Should we take our Immigration laws from the Bible?

When did it become ok to demand that we should take or shape our national laws from Leviticus? Which ones? Is it ok to lift one verse from Leviticus 19 but none from 18 or 24? Why is the idea of the ‘Moral law’ of Leviticus suddenly popular but only when applied to the issues of immigration but not…sexuality, self defense or capital punishment?

When the “Moral Majority’, a Christian Right conservative political action movement of the 80’s did it they were ridiculed. Today if you bring up Leviticus 18 in reference to anything regarding morality and sexuality, you will be branded a homophobic, a right wing fundamentalist akin to Hitler, Al Qaeda or ISIS but use chapter 19 for Immigration and you lauded a compassionate saint!

If one appeals to the moral law in Leviticus 18 you will be labeled an ignorant buffoon who cherrypicks one verse but ignores the rest. You will be targeted as a bigot tied to an ancient religion of tent dwellers who forbid tattoos(Lev. 19:28), wearing mixed fabric clothing(Lev. 19:19) and is menstrual blood phobic(Lev. 18:19).

But now we see the exact thing taking place on the political stage on immigration and the verses regarding justice and mercy laws in Leviticus.

Leviticus 19:33-34

Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

We live in one of the most biblically illiterate times in American history and yet the Bible is being used by the left and right to justify, defend, demand and demonize certain political or moral actions.

The bible is being used to castigate supposed hypocrites and Jesus is being brought up as a character witness on shows that proudly advocates a host of issues that any average Bible acquainted person would know Jesus would never advocate.

One of the warning signs to pay attention to in politics is when people begin to denounce other people’s faith when their political positions or party doesn’t line up with the others. When religious or political voices attempt to make people question their own deeply held religious ideas it becomes what has been termed gaslighting.

Gaslighting: a form of psychological manipulation that seeks to sow seeds of doubt in a targeted individual or in members of a targeted group, making them question their own memory, perception, and sanity. Using persistent denial, misdirection, contradiction, and lying, it attempts to destabilize the target and delegitimize the target’s belief.

This is being done right now in the immigration debate. People are using children as political pawns. The left and right are doing it and gaslighting is being used to bully people to one side or the other. The right wants a certain set of immigration policies put in place and the left has their own policies they want in place. A power struggle happening and both sides is appealing to their constituent’s core convictions or demonizing them in various ways.

As I listen to the debate and see people pulling verses out of chapters of the Bible to defend or demand, I am growing more convinced that there isn’t even a biblically informed debate going on. Let’s avoid for the moment the chapters in Leviticus that are being referenced and look at a few others that I am sure no one on the left or right probably would advocate today.

The first involves separating families to show religious and national commitment.

Ezra 10:2-5

Then Shecaniah son of Jehiel, a descendant of Elam, said to Ezra, “We have been unfaithful to our God, for we have married these pagan women of the land. But in spite of this there is hope for Israel. Let us now make a covenant with our God to divorce our pagan wives and to send them away with their children.

We will follow the advice given by you and by the others who respect the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law of God. Get up, for it is your duty to tell us how to proceed in setting things straight. We are behind you, so be strong and take action. So Ezra stood up and demanded that the leaders of the priests and the Levites and all the people of Israel swear that they would do as Shecaniah had said. And they all swore a solemn oath.

There is a biblical example of God’s people choosing to separate families in response to religious law. I am not advocating it, but it’s in the bible, does that mean we have to do it? No, but it also shouldn’t be ignored as if the bible has nothing other to say about immigrants or immigration. The left probably wouldn’t spend too much time on this story.

How about Exodus 12:43-49

“The Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “These are the regulations for the Passover meal: “No foreigner may eat it. Any slave you have bought may eat it after you have circumcised him, but a temporary resident or a hired worker may not eat it. “It must be eaten inside the house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. The whole community of Israel must celebrate it. “A foreigner residing among you who wants to celebrate the Lord’s Passover must have all the males in his household circumcised; then he may take part like one born in the land. No uncircumcised male may eat it. The same law applies both to the native-born and to the foreigner residing among you.

Should we mandate that all foreigners that come into our land, should circumcise themselves to align with our judeo-christian heritage? I doubt most people would approve of any laws that require that religious conformity.

If anyone is going to appeal to the Old Testament law they need to understand it’s context, culture and covenantal connection to the redemptive history of God’s people and His work in the earth. They need to be knowledgeable about what of the law was fulfilled by Jesus Christ and what extends through the Old Covenant into the New Covenant. To rip verses out of chapters to justify or demonize is to mishandle the scriptures and use them for one’s own personal political or policy agenda.

When read in this manner, one can see that the justice and mercy found in the Old Covenant informs and shapes much of the New. We can learn from and and be guided by the the spirit of the law in seeking to establish wise laws even from a secular angle. One doesn’t need to be religious to understand the truth in this verse:

Do not twist justice in legal matters by favoring the poor or being partial to the rich and powerful. Always judge people fairly.” -Leviticus 19:15

That is a good principle of law.

With that understanding and view in mind we can see the principles in the law that can strengthen and even support certain aspect of our own judicial law without demanding they conform to a strict reading of the Jewish or even Christian law.

Leviticus 19:33-35

“Do not take advantage of foreigners who live among you in your land. Treat them like native-born Israelites, and love them as you love yourself. Remember that you were once foreigners living in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God. “Do not use dishonest standards when measuring length, weight, or volume. Your scales and weights must be accurate. Your containers for measuring dry materials or liquids must be accurate. I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”

This verse is about business more than immigration and again, as a principle, I think we all could agree that someone in business shouldn’t cheat people, especially those who may be from another country. But this isn’t a verse that is advocating open borders or demands that any modern country not enforce immigration laws. It should be argued that we need just laws and I think most sincere people from any side would agree that we need to work towards the most just immigration system we can come up with as a country.

I think any level headed Christian familiar with the bible and political history knows that people in power and people seeking to gain the upper hand in some matter, often choose to twist anything considered sacred or held in honor to their constituents or opponents to their own good.

This has been true of the current administration and has been true of everyone before it. Both political parties know how to rally their side to their cause. Right now the political left and the political right are power hungry parties seeking to insure their control or regain control of congressional seats in the upcoming congressional elections.

Both political parties are appealing to their base by using what they know will move or anger them. Children are being used as pawns in political matters that extend to issues that go far beyond justice and compassion. Patriotism, terrorism, crime, immigration, and economics are being used to rally people in solidarity and get more power.

This is politics and if you are not able to see it for what it is, you will get swept up in a movement of manipulation that will turn you against people that whatever side wants defeated. Be politically involved, but don’t be a puppet or pawn!

We live in a country with a representative form of government and it’s our civic duty to elect people who will represent us in matters of government and enact laws or defend laws that we feel do the most good for the most people. If you are someone who values the opportunity to be part of the civic process, than get educated, understand the issues, listen to the talking heads, your friends and neighbors, read, study and do the best you can to be an informed voter.

Then engage and hold your elected representatives accountable. Don’t be bullied around by people who want to force you into their political opinion or views. Don’t be fooled into losing the opportunities you have to be part of making change because your views may or may not be popular or supported by people you know. Be bold and courageous, be involved and discerning and use you voice when you feel the need. Freedom of speech is part of being a good and active citizen. Dialogue and debate are not bad, they help everyone who is sincerely after truth and justice to become a better person.

The political discourse in this moment is devolving to new lows and the anti-immigrant, bigoted neo-nazi infiltration of the Alt-right and the ‘F*ck You’ movement of the progressive, hate spewing alt-left is an example of this dangerous ugliness. Maybe we could turn to Leviticus again to help both sides to check themselves:

Leviticus 19:17-18

Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”

Last of all, I think the wisdom of Leviticus that we all should honor which would truly make America Great Again is Leviticus 19:27:

“‘Do not cut the hair at the sides of your head or clip off the edges of your beard.

So let it be written…so let it be done.

The Death of god & the sacrifice of Fools.

This is the unedited version of my intro to Ecclesiastes the death of meaning, god & self: part 2. I’ll probably sanitize it a bit for Sunday but this is it in the raw.

“Watch your step when you go to the house of God, for understanding is more favored than the offering of sacrifice of fools, for they do not know even how to do evil. Be not rash with your mouth, and let your heart not hurry to utter a word before God. For God is in the heavens and you are on earth. Therefore let your words be few. For a dream comes with much business and the fool’s voice with much talk. When you make a vow to God, do not delay to fulfill it, for there is no pleasure in fools. What you vow, fulfill. Better that you do not vow than that you vow and do not fulfill. Do not let your mouth make your body offend, not say before God that it was a mistake. Why should God rage over your voice and ruin your handiwork? For in many dreams are mere breath and much talk. Instead, fear God.” Ecclesiastes 5:1-7

The madman cried: “Where has God gone?” “I shall tell you. We have killed him…you and I. We are his murderers.” -The Madman by Friedrich Nietzsche

“When Nietzsche proclaimed that “God is dead”, he was not proclaiming that he had become an atheist. What he did mean was the death of all totalizing ideologies, that is, ideologies (theological or secular) who claim to be the overarching principle that explains everything. He proclaimed the death of all all kinds of ‘reductionisms’ – religious or scientific, that reduces everything to one formula, with their notions of rational certainty, cocksureness and universality – shutting down questioning and critique.”

When the Preacher says, “Be not rash with your mouth, and let your heart not hurry to utter a word before God.” We are confronted with a command that is immensely important, especially in today’s fragmenting, disintegrating and prodigal religious culture.

People are leaving the ‘church’ in alarming numbers and many are doing so because they have concluded that too much of our talk is ‘mere breath’. The rejection of truth for many isn’t necessarily an abandonment of the idea that there are true things, but the conclusion that much of what is presented as truth often doesn’t seem to bring about any real sense of meaning. I think we’re in an era of the weariness of words.

The Preacher described it this way: “…let your heart not hurry to utter a word before God.”

A “hurried heart” is not a place from which we should speak before God, be it to Him or about Him.

Later he says: “Beware of making many books there is no end and much chatter is a weariness of the flesh.” (12:12). Endless opinions in a vast sea of ideas has produced an ocean of meaningless flotsam and jetsam. The ‘chatter’ isn’t touching people’s souls and their hearts and minds have grown tired of religious platitudes, bumper sticker responses and shallow answers in the face of the maelstrom, mystery and majesty of the world.

The Preacher ponders the improbabilities of life after death when he says: “Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?” (Ecc. 3:21). We know that Christ has answered that mystery, there is, but for the sake of wrestling with the meaningless living that takes place so much around us, let’s ruminate a minute.

How would you live your life today, if there was no afterlife? Would you change anything? Would you savor the moment more? Would you kiss the cheek of your spouse longer, hold your child tighter, or embrace the day with renewed seriousness and gratitude?

Maybe the Preacher is more concerned about how we have neglected the sacred goodness God has called us to attend and imbibe all around us? Maybe His ‘Eat and Drink” pontifications are prophetic words of embracing the possibilities of joy and meaning waiting to be discovered and savored in our lives? Maybe some saints can get so heavenly minded that they can’t see the glory of God’s goodness right in front of them? Could it be that the Preacher is saying that many of us see a fire consuming creation instead of hearing the voice of God in the flames of the bush, telling us to take off our church shoes and touch the earth again?

Instead of church being a company of disciples, a term meant to describe humble seekers and learners, it has become a room of dissertation and examination for know-it-alls, do-gooders and better-than-thous. The preacher calls their bluff when he cries: “I saw all the works and ways of God, and it became clear to me that no one is able to grasp fully this mystery called life. Try as we might, we cannot discover what has been done under the sun. Even if the wise claim to know, they really haven’t discovered it.” (8:17)

All such things are meaningless, all the pretentious presentations of God…must…die.

Did you know that the biblical God can die and it’s a liberating death? Resurrection is the promise of new life, a new understanding, a new day and a new world. To cry god is dead is not a defeat but for many a victory! Their false God has…died.

The Preacher speaks a word of silence into the cacophony of religious chatter going on in the ‘house of God’. He goes after the ‘vows’ being made, the hypocritical assumptions, conclusions and commitments that perpetuate a life of intention but unattended realization.

He cries bullshit!

When the Preacher says: “Do not let your mouth make your body offend,…” he is telling us to grab the emergency break on all our over-commitments.

He’s yelling “Stop!” “You are overselling and underperforming!” Don’t believe your own hype or all the hoopla and hallelujahs offered so easily in the house of worship. Honest and vulnerable cries of faith is one thing, but mumbling mantras of over-memorized worship proclamations is sacrilege. Meaningless speaking, singing or sacrifice is the worship of fools and such religious pageantry is a pious charade that evokes the “rage of God”.

Like a shunned woman, a betrayed wife or shamed lover…God will not be twaddled with. His jealousy is volcanic, His holiness unleashes plagues on those who peek into the ark (1 Samuel 6:19). Death to those who handle Him like a trinket, good luck charm or genie bottle (2 Samuel 6) and liars still fall dead in the presence of the holy Ghost (Acts 5).

These are not the threats of a divine egomaniac or unhinged Almightiness, they are the thunder and lightning against head, heart and hand blasphemy. To stand in the presence of the eternal, omnipotent power and love with unwiped hands, unzipped pants and half-assed commitments is to betray everything sacred.

In a day when the Divine Name is the exclamation point on the end of a crude sentence, maybe it is time to hush ourselves. Like Israel maybe we should choose to no longer speak the holiest of names so quickly? To refrain from the crass familiarity that breeds contempt and complacency when what is sacred is treated like poptarts, hairspray and the goofiness of infatuation instead of the deep and passionate whispers of tender and jealous fidelity.

The Preacher screams at us to put a sock in it…before we speak ourselves into a life we have no intention of living. Such a witness is worthless and if you won’t keep the vow, than for heaven’s sake…don’t speak the vow!

Maybe being given the freedom to be silent in church isn’t a judgment on being a woman, as so many today seem to imply? Maybe it’s a liberating gift to tell some of us that you need not make any commitments in church? No need to incriminate or explain yourself. No rededications and redactions just…be. An invitation to rest in the grace that knows your deepest, most true self. A command to believe the Lord hears the real you, the prayer unspoken, the groaning of God within your often conflicted and complicit self. Maybe silence before Him is the same gift He will give you? To stand before the eternal judge and find silence in heaven just might become the greatest gift of grace any human has ever received.

To some of you these words might shock and offend you, but to others, they are like an escape clause in a life lease that you know you can not pay.

You know your own heart. You are fully aware of your waywardness and worldliness. You know the secrets of your soul, the appetites of your lusts and the damnable desires for ease, distraction and dilly-daddling that plague your so called religious life.

You have been searching for a way out of this pre-arranged marriage that somehow you got shanghaied into during some low point in your desperate life. You now regret the commitments made when you were mentally and emotionally vulnerable, you know that you were lying, even if it was a well intentioned one. You would of drank a 40 ouncer of Clorox if you thought it would of eased your pain or saved you from the hell you had created or were experiencing in your life. But you didn’t really know what you were getting into and now you are trapped.

But now you hear the Preacher proclaiming a sermon that you would walk down the aisle to…if you could just find the courage within your conflicted soul. You see that the altar is full of overburdened believers confessing their religion. You see them standing up with joy on their faces, sanctimonious sins washed away and the chains of guilt and pressure laying broken at their feet. They are being baptized in grace and you long for the waters.

The Preacher has unleashed a chapel shaking revival and the old church of Ichabod is now full of Atheists and heaven’s angels are rejoicing! The choir is banging their tambourines, the front row is full of people clapping, dancing and shouting “god is dead!” “god is dead!”…because only false gods die for good.

In a scrambling rush, every hypocritical, whitewashed tomb of a saint is grabbing their unread bibles and hightailing it out of the church calling down curses on those rebels, reprobates, apostates and heretics!

All that is left is Jesus and his reborn…singing songs, drinking wine and eating bread in spirit and truth.

There standing on the threshold of old chapel is Jesus waving goodbye to the fleeing offended and singing an ancient line from the Roman coliseum that good old Polycarp ironically jabbed the Emperor with…“Away with the atheists”.

Image: Edvard Munch, Portrait of Friedrich Nietzsche (detail), 1906; Source: Wikimedia Commons, PD-Old-70.

Why Philosophy Matters

There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy.” -From french philosopher Albert Camus’ essay ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’

Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher. Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.” -Ecc. 1:2

I have spent many years in the Charismatic Christian tradition and often heard and read that people who have a love for learning or pursue education were somehow less than those who were being guided by spiritual impulse, impression or message.

“Head knowledge” was a negative phrase that could only be remedied by a mystical or emotive experience. The idea that the life of the mind was an integral part of being a holistically spiritual person was somehow off the radar. The academic life was the pursuit of those who had too much leisure or were less concerned about ‘getting stuff done for the Kingdom!”. There was an implied sanctity in the poor, uneducated, street smarts, ‘rely only on the Ghost’ type of person. Faith instead of work, feelings instead or rational thought, dream life vs wakefulness, tingles over thinking were praised at the expense of other valid and often more concrete disciplines of being and thinking.

The same group-think would mishandle verses that spoke of philosophy or ritual as somehow dead religion instead of the cumulative gift of tradition born out of deep and serious study and practice. Anything old was more than likely useless, boring, lifeless and no longer needed. The Ancient was equated with ignorant or irrelevant like trying to play music on an 8-track. Too much of this modern mold spread throughout my experience of Church and has in my opinion contributed to the loss of young minds and hearts to alternative worldviews that do not denigrate, diminish or demonize the life of the mind and body.

Over time I began to realize that throwing shade over ‘loving God with all your mind’ was direct disobedience to the Lord Jesus (Lk. 10:27). I’ve seen countless irrational, stupid and ignorant decisions and actions divide, disillusion and harm people. I’ve witnessed too many dead end conclusions and wasted years. I’ve heard too many thin arguments peddled as spiritual direction or ‘faithing it’, and in time, I began to see the exalted emperor was naked.

A spiritual person is a thinking person.

People wrestling with truth often look to philosophy for answers. Quite literally, the term “philosophy” means, “love of wisdom.” In a broad sense, philosophy is an activity people undertake when they seek to understand fundamental truths about themselves, the world in which they live, and their relationships to the world and to each other. As an academic discipline philosophy is much the same. Those who study philosophy are perpetually engaged in asking, answering, and arguing for their answers to life’s most basic questions.

However, the historical and ‘new’ atheist philosophies offer more questions than answers and this has serious consequences. The logical conclusions of a 100 proof, undiluted atheistic worldview can and often does lead to the black hole of existential despair, depression and even eventual suicide.

The human mind and heart was not created to live in a closed system of cyclical meaninglessness. Life under the sun is a gift from God but its mysteries and madness are meant to force us to look beyond our finite existence to the eternal. Our created life is directly connected to our Creator, and one can only find their fullest of meaning in a relationship with God through Christ. The watch best understands itself and its purpose in the hands of the watchmaker.

Ecclesiastes 12.11 states: “The words of the wise are like goads, their collected sayings like firmly embedded nails–given by one Shepherd.

Calvary Chapel Pastor Everette Hatcher said:
Goads are pointed prods that are used to help direct cattle and sheep. Words of truth prick the conscience and help to guide people towards moral and ethical reason. The firmly embedded nails signify the fixed principles of logic and the reality of absolute truth. Words of logic help to pin down people who have developed a false paradigm and a false view of reality. Logic helps people to see that their beliefs are not in harmony with reality.

The Wisdom God intends us to arrive at through the study of Ecclesiastes is not a nihilistic tap out on the mat of life. It is not an endorsement unrestrained hedonism or a surrender to the purposelessness of atheism. The spiritual agnosticism that seems to seep out of Ecclesiastes is to be understood as an existential diagnosis, not a theological or philosophical prescription. To the wise observer, life ‘under the sun’ is not all there is to life. So in in the spirit of the Greek philosopher Socrates we come to see that: “The unexamined life is not worth living.

The Wisdom books compel their readers to engage life with one’s full head, heart and hands. To grow in wisdom one must seek to be wise. The first step in that pursuit is to acquire “The Fear of the Lord”: A Hebraic phrase, which means that all human knowledge comes back to the question about commitment to God. This way of thinking compels us to embrace a ‘open system’ worldview that understands that God is the ultimate source of meaning and purpose.

British Christian Philosopher and apologist Peter S. Williams put it this way:
For the Christian Theist, life is meaningful in that it is the purposeful, good creation of God. The telos (or goal) of human existence is to know and worship God for eternity. In the Christian worldview then, life has an objective purpose, and this purpose is objectively valuable, in that God (being necessarily and objectively good) is the objective standard of value. The crucial point is this: If God exists, then we have a purpose, a reason why we exist, a goal and a meaning. If no God exists, then the universe has no creator, and no Final cause, and we have no creator, and no Final cause, no purpose. Even if God exists and human beings (and the universe) have a purpose, life might seem meaningless if we did not know that God exists and what God’s purpose is.”

Life is breath and we are it’s breathers.

That life can be tragic and tremendous, everyone on earth wrestles with the same experiences ‘under the sun’. No one escapes evil, suffering and pain but all can joy, meaning, love, inspiration, goodness, beauty and truth as well. Good psychologists and theologians know that how and what one thinks has a profound impact on the quality of one’s life. Who we are is directly connected to the life of the mind and heart. Thinking and believing things that are true, should be the goal of all maturing adults. The art of thinking in it’s best sense and tradition is study of philosophy.

Systematic academic philosophy is traditionally divided into these major areas of study.

Metaphysics: At its core the study of metaphysics is the study of the nature of reality, of what exists in the world, what it is like, and how it is ordered.

Epistemology: Epistemology is the study of knowledge. It is primarily concerned with what we can know about the world and how we can know it.

Ethics: The study of ethics often concerns what we ought to do and what it would be best to do.

Logic: Another important aspect of the study of philosophy is the arguments or reasons given for people’s answers to these questions.

As you can see, these matters matter for any serious person wanting to understand themselves, the world around them and the great existential questions of life.

If you are in a church, a tradition or group of people that malign, ridicule or diminish theology, reason, logic, philosophy, learning, reading, or any other form of education be it low or high…run.

If you don’t…you are stupid.

Someday you will thank me, for saying so.

(Material and musings from my sermon series on Ecclesiastes)

Why Pastors need to love their spouses first.

Why Pastors need to love their spouses first and why we moved out of the East Central neighborhood.

The Lord had to remind me that…I was married.

“For a single man is focused on the things of the Lord and how he may please him. But a married man is pulled in two directions, for he is concerned about both the things of God and the things of the world in order to please his wife.” -1 Corinthians 7:32-33

This is a story of me coming to terms with the pastoral life as a married man, learning to love my wife first and embrace the call of God to be a husband, parent and then pastor. Not everything I will share is what happened to us as a couple or was LeeElla’s experience, but these are true tales of ours and others in ministry. Everyone has to figure out how to navigate these challenges in marriage, but pastors have a few unique challenges.

Being reminded that I am married, might sound ridiculous but give me a moment to explain how in ministry, one can come to assume or even demand that wives in ministry are supposed to take a backseat to the call of God, which in practicality means…everyone and everything else. Something my wife has done wholeheartedly as unto the Lord, with passion and vision and unyielding perseverance. She has been side by side with me, as have others in this, but in the drive and enthusiasm of serving the Lord, I under-tended the call of serving my wife in the ways she probably needed.

Somehow the idea that spouses were to serve pastors and the church became infused into my understanding of full time ministry. The edenic language of ‘helpmate’ has not always been seen as a joint call to stewardship, flourishing and fruitfulness but the assignment of a spouse to help pastors fulfill their ministry life.

These religious and cultural expectations can produce a lot of strain and stress on a marriage. When the couple begins to discover that things are not jelling as they expected and conflict, contention and distance start finding their way into the relationship problems can start manifesting like mushrooms. Some spouses turtle-up and retreat into themselves, others may periodically act out when the burden is too much and unleash a fight or flight confrontation. Some fall into patterns of self medicating that can lead to addictions, adultery or ill health. The slow simmer of resentment is the corrosive result of a life of unexpected, unfulfilled and unmanageable expectations. These coping mechanisms can become serious fractures in the marriage foundation, pummel a realistic and healthy sense of self, and steal the hope and joy of the future.

Add to this the self-imposed or spouse imposed guilt that comes from feeling or being told that you are not measuring up or fulfilling some unreasonable role and it can become a recipe for soul-numbing trouble or disaster.

Unfortunately church people can add a whole other layer of expectations on the pastoral couple. There’s a large set of uniquely demanding duties supposedly required by a spouse who is married to a pastor. There’s the idea in the church world, that if there‘s a pastor who is paid, it’s assumed it’s a two for one deal.

So the pastor’s spouse is drafted into the work and if they don’t find a way to measure up to all the various roles of entertainer, counselor, best friend to all, cruise director, interior decorator, administrator, treasurer, worship leader, janitor and public relations defensive line they can be shamed or shunned.

God help them if they also need to work outside the home to help with the financial burdens that are often part of ministry life. Add to that the role and duties related to being married and a parent and you can see why so many couples in ministry burnout, quit or suffer from isolation, debilitating marriage problems or end in divorce.

An environment like this can peck to death the heart and self-image of the spouse who married a pastor. The bloody mess is heart wrenching to behold and any pastor who allows or perpetuates such an assault on their partner will face a day of reckoning in every sphere of life.

We have known, witnessed and worked in, under and around all these issues. By the grace of God and hard won wisdom, supportive colleagues and the help of family and friends we have made it through almost 25 years of full time ministry. That doesn’t include our family history of a generational pastoral family on LeeElla’s side and quasi-religious upbringing on mine. But those experiences and the wisdom derived also comes from failures, missteps, close calls and near soul-death experiences, as well as many, many, many battles.

At this time in our marriage and ministry, we have both grown to see our differences, unique callings and assignments complimented and provided other contexts of meaning and mission. There is supposed to be a freedom in marriage and ministry that touches on some things and revolves around others. What brought a measure of conflict in earlier years is now seen as God’s sovereign design meant to bless us and provide for us a spacious liberty and grace to be who God has called us both to be, together and a part.

So as we both approach the end of our 40’s and the last of our four kids is about to graduate from high school, we have a new chapter of life before us. It’s not surprising that the Lord has had to remind me in this season…that I am married.

For me that has taken on a major shift in my understanding of ministry and empowered me to make some significant changes in the way I am approaching my calling as husband and pastor. This began a number of years ago when LeeElla and I started discussing this upcoming season of life. We had three markers that when they arrived, we agreed to make some significant changes. They were:

When the kids were graduated and/or out on their own.

When Kona our family dog would die.

When we became grandparents.

In June they will have all taken place.

In march of 2017 I was at Mt. Angel Monastery participating in my annual prayer retreat with friends and colleagues. I knew going into the 4 days of retreating that the Lord was speaking to me about taking what would be a huge step for me personally and pastorally…moving out of East Central.

We had been living in the neighborhood for the last 12 years where we and a team of friends had planted Jacob’s Well Church in 2006. The move into East Central was one that was a direct call and based on serious missional vision and ministry values. We were all in and committed to seeing a type of ministry and mission emerge through neighborhood based, incarnational, service orientated, gospel work, witness and worship. All of life, lived and worked out in and among the working poor. We had committed to face all the challenges and opportunities associated with a neighborhood facing serious issues surrounding poverty, addiction, race, crime and violence. It was our burning of the boats season of life. We had chosen a way of being and doing life, ministry and mission and we were going to make it happen by the grace of God or die trying.

Oh the wild life we have lived! We (us, our kids and our church members) have seen miracles and madness, breakthroughs and breakdowns, new life and unrelenting death, growth and church splits, national attention and local derision, unity and betrayal. We have witnessed more than we could ever imagine and more than we ever wanted. This journey has thrown us in the deep end and most of the time we’ve felt like we were drowning or breaking some kind of Guinness book of world records with treading water.

We have fought lions, torn down gates, woke the dead, drove out devils, touched glory and tasted the waters of life in all their multifaceted powers. But we have buried friends, watched good turn to ugly and horror. We have been crushed by personal and public trials, troubles and terrors. Wrestled with friends, police, thugs, blight and neighbors. Been beaten down so low, stretched too thin and almost expired of all sense of meaning and hope and sometimes sanity!

There have been moments when we could feel the breath of the dragon and hear the laughter of hell and yet sung with the songs of angels and stood desperately fast when others fled. We have seen God be faithful, good and more than enough and discovered that we are less than we ever thought we were. We have surrendered to the realization that we will never be enough and we are not messiahs and that is ok. It has been a lesson in the exaltation of Christ and the downfall of us. He has increased but we have decreased and we have grown more and more aware of the insane wisdom of it all. But the book of our life, ministry and church is not over, this is been but a chapter or two, a few decades in the Divine Kingdom campaign we have been blessed to be drafted in but will never see the completion of in our lifetime.

The realization of these truths have been liberating to me, as I wrestled with yielding to the call of the next season of our married life. At the retreat in 2017, one of my pastor friends recommended a chapter in a book that he thought would help me discern what I was coming to terms with in my life. Below are the portions that helped me confirm the call and take the nexts steps of action needed to submit to a new opportunity before me in life, ministry and mission.

The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How transforming your inner life will deeply transform your church, team and the world. By Peter Scazzero

“I informed Geri that I was committed to leading out of the joy of our marriage, out of the overflow of our cup running over with love for one another. And if I could not maintain the boundaries necessary to keep the pressures of church leadership from negatively impacting our marriage, I would gladly resign my position.

“Okay,” she said cautiously, though it was clear she was skeptical.

I wanted her to know who serious I was. “Honey, I know that living in New York City is hard for you. If, at any point, you feel like you no longer want to be here, I will take that as God speaking to both of us. I will leave New Life and we can seek out whatever God has for us to do next.”

The first ambition for married Christian leaders must shift from leading our church, organizations, or team, to loving our spouse passionately. We must cultivate a strong desire to make visible the invisible–the love of Jesus for His church–in and through the love we have for our spouse.

Most Christian leaders believe that the loudest message we preach to the world comes through our words, or perhaps our service to others in Jesus name. In the early years of ministry, I considered planting a church and preaching sermons to be my loudest gospel message. When I say that marriage is a leader’s loudest gospel message, I mean that a Christian marriage points beyond itself to something more important–to Christ. As such, marriage is a sign and a wonder.

My definition of leadership success was transformed beyond merely growing the church to nurturing a passionate marriage that overflows to the rest of the world.”

That chapter was the final step for me, in concluding we were to move. A burden of feeling like I was giving up or giving in was lifted. My internal child of divorce voice that always says “Never leave, never quit, don’t fail” was silenced and I saw the primary call of God for me in the next season was to be:

“…concerned about both the things of God and the things of the world in order to please his wife.”

I have learned a hard lesson, that God has called me to love and serve my wife and that is equally part of attending to the ‘things of God’.

I am learning that the pressures, challenges, joys and opportunities of ministry and mission come after the grand invitation and responsibilities to be a husband to my wife and a parent to my kids and a grandfather to my granddaughter. That “the things of this world” are not opposed to my call but part of my call as a husband. “Pleasing my wife” is not some kind of blame or duty but a freedom from trying to be something God has not called me to be. I am not single, I am married. I am not expected to do the work of a single man but the work of a married man and that is the gift of my vocational life. I don’t have to feel guilty for wanting to please her but I can settle into the knowledge that such a goal pleases and glorifies God. A good and beautiful life and wife is not contrary to a commitment to the gospel or ministry, but a bloom of it’s nourishing root.

So that is part of the story of how we ended up moving out of East Central after 12 years. We are still pastoring Jacob’s Well but figuring out how to do that in a different context and call. Yet again the Lord is taking us into another grade in His school of becoming and it’s both exciting and frightening. The story of where and how we got our next home is for another post. I hope this post has helped give some understanding and perspective to who we are, what we have done and why we are doing what we are doing next. I also hope you will pray for us as we navigate and explore all that God is unfolding for us personally and as a church.

Figuring out Friendliness in the Fenced in Life

Figuring out Friendliness in the Fenced in Life: the less talked about underbelly of the Missional Movement.

I’ve lived in this rental home for almost a year, for which we are very grateful, since we wanted to take time to find our next home to purchase. But one thing that has stood out is how we have not had one neighbor take the time to introduce themselves to us.

All most everyone I have engaged or attempted conversation seemed shocked or interrupted, most just continued walking away. They drop their eyes and move in and out of their houses like nervous and frightened mice. It’s like a game of catch, but no one…catches what I throw. I am left standing there like the neighbors dog, toy in mouth, fenced in and wagging the tail….all desire and little response.

This disinterest was accentuated the other day when I was hiking with my wife up on a local mountain where we are seeking to purchase a home. We ran into a mom, her child and dog who were also hiking up to the top of the hill to catch the evening sunset. We began to chat and share about the unfolding things taking place with our next step in home buying. We interacted in a calm and delightful manner that set in motion potential next step connections with a new neighbor. When I left that conversation, I was struck how easy it was in light of how difficult it has been to find conversation in my current neighborhood.

As we were returning to my truck, we happened upon a herd of deer making their way through the wooded hillside. The last in line, stopped and stared at us. We stood there eye eye with these potential neighbors and they didn’t drop their eyes and run. It was a pause of attentiveness that didn’t feel fearful, but inquisitive. They then bounded off to dinner, leaving me aware of the gift of attention that I had been missing.

This is an example of why the suburbs can so tough on the soul and on living with an intentional Christian mission of being open and available to others. It takes a lot of work to find one’s way into the busy lives of hard working, over-extended, exhausted families.

They’ve have little time for their own kids, spouses, homes and friends let alone an outer circle of unknowns. Finding space for the nosy or needy neighbor is fairly low in their priorities. I get it, but I also know that the isolation or the unrelenting to-do lists can prevent us from enriching opportunities or reprieve from hamster wheel life. Slavish subservience to routines can lead to boredom, addiction, sickness or even in the extreme, disease like alzheimers. Like our bodies need a variety of healthy food, so our souls need a variety of contact with words and ways outside our comfortable patterns.

It’s been my experience over the last 12 years, that urban life can be an extreme in the other direction.

I moved into our former neighborhood with the intention and longing to be present in a posture of neighborliness. I thought the aspects of urban neighborhood life like front porch sitting, public transportation, within walking distance shopping and church services, a local park and public nature trails would be pregnant with potential personableness. But for me the majority of my interaction with people in the ‘hood, devolved into being a commodity not a community.

I was a resource to use, not a relationship to discover. That never ending request for cash, complaint or concern began to erode my ability to love and be loved in a healthy way. I had to fight becoming distant and dismissive of people because of the disillusionment of disappointment. When people use you…you can get used up. Add to that the odd way they get mad at you when scraping their fingers on the bottom of your empty bucket and your humanity can snap!

I have found that the call to love others as we would want to be loved, can been hijacked by christian mission and service.

Mission-minded paradigms turn a natural way of being about one’s day to day life into a strategy that is measured and evaluated based on outcomes. This can suffocate the soul and turn God given graces meant to produce abundant fruit into agendas, duties and demands. Under this impulse, everything we do becomes a vehicle to accomplish something connected to a mission statement or vision. These intentions can generate tons of energy and meaningful activity but underneath the frenetic faith, the air in the soul tire can go flat.

This is particularly more pervasive in urban areas where the realities of poverty, addiction and crime are daily challenges and opportunities. Working poor neighborhoods made up of people just getting by, are ripe for mission driven types who tend to see everything as a cause(I know, I am one of them). Great good can be done, but often at the expense of authentic relational depth.

Task association can build a type of community but when the task comes to some type of an end, so does the relationship. This can be a reality seen in good works, volunteerism and even church attendance. Our lives revolve around doing something or being with someone, somewhere, but the relationship is connected to the context not the friend.

We know this reality in it’s more familiar description as ‘work friends’, a second class sort of friendship. One that is based on task, business or paycheck. Some people are better than others at pushing against these confinements but most fall in line and rarely break out of their boundaries.

You know you are caught in these relational ‘location loops’ if you run into someone outside the context of community and feel awkward like a school kid running into their teacher at the store. It’s an unnerving discombobulation, we don’t know how to interact with them outside the reality we most often engage them within. I found this relational oddity at work over and over again with the invite based friendship contexts of missional based neighborliness.

True friendliness is a rare commodity today. The kind of genuine togetherness that results out of being at ease with oneself and motivated by discovery not conquest or context or ‘building community’.

I am guilty of all the above in my long education in life lived for and with Jesus. I am not advocating abandoning evangelism, mission or ministry, I am just wrestling with how to do or be about such impulses in a manner that doesn’t lead to the commercialization or commodification of community.

My Review of the new BBC & Netflix production: Troy: Fall of a City

 

The Iliad explodes in its first lines like a spurting artery:

The rage of Achilles — sing it now, goddess, sing through me the deadly rage that caused the Achaeans such grief and hurled down to Hades the souls of so many fighters, leaving their naked flesh to be eaten by dogs and carrion birds, as the will of Zeus was accomplished.” -Book 1, The Iliad, Homer

Unfortunately, the BBC version of the story is a slow burn that just barely gets to a boil in the last episode.

There are good moments, but overall, I found it forgettable. It barely kicked me in the guts, stirred my blood, or gave me goosebumps. There were very little ‘rewind that‘ moments for me and the reasons are explained below.

Re: Achilles:

David Gyasi who played Achilles, was flat as Coke set out on the counter overnight. This is especially true for a story that is primarily about Achilles! It hardly captured the sense of standing in the presence of a titan as presented in the Iliad. When Homer describes Achilles in the Iliad, you understand why he has become the mythological archetype of the warrior.

-“Like a bearded lion . . . gripped by piercing rage” (18.369, 374).

-“…inhuman fire raging on,” “like a frenzied god of battle trampling all he killed” (20.554, 558).

-“like something superhuman” (21.256).

-As he is approaching Hector the Iliad describes him this way:

“…Achilles was closing on him now like the god of war, the fighter’s helmet flashing, over his right shoulder shaking the Pelian ash spear, that terror, and the bronze around his body flared like a raging fire or the rising, blazing sun.” (22.157-61)

-“Would to god my rage, my fury would drive me now, to hack your flesh away and eat you raw” (22.408-9).

Re: The Men

As for some of the other men characters: I thought Priam, Odysseus and Agamemnon, then maybe Paris, were the only believable and memorable ones. I felt the ‘rage’ of Agamemnon far more than Achilles or even King Menelaus who lost Queen Helen to her paramore Paris of Troy! Ajax was ok, but not near enough screen time for me and most of the other men characters were competent but not ancient heroes that moved me.

Re: The Women

The love or lust didn’t convince me or make me swoon or fantasize about losing all the world for the beauty of one female face. The other female characters were awkward, odd, broody, butch or mere baggage to be handled. Andromache, Hector’s wife, played by Scottish actress Chloe Pirrie was my least favorite female character, she was not a woman I could see the mighty Hector sacrificing all to protect and honor. The women of the Iliad moved nations, and drove men to give up their lives to regain or protect, none of the women in this version of the story seemed to fit that category.

Re: Nudity and Sex

There was less nudity and sex than I thought was going to be introduced in this post Game of Thrones world but that is not to say it wasn’t present. It seems Netflix is jealous of HBO and is bent on pushing the line for more and more gratuitous sex in their productions. TVMA is the dominate rating for most of its adult shows these days. So be forewarned you will be disappointed if you thought you could expect a show more like the other classic BBC offerings, this one has the America appetite in mind.

Re: The Violence

For a story that takes place in the throes of battle, this was a very tame rumble more than a cataclysm, except during the last episode. There were only a few battle scenes that resembles the visceral and ominous depictions and descriptions of the Homeric tale. I am sure we are way too desensitized to violence in our entertainment appetites but in this tv/movie culture, depictions of war, modern or ancient have to engaging and filmed well to maintain interest. Troy offered up a lackluster amount of battle that made me longing for much more. If Hobbit movies outdo the Iliad, than someone needs to go back to film school.

Re: Homosexuality

The last issue I would like to address is the direction the script took with exploring the idea that Achilles and Patroclus were gay lovers as well as battle hardened, blood brothers of war.

I am not someone who has a hard time with diversity or inclusivity in film. I get the arguments being made in popular culture about identifying and including heroes and heroines of various kinds to empower and encourage those who often feel left out of stories or depictions of the real world. I may not approve of or support those choices or lifestyles but I do not think the whole world is expected to look or act like me or according to my own faith and values. That said, I am not a fan of historical revisionism or politically correct ideologically driven agendas. When not appropriate to the story, all of that heavy handedness weighs down the film and makes the issues of the day or the director’s focus eclipse the art. It’s like a third party shouting over a couple having a conversation, it’s annoying, distracting and obnoxious no matter how well intentioned.

In reference to the issue of presupposed homosexual insinuations and undertones in the lliad, I will point to C.S. Lewis’ thoughts in his chapter on ‘Friendship’ in his book ‘The Four Loves.

Those who cannot conceive of Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend.” –C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves

Finally, the exaltation of instinct, the dark gods in the blood; whose hierophants may be incapable of male friendship.-Friendship, The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis

This imposes on me at the outset a very tiresome bit of demolition. It has actually become necessary in our time to rebut the theory that every firm and serious friendship is really homosexual. The dangerous word really is here important. To say that every Friendship is consciously and explicitly homosexual would be too obviously false; the wise-acres take refuge in the less palpable charge that it is really—unconsciously, cryptically, in some Pickwickian sense—homosexual. And this, though it cannot be proved, can never of course be refuted. The fact that no positive evidence of homosexuality can be discovered in the behavior of two Friends does not disconcert the wiseacres at all: “That,” they say gravely, “is just what we should expect.” The very lack of evidence is thus treated as evidence; the absence of smoke proves that the fire is very carefully hidden. Yes—if it exists at all. But we must first prove its existence. Otherwise we are arguing like a man who should say “If there were an invisible cat in that chair, the chair would look empty; but the chair does look empty; therefore there is an invisible cat in it.”

A belief in invisible cats cannot perhaps be logically disproved, but it tells us a good deal about those who hold it. Those who cannot conceive Friendship as a substantive love but only as a disguise or elaboration of Eros betray the fact that they have never had a Friend. The rest of us know that though we can have erotic love and friendship for the same person yet in some ways nothing is less like a Friendship than a love-affair. Lovers are always talking to one another about their love; Friends hardly eves about their Friendship. Lovers are normally face to face, absorbed in each other; Friends, side by side, absorbed in some common interest. Above all, Eros (while it lasts) is necessarily between two only. But two, far from being the necessary number for Friendship, is not even the best. And the reason for this is important.”

In an era when we have so many men and women among us who have grown up during war and/or served in it, it’s unfortunate that the deep themes explored in the Iliad surrounding soldier life, get reduced to rage around the death of a supposed lover.

Men know (or need to know) they can love a brother without the intrusion of sexuality. In fact it is essential in my understanding of men and soul work to provide and facilitate the bonding of brotherhood in order to help men develop holistically and healthfully. Men need mature abilities to differentiate feelings, desire, impulse and thought in their inner lives and actions. Equating or injecting the homosexuality issue into the story hurts more than helps in my estimation. I know that would be contested in popular culture from the angle of someone who is coming to their own conclusions about their sexuality but as a conservative traditionalist, that’s my perspective. Men need to learn to love their children, their wives and their brothers, but in different ways, I think C.S. Lewis’s book helps with that education.

Re: The Soundtrack

It stunk, especially compared to the work of composer James Horner in the 2004 movie: Troy. (https://youtu.be/8YT3jTtLbb0)

In closing, I would give ‘Troy: The Fall of a City’ 3 out of 5 stars. It is worth watching and entertaining enough but I doubt many would watch it twice.

P.S. I would add that one of those stars is given in response to the performance of Odysseus and the hope that his storyline was a set up for a crack at ‘The Odyssey’. I think his character development and the agony of the role he played was salivating for a return performance.

Holding the tensions of Memory and Moment

Whenever I engage deeply in memory, I am reminded of CS. Lewis’s comments about the poet Wordsworth and the illusions of remembering and the purpose of longing:
 
If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering.
 
That selection is found in a larger passage below, it’s well worth reading and holding in check as we all wrestle with the tension between memory and the moment.
 
We can often lose sight of the gift of the present in our longing for something in the past. My intentions of late in my remembrances are not to cast dissatisfaction or disillusionment over the present for anyone.
 
My hope in conjuring, is to reawaken the commitment to the values and practices that provided the context for our experiences.
 
There is always a limit to the experience, which is meant to connect us to it’s ultimate reality or source. Our pleasures are not intended to be mirages but markers to another country as Lewis often put it. That isn’t a sourpuss way to denigrate the joy of the moment but to connect it to the anticipation of more. Which is another way of saying, this isn’t all there is, it is good, but there is so much more good, to come. It is a treasure of a greater treasure.
 
That idea is at the heart of celebration not degradation. We always need to be careful that we do not steal the good, beautiful and true from the gift before us, even when we might contemplate the gifts beyond us.
 
The root of life is glorious even through it’s eternal bloom will far exceed its present bounty.
 
C.S. Lewis in ‘The Weight of Glory’:
In speaking of this desire for our own far off country, which we find in ourselves even now, I feel a certain shyness. I am almost committing an indecency. I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both.
 
We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter.
 
Wordsworth’s expedient was to identify it with certain moments in his own past. But all this is a cheat. If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing itself, but only the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing.
 
These things—the beauty, the memory of our own past—are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshipers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have never visited.”
 
“Do you think I am trying to weave a spell? Perhaps I am; but remember your fairy tales. Spells are used for breaking enchantments as well as for inducing them. And you and I have need of the strongest spell that can be found to wake us from the evil enchantment of worldliness which has been laid upon us for nearly a hundred years. Almost our whole education has been directed to silencing this shy, persistent, inner voice; almost all our modem philosophies have been devised to convince us that the good of man is to be found on this earth.

The Re-Enchantment of Life: why cultural celebrations matter even if they have pagan roots

There’s an argument in some religious circles that hunting for brightly colored easter eggs, chasing fluffy bunnies and yellow baby chicks, gorging on chocolates or dressing up in fancy dresses and hats is sacrilegious in light of the resurrection of Jesus.

This view is usually derived from the real and/or supposed pagan roots of the dwellers of the ancient British Isles*. They warn that participation ends up putting those practices dangerously shoulder to shoulder with Jesus, the bible, sacred tradition and piety. There’s the concern that Jesus could be eclipsed by these celebrations or that one is somehow delving into paganism through participation and betraying their faith.

The theological sin of syncretism: “the amalgamation or attempted amalgamation of different religions, cultures, or schools of thought.” is a real issue in the world. My point in this post is not to minimize anyone’s sincere desire or conviction of conscience to be faithful to the Lord in what they do or don’t do, that is a right and privilege that the gospel grants all of us as worshippers.

Romans 14:1,5: Accept other believers who are weak in faith, and don’t argue with them about what they think is right or wrong…some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike. You should each be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.”

The point I would like to offer up is connected to the ultimate meaning of these attractions and the needs we are witnessing in our culture. There is a real desire for seasonal celebrations and communal practices that mark the known and unknown realities of human life. There’s almost an inward wiring for cyclical ritual, rite and rule of life connected to stories and shared practices.

In a world becoming more and more thin on meaning and values, maybe we should be less concerned about the roots of activities and more concerned about the de-enchantment of modern life. It could be that the disemboweling of life of mystery and magic and turning it into a sterile, intellectual, petri-dish enterprise has done more to create disconnect, disenfranchisement and disillusionment with people than any story about bunnies laying eggs!  

Instead of posturing our religious selves in a state of antagonism and defense against the idea that our true stories and practices might be similar somehow to other myths, we should be showing how all our stories are most fulfilled in the ultimate story found in the scriptures and most importantly Jesus Christ, the God-man.

We are well positioned to share that our longing for the natural to yield or make space for the supernatural, identifies a deep orientation that can lead us where we are supposed to go…back to our Creator.

While judging and condemning the fascinations, celebrations and practices of the those who are not Christians, we fail to see that our own sacred stories seem to the pagan mind very similar, full of mystery and wonder. The miraculous catches of fish, dead people coming back to life, wine and bread miracles, blind eyes seeing, paralyzed people walking, bodily ascensions, flames on heads, angels, devils, demoniacs and dragons all seem otherworldly. Maybe they are just as odd as chasing rabbits and consuming highly industrialized, food-coloring sprayed, just shy of styrofoam, spawns of evil called…Peeps!  

In some ways the pagan** is more akin to the pious than the mere secular, atheist materialist and far less the enemy from a metaphysical, worldview standpoint. We should be able to understand a people or culture whose practices, beliefs and reverence for seasonal changes arose because they directly connected with the sustainability and survival of life. There is an innate religious mind in all humans who bear the image of their Creator. It takes years of humanistic secularism grounded in postmodern materialism to detach the human heart and mind from affinity to the numinous.

Even within such cold and cranial communities we see that the love of story, wonder, mystery and magic are fascinations not easily eradicated. Our whole entertainment industry feeds us stories of myth, supernatural, goblins, wizards, superheroes and space explorations. From the viewpoint of the secular evolutionist, we appear to be philosophizing Apes with our heads and hearts in Olympus, Valhalla or Xanadu!

It appears we are…born to believe.

Acts 17:26-28: “From one ancestor he made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we too are his offspring.’”

Our cultural practices and celebrations may be like ‘gropings’ but let’s never underestimate the power of story and play and their ability to open the heart and mind to truth. Maybe it’s time to get back down with the knee-biters and grope around the bushes and trees for some colored eggs, we just might discover more than we ever imagined!

Footnotes:

  1.  *see: ‘Was Easter Borrowed from a Pagan Holiday?’ https://bit.ly/22q8lQj)

 

  1. **I use the word pagan not as a dismissive or denigrating label but as a descriptive of a person connected to old ways, traditions and practices or disassociated with the Christian world view or culture.

 

The Three-Barbed Hook of the Devil

You might be burned out on church, ministry or even Jesus, because you’ve taken the bait of the three temptations of Satan. After almost 30 years of ministry, I have a few thoughts that might help remove this three-barbed hook of hell.  

First the short story in Matthew 4:1-11

4 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” 7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.’” 11 Then the devil left him, and angels came and attended him.

After a lot of hard life lessons in ministry and church, I’ve come to see the three temptations of Jesus in the wilderness are at the heart of so much failure, fruitlessness and frustration in ministry. Here’s a few of my thought from personal experience on each.

  1. Turning Stones to Bread.

This is the temptation to allow one’s self and ministry to become a commodity. To be pressed into being a ‘resource instead of a relationship’. This can be true as a pastor, leader or true of a church community or ministry. Individually, the result is you lose your sense of being a person, you become lonely and grow resentful that people only value what you give them or do for them. This paradigm ends up sucking out your soul, leads to a jaded view of others and can drain mercy of meaning and instead leaves you perpetually feeling under the pressure of manipulation. Churches that are driven by a ‘stone to bread’ mission often perpetuate a works oriented mindset that feeds people’s egos and draws people who have drives to feel important. Messiah complexes are rampant in this circle. Overworked souls suffer under the premises that a real Christian burns out for Jesus and is perpetually an open hand for anyone. There are no boundaries and self-care only comes after the crash. Many people leave churches and leadership because they never realize that there is no end to stones. Mission on it’s own can become a madness that deludes people into wasting years of their lives trying to figure out how to turn stones to bread. It’s hard for some people to think the devil could tempt someone to do good and it’s a lesson few learn until the damage is done.

  1. The Temple Pinnacle

The need to feel important, to do something that others notice, is a nefarious impulse that is often behind the butts, budgets and buildings drive. More, higher, bigger, the words used to describe this drive are often tucked away in well sounding christianese but at the core is the need to be seen as competent, popular, innovative, a world changer, an entrepreneur, a real risk taker and way maker. There’s a lot of testosterone fueling these endeavors and it’s easy to get caught up in the ‘make a difference’ crusade. This circle makes ordinary people, with ordinary jobs or life routines feel less than others. This circle falls under the Pinterest and Instagram illusion: where appearances are not as they seem. It a ‘cropped and filtered’ life. Everything looks better than it is and there is very little room for real life issues, problems or failures. Divorced people, disabled people, people in recovery, the fat or gangly, pimpled, frumpy or over the hill often get to watch and consume while the latest version of what is “in” has the pulpit, speaking circuit, stage, microphone or camera. Then there’s the whole ‘bigger & better’ cycle of showing off that means each and every event has to outdo the previous. Sooner or later this machine chews up good intentioned people or disenfranchises the easily unimpressed crowd and they move on to the next new church or a better version of your knock-off that is in the world.

  1. The Top of the Mountain:

“Bow to me” is at the end of this drive. Whatever mountain you are trying so desperately to get to the top of, ends eventually in servitude. It’s a race to the top to get the most power, prestige, profit or your share of the ‘gold, girls/guys and glory!’ Oh sure you can spiritualize it all and make it sound like some religious achievement or rationalize it with a bunch of self-actualizing philosophy but at its heart is a prison of forced servitude. You will lose you in it and more than likely, a lot of relationships and self-respect as well.

All of these temptations strike at the heart of our need for identity, a sense of purpose, well being and relationship. Too much religious culture is infected with these temptations and the carnage and crippled lives are littered in the path of this three-horse, pulled chariot and the devil is cracking the whip to always drive faster, higher and farther. Don’t fall for these temptations, they are lies and they will steal from you life, time, fruitfulness, friends and joy.

A moment of prayer for you:

I pray that the Holy Spirit will help us all escape from these tempting, spiritual mirages and lead us to reject them as Jesus did. Right now, I pray that as the Lord was ministered to by Angels, you too would find a supernatural moment of care. You need to be touched by the grace of God and healed from the madness, misdirection and mania associated with these dead-end drives. Knowledge is not enough, you need comfort, counsel and care. God desires to minister to you, to touch you and speak a consoling word of wisdom into your exhaustion, dissolution and anger. He desires to release a fresh renewal into this season of your life that will liberate you from these religious hamster wheels. All that you think or feel was wasted over the years, won’t be in vain, even the stuff that was a waste, God can use to fertilize the abundance of good fruit to come. Sometimes we are like Samson and our last moments of life are far more impactful than the years of questionable warriorhood were, do not despair saint, God hears your cry and has seen your labor and you are loved. He is here to save your from these devilish temptations if you have ears to hear and eyes to see. I pray you do for you own soul and the sake of a well managed life.

The Easter Battle of 733

Every Easters, I hear folks getting uptight or asking questions about the legitimacy of Christians participating in coloring eggs, eating chocolate bunnies and holding little chicks. This is my answer. 

———————————————–

In 733 the hamlet of Brusselsprout was all astir,
church bells clambered with fearful ferocity,
the apocalypse’s rumored eve was near,
for the nearby village of Dingledort was surely burning!

Hordes of menacing fluffy beasts,
stampeding hedges, leaping across porches,
scurrying over shuttered rooftops,
zigzagging neighing ponies feet!

The night full of screeching and scratching,
the battle of ‘aggedon was upon them!
Flashes of yellow lightning,
over-taking every hollow and hill!
Talons and beaks flashing,
frantic fluttering scampering,
clucking the prophesied doom!

Springtime horror!
Diabolical dress!
Yellow as bile,
green as dragon’s breath!
Devilishly sweet to the taste,
ancient poison of the soul.

Sister Sauerkraut wielded her broom,
like galiant St. George on his steed,
fighting the invading hordes of hell,
the furry and feathered…Mephistopheles!

Before each Easter,
the diabolical tale is told,
by pulpit and paper,
whisper and whimper,
of masses driven mad by the devils goad,
beware the bunnies, chicks and sweets,
heed the warning of this frightening ode!

A helpful postscript:
This Ode is inspired by the tradition of Easter having its roots in Saxon paganism by Venerable Monk Bede:
“In olden times the English people…calculated their months according to the course of the Moon. April, Eosturmonath…Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month” and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month. Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.”
-Written by the monk, Venerable Bede in ‘De temporum ratione’ (On the Reckoning of Time, c. 730)

My tongue is squarely in my cheek.