Archive for March, 2012

I have done all I could to avoid writing about the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. It seemed obvious that there was no need for one more voice to be put into the cacophony of anger, confusion, and dismay over what is at the bottom line an unbelievably  painful tragedy for two families. But two things have led me to the conclusion that it was time. One is a book I have been reading called Think Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. It is a psychological study that, among other things, details the universal human reaction to not having all the information. We are notorious at jumping to conclusions and filling in the gaps of information and we usually do it in the worst possible ways. I found myself constantly reflecting on the various reactions to each tidbit of news that comes out in this case and felt I was watching a real-time display of Kahneman’s work. People have jumped to conclusions about both Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, the man who shot him. The second reason it became clear that I needed to address this issue is that I have heard very little from the Christian community, with the notable exception of an amazing presentation on racism by Tim Keller and John Piper. If anyone should be speaking to issues of racism, violence, and a community in turmoil, it is followers of Christ, because we should understand better than anyone, that ultimately when we all stand at the foot of the Cross, the savior who bled on it and died, did so for black, white, yellow, European, Asian, African, Latino, and all the other possible delineations of people. Jesus bled equally for you and me, for Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman.

If anyone should be speaking out it is the Christian community because this tragedy has the potential to either tear us apart or motivate us to come together and finally defeat this ugly beast called racism. The only way I know to defeat racism is through the power of God that comes only through a life changing relationship with Christ. And be certain that when I speak of racism I am speaking of how people of every race are to some degree racist. I am not saying that everyone is a racist. I am saying that no race, creed, ethnic group or gender is without people in it who treat those outside their group with disdain, hatred, or even violence. The sinners that we are means that we all battle with the propensity to trust our own kind and be suspicious of those we think are different. Racism has its roots in our sin which is why only a relationship with Jesus, the one who washes away our sin, can ultimately defeat our racist attitudes.

In processing all that is swirling around us I was taken back to a series of sermons I preached years ago. The basic idea for them came from John Ortberg who did a series of “What Would Jesus Say To…” messages. As Sanford Florida has come into an unwanted spotlight   I wondered what would Jesus say to Sanford, and all of us, about what we are experiencing. A few things came to mind:

Jesus would surely say, “weep with those who weep”. (Romans 12:15) True compassion must in some way impact your heart in the same way it impacts those who are in pain. Trayvon Martin’s family is feeling incredible pain and they are weeping. But George Zimmerman and his family are also in pain and weeping. Certainly the pain is different but it is no less real. And Jesus didn’t say to weep with certain people who weep, and don’t weep with other people because you have a problem with them. As followers of Christ we don’t have the option of being selective about to whom we show compassion and mercy. You don’t have the freedom to opt out of weeping with Trayvon’s family because you think he first struck George Zimmerman causing George to shoot in self-defense. You also don’t have the freedom to opt out of weeping with George Zimmerman because you think he hunted down Trayvon because he racially profiled him and forced a confrontation. First of all, none of us know what really happened in that fateful 60 seconds. We may have some idea. We certainly have lots of people filling in the blanks with speculation, usually speculation based on their preconceived notions and not objectively on the evidence. Secondly, even if we did know, we are still not given the freedom to opt out of weeping for and praying for, both families.

Jesus would say, “Take the log out of your own eye” (Matthew 7:5) That wonderful saying was part of Jesus telling us that before you start trying to get a speck of dust out of another person’s eye you need to deal with the huge log protruding from your own eye. In other words, we all have this propensity to be able to point out the slightest flaw in another person while being completely blind to our own huge shortcomings and faults. So before you start blaming Trayvon for being a hoodlum or George for being a racist (of which you have no real knowledge to base either conclusion, so I refer you back to the jumping to conclusions presented in Kahneman’s book) take a long and deep look into your own soul. What kind of anger, hatred, bitterness, and even latent or not so latent racism resides there? What are your issues that are driving your reaction to all of this? Do you have a general distrust of all white people? Are you immediately cautious around black teenage males? Do you tend to blame problems on “those people” whoever “they” are? Even the best of us are still tainted by sin and have to be vigilant in guarding our own hearts and subsequent reactions.

Jesus would say, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:31) When Jesus first said this, people tried to manage the expectations by limiting who qualified as “neighbor”. Jesus made it clear that your neighbor is whoever happens to be around you at any given moment. For those who wondered what it meant to actually love your neighbor Jesus made it clear that sacrificing for them and serving them in their need is loving your neighbor. At this moment, Trayvon Martin’s family and George Zimmerman and his family are our neighbors. They each are in a time of need. The needs are somewhat different, yet very similar. They need to know they are loved and that people who love them will stand with them to give comfort and strength. It has nothing to do with what version of the story you believe or who you believe. Loving your neighbor has everything to do with the fact that while you and I were still enemies of God, Jesus loved us enough to go to the Cross in our place. That love from God compels us to love one another, even when it hurts.

There is much more that I am sure Jesus would say to Sanford and to all of us, especially His followers. I suspect He would be calling for us to take steps in our own lives to knock down barriers, open up dialogue, reach across the racial divide and find out that “those” people are in the end, people. People like you. They hurt, they fear, they laugh, they weep, they dream. They do all the things you do and experience life just as you do. I think Jesus might also say that when the Trayvon Martin case fades from public prominence, and it will, followers of Christ must not let issues of racism, equality, love for neighbor no matter their color, fade from prominence in how we live. Check your heart and then check your actions. What are you doing to show the love of Christ to people who are unlike you? What are you doing to show that following Christ really does make a radical difference in how we relate to one another. What are you doing to show that we all stand as equals before the Cross of Christ?

So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Galatians 3:26-28

Week 10 Study of Genesis

Posted: March 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

The video of Week Ten of our study of Genesis is now online. This week begins the life of Abraham and his call from God. Interesting how he can be incredibly faithful and daring in one moment and afraid and disobedient the next. 

Genesis Week 10 Video

Dan

Check out our online study of Genesis presented each week at Northland, A Church Distributed. Look forward to reading your comments and ideas on this foundational book of the Bible.

Week 9 Video of Genesis Study

Dan

Christians really think they are different from the rest of the world. In certain ways that is hopefully true. At least it’s supposed to be true. Jesus made it clear that His followers are supposed to love God more than anything or anyone else in the world and to love their neighbors as much as they love themselves. What pains me is to realize that we Christians very often fall woefully short of being different from the world in those terms. Yet at the same time we can be very different from the world in terms of surface issues. By surface issues I mean things like, using foul language, attending worship services, and praying before we eat.

Even though there may be obvious differences on the surface it is not necessarily the case on the foundational level.  At the core, the root of what we Christians are all about , we are often tragically no different from anyone else in the world. The prevailing culture has a way of infiltrating Christian life and practice without Christians even being aware of that fact. Although they are different from the surrounding culture on the surface they are very much a product of their culture at the root. One of the ways that I have recently seen Christians becoming more and more like the culture is in our attitude towards religion. For a long time, people who had determined not to follow Jesus and be connected to a church would say, “I am not religious but I am a spiritual person”. It was code for saying “I don’t align myself to any organized group of people who have rituals that they practice”. Being “spiritual” allowed people to feel like they weren’t total pagans and still believed there was a god out there somewhere. The sound bite of not being into religion became something of an accepted mantra in our culture. That sound bite has now become an accepted, even honored mantra in Christian circles.

Not long ago there was a video by Jeff Bethke that went viral, “Why I Hate Religion But Love Jesus”. In that video Jeff rightly attacks the way religion can lead to pride and self-righteousness. But I suspect that many people never even watched the video but simple said, “Me too. I hate religion but love Jesus”. Since then I have seen and heard countless examples of Christians saying that they also hate religion but love Jesus, that religion kills but Jesus saves, that organized religion is of the devil and on and on. Such sound bites are the result of two things. First is that our sinfulness causes us to construct religions and religious practices that have been an embarrassment to Christ and His Church. The second is that we Christians are often unwilling to think closely and sharply enough on things in order to separate the wheat from the chaff. As a result we get sucked up into the emotion and hubris of sound bit thinking and sound-bite theology. We are unwilling to take the time to really dig deep and ask, did Jesus hate religion? Can you really love Jesus and hate religion? Is there such a thing as good religion and bad religion?

Let me give you an alternative to simply loving Jesus and hating religion. How about loving the religion that Jesus loves? Take a moment and read James 1:26-27

26 If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless. 27 Pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.  ESV

There are two important things to see here. First, God acknowledges that there is “bad” religion. It is the hypocritical religion of the Pharisees and of many people today. It is the religion that Jeff Bethke rightly hates. It is a religion of the head and not the heart. It is a religion of pride that doesn’t really change how we live day-to-day. But secondly, there is a religion that God loves. Yes, God loves religion! There is a pure and undefiled religion that our God and Father loves and it makes Him smile. It is the religion that comes from a heart that loves so much, that it results in a sacrificial life that cares for the least among us. It is a religion that results in feeding widows and orphans. It is a religion that results self-sacrifice and serving that are part of loving your neighbor. James is clear about that. But don’t miss that last line in verse 27. God also loves religion that keeps us unstained by the world. Many Christians who read that will immediately think of all the obvious sins of lust, greed, drunkenness, etc. Of course those are things that can and should be included in keeping unstained by the world, but they are too obvious. There is a more subtle and more dangerous way in which Christians become stained by the world. That is what I am talking about today. We buy into sound-bite thinking and sound-bite theology that appears to be spiritual and good and holy, “I love Jesus but I hate religion”. But we are being deceived and deceiving ourselves. You cannot love Jesus and hate religion. You can hate bad religion. You can hate arrogant religion. You can hate self-righteous religion. You cannot hate religion that results in the building of orphanages, hospitals, food pantries, homeless shelters, and schools. You cannot hate religion that results in a stranger stopping on the road to help someone who is injured, cleansing their wounds, feeding them, and giving them a place to stay until they are healed. You cannot hate religion that results in “religiously” giving money to people who have none. You can only embrace that kind of religion because that is what our heavenly Father delights in.

People seem to hate religion because it is filled with ritualistic behaviors and rules. Again, bad religion will have bad rituals and rules for bad reasons. But the religion God loves will have good rituals and rules for good reasons. I know people who “religiously” feed the homeless every Saturday. It is something of a ritual for them. I am sure that at times they don’t “feel” like doing it, yet they still go out of a sense of duty to God and their fellow-man. It is the right thing to do. That is good religion. There is a discipline to good religion. It is not always a free-flowing, unorganized, choose your own path today kind of thing. It sometimes is doing a hard thing, when you don’t feel like it. You do it because it is the right thing. You do it even if it is a pattern of ritual and discipline. There is nothing fake about that or inauthentic. Sometimes the greatest acts of love are found in doing the right thing even when you don’t feel like it. I think the Cross was like that for Jesus.

God hate bad religion. God loves good religion. There is our new sound-bite. Now let’s see if we can live it.

 

This was read at the end of the service at Northland today by my good friend Vernon Rainwater. He had just finished a great message on rethinking our view of God. This extended quote from Dorothy Sayers is the epitome of what it means to be a Provocative Christian. Love this and hope you will enjoy it as well.

Dan

“Author Dorothy Sayers was never one to live by convention. The only child of an Anglican clergyman, she was one of the first women to graduate from Oxford University in 1915. After graduating from Oxford, she made her living writing advertising copy until she was able to publish more and more of her fiction. In the early stages of her career, she fell in love with a member of a motorcycle gang in England, and joined them in their travels far and wide. Perhaps it was her unconventional life that led her to highlight the more unconventional side of Jesus’s own life and ministry. In a collection of essays published after her death, she wrote:”


The people who hanged Christ never, to do them justice, accused him of being a bore — on the contrary; they thought him too dynamic to be safe… He was tender to the unfortunate, patient with honest inquirers, and humble before Heaven; but He insulted respectable clergymen by calling them hypocrites; He referred to King Herod as “that fox”; He went to parties in disreputable company and was looked upon as a “gluttonous man and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners”; He assaulted indignant tradesmen and threw them and their belongings out of the Temple; He drove a coach-and-horses through a number of sacrosanct and hoary regulations;

He cured diseases by any means that came handy, with a shocking casualness in the matter of other people’s pigs and property; He showed no proper deference for wealth and social position; when confronted with neat dialectical traps, He displayed a paradoxical humour that affronted serious-minded people, and He retorted by asking disagreeably searching questions that could not be answered by rule of thumb.

He was emphatically not a dull man in His human lifetime, and if He was God, there can be nothing dull about God either. But He had “a daily beauty in His life that made us ugly,” and officialdom felt that the established order of things would be more secure without Him. So they did away with God in the name of peace and quietness. 
 
Dorothy Sayers, The Whimsical Christian: Eighteen Essays (New York: Macmillan, 1978), 17.

Week 8 Genesis Study

Posted: March 9, 2012 in Uncategorized

For week eight I was in Egypt but my good friend Pastor Gus Davies did a great job teaching on God’s Covenant with Noah. I am sure you will enjoy this. Skip to the 15 minute mark of the video for the start of the class.

Genesis Week 8 Video

Dan

Having just spent a week in Egypt, including time in Cairo, including a visit to Tahrir Square, I am struck by the somber mood that hangs over much of the country. If you have never been to Egypt before you might not notice anything out-of-place. This was my fifth visit to the country in the last three years and I could sense the change. People seemed more hesitant. Even among the more than 300 pastors and leaders that I spoke to for three days, there was a certain hesitancy that I felt. These are people I had been with on every prior trip, so I had some history with them to be able to read their mood. But it was not just these Christian leaders that seemed different. The whole country felt different. The energy of tourists was completely absent, down an estimated 80%. The once ubiquitous police are few and far between, replaced instead by more regular army troops. Shop keepers all spoke of how depressed the economy has become and how uncertain they feel about the future.

How did it get to this? Unless you have been living on Mars you know that on January 25th of 2011 a revolution erupted in Egypt. Thousands of Egyptians entered Tahrir Square in Cairo to protest the regime of President Hosni Mubarak. Incredibly on February 11th after three decades of being in power, Mubarak stepped aside. Throughout the next year there would be further protests, many deaths, violence, fear, as well as demonstrations of unity between Muslims and Christians, and the first truly free and democratic elections in Egypt’s history. The new parliament is made up of a majority from The Muslim Brotherhood and smaller numbers of extreme Islamists on one end, and an even smaller number of moderate to liberal freedom parties on the other end.

One of the themes I heard over and over again from Christians in Egypt is that they are so uncertain about what the future holds. There are many among the radical Muslim members of parliament, known as Salafists, who are calling for a complete Muslim state under Muslim law. Some of the them are calling for all women in the country to be veiled, for beaches and swimming pools to be segregated by gender, for all sales of alcohol to be banned throughout the country, even in resorts that cater to foreign tourists. Such moves would cripple tourism which accounts for 20% of the Egyptian economy. Some Christian leaders are so concerned about the future prospects for followers of Jesus that they are, for the first time, talking with moderates in the Muslim Brotherhood in order to reach compromises that in that past would never have been considered.

For the average Christian there is a common theme that I heard. “I just don’t know what the future holds”. I understand what they are saying. Things have changed so much that they can’t see what the road ahead looks like. Will things settle down and freedom become a reality? Will the Islamist rule the day in the short-term but in time people become disillusioned and rise up and complete the revolution for freedom? Will Christianity be persecuted beyond what we can imagine? Nobody knows the future and they are understandably anxious.

In a message that I shared with more those pastors and leaders I focused on this question of the future and the insecurity they felt. The point was, we have never known what the future holds. In the beginning of 2010 they had no idea that a revolution was coming in January of 2011. They thought they knew the future based on the stability of the recent past. They, like all of us, projected into the future that it would be much like what we knew in the recent past and present. But that is never the case. We take comfort in that idea but it is a fools comfort. Life changes in ways we can never predict. There is no security in projecting what we know of the present into the future. We cannot trust in our ability to know the future. We can only trust in the One who holds the future in the palm of His hand. Jesus repeatedly told his followers and us to not be anxious about the future or about people who can destroy our physical lives. Instead He said that we must focus on the one who can give us eternal life. Consider what Jesus says in Matthew 6:25-34

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

The point for any follower of Jesus, no matter where you live and in what time, is that you put your future in the hands of God. You trust not in your ability to know the future. You trust in the fact that you know the One who knows the future. Prior to January of 2011 the fate of Egypt was in God’s hands. Prior to 9/11 the fate of America was in God’s hands. Prior to anything in your life, your fate was and still is, in God’s hands. There is amazing comfort and certainty for the follower of Jesus if we have the right mind. We look not to our immediate circumstances for safety and security. Rather, as the old hymn says, “our hope is built on nothing less, than Jesus blood and righteousness”.

Week Seven Genesis Study

Posted: March 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

Here is week Seven of our study. As always I look forward to your thoughts and questions. 

Week Seven Video

Week 8 will be posted by tomorrow. On my recent trip to Egypt I was unable to post the link to week seven so we are a bit behind. 

Dan