28 July 2009

of graffiti, white-flight, and the ubiquity of brokenness

I heard a story from a friend recently about a co-worker lamenting the fact that urban crime had caught up to him in his neighborhood on the sprawling edges of the city.

Graffiti and petty vandalism had made it to the exurbs and the wringing of hands had begun. “Pack up the house, Maude, we’re moving to Canada!!”

It occurred to me that perspective is everything. I live in an urban area, where teen pregnancy rates are through the roof, homelessness is rampant, and graffiti is ubiquitous. It is the kind of place that when you move into the neighborhood, your car insurance rates rise. And we love it for its charm and intimacy, for its age and its connectedness.

Do I even notice tagging in our hood? No. Why? Because, when you think about it, a tagged fence is not nearly as threatening as the white-flight crowd makes it out to be. It is a kid with a spray can… Yes, there are underlying issues there concerning gangs, property values and the like, but at the end of the day it is paint on wood.

Society is pocked with brokenness no matter what the zip code. In the city center, it is graffiti and in the gated neighborhoods, it is securities fraud. Forget which one is more obvious. Which one is really more damaging?

At the end of the day, there is no neighborhood, zip code, or lifestyle that trumps any other when it comes to escaping the nature of man. We are all broken…all in need of a savior.

27 July 2009

the end of the static

Yesterday was the second of my two preaching Sundays in July. I was able to close out out STATIC series and I figured I would make the audio available.
STATIC - Re-engage, 26 July

While I am at it, here is the rest of the series, with my other appearance being the first of the three (July 5).

STATIC - Rediscover, 5 July
STATIC - Reorient, 12 July
STATIC - Revolution, 19 July

22 July 2009

my bella and the journey into the presence of the father

My child continues to amaze me, to bring me to awe and wonder. The way that she looks at me and learns is stunning. An incredible gift from above, no doubt.

She has begun crawling recently, which is a new phenomenon and consists of using only her arms to pull herself forward until she collapses face first and then repeating the process over and over. (My Dad has resorted to calling it “the worm” as he watched her inch forward.)

On Monday night, I came in after work and kissed Stef and picked up my little Bella. We had a moment. You know, “a moment”. We like to have moments. Wouldn’t trade them for the world. Her eyes are hopeful and endless. It is joy.

Not long after our moment, I found myself in the kitchen doing some dishes and I called for Bella from two rooms away. We made eye contact and she began excitedly making her way towards me. Slowly, she flopped and pulled herself around the couch and onto the old wooden floor. She flopped and pulled herself through the legs of the chairs at the kitchen table, where she rested for a moment, laying her head on the floor in exhaustion. Eventually, I coaxed her all the way into the kitchen, where she proudly raised her little arms for me to pick her up. Almost relieved, she did in fact make it into my arms and we hugged and she smiled proudly, aware that she had traversed quite the distance to enter into my presence. All to see her Daddy. All to be close to her Father.

Neat picture for us…on the journey to God the Father…what will we do to reach His embrace?

20 July 2009

matt chandler and the rose

romans 9

At the same time, you need to know that I carry with me at all times a huge sorrow. It's an enormous pain deep within me, and I'm never free of it. I'm not exaggerating—Christ and the Holy Spirit are my witnesses. It's the Israelites...If there were any way I could be cursed by the Messiah so they could be blessed by him, I'd do it in a minute. They're my family. I grew up with them. They had everything going for them—family, glory, covenants, revelation, worship, promises, to say nothing of being the race that produced the Messiah, the Christ, who is God over everything, always. Oh, yes!

Don't suppose for a moment, though, that God's Word has malfunctioned in some way or other. The problem goes back a long way. From the outset, not all Israelites of the flesh were Israelites of the spirit. It wasn't Abraham's sperm that gave identity here, but God's promise. Remember how it was put: "Your family will be defined by Isaac"? That means that Israelite identity was never racially determined by sexual transmission, but it was God-determined by promise. Remember that promise, "When I come back next year at this time, Sarah will have a son"?

And that's not the only time. To Rebecca, also, a promise was made that took priority over genetics. When she became pregnant by our one-of-a-kind ancestor, Isaac, and her babies were still innocent in the womb—incapable of good or bad—she received a special assurance from God. What God did in this case made it perfectly plain that his purpose is not a hit-or-miss thing dependent on what we do or don't do, but a sure thing determined by his decision, flowing steadily from his initiative. God told Rebecca, "The firstborn of your twins will take second place." Later that was turned into a stark epigram: "I loved Jacob; I hated Esau."

Is that grounds for complaining that God is unfair? Not so fast, please. God told Moses, "I'm in charge of mercy. I'm in charge of compassion." Compassion doesn't originate in our bleeding hearts or moral sweat, but in God's mercy. The same point was made when God said to Pharaoh, "I picked you as a bit player in this drama of my salvation power." All we're saying is that God has the first word, initiating the action in which we play our part for good or ill.

Are you going to object, "So how can God blame us for anything since he's in charge of everything? If the big decisions are already made, what say do we have in it?"

Who in the world do you think you are to second-guess God? Do you for one moment suppose any of us knows enough to call God into question? Clay doesn't talk back to the fingers that mold it, saying, "Why did you shape me like this?" Isn't it obvious that a potter has a perfect right to shape one lump of clay into a vase for holding flowers and another into a pot for cooking beans? If God needs one style of pottery especially designed to show his angry displeasure and another style carefully crafted to show his glorious goodness, isn't that all right? Either or both happens to Jews, but it also happens to the other people. Hosea put it well:

I'll call nobodies and make them somebodies;
I'll call the unloved and make them beloved.
In the place where they yelled out, "You're nobody!"
they're calling you "God's living children."
Isaiah maintained this same emphasis:
If each grain of sand on the seashore were numbered
and the sum labeled "chosen of God,"
They'd be numbers still, not names;
salvation comes by personal selection.
God doesn't count us; he calls us by name.
Arithmetic is not his focus.
Isaiah had looked ahead and spoken the truth:
If our powerful God
had not provided us a legacy of living children,
We would have ended up like ghost towns,
like Sodom and Gomorrah.

How can we sum this up? All those people who didn't seem interested in what God was doing actually embraced what God was doing as he straightened out their lives. And Israel, who seemed so interested in reading and talking about what God was doing, missed it. How could they miss it? Because instead of trusting God, they took over. They were absorbed in what they themselves were doing. They were so absorbed in their "God projects" that they didn't notice God right in front of them, like a huge rock in the middle of the road. And so they stumbled into him and went sprawling. Isaiah (again!) gives us the metaphor for pulling this together:

Careful! I've put a huge stone on the road to Mount Zion,
a stone you can't get around.
But the stone is me! If you're looking for me,
you'll find me on the way, not in the way.

15 July 2009

piper on movies, nudity, relevance, and more

The follwing is a post from John Piper...

Read the following and tell me what you think in the comments section. Think we should be losing our TVs or staying away from the movies? Think violence and sexuality are different? Is there wisdom in Piper's way?

Why I Don’t Have a Television and Rarely Go to Movies

Now that the video of the Q&A at Advance 09 is available, I can look at it and feel bad all over again. Here’s what I regret, indeed what I have apologized for to the person who asked the question.

The first question to me and Mark Driscoll was, “Piper says get rid of my TV, and Driscoll says buy extra DVRs. How do you reconcile this difference?”

I responded, “Get your sources right. . . . I never said that in my life.”

Almost as soon as it was out of my mouth, I felt: “What a jerk, Piper!” A jerk is a person who nitpicks about the way a question is worded rather than taking the opportunity to address the issue in a serious way. I blew it at multiple levels.

So I was very glad when the person who asked the question wrote to me. I wrote back,

Be totally relieved that YOU did not ask a bad question. I gave a useless and unhelpful, and I think snide, answer and missed a GOLDEN opportunity to make plain the dangers of the triviality you referred to. . . . I don’t know why I snapped about the wording of the question instead of using it for what it was intended for. It was foolish and I think sinful.

So let me see if I can do better now. I can’t give an answer for what Mark means by “buy extra DVRs,” but I can tell you why my advice sounds different. I suspect that Mark and I would not agree on the degree to which the average pastor needs to be movie-savvy in order to be relevant, and the degree to which we should expose ourselves to the world’s entertainment.

I think relevance in preaching hangs very little on watching movies, and I think that much exposure to sensuality, banality, and God-absent entertainment does more to deaden our capacities for joy in Jesus than it does to make us spiritually powerful in the lives of the living dead. Sources of spiritual power—which are what we desperately need—are not in the cinema. You will not want your biographer to write: Prick him and he bleeds movies.

If you want to be relevant, say, for prostitutes, don’t watch a movie with a lot of tumbles in a brothel. Immerse yourself in the gospel, which is tailor-made for prostitutes; then watch Jesus deal with them in the Bible; then go find a prostitute and talk to her. Listen to her, not the movie. Being entertained by sin does not increase compassion for sinners.

There are, perhaps, a few extraordinary men who can watch action-packed, suspenseful, sexually explicit films and come away more godly. But there are not many. And I am certainly not one of them.

I have a high tolerance for violence, high tolerance for bad language, and zero tolerance for nudity. There is a reason for these differences. The violence is make-believe. They don’t really mean those bad words. But that lady is really naked, and I am really watching. And somewhere she has a brokenhearted father.

I’ll put it bluntly. The only nude female body a guy should ever lay his eyes on is his wife’s. The few exceptions include doctors, morticians, and fathers changing diapers. “I have made a covenant with my eyes; how then could I gaze at a virgin?” (Job 31:1). What the eyes see really matters. “Everyone who looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Better to gouge your eye than go to hell (verse 29).

Brothers, that is serious. Really serious. Jesus is violent about this. What we do with our eyes can damn us. One reason is that it is virtually impossible to transition from being entertained by nudity to an act of “beholding the glory of the Lord.” But this means the entire Christian life is threatened by the deadening effects of sexual titillation.

All Christ-exalting transformation comes from “beholding the glory of Christ.” “Beholding the glory of the Lord, [we] are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another” (2 Corinthians 3:18). Whatever dulls the eyes of our mind from seeing Christ powerfully and purely is destroying us. There is not one man in a thousand whose spiritual eyes are more readily moved by the beauty of Christ because he has just seen a bare breast with his buddies.

But leave sex aside (as if that were possible for fifteen minutes on TV). It’s the unremitting triviality that makes television so deadly. What we desperately need is help to enlarge our capacities to be moved by the immeasurable glories of Christ. Television takes us almost constantly in the opposite direction, lowering, shrinking, and deadening our capacities for worshiping Christ.

One more smaller concern with TV (besides its addictive tendencies, trivialization of life, and deadening effects): It takes time. I have so many things I want to accomplish in this one short life. Don’t waste your life is not a catchphrase for me; it’s a cliff I walk beside every day with trembling.

TV consumes more and more time for those who get used to watching it. You start to feel like it belongs. You wonder how you could get along without it. I am jealous for my evenings. There are so many things in life I want to accomplish. I simply could not do what I do if I watched television. So we have never had a TV in 40 years of marriage (except in Germany, to help learn the language). I don’t regret it.

Sorry again, for the bad answer. I hope this helps.

Pastor John

14 July 2009

espresso, white water, and the hazards of what is unseen

I had an interesting discussion with two of my favorite people early this morning over espresso and high-carb breakfast foods. The topic du jour was whether our seemingly minor hang-ups are indicators of larger issues beneath the surface.

I argued that they were indeed. Where does my overeating/smoking/obsessive working out/asceticism/laziness/(insert your seemingly minor hang-up here) come from…and what does it say about me on some deeper level?

As best I can figure, these minor hang-ups are like spits of white water on a river. The white water, the turmoil, on the surface is only there because of a boulder or log or other obstruction under the surface which violently shifts the current on the surface. The larger the boulders under the surface, the more fierce the white water. If the metaphor applies in truth, then it would stand to reason - the greater the inner turmoil, the more evident the outward signs.

And sometime, the most dangerous hazards in navigating such waters are not the massive boulders that we can see bursting through, but the jagged rocks that lie just beneath surface.

Is this a reach or does this ring true? Does this resonate with any depth?

13 July 2009

parabolic living and anecdotal education

I have mentioned in this space my ongoing quest to live and see more parabolically, to see as Jesus saw in an effort to walk as Jesus walked. Maybe it is that push that drove me to read a book called “How Soccer Explains the World” by Franklin Foer. Maybe I just wanted an easy history lesson for my own pursuit of some bizarre/trivial academic elitism.

Using soccer as the lens through which to view world history, the book dives into such varying subjects as Serbian militias, Spain’s autonomous/anti-Castilian regions, the Balkan Wars, anti-Semitism, the Scottish proclivity towards religious persecution, and an American xenophobia that percolates just under the surface of our everyday life.

I enjoyed the book in its ability to see more than what is happening on the surface and for its ability use simple anecdotes to educate me about larger realities. Education by anecdote – the choice of a new generation.

09 July 2009

this is your life

I am late to the party on this one...

Still...working through some of the truth within. Don't close your eyes...