Thursday, November 20, 2008

excerpt from my favorite sermon i've ever preached (on santa claus)

In effect, Santa is providing for us an example of what a Christian actually is. He’s demonstrating Christian spirituality as he brings gifts, as he spreads hope, as he delivers joy and as he demonstrates to the whole 21st Century world what it means to truly live a life of generosity. The things Santa does are themselves rooted in and motivated by his love for Jesus Christ. So, too, we ought to look at the person and work of Jesus Christ and be motivated to be like Santa.

Is that a bit of a stretch? It was for me too when I first began to think about it. Then I started going back again and again to the pages of the New Testament and reading through Santa Claus-colored glasses what we were being instructed to do by the Apostle Paul or what Jesus was instructing us to do. What kind of instructions do we see in the pages of the New Testament text?

I want to read from Ephesians, Chapter 4 in The Message translation. This is Paul writing to the persecuted Church in the region of Ephesus, which is the same region in which Santa Claus was born. Remember, Santa Claus read this letter; this was part of Santa’s Bible. These are the words that made Nicholas, St. Nicholas. These are the words that transformed a fishing boy into the most powerful and significant cultural icon in the last two millennia. He’s more famous than any theologian, pope, charitable person or movie star; everyone knows Santa.

Look at the words now that made Santa, Santa.

While I’m locked up here, a prisoner for the Master, I want you to get
out there and walk—better yet, run!—on the road God called you to
travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t
want anyone strolling off, down some path that goes nowhere. And
mark that you do this with humility and discipline—not in fits and starts,
but steadily, pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love, alert
at noticing differences and quick at mending fences.

You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction,
so stay together, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one
faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works
through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is
permeated with Oneness.

But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same.

Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us is given his own gift.

He handed out gifts above and below, filled heaven with his gifts, filled
earth with his gifts.

We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do. He
keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through
us, nourishing us so that we will grow up healthy in God, robust in love.

Think about what those words must have done to a simple, little boy who grew up surrounded by the courageous confidence of men and women who are willing to be put to death for their religious convictions. For Nicholas, as a boy, all of those heroes for him would have been people who looked almost the same. They would have been from the same kind of socio-economic class, gone from place to place preaching and praying for people to perform acts of healing and acts of proclamation.

But Nicholas does something totally different. He makes the mission of Christ his own. He changes the way he is going to express Christian spirituality. Instead of going and preaching, he goes and gives gifts. He doesn’t go and give gifts publicly, he does it at night, in secret, so no one will ever look to him and talk about how great or wonderful he is. He just wants to give because he’s motivated by generosity.

It’s hard for us sometimes to separate the real St. Nicholas from the Santa Claus on the Christmas card, or the Santa Claus on the Christmas ornament, but we must – we must remember that Santa Claus is real. Santa Claus is motivated by affection for Jesus Christ to do things that will never benefit him or make his life better, but will only help to make our lives more full of joy. He teaches us what it means to believe. If you’ve got kids you see what Santa Claus does; you see how he awakens hope. He changes the perceptions of people and families from brokenness to joy, from despair to hope, from poverty to prosperity.

These things are Christ things. These are Jesus things, the things Jesus taught the apostles, the things they wrote about in the Bible. For us, this year, as counterintuitive as it might seem to talk about Santa Claus at Christmas in a church, it changes Santa from just a pop culture symbol and puts him right in the middle of the Christian Christmas story.

It teaches us Santa Claus isn’t a provider, but an example. We ought to be like him as he endeavors to be like Jesus Christ.

It’s our great ambition and hope for us all this year (and every year to come) that as you look at Santa Claus in the mall or in the cards that you recognize there is in St. Nicholas a power to change the world. That authority, that motivation, is placed there by God in him and it’s ready and able to be placed in us as well.

is porn psychologically combatible?

had lunch with my friend greg, a mental health professional, today. he and i have been talking about the incredible cultural saturation of pornography - an epidemic, in his words - and about the inadequacy of both the church and the state to truly offer any real world help.

it seems like, when people become addicted to porn, their best hope is to just stop and hope for the best.

they're like white-knuckle drunks.

sure, there's accountability software which (in my mind) is the best option
but even that only makes failure doubly-painful because now someone knows all your secrets and is forced to act on them

which usually have some painful (and shameful) consequences,
often disproportionate to the crime.

greg has a hunch that there has to be a way to fight porn addiction
much like we fight other illnesses (because it does contain many similar characteristics to mental illness)
and much like we fight other addictions (because it does contain all of the same characteristics of other addictions - alcohol, hard drugs, etc).

so he's on the lookout for some people of passion to dig up some research on porn, addiction, recovery, and re-mapping neural pathways for the next year in an effort to establish a treatment program.

it is very much needed

after all, if someone comes to me and tells me they have ADHD, i send them to greg
but if they confess an addiction to porn all i can really tell them is that they should stop.

people need real help for their real problems,
not just guilt and a high punishment for failure.

incredible youtube vid - toshiba time sculpture

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

allegiance, not behavior

People make the mistake of thinking that it’s our actions that send us to Hell (or, conversely, to Heaven).

But our actions are only indicative of the deeper, truer, person that we are. Our actions are only servants to us – they are the things we do because of the people we are.

The real issue regarding salvation is not our actions/behaviors, but our allegiance.

Christianity spirituality is about a changing of allegiance. In its most basic sense, it is a changing of allegiance from ourselves to Christ Jesus; in more dramatic scenarios it is a changing of allegiance from some religion, or some servitude, or some dark master to Jesus Christ.

But we find it hard to remember this.

So, when someone asks me: are you saying that God is going to send my friend to Hell for being a homosexual?

I am more than a little hesitant to answer yes.

1. because I don’t think Heaven and Hell are “real” issues so much as scapegoat rhetoric utilized to either:
a. make religious people look bigoted, or
b. make non-religious people look wicked
2. because Heaven and Hell are not determined – as far as I can tell in scripture – solely on our score as good people

Heaven is about allegiance far more than it is about behavior.

However, behavior flows from allegiance; which is why – if forced – I would have to say that practicing homosexuals are not (in all likelihood) Christians.

Because Christians are those who have given their allegiance to Jesus Christ, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, and He leaves no room for ambiguity on the topic of sexual sin.

Some might think this is harsh, but I’m not sure why…honestly, if loving and following Jesus Christ is the most important thing to you in the world than you should be able to give up whatever else you need to surrender in order to serve Jesus better.

But if you don’t want to serve Jesus, then who cares what you do with your sexuality so long as it is within the law?

Anyway, I make the point of saying all this because people often respond with genuine heartbreak when they hear how narrow the standards are for following Jesus…and it’s true, the Way of Jesus Christ is wonderfully and fantastically difficult to follow, but our primary concern should not be managing our behavior.

Our primary concern should be Love for, and Oneness with, God.

If we are driven into the center of Christ, then our behavior will increasingly conform to the standards of Scripture and no sin will be any barrier against our entry into Heaven.

If, however, we are concerned with issues and sins and particulars more than we are concerned with giving our whole selves to God, than anything can prove to be an insurmountable barrier that separates us from Christ.

Because – again – the issue is not sin, but allegiance.

Which is why I try very hard not to monitor or police non-Christians on their conduct (unless, of course, it is something so heinous or dehumanizing as to warrant a just response). Christians, in the end, should only be ‘sharpening the iron’ - that is challenging one another on their sinful behavior – of other Christians.

So – again – if allegiance is the thing we focus on, then we can have confidence that all the other, less significant battles, will get worked out through the process of discipleship;

But if any one issue, or sin – like homosexuality, or financial generosity, or biblical credibility, etc – is what we focus on then we will spend the rest of our lives wrestling with issue after issue after issue.

And we will never find peace
Or wholeness
With God.

Monday, November 17, 2008

westwinds voted: best place of worship

isn't that funny?

there's a "best of jackson" awards thing-y, and this year we won best place of worship.

it must be our all-you-can-sin buffet on tuesdays...which is waaay more popular than our we-were-just-kidding-seriously-get-over-here-and-repent-your-face-off wednesdays (2 for 1).

working at home today with my new assistant, the beautiful blond anna jordan

Friday, November 14, 2008

spirituality is jazz

i've been thinking a lot about spiritual formation...trying to give others clues and suggestions about how to grow in the Spirit, and it has struck my how musical spirituality is.

for example,
when we're first learning how to follow Jesus we stick to the basics
prayer + bible reading

then we maybe move onto other things like
listening prayer
lectio divina
conteplative prayer
scriptural study + exegesis


thing is...i do all of these and none of these regularly

almost like jazz

in jazz (a word which literally means "improvisation") you've got to know the rules in order to break them.

so, you play swung eighths instead of straight
you mix up your scales and your modes

you play with the music you're playing

and that's mostly how i approach christian spirituality. i've had a host of great experiences in my life, including times of remarkable discipline, that give me something to vamp on. it makes it easier for me to hear the Spirit now that i feel like there are many ways in which He can communicate to me that i'm practiced in understanding.

but sometimes i get uncomfortable explaining this...because i'm afraid people will try and copy or adopt my approach without all of the same background experiences.

so, for example, people who hear me say that i don't spend time each night reading my bible may use that as an excuse to skip out on time in the word

but this is a problem, given that i spend almost 20-25hours a week prayerfully studying the the parallel between my life and theirs breaks down quickly.

see what i mean?

if you want to go deeper in your spiritual life you must begin with some basic building blocks, and then move onto something new-er or more holistic etc.

you've got to know your scales before you can change them
know your modes before you can switch them
know you time before you can bend it

know the Word before you can discern the Spirit speaking to you

angry atheists hit hard at christmas (from

You better watch out. There is a new combatant in the Christmas wars.

Nothing says Christmas like a wreath -- or the now perennial Christmas wars.

Ads proclaiming, "Why believe in a god? Just be good for goodness' sake," will appear on Washington buses starting next week and running through December.

The American Humanist Association unveiled the provocative $40,000 holiday ad campaign Tuesday.

In lifting lyrics from "Santa Claus is Coming to Town," the Washington-based group is wading into what has become a perennial debate over commercialism, religion in the public square and the meaning of Christmas.

"We are trying to reach our audience, and sometimes in order to reach an audience, everybody has to hear you," said Fred Edwords, spokesman for the humanist group.

"Our reason for doing it during the holidays is there are an awful lot of agnostics, atheists and other types of nontheists who feel a little alone during the holidays because of its association with traditional religion."

To that end, the ads and posters will include a link to a Web site that will seek to connect and organize like-minded thinkers in the D.C. area, Edwords said.

Edwords said the purpose isn't to argue that God doesn't exist or change minds about a deity, although "we are trying to plant a seed of rational thought and critical thinking and questioning in people's minds."

The group defines humanism as "a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism, affirms our responsibility to lead ethical lives of value to self and humanity."

Last month, the British Humanist Association caused a ruckus announcing a similar campaign on London buses with the message: "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."

In Washington, the humanists' campaign comes as conservative Christian groups gear up their efforts to keep Christ in Christmas. In the past five years, groups such as the American Family Association and the Catholic League have criticized or threatened boycotts of retailers who use generic "holiday" greetings.

In mid-October, the American Family Association started selling buttons that say "It's OK to say Merry Christmas." The humanists' entry into the marketplace of ideas did not impress AFA president Tim Wildmon.

"It's a stupid ad," he said. "How do we define 'good' if we don't believe in God? God in his word, the Bible, tells us what's good and bad and right and wrong. If we are each ourselves defining what's good, it's going to be a crazy world."

Also on Tuesday, the Liberty Counsel, a conservative Christian legal group based in Orlando, Florida, launched its sixth annual "Friend or Foe Christmas Campaign." Liberty Counsel has intervened in disputes over nativity scenes and government bans on Christmas decorations, among other things.

"It's the ultimate grinch to say there is no God at a time when millions of people around the world celebrate the birth of Christ," said Mathew Staver, the group's chairman and dean of the Liberty University School of Law. "Certainly, they have the right to believe what they want, but this is insulting."

Best-selling books by authors such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens have fueled interest in "the new atheism" -- a more in-your-face argument against God's existence.

Yet few Americans describe themselves as atheist or agnostic; a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life poll from earlier this year found 92 percent of Americans believe in God.

There was no debate at the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority over whether to take the ad. Spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein said the agency accepts ads that aren't obscene or pornographic.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

dorks of the world, unite!

my favorite sci fi series, a song of ice and fire, is getting it's own HBO pilot with probable extension into a full-blown series.

check it out at

and, yes, i know how pimpy and slobbery this makes me look; but hey - i like this stuff (everyone has their flaws, after all)


martyrs and victims

i've been thinking a lot lately about the difference between these two words.

jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, to lay down our lives, to prioritize others, and to go the extra mile.

jesus tells us to love our enemies.

but what about instances in which someone is being victimized? for example, should we tell the rape victim to turn the other cheek? to not report her rapist? to forgive her rapist? to "go the extra mile?"

of course not.

see, jesus was calling us to lay down our lives.


as martyrs

martyrs are witnesses (that's the literal meaning of the word). jesus went willingly unto death as a sacrifice for all humanity. his life and sacrificial death bore witness to the immense love of god for all the world.

but he was not a victim.

in fact, at least one other time "they" came to get jesus, presumably to kill him, and he escaped through a crowd. he avoided their malice. he slipped the noose, escaped the trap, and most certainly did not "go the extra mile" in order to allow evil-doers to do whatever they wanted.

they wanted to kill him, but he was not ready. had they done so then he would have been a victim not a martyr because his death would not have born witness.

witness is voluntary. witness is intentional. witness is prophetic.

victimization, on the other hand, is criminal.

i say all of this because of how frequently i hear people tell tales of personal suffering that seem guided and governed by a misunderstanding of jesus' teachings.

they think they should move back in with their abusive husband because they're supposed to turn the other cheek...and so they get abused again, and their children get beaten, and they persist in their misery.

but jesus didn't come to enslave us to abuse; he came to set us free.

free from victimization.

being bullied is not proof that we are followers of jesus' teachings; standing up to bullies in ways that re-value human life and dignity are.

the martyr always understands that people are worth a great deal.
the victim thinks they are worthless.

the martyr goes willingly into suffering SO THAT the powers of evil will be exhausted and exposed.
the victim suffers evil BECAUSE the wicked go unopposed.

there is a great difference in these two things.

good king wenceslas (test art)

trying out a new technique i've been seeing a lot lately...i like the basic concept - text body,warhol face, vector frame, pop colors - but i'd love a little feedback too

Monday, November 10, 2008

the pulpit is a dare

(found this in geez magazine, summer 08)

the pulpit is a dare

a dare to speak with conviction
invoke authority
say what god might say
bounce a proclamation off the pews of the world

it is an elevated, up-front
bulky wooden dare.

to speak boldly
believe firmly
and stand resolutely
is both necessary and problematic.

because we have an awkward relationship with conviction.

certainty, as a concept, is out of vogue. dogma is the devil. question everything. yet we want to hold onto something, to care enough to give utterance when the moment is right.

while we may hold secret contempt for the preacher who is so sure, so knowing, we also hold a desire to stand up front, if only for a few minutes.

but we know the pulpit also inhibits like a dead weight around the neck of language. it tethers imagination to dominion, sitting there so smug, the center of too much attention, too much piety, and propriety.

[but we've] unleashed the old bulwark from its moorings and hauled it out the back door.

now it's on the loose...

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Friday, November 7, 2008

An ever-increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure

Never forget that when we are dealing with any pleasure in its healthy and normal and satisfying form, we are, in a sense, on the Enemy’s ground. I know we have won many a soul through pleasure. All the same, it is His invention, not ours. He made the pleasures: all our research so far has not enabled us to produce one. All we can do is to encourage to humans to take the pleasures which our Enemy has produced, at times, or in ways, or in degrees which He has forbidden. Hence we always try to work away from the natural condition of any pleasure to that in which it is least natural, least redolent of its Maker, and least pleasurable. An ever-increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure is the formula.

- The Screwtape Letters, CS Lewis

types of bad kissers (from mingle2)

thought this was appropriate given our current fusion series...

reimagining church...

reading frank viola's book of the aforementioned title and finding it interesting...though a little inflamatory.

anyway, great quote on p.45:

when the greeks got the gospel they turned it into a philosophy
when the romans got the gospel they turned it into a government
when the europeans got the gospel they turned it into a culture
when the americans got the gospel they turned it into a business

Thursday, November 6, 2008

handing out free guns

ben and i were having breakfast today & talking about fusion. i told him that it's so hard to teach people the complexities of correctly interpreting scripture in just 30min once-a-week, but necessary if were ever going to get beyond this stupid commercial version of western church-ianity.

we laughed a lot.

but the problem remains: when you introduce people to the depth of the bible, and they don't fully listen, you run the risk of having them make up their own rules as to how the bible should be interpreted.

which is a big deal, and a big risk.

so, for example, during our genesis series we did a little historical-critical work comparing genesis 1 to the enuma elish and ancient israel to ancient babylon. we talked about how these things should be read in context, because context informs us.

which, then - somehow - caused a gentlemen to tell me that jesus' teachings really were all poems and metaphors that we shouldn't take seriously because he was responding to the enuma elish.


jesus was born 1800 years after the enuma elish, never interacted with it, nor was it part of the dominant narrative of the roman empire. he and it have almost nothing to do with each other.

this poor guy confused our homework that applies to genesis with our homework that applies to jesus. they are not the same things, but he - because he only half cared - confused them and combined them unthinkingly.

and the worst part?

he didn't care or BELIEVE me when i tried to correct him.

it was at this point in the conversation that ben asked me: do you sometimes feel like you're giving people guns when you preach?

meaning: do you sometimes feel that people have no idea how dangerous the bible is when they refuse to listen to the basic instructions for how to use it properly?

don't we understand how much is at risk when we're dumb with the bible? uncriticial? unthinking? unreflective?

and not just with the context or the history, but with basic stuff like jesus' commands to his disciples.

don't we get it?

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

do something useful

carmel and i each participate in weekly bible studies.

our two studies, bloom & the misfit toys, are joining together to build a house for a family outside Johannesburg with my friend sarah (maxie).

here are some fotos of the work maxie has done before. it's modest work, but a massive help for a family in tremendous need. each house costs $750 USD, so between bloom and the misfits we can afford it this month.

anyway - it kills me sometimes to think about how god has remarkably blessed us here in jackson...and how little we appreciate it...and how little with do with it.

taking a small amount of money from a couple dozen people and building a home like this one hardly counts as a major strike against inequity...but it's a start.

a start.

and, perhaps, for most of us a start is all that is required for us to begin living differently.

oops...props to pierre

we've used 2 phrases in this series and the teaching atlas that originate with my friend pierre in pretoria.

1. "move the fire in your pants to your heart"

2. "why don't you sleep with your wife for a change?"

i'd meant to make note of that in the atlas, but realize now that i didn't.

sorry, pierre - props to you