Getting Rid of Some Opinions

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One of my very first blog posts was about the burden of having too many opinions.  Way back then I wrote that one of the unfortunate side effects of education was that you end up having opinions about pretty worthless things.  I reread that post this morning and realized that there is one thing I would add to it, that being opinionated isn’t just a product of education.  It also comes with personality types.  One of my best friends has no opinions, not because he isn’t educated but because he was one of those saints gifted with apathy.

I envy him horribly.  I was not given such a gift.  It is really easy for me to be decisive which is a great word that actually means “arrogant” in most situations and a “jerk” in some others.  One of my greatest flaws is that I am tempted to care about things that are not really worth caring about.  Sometimes there is great pressure from other people to care about these things.  Sometimes the pressure is more internal and pride based.

Over the last couple weeks I have begun a new “deopinionating” cycle with the hopes of getting rid of some of the more burdensome and pointless opinions I have.

So this morning for your humor and amazement, here are some opinions I am throwing away:

White Boards Vs. Brown Chalk Boards Vs. Black Chalk Boards: You wouldn’t think people would still care about this but oh boy do they!  But from here on out I don’t.

Theories of the Atonement: We have spent 2,000 years arguing about this one and the smartest people are the ones who say, “There is some truth and some falseness in all of them.”

The Best NBA Team of All Time: ESPN.com has dozens if not hundreds if not thousands of articles on this very topic right now.  I accidentally read two of them and started to be angry with those who think this year’s Golden State Warriors are better than Michael Jordan’s Bulls but then I remembered I didn’t care.

How to Interpret “Faith of Jesus”: This phrase only appears seven times in the New Testament but it is one of the current hot button issues in biblical interpretation.  Does it mean faith we have in Jesus or the faith that Jesus had in God?  Nobody knows or will ever know.  More than that, I read one article that tried to explain why it matters and it turns out it doesn’t really.

The True Meaning of the Word “Easter”:  There are scores of internet memes trying to argue that the word “Easter” has something to do with the pagan god “Ishtar.”  It actually doesn’t at all and I wouldn’t mind pointing that out to all the uninformed nitwits who post those memes every Holy Week but in the end who cares?  I officially don’t.

Is Strengthfinders a False Gospel?: Don’t get me wrong, if it isn’t than it is almost.  Actually I have written on this before and received resounding accolades for my opposition.  However, my opinions about Strengthsfinders are greatly influenced by the fact that I worked under a pastor who threw the Bible out of the pulpit and replaced it with Gallup’s books.  I am now willing to admit I may have over reacted and that there might be a little merit in Gallup’s personality assessment tool, but only a very little.

And finally:

How Quickly Donald Trump is Destroying America: I get it.  We all want to have an opinion on Trump’s resounding success in the early primaries.  We all want to prove we can find the next best insult for either him or his followers.  We are in a competition to see who can denounce him quickly enough.  And if you don’t know the latest ridiculous thing he said or did you are looked at as being a neanderthal.  Any more we are just overreacting to Trump’s overreaction.  And maybe for that reason I have decided not to play that game.

If you are getting rid of opinions you can post in the comments below or to my Twitter under the hashtag #deopinionating or to the Gobeforegrace Facebook page.

Have a great third week of Easter y’all!

 

 

Why Feast? Why Easter?

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It is now common knowledge that we live in a country and in a culture where the vast majority of people are entertaining themselves to death.  We binge watch Netflix while binge eating potato chips.  We have 350 channels, (some of which specialize in both golf and fishing), and billions of websites, (half of which are pictures of cats).  As if our living rooms were not personal enough, those channels and websites now fit in our pockets where we can pull them out and stare at them in a moment’s notice.  All of this preoccupies our attention and takes us away from the stuff in life that truly matters.

The end result is that we are turning into a kind of zombie, neither jovial nor morose, not quite lifelike but also not quite dead, not entirely rejoicing and not entirely mourning, just passing the hours staring at super heroes throwing things at each other while we stuff our faces with Doritos.

Churches have not helped much in this regard.  Our funerals last maybe an hour.  We rush by the widows, giving them our quick regards before rushing home to watch half celebrities dance the tango.  And forget doing mournful services for other sorrowful events, like the loss of a job, the loss of an important relationship, or the loss of good health.  We might send a card, if we are one of the faithful few left.  We do not make nearly enough time to sit in the ash heaps with our mourning friends.  And if we do visit, it will be no time at all before we suggest doing something “fun” to “get the mind off” the pain.

We are equally abysmal when it comes to rejoicing.  Our holidays are only slightly longer than funerals, mere 24 hour period breaks before we resume the hectic rush of life.  This unless we work in retail, which means our holy-days are the busiest days of the year and filled with sinful mobs.  The days after both Thanksgiving and Christmas we flood the shopping lines to either buy or return unwanted gifts before going back to work.  When something good happens in a friends’ life we rush to their party and then rush away.  Sometimes we even blame them for the fact that we stink at rejoicing, saying that they should have been more “fun” or that the party should have been better “planned” like the episode of the Bachelor we are going home to watch.

In short, we hurry our mourning and we hurry our rejoicing so that we can go back to being zombies as soon as possible.

To the extent in which the above is accurate, the church has a powerful tool for restoring abundant life to our petrified existences.  Over centuries we have developed a calendar that tells time differently than the rather bleak time of the world.  This calendar has times for fasting and mourning and times for feasting and rejoicing.  By celebrating the calendar, we remember that our God has commanded us to both mourn and to rejoice and not to stare at smartphones.

In fact, for a Kingdom that is here but not yet here, mourning and rejoicing are two sides of the same coin.  In our faith, we cannot fast without feasting and we cannot feast without fasting.  Both are commanded by God and both are means of grace by which we grow in Christ likeness.

This is why I have found that we should never do the 40 days of Lent without the 50 days of Easter.  Feasting is as much a Christian discipline as fasting and it affects our prayer life in equally profound ways.  In fact, over time the church has created way more “feast days” than “fast days.”  A cursory glance at a liturgical calendar might reveal at least 3 a week.  Though we certainly went overboard in that regard, one of the best ways to prevent the zombification of our society is to lead our people in times of both fasting and feasting as acts of prayer.

In such thinking, the 50 days of Easter are incredible for helping people rediscover the joy and celebration that only a Resurrected Messiah can bring.  Easter feasting is a way of reminding ourselves that all good and perfect gifts come from the Father who fully intends us to enjoy them in life giving ways.  After fasting for Lent our Easter feast reminds us that though we are weak, God is strong.  Though we are poor in spirit, God has given the Spirit in great measure.  Though we are broken, we know a great physician!  For this reason anybody who gave up something for the 40 days of Lent should take up something for the 50 days of Easter.

This is by no means to introduce us to periods of gluttony followed by periods of anorexia followed by more gluttony.  Feasting is not calorie indulgence and neither is fasting calorie neglect.  But it is to help us rediscover the practice of mourning with those who mourn and rejoicing with those who rejoice.  While we fast we take a good hard look at ourselves and the world and are shocked again by all the futility, or “vapor” as the author of Ecclesiastes calls it.  But while we feast we remember that God is greater than our futility and his Kingdom is far more profound than anything else this world has to offer, especially those super hero’s who can’t help but throw things at each other.

Easter is easy for me this year.  After suffering without coffee for 40 days of Lent, the last three mornings, I have hovered over my dark, warm cup, breathing in those sweet fumes and thanking God for guaranteeing us an eternity of abundance.  He is Risen Indeed!

On that note, Happy Easter!  I hope the resurrection hope shines the greater as you celebrate our coming King!

Tenebrae Friday Reflection: Who’s On Trial Here

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To Read: Mark 12:38-43

Today is Tenebrae Friday, a day of shadows and darkness where we remember that our God died.  Today we make much of the trials of Jesus before the Chief Priests, the Jewish governor of Galilee and the Roman governor of Judea.  We talk a lot about the accusations against Jesus and how that all led to the horrible moment when Jesus spoke the final words, “it is finished” and breathed his last.  We do this in various ways.  Some of us attend a traditional candlelight service.  Others pray through the stations of the cross.  Others watch various film depictions of the event like the Passion of the Christ or the Jesus film.  Still others read the Passion narratives in the four gospels, taking special note of the 7 last words Jesus spoke while on the cross.  The truly super spiritual do all of the above!

But no matter how we commemorate Good Friday, we are prone to realize again that the real trial at the heart of the crucifixion was not Jesus’ but ours.  All of humanity was put on trial before the throne of God.  After all the God who loves us, who created us, whose very presence sustains our being, pitched his tent and camped out among us and we killed him for it.

My devotional reflections this week have been following Mark 12 where Jesus is repeatedly questioned by various members of the Jewish scholarly elite during the last week of his life.  Jesus successfully parried attacks by the Chief Priests, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and one over confident teacher of the law.  These various tests serve as a precursor to his upcoming trial.  Even though they had yet to arrest Jesus under the cover of darkness and serve up a mock trial to reaffirm their own prejudices, they publicly tested Jesus in the hopes that the surrounding crowds would be the jury and judge.

It didn’t work.  In fact, after Jesus successfully answered their questions and avoided the traps they had set, he turned the attack on them.  In chapter 12, verse 38 Jesus says, “Watch out for the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.  They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely.”

Right after that he contrasts them with a very poor widow who offered two tiny pennies to the temple system.  Her offering, Jesus says, is worth more than all the others.

This image of the humble widow becomes a forerunner to the image of the crucified God.  The arrogant chief priests and teachers of the law respond to the presence of Christ by trying to trick and trap.  The widow responds by giving all she has.  It is her two mites that become the image of true humanity, a humanity formed and shaped and called to the image of the sacrificial and self giving God.

Days later, Jesus as fully God and fully human magnifies the image of the widow for us as he hangs on the cross.  This image of sacrificial and self giving love is who we are supposed to be.  Such an image shames the know it alls and the proud and the arrogant and the powerful.  The cross is a verdict on our own ability to save ourselves by pretending to be more than we are.  It is a sentence of “guilty” for those who “walk around in fancy clothes and soak up the praises bestowed upon them while sitting in the most important seats in public gatherings but who devour widows’ homes.”

And it is a call to repent from our arrogance and pride and embrace the sacrificial giving of a poor widow.  Only by picking up our own crosses of shame and following Jesus can we arrive at a Resurrected morning.

Heavenly father, restore unto us the joy of our salvation as we gaze upon your self giving cross.

 

Holy Tuesday Reflection: The Currency of Our Kingdom

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To read: Mark 12:13-17, Romans 12:1-2

I got a new credit card this morning in the mail.  It is white with silver lettering.  The horse and chariot of Wells Fargo gallop across it above an American Express logo.  It certainly looks pretty and somewhat majestic.  It even has one of those space agey computer chips on it to remind me that the world of Star Trek is but a breath away.

But the interesting thing about this credit card, from a historical standpoint, is not what image is on it but what image is not.  For millenia the various governments of the world have proudly stamped their image on our money to remind us of their sovereign authority.  Instead mine now has a corporation’s logo on it.  There is probably a PhD thesis to be written about the fact that corporations’ images now line our currency instead of politicians’.

Be that as it may, after I went to activate my new card online, I realized my old card had a balance.  So in one or two clicks I paid it off and cleared my debts, giving to Visa that which belonged to Visa, giving to Wells Fargo that which belonged to Wells Fargo.

It was a fitting practice to perform right before returning to Mark 12 where a second group takes a stab at trying to trap Jesus in his words.  The Chief Priests, who I wrote about yesterday, were very forward, almost blunt.  The Pharisees, living up to their reputation, are much more conniving.  They try flattery first to get Jesus feeling comfortable before they blindside him with a question.  I enjoy the CEB’s interpretation of the verse:

“Teacher, we know that you’re genuine and you don’t worry about what people think. You don’t show favoritism but teach God’s way as it really is. Does the Law allow people to pay taxes to Caesar or not? Should we pay taxes or not?” Mark 12:14

I have no idea what favoritism or teaching God’s way or genuineness has to do with paying taxes and Jesus doesn’t seem to either.  Jesus also seems to know what Minna Antrim would later say, “Between flattery and admiration flows a river of contempt.”

Seeing right through them, Jesus asks for a coin, refers to Caesar’s image on it and blandly says, “So then give to Caesar that which belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.”  Put more simply, “Pay your bills.  Clear you debts and then give everything else to God.”

I wrote a couple weeks ago that the image of God is written on us.  After all we were created in it.  So when we sacrifice ourselves to God, we give to God that which belongs to God.  We are the currency of God’s kingdom, a kingdom without money but nevertheless with great power.

But Jesus’ reply also looks forward to his own crucifixion, that moment where he became a dead sacrifice, completely sold out to God’s mission and God’s kingdom.  On the cross, a very Roman and very Caesar cross, Jesus gave us the ultimate example of one who gave to Caesar that which belonged to Caesar and to God that which belonged to God.  Jesus became our currency.

The Pharisees were hoping to trap Jesus in treason, a feat the Chief Priests later accomplished through the clever use of the word and metaphor of “king” before Pilate.  But the Pharisees’ clever question in the temple only succeeded in foretelling that which was coming, the moment when Jesus as “the image of the invisible God” would give back to God that which belonged to God, the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.

But we, who also bear God’s image, would do well to remember that the cross doesn’t exactly let us off the hook.  Remember our call is to pick up our crosses and follow Jesus, becoming living sacrifices who are no longer conformed to the patterns and images of Caesar or Wells Fargo or Visa or Master Card  and their worlds but are transformed by the renewing of our minds into people who know and do God’s pleasing and perfect will.

Dear heavenly father, we who bear your image give ourselves to you again today that we may know and follow your perfect will for us. 

Holy Monday Reflection: The Kind of Hero We Need

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For those of you closet Christians, this is a quite notable week in our faith.  It all began yesterday as we celebrated Palm Sunday, the reenactment of Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  From today to Wednesday we study the teachings of Jesus in the temple.  Then on Thursday we gather together for a “Maundy” or “New Commandment” Service where we wash feet and sing about love.  Friday night we descend into darkness as we extinguish candles during a Tenebrae service.  On Saturday we wait.  And then on Sunday the party gets going!

If you are a Christian, this is our week.  It is our time to fast, to pray, to meditate and to attend the special services and to long for the salvation that only Christ can bring.  The goal of Holy Week is to give ourselves over again to the story that we believe changed the world.

But there is another story happening Friday that my news feed won’t shut up about.  It is the epic showdown between Batman and Superman.  And don’t get me wrong, I am kind of excited for Batman Vs. Superman, or BvS as us cool kids are calling it now.  And like most cool kids I am more excited for the “B” than for the “S.”  I fell in love with the Batman mythos through Christopher Nolan’s trilogy, whose stunning second act, “The Dark Knight,” is considered one of the best movies ever made.

The closing act of that movie gave us an iconic line about heroes as Commissioner Gordon tells his recently rescued son, “Batman is the hero we need but not the one we deserve right now.”  That line, right up there with the best of all movie lines, still resonates today.  Sometimes our hero doesn’t look the way we want the hero to look.  Sometimes the hero we need is not the one we want or deserve.  Sometimes the conquering king is actually a crucified criminal.  Sometimes the way, the truth and the life is a carpenter’s son from the middle of nowhere.

That can be quite unsettling.  As a pastor friend and New Testament scholar once reminded me, “The good news doesn’t sound like good news to some people.”

In Mark 11, after Jesus’ triumphal entry, those in established authority roles get nervous.  To them Jesus is not gospel.  He is threat.  He threatens to steal their followers.  He threatens to expose their arrogance and ignorance.  He threatens their long held beliefs.  He threatens their prejudices and power.  And they are not cool with that,  In fact, to them he just might be the kid in the crowd who yells, “Wait, that emperor isn’t wearing any clothes!”

So the chief priests go to Jesus and ask, “What kind of authority do you have for doing these things?  Who gave you this authority?” (Mark 11:28).

Jesus is rather coy.  He asks them a question about where John the Baptist’s authority came from, a very clever question because there is not a right answer.  I imagine they stuttered and stammered as they weighed their lack of options before spitting out, “Um, we don’t know.”

But then Jesus tells them a parable about the misuse of authority.  Like most parables it points out to the Chief Priests that they had asked the wrong question.  They wanted to know the source of authority.  Jesus wanted them to know about the misuse of authority.  Jesus told them about a vineyard owner who sent several messengers to collect his share of the profits.  They beat and killed all of the messengers who were sent until the owner finally sent his son, whom they also beat and killed.  Then Jesus closes the parable with, “But the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone” (Mark 12:10-11).

This is not good news to those in authority.  Jesus is not the hero they want at this point and the gospel has become threat.  The stone we builders rejected has become the stone that holds the entire building up.  That tells the world we don’t know much about building after all.

In the same way the gospel reminds us that we are not all that great about religion.  The prophet the theologians and pastors and good church people rejected has become the savior of the world.  The vigilante the police force is trying to capture has become the symbol of justice in our city.  The ingredient the expert chefs threw out is now on the menu of every restaurant in America.

One of the reasons we take great care in telling the Easter story during Holy Week every year is because we need constant reminder that we are the foolish builders, the misguided theologians, the over zealous police force, the lousy cooks.  Yes, we don’t want the world to know it.  Like most people, I would prefer if you all believed I knew what I was talking about.

But in the end our salvation can only come by accepting the truth that the hero we rejected, the one we crucified has become and will always be the savior of the world.

We should not be like those chief priests who immediately wanted to arrest Jesus on the spot.  Instead we should accept the truth of our errors for what it is and turn towards Jesus the author of eternal life.  Only by admitting our ignorance and arrogance and repenting towards the truth can we enter into the glorious Easter morning.

Dear heavenly father, help me to accept the cornerstone and grant me newness of life this Holy Monday morning.

 

 

Why Lent? Why Fast? Part 1: Coffee

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In 1 Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul engages us in a fascinating discussion about marriage and celibacy as they relate to our new standing in Christ.  Towards the end of his remarks on this issue he suddenly expands his horizons from marriage to all of our relationships.  He says in verse 31, Those who use the world should be like people who aren’t preoccupied with it, because this world in its present form is passing away.

One of the reasons why we fast, especially during the season of Lent, is because we recognize that the things of this world have a strange way of capturing our preoccupations.  When living in the present world we are seemingly drawn to unhealthy obsessions with otherwise healthy or neutral objects.  This happens with our food consumption, our clothing choices, our television shows, our music and even our sleeping habits.  Lent is that time when we revisit our preoccupations and loosen the ties that bind us to them in order to be more free for the service of God and for the new world that is coming.

Therefore the most powerful moments of Lent always happen right before Ash Wednesday.  In the weeks and months leading up to the imposition of ashes, I find myself revisiting my habits, my routines, my comforts and my choices, praying about what God might have me surrender.  As I do this, I am mindful of the words of a much wiser friend who once told me, “The thing you think you can’t live without is that which you should give up for Lent.”

I didn’t have to pray long to figure out what it was this year.  It came about on Ash Wednesday morning I pulled myself from my bed, dragged myself to my coffee pot and stared longingly at it while I toasted a bagel.  I “freed myself” from my morning cup of joe.  .  .and my second breakfast coffee too.  .  .and my nightly latte.  .  .and my mid afternoon stovetop espresso.  .  .and.  .  .nope that’s about it.

I am joking of course.  I only drink a morning cup every morning, with an afternoon espresso every other day or so.  Still, those cups of coffee and espresso were the highlight of any given day.  My morning routine was centered around eating a bagel, drinking coffee and reading articles and books.  And after a run in the winter cold, coming home to a warm blanket and a cup of espresso was my little slice of heaven, a slice I have sorely missed after some cold runs these last weeks.

You see, we joke around a lot about coffee in Christianity.  I have said before that coffee is a

All my friends are like.  .  .

fruit of the spirit, that there is no virtue outside of coffee, that coffee is God’s way of saying, “I love you” and the like.  Coffee has become a symbol of faith, right up there with the cross
.  In fact, I realized awhile back that pastors used to go to coffee shops to make connections with “non church” people.  Now we go to coffee shops to connect with the pastor down the street.  If you don’t believe me, walk into the nearest coffee shop and yell, “Hey Pastor!”  I bet half the heads will look up expectantly.  And when I told my Christian and pastor friends that I was giving up coffee for Lent, I was greeted with a half hearted skepticism.  As one of my esteemed colleagues noted, “I love my job way too much to give up coffee for Lent.”  He may be right.

However, last January I realized that lying behind my love of everything black, dark and bold, was an unhealthy preoccupation with this present world.  This preoccupation wasn’t just mental.  It manifested itself in physical ways.  It turns out caffeine withdrawal is a real thing, and a painful one at that.  The first three days I had a massive migraine.  The next week my legs were super tight during runs and I experienc
ed low threshold but constant spasms when  I wasn’t running.  My energy level crashed to the point where I took afternoon naps whether I intended to or not.  My diet and hunger were thrown way off.  It turns out that my body was quite preoccupied with the black liquid gold.  As the Apostle might put it, “My whole spirit, mind, body and soul were in love with coffee.”  And when I denied it the caffeine, my whole spirit went crazy.

This got me to thinking about what would happen if I “freed myself” from Jesus.  What would that look like?  Would it have that much an effect on my spirit, on my body, on my mind, on my routine?  Would it throw everything in disarray and cause sleepless evenings of twitching muscles?  Is my faith that important to me and that much a part of me?  I think probably so.  I am getting leg twitches just thinking about it.

Be that as it may, another reason we fast for Lent is so that our fasting can turn into feasting on Easter morning.  And trust me, when I yank myself out of bed at 5:30am on Resurrection Sunday and sip that first sip, the coffee will be a reminder for me that a new world is coming, a world full of health and energy and vitality and devoid of death and destruction.

I can only wait and here is one last meme!

 

 

 

Recently Recorded Sermons: Lent To Easter and a Bit Beyond!

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In the spirit of my series this week on preaching, here are six live recordings of recent sermons.  The first one is from Job.  The next several are from the gospel of Mark and the one at the end is on the road to Emmaus.