Faith Tracks: “Adoration” by Matt Maher

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JesusFaceOnCrossI’ve said before that I’m not a huge fan of a lot of contemporary Christian music these days. I’m not saying it’s bad, far from it. It just tends to not be my style. I was a worship leader when I was in college in the late 90s and a lot of the stuff we did was just these “praise choruses” that repeated themselves over and over. It was one thing if there were verses too, but often there weren’t. I know, I know, I heard all the stuff about “well, if it’s just a simple chorus people can just focus on the Spirit moving without having to think about the words.” Problem was, I kind of thought that you should listen to and take seriously the words that leave your lips, but anyway, it’s mostly a stylistic difference.

However, at the same time that I was leading worship at my own Christian Reformed Church, I was also spending time a few blocks over being a cantor at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church here in Ogden. I loved every minute of it, and not just because they paid me. I fell in love with liturgy. I fell in love with the ancient traditions of the church. I fell in love with their music as well, which were usually beautifully written songs that would sound at home in either a traditional or a contemporary service, and they often were totally based on scripture, like the hymns I grew up singing and love to this day. I was thrilled when I saw that the United Methodist Hymnal contained several of these songs!

Fast forward to last year. I was listening to “The Message” on SiriusXM and heard a song that our choir had done at church a couple of times. It was “Lord, I Need You,” by Matt Maher. I liked his voice and then a couple of days later I heard another one of his songs, so I decided to check him out on Spotify. I loved it. He has a great voice, his songs have a lot of depth to them, and check this guy out:

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I have to get my eyes checked soon, and I was pretty sure I wanted Adam Hamilton glasses, but I don’t know. I think I might go for the Matt Maher specs! Also, my beard is starting to get more gray in it than I’d like, but if I could get it to look like that I’d be set! I’ll never have that much hair again though.

Kidding aside, he’s a great musician and the more I heard, the more I liked. Then the other day I was listening to a new playlist of his stuff on Spotify and heard the little gem “Adoration.” The old cantor in me quickly recognized the tune “Tantum Ergo,” which I sang countless times at St. Joseph’s when they held Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament. I used to love that. Growing up as an evangelical protestant, I didn’t believe in transubstantiation, the changing of the communion elements into the literal body and blood of Christ, but I definitely believe that Christ is palpably present whenever the Christian rite of Holy Communion (or the Eucharist) is celebrated. Holy Communion is actually one of only two sacraments that we recognize in the United Methodist Church, the other being baptism, but I believe that Christ recognizes whenever his followers remember his sacrifice in bread and wine (or, um, Welch’s grape juice for us Methodists.)

I looked into Matt a little bit and found that he was a practicing Catholic. No wonder I connected to his music! So many of his songs give me the same feeling I used to get when I worshiped with my Catholic brothers and sisters. In “Adoration” Maher takes the beautiful, traditional song used in the rite and infuses it with a modern chorus:

Jesus, Lamb of God
Saving love for all
Lord of heaven and earth
Father’s love for all
I bow to you
Jesus, Lamb of God
Saving love for all
Lord of heaven and earth
I bow to you, bow to you, I bow to you

christvictorIsn’t that the message of Christ distilled into almost it’s purest form? I think it is. My confession is this: That Jesus the Christ is Lord of heaven and earth. His saving love is for all. I will bow to him and gladly submit my life to His love and grace.

“Pour upon us, Lord of mercy
Spirit of thy selfless love
Make of us one true heart yearning
For the glory of thy Son
Jesus, fire of justice blazing
Gladdening light forevermore”

I couldn’t find a good video of Matt performing the song live, but below is the live track version from his album “All the People Said Amen.” Check it out and check out more of Matt’s music on whichever listening platform you prefer. This truly is one of the songs I closely associate with my faith journey.

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Ash Wednesday 2018: Lent As a Journey

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Bethany1Then Mary took an extraordinary amount, almost three-quarters of a pound, of very expensive perfume made of pure nard. She anointed Jesus’ feet with it, then wiped his feet dry with her hair. The house was filled with the aroma of the perfume. Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), complained,  “This perfume was worth a year’s wages! Why wasn’t it sold and the money given to the poor?” (John 12: 3-5 CEB)

Ah, it’s Lent again! Are you giving anything up this year? Most of my coworkers, though not Christians, must know when Lent starts each year because they always ask me what I’m giving up. When they do this they often look at me like some strange, exotic animal who willingly put myself in a cage at the zoo. Its kind of….odd. At first I thought that this might be a good thing because usually after I tell them what I’m giving up, they usually ask me why in the world I would give up, oh, say candy and Coca-Cola, which is basically my life blood. Then I can talk to them about Lent and sacrificing and self examination before we celebrate Christ’s Resurrection. It’s a witness moment!

But is it really? Maybe (probably) they just think I’m a weirdo. Now being a weirdo for Christ is perfectly ok. In fact I think I’ll start a new Twitter hashtag #weirdosforChrist. But is it possible that maybe over the last few years I’ve made Lent more about what I’m giving up and tracking my progress than about following Jesus on his journey to the Cross? Have I made Lent into a project?

The idea comes from the book “40 Days of Decrease” by Alicia Chole. It’s a book that challenges the reader to not just give up coffee and chocolate for Lent, but to give up things like complaining or other negative actions or thought processes. On the first day she challenges us to give up Lent as a project.

See, I’m a progress/achievement oriented person. In my job I have goals that I have to track each day, each week, and each month. Looking at the reports and checking off the progress makes my heart so warm that even John Wesley would be jealous (gratuitous Methodist reference). Tracking goals and evaluating performance is a project. According to Chole, we can end up looking at Lent like that too. How long did you make it before you cracked that first Coke open, a week? Did you make it all the way to Easter? How many pounds did you lose in the process? Did you actually manage to finish the devotional book?

I realized that often my Lenten observances are just like that. I get so busy checking off the boxes along the way that I forget where Jesus is in the midst of all of that. I get so busy tracking the physical objective that I lose track of the spiritual journey.

Which brings us to the reading above. Normally we don’t hear about this until Holy Week, but in her book, Chole picked this one for today. I think I see why, at least for me and what God wanted me to take from it.

Chole asks the reader to insert themselves in the story and think about the sights, sounds, and smells that you might experience. So I entered into the story of Mary anointing Jesus at Bethany.

I was reclining with Jesus, the disciples, and Lazarus, there at the table. I smelled the wonderful food that Mary and Martha had prepared and could taste the wine on my lips. I pictured myself taking to Lazarus about what it was like to be dead. I mean, come on, you wouldn’t? Out of the corner of my eye I see Mary enter the room. She walks up to Jesus carrying a huge jar of expensive perfume, which she proceeds to dump on the feet of Jesus. Then she dries his feet off with her….hair.

What in the world?

The scent of the perfume quickly fills the air in the room. I start to cough at the strength of the smell, along with the disciples and Lazarus, Geez, couldn’t she have waited until we were done eating? I guzzle some wine trying to flush the scent from my palate. Finally, the man sitting on my right side bolts up from the table, coughing a bit, and then says in a strident voice, “What is she doing? That stuff was expensive! Do you know much that is worth? We could have sold that and given it to the poor! How could you allow that, Jesus?”

That man is Judas. The scripture says the reason that he’s so upset is really because he wants to pocket some of the money for his own gain, but the disciples didn’t seem to realize that, so in this story, I don’t either.

In fact, I actually find myself kind of taking the side of Judas, which is a bit of a tough thing to admit. Come on, we definitely could have sold that and used it for a better purpose. We could have used the money to give to the poor sure. We could have have used it to further our ministry in any number of ways. I found my thoughts drifting back into my own time. We could have used that for Family Promise. We could have used that to make up the shortfall in the budget. We could have put that into the building fund, we could have bought a year’s worth of Sunday School material or bought supplies for the church community garden. In short, I could plug that money into one of my projects.

I find myself rising to speak and agree with Judas (yuck) but just as I pull myself up, Jesus speaks. It isn’t a scolding. It’s a look of pity on his face and his voice betrays the fact that he knows I still don’t get it. He looks into my eyes, the eyes of the Human One* stabbing into my soul. “Brandon, you will always will have poor people to help. You’ll always need extra money for the Sunday School Program, you will always have things at the church that need to be fixed. You don’t understand what an act of love this is. You don’t understand what’s going to happen on this journey.”

I sit down, baffled, unsure as what to say or even think. What does he mean?

There will always be another project, another goal, and often those goals and projects are perfectly noble, some even give glory to God. But what if I’m so busy keeping track of my projects and my ministry that I forget Jesus, that I forget that my life is a journey of following him and emulating him?

I do that. I do that a lot.

In just a few hours I’ll be attending Ash Wednesday services. Maybe you will be too. I invite you to join me in being fully present in that moment, that moment when the ashes of last year’s Palm Sunday branches mark your forehead, and listen to the words that are spoken. Part of what we say at my church is “Repent and believe the Gospel.” Take this moment to let the Gospel fill up your heart and mind, then you just might hear the voice of Jesus again saying “Come, follow me. Come with me on this journey. Lay your projects and other cares aside and walk with me. You may not understand where we’re going, but I promise I’ll be with you.”

May God bless us all as we undertake our Lenten journey

*Human One is the Common English Bible’s rendering of Son of Man.

New Year’s Covenant Renewal

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WesCov“As you set yourselves apart by your obedience to the truth so that you might have genuine affection for your fellow believers, love each other deeply and earnestly. Do this because you have been given new birth—not from the type of seed that decays but from seed that doesn’t. This seed is God’s life-giving and enduring word.” (1 Peter 1: 22-23 CEB)

So has anybody made any resolutions yet? Yesterday at worship my liturgist asked that question to our congregation and my unspoken answer to that was, “No, but hey, I still have a few hours to think on it.” Some of the things I’ve been thinking about might be some of the same things that have been on your mind. I mean, everybody wants to lose weight and become more healthy, right? After all, I turn 40 this year (shh, don’t tell anyone) and I’m starting to get to the point where my body isn’t quite as good at overcoming my mind’s bad habits as it used to be. I could stand to lose ten pounds, or you know, fifty. Anywhere in there would be a start. In 2016 I bought a Fitbit tracker. Much to my dismay, despite the fact that I wear it day in and day out, it hasn’t magically made me lose weight. Imagine that! Funny, I have a gym membership that I pay for every month, but there hasn’t been any magical miracle solutions from that either. Maybe it’s time I try out one of those TV preachers, you know the ones who populate the basic cable channels at about 3 AM, right after that show with the dude who tries to sell you knives and Katanas. Surely if they can conjure up some miracle spring water or a magic green handkerchief that makes people rich, they can help this poor guy lose a few pounds. It’d probably only cost me a few thousand bucks.

What about your spiritual life? Have you made any resolutions there? Maybe you got a new Bible or devotional book for Christmas. Maybe you’re like me and you picked up a shiny, neatly pressed copy of “The Upper Room” yesterday at church figuring that this is the year you’re gonna make it through all six issues. (Mine is currently still sitting in my bag upstairs with the Bible I took to church and yesterday’s worship order. I’m not off to a good start there.)

How often do we manage to keep those resolutions? If you’re like me, and a lot of other folks, not very often. Why is that? I have a couple of thoughts. First, I think our motivation starts to lag as we get back into our normal, daily routines. It’s easy to think about making changes while you’re off work between Christmas and New Years. You look at that brand new calendar. You see all of that “New Year, New You” advertising on TV and at the store. Maybe you did get a new Bible or piece of workout equipment for Christmas. For the first little while, it’s easy to get up everyday and hit the Word or go to the gym. Then maybe you string a few days together and feel pretty good about it. But then, then you head back to the office. Then you have to get back into the swing of getting the kids ready for school. Those everyday things eventually start seeping back into the time you’ve set apart for those resolutions. Then you miss a day, or two, or three, and before you know it, it’s back to the same grind.

Maybe it’s not that. Maybe you’re afraid that people will judge you. After all, social media is full of jokes and memes about people who only come to the gym for the first few weeks of the year. If you’re like me maybe you walk into the a place like that and feel everyone looking at you, and you imagine those exact jokes and thoughts going through their heads, whether they are or not.  Or maybe you were planning on going back to church this year, but when you got there on Christmas or New Years you saw a smarmy sign on the marquee that said “We’re not just open for Christmas and Easter!” Maybe you heard somebody make a snarky comment like, “Well, it’s been nice, I guess we’ll see you at Easter!”

Or maybe the task ahead just seems too daunting. Maybe you feel like you’re lacking in so many areas that you just don’t know where to start. I get that, I really do, and you know what? I’m not sure that we can generally pull off these kinds of life altering transformations on our own.

Which is why I love United Methodism, which focuses so much on personal transformation and the grace needed to accomplish it. For those of us in the Wesleyan tradition, New Years Day is a big deal. It’s on this day, or the first Sunday after, that we are generally called to renew our covenant with God. It isn’t meant to just be a prayer or liturgy that is recited without thinking either. The “United Methodist Book of Worship” recommends thorough preparation for this service including self-examination, study, and prayer.

It is a serious business. Various parts of the service talking about giving ourselves totally over to God, about renouncing our own wisdom and will, about putting our necks under his yoke, and about ordering our whole lives to his direction.

But even this must be intentional. Much like the devotional book won’t read itself or my Fitbit won’t help me to magically lose weight, this service, these words, won’t mean anything unless we continually use them and continually respond to God’s covenant with us.

It’s not always easy either. When you first start to lose weight you often find that the more you work, the pounds come off pretty quickly, but then you hit a plateau. It is the same for our walk with God, we get back into it and we can feel invigorated in those early days, but eventually we hit a plateau. When we hit a plateau in our physical exercise the solution is to keep working with purpose and intent, and I believe the same solution applies to our spiritual “workouts” as well. Sometimes you have to feel the burn before you see the results.

I am going to leave you this evening with the words from John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer, which is a big part of the covenant renewal service. My hope for myself and for each one of you in this new year is that we all plug into the power that is Christ and his Spirit, and through intentional effort we will not only enrich our lives but those around us, therefore building His Kingdom as we become obedient to the Truth and love one another deeply and earnestly.

CovPrayer

Can Anything Good Come From Nazareth? (Advent Week 1)

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Joseph1When he came to his hometown, he taught the people in their synagogue. They were surprised and said, “Where did he get this wisdom? Where did he get the power to work miracles? Isn’t he the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother named Mary? Aren’t James, Joseph, Simon, and Judas his brothers? And his sisters, aren’t they here with us? Where did this man get all this?” (Matthew 13: 54-56 CEB)

For our Adult Sunday School Advent study this year, we’re working through Adam Hamilton’s new book, “Faithful: Christmas Through the Eyes of Joseph.” When we Christians think about the Christmas story, obviously we first think of Jesus. After that we probably think of Mary, especially our brothers and sisters in the Roman Catholic Church. Then we probably think about shepherds, angels, wise men and such, but what about Joseph? Where does he fit into all of this?

Admittedly the New Testament doesn’t give us much to go on at all. There is not a single line of Holy Scripture attributed to Joseph! Luke mentions that Joseph is still around when Jesus is separated from his parents at age 12, staying in the temple in Jerusalem (Luke 2: 41-51), but again it is Mary that asks the young Jesus why he stayed behind and worried his parents half to death.

After that, Joseph pretty much disappears. The Synoptic Gospels all have some version of the scene which I quoted above, though only Luke mentions Joseph by name in this scene (Luke 4) and Mark just says that Jesus is “Mary’s Son” (Mark 6). The Gospel of John mentions Joseph by name in a similar incident in John 6: 41-51. That’s it! Everything else is either church tradition or apocryphal in nature.

What the Bible does tell us is that Joseph was a carpenter. As a skilled worker, it’s likely that Joseph would have had some means. However, as Adam Hamilton points out in his book, the Greek word that is used to refer to Joseph is tekton, not the word architekton which would have designated him as master carpenter or master builder. In all likelihood Joseph was just simple carpenter building things like doors and furniture, not someone in charge of  a large shop or other workers.

Which brings us back to the scripture I quoted above. In this scene Jesus is teaching in his hometown synagogue in Nazareth. The people are impressed with his wisdom, but they’re not sure how he came by it. The question is asked, “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” Can you hear the slight intended there, the incredulity of the people? “Who is this guy anyway?”

But I want to ask you, can you blame them? I don’t think I can. I kind of thought about what it might be like if somebody that I went to high school with ended up being President. With a very few exceptions, I think I’d probably look on them with same kind of incredulity: “Really? HIM, or HER?” There might even be a hint of jealousy there! At any rate, I would certainly forgive anyone who asked the question “Can anything good come of out of Northridge High in Layton, Utah?”

And that is the same question that is asked about Jesus. It is the question posed in John 1 by Nathanael to Philip when Philip tells him that he has found the one spoken of by the prophets. Philip says that this special man is Jesus of Nazareth, son of Joseph. Nathanael (who is likely the apostle Bartholomew mentioned in the synoptics) asks Philip point blank: “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Think of it this way.  If you ruled the universe and formed it with your very words, if you had that kind of power at your disposal, and you decided to come to Earth and walk around in human skin for a bit, how would you go about it? If you wanted to have a quick impact and have everybody notice you, you’d probably want to show up as the child of a king or emperor. Or you’d want to be born to a noble family, maybe even as a relation to a mighty warrior!

Do I think any of you who read this would choose to be born to a teenage girl and her simple carpenter of a husband in a manger, in the middle of some poor animal’s dinner? Nope. Fat chance.

Yet that’s how it happened. Try to wrap your mind around it. The incarnation-God himself becoming human-takes place in an animal stall to two people of no note or significance, to a woman who was shown to be with child before she was properly married.

It still blows my mind to think about it, and to me, that’s what makes the story ring true. I would never have expected it to go down like that.

Then I stop and think about so many Christians in our world today, particularly in the USA. If Jesus were to show up in those kind of circumstances today, would any of us even notice? I doubt it. What if Jesus’ parents looked like this:

ModernMaryJoseph

If you can’t picture that happening, then I respectfully ask that you go back and read the Christmas story, because I’m not sure you get it. This is entirely possible, and this would be just as scandalous in our world today as Mary and Joseph were back then, maybe even more so. Heck, I can imagine that if Joseph and Mary (or Jose y Maria) looked like that today, a lot of American Christians would want them run out on the rails. What does that say about us?

Yes, it would be scandalous, but Jesus is scandalous. He showed up in an unexpected way, did unexpected things, and turned society on it’s head, elevating the poor over the rich and the last over the first. As someone on Twitter recently said: “Jesus said it was extremely difficult, near impossible, for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God, and the Church has spent the last 2,000 years trying to explain why he didn’t mean it.”

What if he did? What if we’re just as bad at missing God in the poor and humble as people were 2,000 years ago? They missed him then, and I think we are in danger of missing him now.

The first Sunday of Advent, and the candle we light, traditionally represents Hope. You know what else is scandalous? In this day and age when hate abounds, when the night seems as dark as it’s ever been for many of us, the scriptures, our identity story, ask us to place our hope, all of our hope and all of our dreams, in the baby born in that manger 2,000 years ago. We are asked to wait patiently, but to wait ACTIVELY for him to return, and we hope that when he does, he will restore God’s Shalom on Earth as it is heaven. In the meantime, we’re supposed to help make that happen by serving God in the form of the poor, the sick, the diseased, the dying, the orphan, the widow, the homeless, the people without health insurance, the immigrants, and even our enemies.

As scandalous as that might be, it is what I believe, and it is where I place my hope.

In the Carpenter’s son from Nazareth.

Your 2017 Christmas Funnies!

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If you follow the blog you know that every so often I throw in some posts full of funny pictures and memes, because we can’t take ourselves seriously all the time. In fact, I’m pretty sure that God wants us to laugh our butts off on occasion. So here’s some Christmas pics, some religious, some not, from around the interwebs that just might give you a laugh or two as we launch in to December 2017!

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A Yuletide PSA

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XmasJerkIn just a few hours it’ll be December first, at least here where I live. So far this holiday season has been pretty good for me, except for that night where I slipped at the top of my staircase and fell down seven steps, sending my Bible, a book, several highlighters, an ice cold bottle of water, three bottles of medication, and a wad of dirty clothes flying everywhere. The four letter words that issued forth from my mouth woke everyone in the house for sure, and probably everyone in a 2 mile radius.

Other than that, it’s been pretty good. I survived the Black Friday weekend at work with only the slightest discomfort, and my boss found some vacation time that I didn’t know I had coming, so I got this week off. Bueno. I’ve even gotten most of my shopping done ALREADY! WHAT?!

Ah, but next week I might end up looking like the little kid in the picture above. Yes, that happens, and knowing that this might happen, I’ve decided to put out a little Public Service Announcement for you Christmasing perusal.

You see, for most of my life I’ve worked in two institutions: retail and the Church. Both of these tend to occupy a lot of your time during December. I’ve been participating in or planning Christmas Worship services for 25 years. This coming year will also mark my 21st Christmas in retail. Wow.

So you might say I’m kind of a veteran at this Christmas thing. I’ve seen it all. One year a customer didn’t like the answer one of my coworkers gave him so he threw a toaster display at her and hit her in the face. Twice I’ve seen parents leave the store with kids that didn’t even belong to them, and not notice until they got home. I’m hard to phase. For me, most of the stuff that goes on this time of year is like water off a duck’s back.

But a couple of years ago, something different happened, something that really sucked. I was ringing up a purchase for a lady at the cash register. She was really nice, and at the end of the transaction I smiled and said “Merry Christmas to you.” Now I was pretty sure I was on safe ground. The lady was buying an ornament that said “Merry Christmas” on it, and she was wearing a cross necklace. She thanked me, smiled, and said “Merry Christmas” back. All was right with the world, as Ralphie said after he got his Red Ryder BB Gun.

Oh, not so fast my friend.

The next lady in line came to my register wearing a horrid scowl and dropped her things on the counter. She then proceeded to tell me how offended she was that I said “Merry Christmas” to AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT CUSTOMER.

Was I not aware that not everyone believed in Jesus? Yes I was.
Did I not understand the origins of pagan celebrations of Winter Solstice? Yes I did.
Was I aware that virgins don’t have children? Yes, m’am.
Did I know that the details in the two stories of Jesus’ birth don’t match up? Yup, sure did.
Was I familiar with the god Mithras? Yes, actually I was. I have an actual college education. Two degrees, actually.
Did I know that my store couldn’t just cater to Christians? Why yes, I did.
Did she care that my line was getting longer? No way.
Did she hear the people in line grumbling behind her? If she did, she didn’t care.  Her most important thing in that moment was to let me know that she was offended, darn it!

To quote Charlie Brown: “Good grief!”

ChuckXmas

These kind of people are why Christian Fundamentalists trot out their “War On Christmas” garbage every year. There’s not really a war on Christmas. Trust me, I’ve interacted with THOUSANDS of Christmas shoppers over the years and the only one that has cared in the slightest was that one lady. Most folks just want to get their stuff and get home.

But alas, don’t think I’m just calling out anti-religious people here. Fellow Christians, we have as much to do with this as they do. Though I’ve never encountered it at work, I’ve seen it a few times when I’m out shopping. You know who I’m talking about, the people that complain when a cashier DOESN’T say “Merry Christmas” or when the company’s marketing includes “Happy Holidays” or god forbid “XMAS.” Yes folks, if that is you, you are just as bad as the lady in my checkout line.

By the way, if you get upset about XMAS or like using it to troll people, I have some news. “X” is what they call a christogram. It is symbol for “Christ.” In Greek Christ is ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ, so the Greek letter chi (χ) is often symbolic of Christ.

So there.

Look, let me put it to you straight. I don’t care if you’re religious or not. It’s not my concern if you’re a Christian or not. This blog has been going for two plus years, and if you’ve read any of it, you know that I’m not at all about forcing Jesus down anybody’s throat.

Let’s put it this way: If you’re one of those people that gets offended because somebody does, or doesn’t, say “Merry Christmas” to you, you’re not winning any battles or making any kind of points for your side. You’re just being a jerk, and I don’t care what you believe or don’t believe, the Holiday season should not be about being a jerk to anybody, period.

It’s especially not about being a jerk to store clerks or restaurant wait staff, many of whom are spending long hours away from their friends, family, and their own Holiday observances so you can get that last minute gift or have that party in a restaurant. Also, most of them are just saying what their company tells them to say, so it’s not even their choice quite often.

Just don’t be a jerk. It really shouldn’t be that hard. What if everybody tried to make just one other person smile when you’re out shopping instead of getting bent about a greeting?

So as we head into December:

Merry Christmas!
Merry χmas!
Happy Hanukkah!
Happy Kwanza!
Season’s Greetings!
Happy Holidays!
Have a cool yule!
Happy, uh…Friday?
Bah Humbug!

I hope that covers all the bases!

 

 

Book Review: “Primal” by Mark Batterson

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batprimal“Primal: A Quest For the Lost Soul of Christianity” by Mark Batterson. Published 2009 by Multnomah.

So first I need to start off by saying that Mark Batterson is not my particular box of rocks. I would say that a lot of what he has to say is probably quite a bit more conservative than I would normally go, but that’s ok! If we just read and learn from people who think exactly the same way we do, then we get caught in an intellectual echo chamber and never expand our horizons. I’ve seen some videos of him preaching and read some bits and pieces of things he’s written, but this is the first book of his that I’ve read.

There was a lot for me to like and agree with in the book, in fact I dare say that I agreed with him far more often than not. Batterson clearly has a heart for the Kingdom of God and bringing that Kingdom to Earth, and he’s very passionate about that. I think we as Christians in the USA need a lot more people like that. I highlighted a ton throughout the book and got several ideas for blog entries!

There were also some things that were….yeah, kind of a no for me. None of these things were big theological deal breakers for me, they were mainly stylistic things that rubbed me the wrong way. There was also one particular illustration he used toward the end of the book that was really off putting, and I’ll get to that in a bit. I will say this though, you have to be careful when you write pieces like this. I think a lot of Christian bloggers (big time or small time) like to throw out the names of prominent Christians and then light them up in a blog entry hoping to garner a few hits. That’s not at all my intention here.

So let’s talk about the things I liked. First off I agree with Batterson’s basic premise that the “Great Commandment” is at the “primal” heart of the Christian faith. Christ makes it clear that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Batterson believes that we’ve kind of lost sight of that and added way too many layers of religious trappings on top of that primal foundation. Again, I agree. Batterson cites theologian Rupertus Meldenius’s quote: “In essential things, unity. In nonessential things, freedom. In all things, love.” Batterson believes that the Great Commandment is the most essential of the essentials, and I couldn’t agree more. I wish more Christians would be willing to get back to the basics.

I also enjoyed the emphasis Batterson puts on actually getting out and DOING things. Too often we Christians are all too happy to sit in our theological ivory towers and argue nonessential points of theology while the people that Christ called us to serve continue to suffer and struggle. Batterson talks a lot about putting “sweat equity” into God’s Kingdom. At one point he even says that God “loves the smell of our sweat” when we work for the Kingdom. I don’t doubt that at all, but I had never heard it put quite that way before! You know what though? I’ll never forget that idea, so he can count his job well done!

Most of all I enjoyed the emphasis he put on awe and wonder. As I write this, it’s the closing hours of October 31, 2017. This is the 500th Anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, ignited by Martin Luther when he nailed his 95 theses to a church door in Germany. Since then we Protestants especially have gravitated away from believing in the mystery of faith and moved toward a need to “prove” our faith intellectually. While there is certainly nothing wrong with apologetics and being able to articulate and defend your faith, I feel like our western mindset has sucked all the wonder out of it.

When I go to my family’s cabin in the summer I look up into the sky and see a field of stars that I can’t see in the city. I’ll get up early in the morning and go to my favorite fishing hole and marvel at the beauty of creation around me. As Batterson mentions, all of that and everything else that is, has been, and ever will be is the result of the voice of God saying just four words: “Let there be light!” Do you ever stop and ponder that? Do you ponder the power that voice, that force must have to unleash EVERYTHING that has ever been? Have you ever thought about the power it took to bring Jesus back from the grave after three days? Do you stop and think that that same power, that same spirit, that same creative energy is still with us? If you don’t wonder about those things, try it! It’s awesome.

Now a few final words about some things that made me uncomfortable. In the first section of the book Batterson talks about saying a “multiplication anointing” over his…..book sales. Then he gushes about how many copies his first book sold. When I read that I put the book down and did not pick it up again for a week. Yes, he says the reason he did it is so he would have more resources to use to serve God, more to give away. I’m not questioning his motives at all, but it just kind of made it seem like there was a certain lack of humility. He does give the credit to God, but it still came across, to me, like he was pretty impressed with it all.

And while that was the worst instance of it, it kind of kept cropping up throughout the book. He seemed to name drop in places where it really wasn’t called for. He tells a story about how the spirit convicted him at a conference, so he and his team ditched their dinner reservation to stay at the conference and work through it. That’s fine, that’s even admirable, but I didn’t need to know he was supposed to go to PF Chang’s. He does that kind of thing a few times, dropping names of cool, trendy places and trendy Christians. If he had mentioned the fact that his church ran the most popular coffee house in DC one more time I think I might have thrown the book into the path of an oncoming semi truck.

I get it, your church runs coffee houses. All the profit goes to missions. Awesome, may the Lord bless your efforts. Next time I’m in DC I’ll hit you up, but you don’t need to remind me every chapter. I just couldn’t help but feel like I was taking a course in hipster Christianity 101, especially after watching some of the video sessions. Again, not that it’s bad, it was just kind of off-putting to me as a reader. If Christian coffee houses are your speed, you’ll dig it.

The thing that made me most uncomfortable came in the second to last chapter. While attempting to make an illustration of the power of God, Batterson spends several paragraphs gushing over the details of the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan at the end of World War II. He talked about how long it took the bomb to fall, the barometric switch that detonated it and started the subatomic reactions, the regeneration of those reactions, and about how the bomb reached the temperature of the core of the sun. He then kind of stands in awe about the four miles of Hiroshima that were instantly wiped out, the buildings destroyed six miles away, and the broken windows 12 miles away. It’s like listening to a kid describe his favorite video game or a chef talking about his favorite meal.

He left out a couple of details though. He left out the fact that those bombs killed 129,000 people. He left out the fact that most of those people were civilians. He left out the fact that countless others experienced the effects of those blasts physically and psychologically for the rest of their lives. He left out the fact that those bombs inaugurated an arms race that could still, to this day, bring the world to the brink of destruction.

I don’t know that Christ approves of that, or that it’s the kind of “awesome” God wants to be equated with. Unfortunately, positioned near the end of an otherwise pretty good book with a good message, it just made Batterson seem kind of tone deaf. We Christians in America are so caught up with being strong and powerful that we forget that Christ came to earth in a manger destined to serve and die, not rule and destroy.

So unfortunately, it kind of blunted his message for me. I don’t know that you can talk about love in one breath and then marvel at violent power in the next. I’m sure he didn’t mean it that way, but come on. He could have used the exact same illustration and talked about the reactions that take place in nuclear power plants that power our cities and gotten the same point across.

One of these days I’ll check out one of Batterson’s later books and see what I think.

Standards

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DANG“Marriage is a significant allegory, and I’m applying it to Christ and the Church.” (Ephesians 5:32 CEB)

I am kind of an internet meme connoisseur. If you are as well you’ve probably seen this picture a few times now, cast into different memes across the interwebs. So why am I using it here? Well because I want to address something that is getting a lot of play right now both in Christian and secular circles: the standards of sexual behavior between men and women.

Now that being said, that means I have the ability to step on about a million toes here. Some of what I say is going to come across as far too progressive for more conservative readers and far too conservative for the more progressive circles that I often move in. Dan Carlin often says the same thing about his Hardcore History podcasts, but like Dan, I love everybody, and I know there are going to be different opinions about this. So I’m not claiming that I have some great truth revealed to me here, but this is how I see it as revealed through scripture and as best jiving with the life that Christ would have us live. If you disagree, no hard feelings.

Let me get a couple of basic beliefs stated up front. First, I believe that as Christians we should hold ourselves to a higher standard of sexual morality than modern society often advocates. It may sound old and stuffy, but I believe it’s true. I believe that human sexuality is a gift from God that is meant to be expressed within the context of a monogamous marriage relationship. While I do agree that the idea of marriage handed down to us by the New Testament defines the marriage relationship between a man and a woman, I also believe that the same type of love and intimacy can exist in a same sex relationship. Can a loving, committed same sex couple who dedicates their lives to God be as honoring to him as a different gender couple? I like to believe that they can, though admittedly I can’t really support that from scripture. Then again, I can find ample support for polygamous behavior in scripture, so I think the jury is still out there. I’m not going to pretend to know the mind of God on that one. However, while my scope here is about the relations between men and women, I think a lot of it, if not all of it, can be applied to same gender relationships as well.

I also believe, most importantly, that the marriage relationship between man and woman is supposed to mirror the relationship between Christ and the Church. That is the model on which we are to base our intimate relationships, as Paul says in the verse above. Now, before you get the torches and pitchforks out, I’m not advocating the submissive wife to dominant husband thing. I believe Paul was writing in a very patriarchal time, and while Christ is undoubtedly the head of the Church, he is also the perfect Son of God. So fellow men, maybe when you become the perfect Son of God, you can look for others to submit to you but, spoiler alert, that’s not happening.

I believe the relationship between man and woman should mirror the relationship of Christ and church in a couple of important ways. First, there must be a spirit of mutual respect. In a relationship where respect is present, submission will also be present, however in human terms, there will be times when a husband should submit to his wife as well. That’s just healthy from a psychological context. Men, we are not always right just because we have the “plumbing” or the testosterone. I hate to break that to you. In fact thinking like that undermines a respectful relationship and cause all kinds of damage, both within the relationship and outside. Having been through a failed marriage I can definitely tell you that the problem had nothing to do with my wife “submitting” to me or not. In fact if she had, things might have ended up worse. A good relationship is one of give and take, of two people coming together to support and compliment each other.

The second way we should mirror Christ’s love for the church is through self-sacrifice. Who would you willingly give everything, including your life, for? I thought about that a bit, and my list was embarrassingly small. Outside of my family, I could really only think or probably two people. I need to work on that. What about you? I’m sure many of us would say that our spouses, or if we’re not married our significant other, are on that list, but are they really? When you really get down to the brass tacks of it, would you give your life for that person? Because that’s what Jesus did for us.

We are also meant to emulate agape love. For most of us who grow up in a church, this is one of the first times we encounter a word in the English language that can mean different things in New Testament Greek. What is rendered as “love” can often be eros, which is a romantic, passionate love. It’s where we get the term erotic. Eros is not bad, but it is only one facet of love. Philia is kind of a “brotherly love” that exists between friends. In fact, Aristotle translates this as “friendship.” Again, this is an important part of love, but not the whole picture.

Agape is the full portrait. This is the love we have that persists no matter what. It doesn’t go away when the romantic fires fade, and it is stronger than the bonds of brotherly love or friendship. Agape transcends both of those things and is unconditional. It is this kind of love spoken of in 1 Corinthians 13. It is unconditional, it never fails. As Pastor Gary at my church is fond of saying, “God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it.” Do our relationships with others, with our partners, mirror that?

That’s tough. That’s a high standard.

So in light of all of that, let’s take a look at some of what is going on in the world.

Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein has been in the news for all the wrong reasons. He has been accused of sexually harassing and even assaulting various women over the years. I’m not going to go into the accusations here, they would take forever to list. They are deplorable. They are the picture of a man who does not have any respect for women or probably anybody else for that matter. Clearly he believes people should be submissive to him, and clearly he exists in a world devoid of self sacrifice and humility, only seeking to fulfill his pleasures and whims.

Recently Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy Magazine passed away. Many of the people that frequent the circles I involve myself with really don’t have an issue with Hef’s magazine or attitude on the surface. After all, he never forced women to take their clothes off and have their picture taken. Many of them were fairly well compensated. To some he is seen as a hero of the women’s lib movement.

To me, he’s not much more than a pornographer. Look, it’s not for me to say somebody should or shouldn’t participate in that kind of a photo shoot or whatever. I don’t like it, but it’s not illegal. We are told that we all have a right to our own body and should be able to do with it what we please. That is the modern societal standard. However as I mentioned at the outset, I believe that we as Christians are called to live to a higher standard. Also scripture tells us that our bodies are not our own to do with as we please. Paul is quite clear about this in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, again from the CEB:

Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves? You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body.

The price paid for us by Christ was heavy indeed, and I don’t believe that pornography is honoring to him, no matter how liberated it may make you feel. Besides I have a background in counseling psychology and I have seen first hand the destructive influence pornography can have. No matter what, your spouse doesn’t ever quite match up to the air brushed photos, and I’m not sure you’d want your spouse to be much like someone found in a lot of the videos.

But let’s not just leave men on the hook here. While pornography is more visual to men and seen as a largely male problem, there are a significant number of women who consume it as well. We’re not talking about just photos and videos, but the “billionaire’s lover” paperbacks that sell at the grocery store have the same effect. Look, I’ve heard plenty of pop psychologists say that “a fantasy can’t hurt you,” but way too many times I’ve seen the opposite turn out to be true. Definitely these kind of things don’t harm EVERYONE that consumes them, but they do harm many, many people.

So now that I’ve angered my liberal friends, let me put my conservative friends out too. With all of this talk about Weinstein and Hefner, Vice President Pence has been held up by conservative Christians as the model for our relationships between man and woman. Why is this? Because he follows the “Billy Graham” rule and never meets with a woman other than his wife without someone else being present. On the surface that sounds pretty neat, right? He respects his wife so much that he doesn’t want to give off the appearance of impropriety with another woman. It even sounds downright self-sacrificial. He respects the women he’s meeting with by not putting them in a position where they can be caught up in compromising behaviors. Everybody wins, right?

I don’t question that the Vice President loves his wife. I don’t question the fact that he thinks what he’s doing and espousing is holding himself to a higher standard. I’m sure both of those things are true. But…

Is there not enough trust between him and his wife to make this “rule” unnecessary? I don’t know. That’s not for me to judge.

Is it really respectful to a woman he might have to meet with to imply that if someone else isn’t with them he might have his hands all over her, or worse, she might have her hands all over him? I say that because so often when sexual impropriety happens powerful men tend to cast women as the instigators and hoist the responsibility onto them.

In Galatians Paul says that self control is part of the fruit of the spirit. Does the Vice President imagine that he doesn’t have that kind of control?

Now, I don’t for one instant view the Vice President as some kind of womanizer. I highly doubt that he would really act inappropriately toward someone. I’ll take his word on that (though maybe I’m naive). That being said, I don’t think the “Billy Graham rule” is about protecting women, his wife, or his marriage. I believe that it is solely in place to protect his reputation, to keep up appearances. Is that really the most important thing here? Is that really what we should be worried about? Is that spirit of mistrust really about respect?

I would also add that if you’re a man who can’t trust yourself to keep your hands to yourself with a woman unless somebody is watching, you not only probably shouldn’t be vice president, but you should probably be in custody.

Also, I would think much more highly of the Vice President if he disassociated himself from the current President. You see, over the last couple of weeks while many conservative Christians have held up Pence as a model of virtue, criticism of President Trump is non existent.

The President who has admittedly committed adultery (pretty sure that’s in the Ten Commandments somewhere) several times and shows zero repentance or remorse. The president who has appeared in pornographic videos. The President who proudly graced the cover of the much maligned Hefner’s magazine.

TrumpBoy

The President who routinely appeared on Howard Stern. The President who has been accused of the same kinds of things that Weinstein is accused of by several women. The President who “moved on a married woman like a b*tch,” and likes to “grab ’em by the p*ssy.”

I’m sorry conservative friends, you have no standing on this issue as long as President Trump continues to be the evangelical darling, and I refuse to think much of the Vice President’s high morals until he disavows him.

So where does that leave us? None of us are perfect, and it’s hard for any of us, myself included, to practice what we preach. I don’t know that being overly judgmental is the answer to any of this. There are things we can learn from the behavior about each of the men mentioned above about how NOT to do things.

Ultimately we are only in control of ourselves, but as Christians, again we are called to a higher standard, one that we will admittedly not always be able to keep. But I think it would really be awesome if Christians led the way on sexual ethics, and not it the way of demeaning women as inferior. Paul may have talked like that at times, but it pays to remember that the first people the resurrected Christ appeared to were women. He certainly didn’t seem to entertain that notion.

However, if we could lead the way in mutual respect, self sacrifice, and agape love just maybe the Church could once again regain it’s moral clarity and be an example of Christ in the world.

Choosing Life in The Promised Land

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death-mosesI call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. (Deuteronomy 30: 19-20 NRSV)

Today I finished teaching a six week course on Moses in our adult Sunday School Class at church. We used Adam Hamilton’s excellent book, “Moses, In The Footsteps of the Reluctant Prophet” as a guide. Needless to say I’ve had my head buried in this man’s life for the last couple of months, but it was a very worthwhile experience.

This afternoon I stopped and thought about Moses quite a bit, and really pondered what God says to me, and possibly to us in this day and age through the life and the story of Moses. To be honest, I think there are several good lessons to be learned, but I kept coming back to these words I posted above, some of the last words he spoke to his people. Moses knew his death was at hand, and he knew this would be the final time he addressed Israel, so I’m pretty sure I’m on safe ground saying that these words were part of Moses’ big point.

In these verses Moses presents a stark choice to both the Israelites, and to us today. He admonishes us to choose life instead of death. He says that if we choose this, then things will go well for us and our descendants. Well that sounds easy enough, right? I mean wouldn’t most of us choose life anyway? Well, as it turns out, there’s more to it than that.

What Moses is asking the Israelites to do is much more than just making an intellectual nod to certain beliefs about God and the nature of all things. While that’s certainly part of it, it’s not the whole story. Earlier in Deuteronomy 30, Moses tells us to obey the commandments of the Lord, to walk in his ways, and observe his decrees and ordinances. That certainly sounds like an awful lot of actual “doing,” and not just believing. God wanted action. He wanted the people not to just believe that he was there, but to act like he was there, and to keep the laws he gave them.

Spoiler Alert, it didn’t turn out very well.  The Old Testament is the story of Israel falling away from God, suffering the consequences, and finally turning back to him. It happens over and over. How well do we do in that regard, I wonder?

I don’t think we do too well at all, to be honest. In the United States we like to think that somehow God has appointed us as his “spokesman” or maybe “spokescountry.” Many of us like to see the Christian tenants and slogans coursing through our history. Some of us even speak of our country as a “Christian Nation.” Most of us won’t go far enough to say that we’ve supplanted the Jewish people as “God’s chosen,” but we like to think that maybe we’re like the “Vice-Chosen.” We even adopted, or maybe co-opted, the Moses story into our own history and used it as an excuse to advance westward into our own “promised land.” That vision turned out to be just as lethal to the First Nations people here in America as the Bible says it was to inhabitants of Canaan when the Israelites came through.

So look around, how are we doing? Yes, the vast majority of people in this country still say they give intellectual ascent to the Christian faith, but what are we DOING?

A couple of weeks ago one man shot 500+ people in a few minutes. The funerals are still going on. While many of us have expressed sincere condolences and prayed for these victims, we’ve done nothing to to even attempt to arrest our culture of violence.

Several natural disasters have befallen our country in recent months. While we’ve done a pretty good job of taking care of people within the bounds of our contiguous 48 states, our brothers and sisters in Puerto Rico are still struggling mightily. Meanwhile the President complains that Puerto Rico has blown his budget and insinuates that what forces we have sent there will be withdrawn.

Instead of seeking to be at peace and avoid war, violence, and death, we’ve taken up saber-rattling as a new hobby. We seem bound and determined to get into a war with someone, and it doesn’t seem to much matter what the cost is.

Our leaders care nothing about integrity. We are the ultimate “do as I say, not as I do” culture. A major democratic donor gets hit with unspeakable accusations of sexual harassment and violence, and many of the top people in the party who claim to be champions of women clam up. Meanwhile, the Republicans toss on an extra serving of hypocrisy by leveling the boom on the Democratic donor while absolutely ignoring the fact that the very same kind of allegations have been leveled against the President.

Racism is rampant, and the those who advocate these ideas have been let back into the mainstream of our national discourse where they can poison the minds of others.

Our economic and healthcare systems are increasingly abandoning the poor, while we push massive tax breaks and incentives for the richest among us.

Do we sound like a people who have chosen life? Do we sound like a people who have kept the Lord’s commandments and walked in his ways? Does it sound like we are worthy to step into the Promised Land?

On the night before he was assassinated, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr stood in a church in Memphis, Tennessee and echoed the final words of Moses. He claimed that even though he might not get there, he had been to the top of the mountain and that he had seen the Promised Land. He knew his people would get there. Then, much like the great Prophet Moses, this Modern Day prophet died a short time later have glimpsed the ideal.

It can seem that we are far away from that ideal. Sometimes I despair that we are as far away from the “Promised Land,” from the Kingdom of God, than we ever have been since the days of the Civil Rights movement. However, I believe that we can’t give up. The people of Israel didn’t give up in the desert, though they knew many of them would fall along the way. Many of them continued to choose life, to follow the Lord, and put one foot in front of the other everyday. They had a hope and a faithful promise of God’s deliverance.

We still have that hope. We still put faith in that promise through the power and grace of Jesus, the Christ. He never said that following him would be easy, and it’s not, but many still do. Many ordinary, everyday Christians go out into the world everyday and choose life. Many keep the decrees of The Lord (or at least do their best). Many Christians have fanned out across our nation’s disaster zones to bring aid and help rebuild. Many are giving of their time and resources to help the victims of violence. Many lobby our government on behalf of the poor, the orphan, the alien, and the widow. Many are committed to offering a safe place to victims of physical or emotional abuse.

The list goes on, but as someone in my Sunday School class said today, they don’t make it on the news.  Christians helping people makes a good story until a sex scandal or a murder turns up, then the helping is quickly forgotten.

But there is hope. Everyday when we get out of bed we have the choice presented to us once again. Even though we’re far from perfect, when we consciously choose life and choose the Lord, then through his grace and power anything can happen.

An 80 year old stuttering sheep herder can win a face off with the most powerful monarch in the ancient world.

A shepherd boy can become a great king.

A simple fisherman can stand next to God himself and help bring truth and light into the world.

If you choose life, if you seek the Promised Land, the Kingdom of God, what can God do through YOU?

Let It Be!

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autumn1The heavens  declare the glory of God; the skies  proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the end of the world. (Psalm 19: 1-4a NIV)

Autumn is my favorite time of the year. I love the colors, the crisp air, and the utter beauty all around me. I got used to all of that growing up in the mountain west. For a year or my life I tried to live in Florida, and I just couldn’t take it, I missed my seasons, especially autumn.

I’d like you to think about your favorite season, your favorite time of year, or your favorite time to be outside. For some of you that season might be spring, with all of the bright new flowers. For some it might be summer, when the heat of the sun warms the earth, and for others it might even be winter. I hate the cold, and I hate driving in the snow, but even I will admit that there aren’t many things more beautiful in life than a new blanket of white snow covering the trees and the ground on a winter night. What season speaks to you?  When do you most see the splendor of the Creator?

Have you ever considered just how much it takes, how everything has to come together for you to be you, sitting in front of your computer or on a mobile device reading this blog right now on whatever day it is when you see this? Seriously, the math is absolutely astounding. I tried being an atheist once, and I couldn’t manage it. Now, I’m not trying to spit on or denigrate atheists, some of my best friends are atheists, but in the end I couldn’t do it. Maybe you all have something I don’t, but I can’t imagine that everything coming together to put me where I’m at in my life at 7:21 PM on Sunday, October 8 2017, in Clinton, Utah is merely by accident or random chance. Now I know I’ll probably get angry comments or emails saying that I’m misconstruing the argument, and that’s fine. This isn’t a post about apologetics, this is a post about how I see the world.

This is a post about being alive.

Have you thought about how awesome it really is that you and I are actually alive and drawing breath?  Look up in the night sky and see the all the stars, then realize that even in your largest field of view you can’t comprehend how large the universe is. Look at the fallen leaves on the ground and see that each one is not quite the same as the one next to it. Look at the fingerprints on your own hands and marvel at the fact that no human being who has ever walked this earth has had the same fingerprints that you do, and no one will ever have them again.

Fingerprints are cool, right? Well when I look around I see the fingerprints of the Creator, of the great I AM, of YHWH all over creation. The Psalmist I quoted at the beginning of this post felt the same way.

After a couple of years, I’m going through Brian McLaren’s book “We Make the Road by Walking” again. I credit McLaren, more than any other human being, with bringing me, the big time prodigal son, back to God. In the first chapter he remarks that God said “Let it Be,” and it was! He asks us to imagine the power of the cosmic forces coming together to birth the universe. He asks us to visualize life’s very first dance, when protons and neutrons and electrons all danced together to same music of creation to bring forth life for the very first time.

Isn’t it awesome to think of it that way? What would you give to be there, to get a look at that very first dance, to hear that melody?

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. That melody is still playing. God didn’t put down his instrument for good and stop playing. It is very much alive and beautiful, sometimes it’s just hard to hear it over the din of ugliness, anger, and violence in our world. We are to be reminded that when God spoke to Elijah on the mountain it came not as a rush of violent wind, but as a still, small voice.

Yes, it can be hard to catch the tune and it can be hard to hear the still small voice, but as McLaren points out, when God says “Let it Be,” he’s giving each and every one of us an invitation to hear the melody, to dance to the tune, and to be alive in the fullest sense of the word. Jesus himself says that being alive is the point of it all when he says “I have come so that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10).

God invites us to be part of the story he is writing. We are designed to feel the wind on our face and the warm embrace of other people. We are allowed, even encouraged, to enjoy the wonders of the autumns leaves and the intimacy that takes place when people fall in love. It was all created, it was all good when it was created, and despite all our attempts to diminish it, it is all still good today.

Especially when we take a moment to reconnect with our creator and hear once again the tune and the harmony of life going on in us and around us.

Go forth, my friends, and live life, live life to the fullest and dance to the melody!

“Dance, dance, wherever you may be! I am the Lord of the Dance said He. I’ll lead you all wherever you may be, I’ll lead you all in the dance said He!”