Thursday, March 28, 2013

Maundy Thursday: When the Creator King Becomes a Humiliated Slave

Tony Reinke writes some powerful words about Maundy Thursday on DesiringGod:

On Maundy Thursday the Creator of the universe bent down to his knees to wash the dirt from the calloused feet of his followers. And as he scrubbed away the dirt, he scrubbed from his Bride all possible justifications for ethnic and economic hierarchies. He radically upset cultural norms. And now he calls us to go low in foot-washing-like service to one another.

But most importantly, Maundy Thursday reminds us the Son of Man willingly came to earth as a lowly slave, to serve us, to be crushed for us, to free us from the sin slavery that leads to eternal death. On his knees Jesus enacts for us a parable of the cross.

Consider taking the time to read it all



Wednesday, March 27, 2013

By the Way, It's Holy Week


          Yes, the Supreme Court is hearing arguments regarding same-sex marriage. Yes, it’s an historic occasion, no matter the outcome (in June). Yes, as many pastors and bloggers have already been doing, I may have to address it. (This is, in part, a blog on theology and culture, after all!). 
          But not this week. Why? Because, in 4 days, we celebrate the greatest day in history. It’s Holy Week. 
          I understand if things need to be said with biblical wisdom, Truth and love, but let’s not let countless kitschy cliches on Facebook and other currents of culture distract us from our celebration of Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection, and our strive to be like Him. Let’s strive to “have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

“Who, being in very nature God,
    did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
    rather, he made himself nothing
    by taking the very nature of a servant,
    being made in human likeness.
    And being found in appearance as a man,
    he humbled himself
    by becoming obedient to death—
        even death on a cross!”

Monday, March 25, 2013

Robert Downey Jr. Asks for Forgiveness of Mel Gibson

          Tullian Tchividjian shares how he saw some glimpses of God-ly grace when Robert Downey, Jr. (now well-known to the world as Tony Stark/Iron Man), when accepting the American Cinematheque award, thanks Mel Gibson for helping him during his violent addiction to drugs and alcohol and asks that people give Gibson give him the same "clean slate" that Hollywood has given Downey, Jr.
          For those not familiar with the off-camera past and present of Downey, Jr. and Gibson and the rest of the context, the full text of Downey, Jr.'s acceptance speech, and Tchividjian's gleanings, you can read it all here. The video of the speech is available below (Downey, Jr. does good delivery). Enjoy!


Friday, March 22, 2013

Friday Fun: The Onion Mocks NY Jets' Treatment of Tebow . . . and Others

          Though the coaching style and personality of Rex Ryan is the polar opposite of what I've come to appreciate from successful coaches like Tony Dungy, etc., I was impressed how he brought the New York Jets from pedestrian level to AFC Champ caliber in 2009.
          Now, both on the roster and in the front office, they're in disarray. And rather than humbly lead the team through a rebuilding process (like my Minnesota Vikings just successfully did after the horror of 2010), the leadership seems more intent on assigning blame. Poor Tim Tebow is undeservedly in the middle of it all. At least that's according to this cleverly-written article in The Onion.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Down Syndrome Around the World

          Today is World Down Syndrome Day. It's a day where I'll spend some time in prayer of thankfulness and joy for my brother David, the Russian orphan boy adopted into our church family, and a few other people I've gotten to know who are sportin' that extra chromosome.
          Amy Julia Becker did a blog series of guest posts that are worldwide testimonies about life with Downs Syndrome. You can access them at Thin Places: Faith, Family and Disability.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Thor and Our Limited Understanding

image from hollywoodreporter.com

          I’ll warn you right now. I could be “spoiling” several movies and TV shows for you in this post.
          In the recent movie adaptation of the Marvel Comics superhero Thor, the “god of thunder” has his power and title stripped by his king father and is cast out to Earth (specifically, New Mexico). The first three humans he makes contact with turn out to be underrated, brilliant scientists. 
          As they try to find out who he is, how he got there, and what was that strange, shiny funnel cloud that seemed to transport him, more and more evidence seemed to point toward what Thor himself claimed: that he was Thor, the “god of thunder.” He arrived via “rainbow bridge,” and was looking for his hammer, Mj√∂lnir. One scientist, Jane Foster (later to be Thor’s love interest) is starting to believe it. The other scientist, Erik Selvig, is very skeptical that the mythological stories he learned as a child could actually be true, so he brings a children’s book about Thor and Asgard to their next meeting and presents it to Jane. The conversation ensues . . .

Jane Foster: Where'd you find this? 
Erik Selvig: The chidren's section. I just wanted to show you how silly his story was. 
Jane Foster: But you're the one who's always pushing me to chase down every possibility, every alternative. 
Erik Selvig: I'm talking about science, not magic. 
Jane Foster: Well, "magic's just science we don't understand yet." Arthur C. Clarke. 
Erik Selvig: Who wrote science-fiction. 
Jane Foster: A precursor to science fact! 
Erik Selvig: In some cases, yeah. 
Jane Foster: Well, if there's an Einstein-Rosen bridge, then there's something on the other side. And advanced beings could have crossed it! 
Erik Selvig: Oh, Jane.

          As we interpret the world the around us and life as we’ve come to know it, are we chasing down every possibility and alternative? What about a higher power? What about God? Or is the existence of any higher power or advanced being somehow able to be validly deemed as a complete impossibility
          As an elder of my church recently suggested to me, sometimes it seems that there’s an underlying presupposition in Western society that humans have the capability and/or entitlement to ultimately understand and comprehend everything, with or without the belief in a higher power. We tend to compartmentalize religion and mythology from science, and even religious followers tend to think that the natural world and the supernatural world are two different worlds. 
          A silly example of this is the reception to the series finale of the hit TV drama Lost. Why was it criticized? Because the resolution of the story wasn’t enough. There were (mostly menial) questions unanswered: What happened to the big statue? Why were their polar bears on the island? Was the black smoke monster’s power based in failed experiments in dangerous applied science, or supernature? 
          Christians and followers of other religions are guilty of this subtle pride, too. In all endeavors of life, let’s make sure we don’t have too much optimism and faith in ourselves. There are things beyond us. As Christians, we may not completely understand or comprehend everything, even in eternity. We also believe in Someone beyond which there is nothing and no one. 

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The New Pope, and Why Churches Shouldn't "Get with the Times"

          Pastors, service planners and socio-cultural exegetes, listen up.
          Some wise words here from Ed Stetzer on why it shouldn't be a surprise that the newly-elected pope holds to traditional Catholic beliefs and values. And how the Church "getting with the times" is not the answer.
          (Photo from the Associated Press).
         

Monday, March 18, 2013

Honoring St. Patrick

          Yesterday was St. Patrick's Day. For fun, I welcomed my church congregation in all the services, speaking in an Irish accent. I emphasized that we should celebrate the testimony and missionary work of St. Patrick. Later that day, my family and I (remotely Irish at best), listened to Celtic music, dressed in green and had a "green" dinner of green pancakes, sweet pickles, grapes and green milk (food coloring is fun!).
            It could be argued that St. Patrick's Day is the holiday where the original person is least understood. I have a few colleagues who eagerly anticipate the holiday as an opportunity to drink themselves silly while merely wearing green, maybe celebrating the peripheral or stereotypical aspects of Irish culture. Once, I heard an advertisement on Chicago radio that assured "non-Irish" people that all it takes was green apparel and a love of drinking to be "Chi-Irish."
          Myself? I'm thankful for the musical input from Ireland to the world (the Church included), from Celtic music to U2. But I'm also thankful and inspired by St. Patrick himself. Some things you should know about him from the Resurgence:

-He was one of the greatest missionaries who ever lived.

-He considered himself “a sinner, a most simple countryman, the least of all the faithful, and most contemptible to many.”

-He was actually more of a blue man (not sad, but the color), than a green one.

-As a teenager, he was stolen from his home and sold into slavery for six years in Ireland. He would later return to preach the gospel there.

-Satan attacked him violently in his sleep to the point where he couldn’t move.

-Legend has it that he contextualized and used shamrocks (an already-sacred symbol in Ireland) to teach people about the Trinity.

-He begged God to grant him to die a martyr’s death, even if it meant being torn limb from limb by dogs or pecked to death by birds. (Maybe St. Patrick inspired Alfred Hitchcock?)

          Links for further reading here.
    

Friday, March 15, 2013

Friday Fun: Iowa Fashion Week

image from theonion.com
          Accurate, well-written and hilarious, save for no mention of the Iowa State Cyclones (and this parody article takes place in Des Moines?). As someone who spent many years in the Hawkeye State, I enjoyed this (and so did my Iowa friends). Apologies for the PG-13 sentence near the end.

The highly anticipated weeklong event is reportedly expected to draw as many as 250 people to the capital region for a first glimpse at new collections from the top names in Iowa fashion, including Ames resident Jerry Paquette, Iowa City’s Marjorie Lanford, and veteran crochet designer Shelly Farnsworth of Jasper County.

“This week is a chance to show off the hottest new Iowa looks—from long johns to windbreakers to hooded sweatshirts,” said 31-year-old Fashion Week coordinator Jennifer Cathcart. “What’s on display over the next few days will soon be seen all over the trendiest streets in the likes of Davenport, Sioux City, and Algona.”

“This is the cutting edge of Iowa style,” Cathcart added.

The festivities reportedly began with a gala show at the Hampton Inn near the Des Moines Airport. According to reports, dozens of fans clamored to watch models strut down the butcher-paper catwalk in Conference Room B wearing Jockey’s 2013 line of white crew-neck tees as the Roosevelt High School jazz band performed a rendition of Katy Perry’s “Firework.”

          You can read the rest here.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

The World's Most Sustainable Snowboard Company

image and link from Christianity Today
          As winter drags on in the midwest, I thought I'd let you know about what an innovative Christ-follower is doing in Colorado: making snowboards out of trees tragically destroyed by pine beetles. Barry Clark, with the encouragement of Bill Dodder, founding pastor of Woodmen Valley Church, started the business Weston Snowboards
          Myself, my wife and I can only tell skiing stories that would make for good slapstick comedy, but this story of using (redeeming) what has been destroyed to better build community and point people to the Creator of the beautiful skiing mountains? That's inspiring.

Clark has founded and run a number of technology companies over the years, but Weston Snowboards falls at the intersection of Clark's core enthusiasms: snowboarding, woodworking, and community.

Weston Snowboards is in its infancy, a classic American small business. Clark has just a few employees and is still testing out his first product lines, but he has bold ambitions: to be the world's most-sustainable snowboard company.

The seed that grew to Weston Snowboards was planted on a ski lift in mid-2012. While Clark rode up the lift, a man in his 70s told Clark how his family had vacationed in the mountains for decades. He said that how skiing and snowboarding brought his entire family together in a way nothing else could.

"I took that conversation to heart," said Clark, who founded the company shortly after. "I think God smiles when he sees us enjoying his creation. Weston Snowboards helps people connect with nature, and the beauty of nature always points people to the Creator."

For Clark, the snowboard industry creates opportunities for families to connect with one another. But it's more than family fun. It's about redeeming what is damaged. Pine beetles swept through Colorado's mountains, leaving little alive in their wake. Weston Snowboards breathes new life into dead pines.

          You can read the rest here.




Wednesday, March 13, 2013

God's Love Letter to Artists

Calling creative Christ-followers. This is encouraging! From Jon Acuff:

"At the heart of it, the reason the church is not known as being a global leader in creativity and excellence is pretty simple. We missed God’s love letter to artists. I missed it about a dozen times myself. But while doing a two-year walk through of a one year read the whole Bible study plan, I stumbled upon it in Exodus."

You can read the rest here.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Farewell, Percy Harvin

image from NFL.com
          I still remember the NFL off-season of the spring of 2009. The Vikings had a decent season. They had won the NFC North and made it into the playoffs. I was finishing up grad school and working at Starbucks, very excited about getting together with some guys at Flatlander's to gorge ourselves on appetizers and watch the NFL draft.
          I read in the paper that morning about a Gator named Percy Harvin, a versatile wide receiver who might be who the Vikings could be looking for. There were some off-the-field issues in Florida, but hey, the Vikings were able to utilize Randy Moss . . . at least his rookie year. The Vikings picked him up in the first round.
          And then Brett Favre came in, had an amazing year, and helped Harvin to get four different Rookie of the Year awards. Harvin remained a shining light of good football-playing in the Vikings painful rebuilding process over the next few years . . . save for a few tantrums and threats to leave.
          Though the Vikings are on the up, and a lot of people wanted to keep Harvin, we knew he was on the way out when he said he wanted to be paid on par with Calvin Johnson (who just broke one of Jerry Rice's records).
          Here's some excerpts from some Vikings bloggers on the subject:

          "Yes, I know that Harvin does this and does that and returns kicks and everything else. Tell me. . .if the Vikings are going to be giving a guy $16.5 million a year, do you think they're going to continue to risk him on the kick return, which you could argue is the most dangerous play in football? I would sure think that they wouldn't. So that right there takes away from Harvin's value. He's never had a 1,000-yard receiving season before, he's had blowups with numerous coaches, he's displaying a significant attitude problem. . .to put it mildly, he certainly isn't enhancing his value at this point.

          "Yes, Harvin is a wonderful football player. Adrian Peterson is a wonderful football player, too, and he's made even more wonderful by the fact that he shuts up, does his job, and gets paid later. Harvin should take a page from his better, more successful teammate."

          We can all take a page from the servant heart of Adrian Peterson. Perhaps it's more than just numbers that make an MVP. I'm sure we can all name a few players who self-stunted their careers with their own ego.
          Be a team player. It's not all about you.

               

Friday, March 8, 2013

Friday Fun: Praying for Mi

          A good friend of mine served for years in a Korean church in worship leadership and
discipleship. While serving there, he became acquainted with a congregation member named Mi (pronounced like the English first person singular "me"). It took some getting used to saying things like "Hello, Mi!"
          But here's the funny part. That's not how my friend first met Mi. He first heard of Mi when he attended a prayer group when she was going through a bit difficult time. You can imagine my friend's confusion when the leader of the prayer group prayed the following:
          "Lord, we all want to lift Mi up in prayer tonight. In our church family, we all value the presence of Mi. Please send comfort, strength and peace to Mi. Thank you for sending Mi our way. Provide a hedge of protection around Mi. We all love and care very much for Mi. Please empower and guide the rest of us for ways we can serve and help Mi. For you know Mi's heart and trials, God. We pray on behalf of Mi. Please bless Mi and take care of her. Amen."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

A Good Theology of Video Games

          I might be best described as a uncommitted and old-fashioned video gamer. I was in grade school during the decline of cartridge systems and the rise of compact discs. But I never lost my love for the Nintendo characters and the side-scrolling adventure games and haven't found as much entertainment in the modern, graphic first-person shooters. Recently, I traded in my Wii system and all its games to buy my wife a food processor, and far and away the most frequent use of my XBox 360 is kids programming for my preschool daughters. Nowadays, I get to play video games about once a month. (Wouldn't trade this lifestyle for anything).
          Most everybody reading this has a story to share on video games. Like many other hobbies (sports, hunting, fishing, traveling, collecting), it can be a subculture. And I think it's a good thing that there are ministries and literature for the subculture. I was thrilled to learn about this book Of Games and God by Kevin Schut, as reviewed by Richard Clark, the managing editor of gamechurch.com.

          In fact, Schut provides with Of Games and God the only extensive and balanced consideration of the medium I’ve yet seen. Not only is the book broad and open-ended enough to remain relevant for years to come, but it is also informed and nuanced enough to be taken seriously by thoughtful fans and critics alike. Both sides will find plenty here to consider.

          You can read the rest here.

     

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How Does Christianity Grow? Lessons from Rodney Stark

Enjoyed this from Trevin Wax:

Today, we’re looking at what parts of Stark’s analysis may be helpful for church leaders today. The strengths of Stark’s proposal are many. His sociological analysis does not deny or minimize the supernatural elements of Christianity’s explosive growth.

Instead, we ought to see this book as an examination of the means God used to fulfill his purposes. A sociological approach should not be set against a supernatural approach. Understanding these human elements will help us make some points of application for society.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Misunderstood Bible Verse: "The World Hated Me First . . ."


          The Church, groups of churches, and/or an individual church gets criticized regularly, to a variety of degrees, for a variety of reasons, and from a variety of people (including its own members). What is arguably the most biblical response to a certain criticism depends on those factors. There’s no cure-all response, especially not John 15:18-19.
          18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. 19 If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.”
          These prophetic words of Jesus are some of his last nuggets of wisdom, truth and prophecy before he was arrested. Some scholars connect it, in particular, to the Pharisees’ plot to kill Jesus (11:45-57), which was about to unfold. He goes on to speak about why he is and will be hated: said “haters” are unwilling to accept Jesus’s deity (23), the humility and submission that follows (20a) and the absolutism and self-sacrifice of his teachings (22). And all those subsequent who accept Jesus’s deity and teachings will be hated by association. Sadly, this prophecy came true, as many Christians were martyred in the next few centuries.
          So, we’re assured we’ll continue to be hated for believing in and living according to the deity and teachings of Christ and other God-breathed words. But sometimes a church or a Christ-follower is criticized or “hated” for something(s) they really ought to fix/change, but they’ll use John 15:18-19 as a defense.
          This verse, though, is not a license to be, for example, anti-intellectual, poorly communicative, ungracious, impatient, hypocritical and/or other unbiblical values. We’re called to submit to the law (Rom. 13:1), not complain and be “blameless and pure” (Philippians 2:14-15). The wrongful implausibility of Jesus' teachings can subside because of living out biblical values (1 Pet. 2:12).
          We can be hated because we love Jesus and believe in (and live our lives by) his teachings and work. (Keep reading the Bible and let its truth flow through every aspect of your life, more so than any tradition or cultural influence). But we can’t necessarily justify ourselves being hated for poorly communicating the gospel, elevating kitsch, being downright unloving.
          As Christ-followers, let’s be hated for the right reasons.    
   

Friday, March 1, 2013

Friday Fun: Why You Mute Off-Stage Mics

          My denomination posted this video earlier this week. The church had recently purchased a wireless headset mic for their worship leader. Upon the end of the corporate musical worship and the beginning of the sermon, the sound techs had forgotten to turn off the worship leader's headset mic from the onstage monitors. Thus, during the sermon, the whole congregation got to hear live clips of his immediate conversation with the associate pastor regarding, most likely, relational and volunteer connections and audition processes.
          As the preaching pastor said, "That's awkward!"