Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Diminishing the Power of the Lord and Diminishing Our Relevance

This is a rant about Testa-mints. Anyone remember those? Perhaps they still exist. These were little mints in the shape of cute little crosses which box had inspirational sayings on them. I attribute much of our evangelical irrelevance to Testa-mints.

Why? Because Testa-mints are the worst example of our  evangelical ability to diminish the God of the Universe to a cute little kitschy box of mints in the shape of crosses. When I look at the evangelical church, I see a group who is highly relational and who has owned the fact that the Lord, Jesus, has offered us salvation for free if we believe in him. He has ripped the veil in two allowing any person to have direct contact with God. God is our friend whom we can talk about anything with.... and all of this is incredibly good

BUT... When I lok at the Catholic church, the Orthodox churches and the Hebrew church and faith, I see a very different treatment of Jesus. These churches have an incredible reverance for Jesus...the CHRIST who came, God as man, and sacrificed his life so that mankind could live. I see a picture of the God who created all and who must be worshiped. I see the fear of an all-powerful God of a people who, out of love, chose to engage and offer us the ability to be princes and princesses among men and sons and daughters of the Lord most high.

This is not the same picture we get from the hymn "What a friend we have in Jesus".

The reality is that both are correct. Jesus is highly relational and asks us to be his friend. brother and confidant with everything.. even the most mundane. But we are also supposed to realize that this "friend" is the most awesome power in the universe and heaven, a fiercely loyal, mighty, just, and powerful God.

I believe that the perfect moments picture of Jesus is one of the reasons why we as evangelicals have become irrelevant in contemporary society. To me, saying that the cause of Christ is irrelevant is porbably the worst insult to Christians that I can imagine because it means we have not fullfilled the Great Commandment fully or the Great Commission at all.

The question is, how does our picture of Jesus hurt the cause. The answer is in the Testa-mints. We have reduced our God, the God of the Universe, to a simple, trite marketing campaign focused mainly at a Christian market, using nothing but poor artistry, kitsch, and syrupy sentimentality as the content. Then we throw a bible verse on it and the bible verse has cute little flowers and bumble bees springing out of the lettering. I find it gross. It is as if we are alright with the comfort of Jesus but not with the power of the Christ.

So non-believers see our attempts at relevance as passe, cheap, kitsch, and bland. And we ask them into this world? We say "Jesus wants to be your friend, he is the ultimate power and can free you from bondage...but don't just believe me... it's all here in this precious moments devotional and Teen study bible with Tattoo art on it - see we used the tattoo art so the youth would relate---lol  :-)"

Now, I have to apologize...most of us aren't that bad. But based on the reaction from society... we are irrelevant. So what we must be communicating is speaking something very different than our intention. I believe the solution to this is to realize the power and mystery of the Lord in all. We cannot be satisfied with "Precious Moments" Christianity.


Because what the world needs is a God who they know has the power to transform their lives. And they KNOW that the God of Testa-mints.... is not that God.

Why does the average person Christian or Non still care about what the pope says and does? Why have the traditions of Judaism carried through and are practiced by people from all walks... Gay, straight, liberal, democrat, etc.? BECAUSE... they have not fallen into irrelevance by way of kitsch faith. The God of Abraham is still in the synagogues of today, the God of righteous judgement and power is still floating through the Catholic Cathedrals.

The product that comes from the Catholics and Jews come from a history and reverence for the Lord... they would never think of creatibng Testa-mints BECAUSE our mints are not good enough for the God of all Creation. - Frankinscense wafting through the pews is, Unleavened bread at communion is, Manischewitz at celebrations is, The Torah being written in scroll form and kept locked in the Holy of Holies is. Because it always has been and it treats the Lord with the utmost respect. These faiths are still relevant in our culture but we are struggling to be.

Evangelicals... not just all Christians, EVANGELICALS have bad press. I believe a main reason for this is because our creative products do not represent a God who can do anything but bring 50-60 somethings to a happy pot luck dinner. And any non-believer who has real [problems and is desperately searching for a God who can change their lives come up bankrupt in the halls of evangelicalism.

The key is to respect who God really is in all that we produce... produce with excellence, for the audience of non-believers, for the God of the new AND Old Testament, with truth, crushingly hard questions, pain, healing, transformation, transportation, and redemption.

Show the public that our God is a God who can change everything! I have a hunch that if we take this seriously - if we produce films, plays, food products, whatever, that speaks to the mysterious God who hovered over the waters and spoke creation into being - we will find many broken, lost, and burdened people knocking on our doors for help. Looking for the God who is, has always been, and will always be.

May God for ever be the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory Forever


Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Why "the bible"

Our transformation to Christianity is a step in divine revelation and a step of faith in the face of the unknown. God communicates to us in many ways so I started to think, why do we need the bible? Why doesn't our prayer life do it? Why doesn't God give us a constant live feed through our dreams...wouldn't it be enough?

No. It wouldn't. There are a couple things. The unadorned, consistant word of the Lord puring in and infiltrating your entire being changes how we think and meditate on life. The word of God has power. We know this...the true name of God cannot be uttered lest the Universe explodes from the use of the true name of God. If His name has that much power, so will his repeated word through divine inspiration of the saints.

There is something else that I received from the Lord concerning the bible. In L'engle's Walking On Water, she says, "Reading about the response of people in stories, plays, poems, helps us to respond more courageously and openly at our own moments of turning. If my faith falters, I may well give it a surge of renewal if I think of the story of Ananias and Paul."

What I take from this is that as we are divinely turned toward Christ, we can get strength in our walk by reading about others who traveled the way. The stories in the bible are truth, metaphor, power to change our lives and strength for our walk.

The Important Witness of Art

Rick Warren came out with the best selling book called "The Purpose Driven Life". In it he goes on to describer the life of a Jesus follower being a life filled with destiny and purpose. The reason I believe it was a best seller and still is, lies in the fact that post-modernism, existentialism, atheism, and a variety of other "isms" starting with Darwinism, seemed to lead to a life without purpose. What Darwin wrote (even though he would probably argue against it) and Huxley pushed forward was a way for man to exist without the existence of God. The problem is that without the God of the Bible, life ceases to have a purpose. I agree with C.S. Lewis that the problem with atheism is that it is just too easy to refute...but the real issue is that people nowadays are clinging to these isms and striving for purpose which they come up bankrupt.

Therein lies the importance of art and I don't mean any art, I mean good art. Let me first define good art as the product of our creative faculties that explains our existence, brings cosmos out of chaos, and touches the divine. This is what I believe art to be. Because of this definition, good art has the potential of pointing a culture toward God. Let me reiterate what a child of God's ultimate purpose is....The Great Commandment and The Great Commission. It is our destiny and command to love others and point them toward God.

Let us now look at the difference in worldview perspectives for a non-Christian and then, a Christian. Basically, when it comes to artistry, the non-Christian is dependent on art and a Christian is not. This immediately makes me ponder on why it seems like the non-Christian world seems to produce, by and large, better art work than the Christian world...but I digress.

Based on Warren's book we see that human beings need a purpose and identity in life. The Christian has their identity found in Christ Jesus. They are a child of the King and he has "plans to prosper and not to harm..." We know Jesus has a specific purpose as a member of the body of Christ and he has given us different gifts that are to be used for His kingdom and to build the body. We also know that using these gifts often give us pleasure because they give us purpose, they make us feels useful, and we are often given praise for the good work we do with his gifts. A Christian does appreciate beauty and art without a doubt. But art is not necessary for a Christian (even though all Christians create regardless of what is necessary or not) because art helps shape the human experience, give it a name, and connect one of another to that experience, which is exactly what Christ does.

Let us look at the non-Christian. This is a person who does not have a sense of destiny, identity and purpose in anything other than him (or her)self and yet, the need for that identity and purpose is just as strong...if not stronger because it is a constant search. Art does provide a sense of identity and purpose. How many times do we listen to our favorite song about love and say to ourselves, "I get that! I really understand what that songwriter is going through! I have been there too!!!" and the list goes on. Art let's people know that we are connected and that we aren't on our own. I often find the non-Christian to be far more defensive of artistry, to them it is the body and blood... to them it is the bread of life.

Again, this is why Art is important for the Christian. If we are to connect the hearts of the people to Christ, we must realize that art, to them, is is is potentially the MOST important thing. We can not go around producing mediocre works for a Christian audience anymore. First of all, God demands our excellence in all we do, we owe it to God to go deeper than surface perspectives on art. Look how deep we go into the study of the bible, should we not go as deep in our creative endeavors. Art is the thing of mystery, we must go deep in order to produce powerful metaphor and transcendence. Second, if we are to pull people toward Christ we must present an art that is good enough to stand up to the critics of secular artistry and then go beyond. Our artistry should be so good that it naturally pulls both the secular and then Christian into a place where they can see the cosmos through the chaos and they can see the divine. This is our mission. It isn't about censorship of art, it is about engaging it fully, deeply, and excellently. Only then might we have a chance to witness through the creative process.

Great art will pull all towards it and thus, toward God. Bad art is becomes bad Gospel. Sure, God can use whatever we create for His good purpoise, but let's give him our best and maybe he will surprise us. I'm those who gave their all, C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein, Rembrandt, Charles Dickens, Michelangelo, Dorothy Sayers, T.S. Eliot, Thorton Wilder among the millions of other Christian artists, were surprised with the way God used them and their artistry and they were also probably very pleased that they went after the call with all they had.


"IF"... the great beginning of all questions... the great end of all answers

Monday, March 11, 2013

Musings in the Sand

Do you want to know one of my favorite moments in the bible? Well, even if you don't, here it is from John 8:2-11

At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”

11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (NIV)

I love this passage because I want to know what he wrote? What was he creating at that moment? What nugget of information was he working out in the sand? (I love the versions of the bible where it says he wrote in the dust.... because man was made from dust, there are a lot of theological metaphors rolling around because of that version)

As I have speculated and speculated over this passage, as have many thelogians, I am caught up in the "what" he was writing. However, as I have thought more and more about it, it isn't about the what. If it was about the what, the writer of John would have told us what he wrote but he didn't.

I believe it is more about the "that" he wrote, than the "what" he wrote. THAT he wrote is a powerful image. It is a call to action. He was about to teach, he was asked a "trap" of a question and he starts writing...effectively creating and generating new thought, new ideas, or whatever it was he did. But THAT he did it when he did it is important. Amidst a difficult circumstance, Jesus started musing in the sand.

In that moment Jesus was hit with a theological inspiration - "Let anyone of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." The generation of this theological amazement immediately caused something to happen that blows my mind. In that moment of divine inspiration Jesus simultaneously changes hearts and shapes culture. His question cut to the core of those who were condemning this girl. It also shaped the way they would perceive judgement from then on. How do we know? This quote, "Let anyone of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her." is one of the most quoted from the bible when talking about judgement and condemnation. If there was ever a moment of culture change, that would be one of the big ones.

Jesus simultaneously changed hearts and culture at the same time all because of divine inspiration he received because he started musing in the dust. When we are confronted with a difficult circumstance, I pray we all take the time to draw in the dirt.

Monday, March 4, 2013

The Goal of Suffering

In the book of Romans, Paul says that we should rejoice in our sufferings, even glory in them. Suffering, in the end, produces hope and this hope will not dissapoint us. When I struggle, I surely think of hope but it is a hope that the suffering will end soon. I'm not convinced that is what Paul meant for us to hope for. Paul speaks of the glory revealed during suffering, that suffering is a refiner's fire and that we are being perfected and that somehow, glory will be revealed. Perhaps this glory will be seen by us, perhaps by others, perhaps through us? Our hope is in the glory revealed, but this can only come with a shifting of the mind about the nature of suffering.

Suffering will happen directly to us and sometimes it is uncomfortable and sometimes it is truly unbearable. When one is in intense physical or maental or emotional pain it is nearly impossible to see outside your own situation and all you might be left with is "Why me?" or just plain "Why?" These are honest questions and I'm not sure if I can give a satisfactory answer theologically or otherwise. But I do know that the promises of the bible say that every amount of suffering is for some reason... God collects our tears and counts the hairs on our heads...this is a God of tremendous detail even though at times of suffering He seems so far from us. Though he isn't far from us. A God capable of that amount of detail...a God that asked Job all of those questions, must be highly aware of all that we are dealing with, even the infinitesimal  worries of our heart.

So what do we do with it? Truly, I believe the suffering is the goal. I don't mean that we should purposefully place ourselves in a state of suffering expecting to have the glory revealed, but we must be alright with the fact that our suffering might be the only part of the glorification process revealed to us. Only later in heaven might we get the answer to the "Why?" of suffering. We have to come to terms with that. As we suffer for our art, our work, our family, our friendship, we also share in the glory that the suffering produces. That very same glory may not leave us unmarred by the suffering...Paul too had a thorn in his side, but the suffering is never for naught.

The toil we deal with in situations beyond our control, and the suffering we bring onto ourselves in our work striving for excellence, become the point. God will turn the suffering into glory, we will become better because of it, the Kingdom will be glorified through our pain and struggle. So, stand fast in the is for grace that we might share in the toil of Jesus, knowing that we will also share in His glory.


Friday, February 1, 2013

Art and the City

On a trip to San Jose to visit Valley Christian High School (an amazing and impactful school), I was prompted to think about how Christian Artists can have an impact in San Jose and the bay area. Two to three weeks ago I was listening to Francis Chan's heart for the bay area and especially the tenderloin area in San Francisco. Chan is a visionary of the obvious. Trust me whene I say I mean that as a compliment. What I mean is that he reads the bible as truth and then thinks about how best we, as Christians, should do what the bible says to do. He was struck by the great commission (something I have written about on more than one occasion in this blog), and in a simple, honest moment, wondered if he was really living it out. He found out the answer was no, so he quit his church and moved to San Francisco to start a grassroots movement on sharing the good news with the impoverished of the city.

WOW! It takes guts to realize that perhaps the U.S. is still one of the biggest mission fields and we have not been doing our job to spread the good news.

What Francis did resonated within me deeply (that whole day after I heard him speak, I was in a funk because I knew I was guilty of the same thing he said he did prior to San Francisco). I started thinking about the power of artistry and a thought came to me.

Hope destroys the tyranny of oppression.

I remeber thinking this thought when discussing the redemption of the Middle East after Gaza attacked Israel in 2012. I thought to myself... One way we could solve the problems in the middle east is if we built a Disney World in the middle of it and invited everyone there for free.

Sounds crazy...yes. But what is amazing about Disney is that Disney is in the business of dreams and hope and magic. Walt Disney believed that life was still about castles and dragons and princesses and pirates and great adventures and good overcoming evil. A Disney World in the center of th middle east would spark the imagination, then dreaming and then hope...and hope is contagious and whene there is hope, oppression exists no longer.

What is interesting about art is that:

 Art stimulates the imagination, the imagination sparks the ability to dream, dreaming allows for hoping, and hope elicits an action.

If we use art as part of the mission to reach the city, we can create hope and hope will change lives.  If the action of hope is a search for truth and a search for something better...than most assuredly it will lead to Christ.