The trees lying on our coffee tables

I don't know about you, but I get annoyed by all of the catalogs that come in the mail and tell you to buy things that you don't need. Waste of trees. Waste of money. If you want an easy way to stop receiving them, check out The site is supposed to make your catalog cancellation easier.

Never ending

It's hard to imagine something that is never ending. Well, except for the Never Ending Story, of course. But, cheesy 80s movies aside, we are a very material people and, well, we all die. Every one who walks on this earth croaks. We like to think we're immortal, or at least we often live that way. So, when I stop - by choice or by force - and have one of those transcendent moments, it often takes me by surprise. I am sometimes so wrapped up in things of the material world, that I lose sight of the unseen. I had one of those transcendent moments this morning. One of my favorite authors once said that eternity is in the hearts of men. There is just some sense within us that there is a never-endingness within us. Not for this life, but for something greater.

I was reading Luke's account of the Gospel of Jesus Christ this morning. I was reading about this Jewish priest, named Zechariah. While performing the Jewish rituals in the Temple, he was visited by an angel. Crazy, I know. Talk about a "transcendent moment!" And the angel tells him he and his wife, Elizabeth, will have a son, who will prepare the way for the Savior that the Jewish Scriptures prophesied about. Zechariah doesn't exactly believe this at first and looses his ability to speak until his son, John, is born.

Jump over to Galilee, where Mary, a cousin of Elizabeth lived. An angel visits her, too. The angel communicates this message:

"You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be very great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David. And he will reign over Israel forever; his Kingdom will never end!”

His Kingdom will never end. Those words awoke my senses. Never ending. It was great to be reminded that I follow the King whose kingdom will never end.

Clear Eyes?

Apparently, Ben Stein cares about a whole lot more than you and me having Clear Eyes.

Must Everything Change? Part III

In my last post, I ended by introducing what McLaren calls the "Suicidal Machine." The Machine is an image he uses that says the earth is a "machine" made up of three intertwined wheels that propel society: equity, prosperity and security. The machine consumes energy, mostly from the primary energy source of the sun and produces waste and heat. It is a very impersonal image, but through a very detailed discussion, he gets his point across.

He also introduces the idea of a "framing story," which guides humans, individually and collectively. Another way of describing this guiding paradigm could be a sort of "worldview." McLaren believes that the current framing story of the majority of society (he focuses on the American and North) is destructive, weak, unrealistic and dangerous and is consequently sending "the machine" on a suicide mission. If our framing story tells us that the goal of life is to live as individuals who can accumulate an abundance of possessions, experience maximum pleasure in a maximum number of years on earth at whatever the cost to those around us (child or slave laborers produce some of our possessions). McLaren also believes that our framing story has become subject to an excessive over-confidence in ourselves and our nation-state, as he tells brief stories of wars from the past 60 years.

Specifically for Christians, McLaren maintains that the incomplete and fractured framing story of our day has caused us to focus too much on "me" and "my spiritual life" and "my eternal destiny" and has neglected the injustices in our world including systemic poverty, propensity to use violence rather than peace, ecological destruction, overconsumption and corporate greed. McLaren believes that our understanding of the "good news" has lost its inherent truth: that it's the best news. He argues that the framing story that drives us day by day has lost the holistic and hopeful perspective that the good news is about making a better world and helping individuals find abundant life.

McLaren necessarily takes this framing story idea into his initial operating questions: Is it possible that at the heart and life and message of Jesus was an attempt to expose, challenge, confront, transform and replace the unhealthy framing stories of his day?

I do believe that in many local churches in America we have softened the message of Jesus. Jesus was living in an intensely, politically-charged era, where the Roman empire had incredible influence on Jewish society. That influence along with a selfish reading of the holy text caused many Jewish teachers to lead the people down a path of destruction rather than life. Many Christians, when reading his language of a "suicidal mission" may respond "well, of course!" McLaren believes many Christians have a sort of religious, death-wish: the world is going to keep getting worse and I can't wait for that day, because Jesus will come back and I get to escape it all. This belief hinges on our interpretations of Scripture. Obviously, he has different interpretations than many traditional denominations.

I agree with McLaren on this point, although he only says it implicitly: much of the Christian community has stronger allegiances with the American "empire" and has become corrupted in our thinking, driven by the same worldly pursuits and idealogies that "the suicidal machine's" framing story is teaching. Is McLaren preaching too much of a social gospel? That, I do not know. I've only reviewed a quarter of the book! I don't think that is the point, though some would disagree (those who say he is a heretic, a false teacher). I believe that prophetic, challenging truth is found in his writing and I plan to continue reviewing...

Ignited, Part III

I'm going to wrap up my review of Ignite...

Workshop 3 - Ed Courtney, "Teaching Well without Star Power"

-Ed is mostly an even-keeled speaker, with few voice inflections, but he'll make you laugh and he get his point across well
-He talked about how he always wanted to be a standup comic, but he didn't have the star power like his favorite comedian, Eddie Murphy. We watched a clip to remind us about how charasmatic that guy is. Then we contrasted him with Mitch Hedberg, a hilarious comedian (one of my personal favorites, but deceased), who speaks in a monotone voice, often looking down at his feet
-Don't let a lack of natural ability or charisma keep you from becoming an effective teacher
-Challenge yourself to grow in Preparation
-Preparing for a teaching, be it in small group or large group, is so important and it is no less spiritual. "I'd rather let the Holy Spirit work in me while preparing than going up there and winging it."
-Learn how to connect with the audience - start by looking at how you connect w/ people one-on-one
-The way that you talk should be a natural extension of who you are everyday
-You need to include breaks in your talking every 5-7 min - images, stories, videos, humor, etc
-So often, stories will connect better than bullet points
-Don't self-deprecate - especially if you are not a powerful speaker, you don't to help people have a lack of confidence in you
-Don't be afraid to state things as truth, shy away from "i think..."
-Think about the obstacles people will have to your topic and prepare accordingly

Workshop 4 - Neil Kring, "Hell, Yes!"

-The title says it all, Neil Kring is an envelope-pushing, crazy pastor man from Ball State.
-Neil began by discussing the various contemporary pop culture icons that have influenced our thinking about hell: paintings, Dante's Inferno, many movies, books and musicians
-We then explored the different references to an afterlife in the Old Testament and NT
-sheol (OT) - grave, death; The Hillel Jewish school of thought rejected the eternal soul idea; Jewish Pharisees believed in conscious, eternal punishment; Hebrew belief included resurrection of the dead
-Hades (NT) - first used in Odyssey, by Homer
-Gahenna (NT) - Valley of Hinnon (Valley of Slaughter) in Palastine. Jesus used this reference to a real place multiple times to give an image of the worst place that his contemporaries could have imagined, it was a place of former Jewish sacrifices to the false god, Molech, as well as the place where bodies of criminals were thrown and trash was burned, etc - not a desirable place!
-We then went on to explore these different passages in the New Testament that included references to Hades or Gahenna
-Interesting in Matthew 25:46 that Jesus refers to separating sheep and goats on his right and left, to be sent to his Father's presence or punishment, respectively. Interesting that Jesus only makes this separation based on those who gave provision to the needy, following the pattern of God's compassion
-Matt. 9:43-48, Luke 16, 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 were other passages we looked at, exploring the different imagery used to describe this place we now call "hell"
-So many images used, that we just do not know what "hell" could be like, but we do know this: it is basically the worst place a human could imagine
-Neil then gave a synopsis of the book, "Four Views of Hell"
-Literal, Metaphorical, Conditional and Purgatorial
-We do not know for sure, but hard to validate through Scripture that it is not at least metaphorical
-We do not know what punishment is reserved for those who do not enter through the narrow gate that leads to life, but we should not adopt a softer view just to calm ourselves
-It has been said that hell is the "bitter fruit of a final no to God"
-We watched two powerful clips from Seinfeld, in which Elaine and her live-in boyfriend, Putty, are told by Putty's priest they will both go to hell for living together. In the second clip, Elaine exclaims to Putty in her typical shreaking tone "If you think I am going to hell, you should care that I am going there!"
-The idea of afterlife, heaven and hell largely seem disconnected from people, at least on our campuses
-Is hell anyplace where Jesus is not King? (my question)
-The takeaway - think about hell

Final Main Session - Steve Hayes, "Igniting the Kingdom"

-Steve is a pastor at New Life on the Michigan campus in Ann Arbor
-Mark 1:14-15 - "at last" the kingdom of heaven is near
-Matt 6:33 - the kingdom of God should be our number one concern
-Lord's prayer - "Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth, as it is in heaven..."
-We should be a people who see the world for how it should be and then work to help bring that about
-Steve then looked at the first chapter of Mark's gospel - what is kingdom life?
-First, we must be on a "team"
-The kingdom requires...
-That we must leave our old life, live a life of submission to our King; Jesus asked for it all, not just a quick prayer to get us out of hell
-THat we will have conflict with the powers of the world; Jesus fought the counter-kingdom by expelling demons
-That we must be about compassion and deliverance
-That we must be serious about expanding the kingdom
-What would be different around you if God's kingdom came?
-HOw can you be a part?
-John Mayer had a recent popular song "Waiting on the world to change" - as Christians, what are we waiting for?


Writers are back

Leno and Letterman were back on last night for the first time since the strike. Presidential hopeful, Mike Huckabee, was on Leno. It seems that he keeps popping up everywhere these days. From zero to hero?...

Part 2

Ignited, Part 2

I'm continuing my synopsis of the workshops and sessions that I attended at this past weekend's Ignite conference in Indy.

Main Session 3 - Mark Bowen, "Lifelong Joy in Ministry"

-Mark is basically hilarious. I don't think he tries to be, but he is so scatterbrained and distracted sometimes and then with the combination of his memorable laugh, it's just too much sometimes.
-Mark's talk was one of the most powerful that I had experienced in a good while. God grabbed me tightly and didn't let go.
-His opening thesis: "Joy in ministry (not as a career, but just as a called Christian) is found in laying down our rights, dreams and lives as an act of worship to God - no strings attached."
-Laying down your rights/No strings attached - very counter-American Christian
-What was the most important command? Jesus said to love God with all your being and to love your neighbor - so all our moves should be an act of worship to God
-Mark then walked through Philippians 2, and Paul's take on Jesus as the suffering servant
-This was the second Ignite where I had heard this passage taught and both times it was really powerful/challenging
-Jesus laid down his rights - think about it!
-"Being bitter is like swallowing poison and expecting the other person to die." Someone
-We have to lay down our dreams - not forsake dreaming altogether, but offer up our dreams to God and not hold tightly
-Do you think that Paul (sent to Gentiles, not Jews), Abraham (had son at 100 yrs), Joseph (sold to slavery), Daniel (castrated) had their "dreams" fulfilled?
-"God always fulfills his Scripture; he seldom fulfills our script." You can take that to the bank
-There is no such thing as me-centered Christianity - Joel Osteen has got it wrong
-We need to be praying, "What is the most right thing I can do in my current circumstance as an act of worship to God?" "How can I suffer for you?"
-He went on to tell about how recently his mother has gotten Alzheimers and he went over to clean her house and when he got there, she asked "Who are you?", and then when he told her "I'm your son, Mark", she replied "You're fat" and went on to repeat that all day. Mark made a conscious decision to lay down his rights and love his mom as an act of worship.
-Phil 2:17 - a drink offering was considered the least of all offerings, it was poured out on the ground and that is what Paul considered himself. A drink offering was considered waste. The casual observer would consider our lives a waste if we are being poured out for Christ. This was a powerful thought for me. We will not necessarily see visible effects or benefits in our ministry - are we a waste?
-We ended with a video clip of Jim Elliot and his four friends - 5 drink offerings - "what a waste"

Main Session 4 - Jim Pace, "You Completely Suck and Why That is Fine"

-Jim is a pastor at VTech and he loves the shock value and isn't afraid to say "you suck" or "that sucks" about 500 times from up front - he got the point across
-The local church is a body full of imperfect, messed up people
-There is something in each of us that cries out to be more than we are
-Matt 16:18 - the gates of Hell will not overcome "it" - Christ through the local church - even though "we suck"
-Together we are more than we can be alone
-Reading of John 6 - feeding of 5000
-2 miracles recorded in all 4 gospel accounts - the resurrection and the feeding of the 5000, there is something that each man wanted to get across - "we are not enough, Christ is enough"
-We needed to know that what we think isn't enough isenough
-The Romans used to say that they - the powerful, wealthy, intelligent - were the "light of the world." In Matt 5, Jesus told his uneducated, marginalized followers that they were the light of the world.
-In Christ's enoughness, we do not suck Ignite recap, maybe tomorrow