Christ and retreat into ourselves and our selfishness without paying attention to the need to keep ourselves open to the love of God in Christ in order to live the very logic of justice and love… The “human being”, he continued, “is dust and to dust it will return, but it is dust that is precious in God’s eyes because He created humanity, destining us to immortality.  Jesus the Lord also wanted to freely share in human frailty with each person, above all through his death on the cross. But it was precisely this death, full of his love for the Father and for humanity, that was the way of glorious resurrection, the means by which Christ became the source of grace given to all who believe in Him and participate in the same divine life”.

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Lent, anyone?

Everyone in the South knows about, and probably celebrates in some form or fashion, the Easter holiday. The Easter feast has always been the most celebrated day in the church calendar year and in the South in particular it has become a major part of our culture. When we look beyond putting on our finest and grabbing time with family, when we look at the reality of Easter, particularly at the centerpiece of it- the death and resurrection of God in the flesh Jesus Christ- we are challenged. When we really look we see the very nature of truly celebrating the holiday demands preparation and participation because our God participated in humanity, the punishment of our sin, and victory over the grave- for His people to be prepared for a right relationship with Him and for them to be prepared to be the vehicle for the Victory of God to the world.  The high nature of this church Holiday has resonated throughout the history of our church with importance and has, for centuries, called for preparation. Traces of a Lenten like observance begin as early as 140 AD with Saint Irenaeus speaking of a time of forty hour preparation for Easter. The first reference to a forty day preparation occurs with the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. For much of Christianity, the season of Lent was a time of preparation for newly converted Christians to prepare for a glorious baptism on Easter Sunday.  They were known as catechumens – which means to learn the way of Christ – and where we get our word catechism.  (Thank you, Gabe, for the details seen above). The beginning of lent is traditionally marked with Ash Wednesday (tomorrow), a day where we are reminded that we come from dust and return to dust. Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of our 40 day period where we as the church have the opportunity to prepare our hearts for our High Holy day of Easter. We can remember, reflect, prepare, and participate through prayer, fasting, worship, disciplines, fellowship, the Eucharist, and a host of other avenues. This season is for the edification of the people of God, for the church to repent of what it has placed in her center and in an intentional way put the work of Christ back where it belongs- in the center. This Lenten season I will be participating in a discipline to help me see what I need to repent of and help me put the work of Christ back where it belongs. I hope you will join me in this journey. Also during this season we will be posting different prayers and lenten reflections, so stay tuned… Until then, feel free to join us at our noon Ash Wednesday service.

Lenten blessings to you all.

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(mis)understanding Jesus

There is an ever widening gap between who Jesus is as he has revealed himself to be and who we understand him to be. The problem? We begin from ourself and work out, as if our salvation, God’s mission, and everything else revolves around us. If you do not take yourself to seriously check out the video above. I think it is a hilarious representation of a popular misconception of who Jesus is. The video below is more representative of who Jesus has revealed himself as (the King of Kings!) and I for one want to appropriate this reality more and more in my life. I hope you will join me on this journey.

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how popular is Jesus in our church?

 Last night our church had our first attempt at corporate prayer, a gathering for the entire congregation to pray together as a family. It is encouraging to me that we are being stirred by the Spirit to cry out to God as a family in this way. I believe he is stirring our hearts and congregation for a purpose, and I am excited. As I have been celebrating and processing the night a quote from a book I read a long time ago keeps pricking my heart. From Jim Cymbala’s book Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire he writes something like,

“You can tell how popular a Pastor is by who comes to a church on Sunday morning to worship. You can tell how popular a church is by who comes to Sunday School classes. You can tell how popular Jesus is by who comes to a prayer meeting.” (emphasis mine)

It is my prayer that the Holy Spirit stirs us in such a way that Jesus becomes more popular than both our church and our pastor(s). May this wave of the Spirit catch us all in the current. May the Holy Spirit be pleased to blow through us and move forward the boundaries of the Kingdom for his glory. But the Holy Spirit is like the wind, he blows where he pleases… so who knows?

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I am not sure if you are aware of a discussion happening in some remote corners of Memphis right now but in response to an article in the travel section of the NY Times that you can read here: http://travel.nytimes.com/2010/01/31/travel/31next.html some Memphians are discussing who knows Memphis better- folks outside the city who visit or folks who live here? What seems to be behind this question is that Memphians do not know their city and, by implication, do not really care about it. As a Christian it is my desire to not only promote a love for Memphis but also call fellow Memphians in the church to love their city more. To “know” Memphis, in the Biblical sense- if you will. The Word of God through the prophet Jeremiah resonates in my soul when he says, “But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare.”

As a member of the people of God in exile, waiting expectantly for the City of God that will one day be our permanent home in the New Heavens and the New Earth, I take this call seriously. I want to seek the welfare (or peace- shalom) of the city where the Lord has put me and I want to lead others in this call. I want to know Memphis better, displaying my love for her, and as I get know her learn how the specific ways God has gifted me can contribute to her welfare. This is my call as a member of the people of God and is in line with what Matt talked about in his last post. 

Like the One we claim to follow, we are a people who do not just have a message but we are the message. The gospel is a lifestyle and is proclaimed  most clearly in our faithful response to the Lord’s mercy by being faithful ambassadors where we live, as we seek together the welfare of our home- Memphis, Tennessee. Know your city, Memphians. Yes, “know” her in the Biblical sense! That we may be faithful members of the people of God who, in view of God’s mercy, apply the mercy of God to all of life. What are ways you can think of that we can “know” our city more, leading the fight for the welfare and peace of Memphis as we love our city?

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