Monthly Archives: August 2009

Virtual Community

So I’m interested to know your thoughts on this. It’s the head of the Catholic church in England taking a stand against the next wave of evil.

But it’s not homicide, abortion, or drugs. The forbidden fruit this time is something far more innocuous. It’s text messages.

To be fair, it’s actually a lot more than texting. It’s Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and all the other ways that we can connect to one another virtually. But what’s interesting about this Arch-bishop statement (at least to me) is that he seems to bring up a valid point.

He says that too much communication via technology is dehumanizing. We lose the social skills that are necessary to interact face to face. Or even worse, we lose the desire. His main point is that real friendship is hard work, it involves sacrifice, time, and serving one another. And that the danger of social networking is that the emphasis seems to be on quantity of relationships above the quality of them.

A few times a year I get an email from a parent that’s about something like this. Their kid is so plugged into a virtual community that he/she doesn’t seem to have a real life. I usually try to help them see that there are people behind screen names and that there are some legitimate ways that online communities help people connect.

But I’m beginning to wonder, do they have a point?

Rob Bell talked about this many years ago. He pointed out that when God tells Moses to come up and meet him on the mountain, he then follows it with a command to be on that mountain. Which at first seems a bit repetitive. If Moses is meeting God on the mountain than the meeting is going to obviously involve Moses staying on the mountain.

But Bell points out, that God knows human nature. He knows that Moses will spend the entire day trekking up the mountain thinking about getting up there. But the moment he gets on the mountain his thoughts will turn to heading back down. The danger is that Moses might be constantly moving, but never present where he actually is.

A church that I really respect in Atlanta, recently took this to the next level. They started an online church. They have a guy leading worship, prayer, teaching…everything…even online tithes. The heart behind this is to make it as comfortable and non-threatening as possible for new people to enter a church community. But my question is this: Is what we gain by doing this worth what we lose?

It’s not just about the online church. I mean all of it. How many times have you been sitting at a table in a really good conversation when your pocket starts to ring, or your conversation partner starts to text someone else? Are we losing the art of being fully present anywhere by attempting to be present everywhere?

I’m not trying to be nostalgic, or to say that we should just go back to the good ole days of candlelight and ink pens. But when was the last time you turned off your phone? Or went to visit someone instead of sending an email? It seems to me like the arch-bishop may be on to something that we all already know.

Maybe the danger of technology (in excess) is that it makes us something we were never meant to be.

Maybe not all progress is an advance.

But I’m still thinking about this one. What do you think? Is this true in your own life? How has technology hurt or helped your “real” life?

The Day of the Lord

So last weekend our little family was driving past Don Pablo’s (a restaurant close to home) and we saw this guy. Holding up a sign that said “Turn or burn. Believe in Jesus” You know, the usual.

Now a couple of observations about this guy.

I know what he’s thinking. I’ve done this kind of thing before. He probably genuinely cares about people, and really loves the Lord. He knows that the Scriptures speak of judgment and wants as many people to be spared from said judgment as possible.

I mean think about doing this…all day long. It’s one thing to be shy about going up to people and telling them something like “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.” It’s an entirely different thing to walk up to someone and say, “God is really, really angry with you.”

Now to be honest, I don’t like this method at all. I think it’s wrong at best, and depending on the person, it can be arrogant and hateful.

But it does tap into a theme that runs throughout Scripture. The theme of judgment.

Now I know that the wrath of God isn’t “in vogue” with my generation. We have seen people misspeak for God, and portray a God that was just generally mad at everything. But just because something isn’t popular doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

However, it may be different than this guy thinks.

The Scriptures refer to the time of God’s judgment repeatedly as the Day of the Lord. And it was a day that people actually looked forward to. It’s not that these people all assume that they were perfect or beyond judgment, but they did assume that this Creator God was good.

And it was comforting to know that there was someone who was keeping score.

There is a passage in Romans 13 where Paul tells the church there to give honor and respect to the governing authorities, and rightfully so. God doesn’t want the world descending into chaos.

But I want you to think about that text for a second. Paul is writing Jewish and Gentile Christians in Rome, where the slogan of the day was that Caesar was Lord. And while Paul does say we should give Caesar taxes, revenue, respect and honor. He stops short of the very thing they were being commanded to give. Worship.

Ceasar wanted people to worship him as the Divine son of God, sent to bring the Pax Ramona to the entire world.

And the reason that was important was because if Caesar was Lord there was no checks and balances to keep him accountable. He answered to no one. Re-read Romans 13 again in light of this and see if it doesn’t shed some new light on it.

Caesar, is a power that God has ordained. Obama is a power that God has ordained, Kim-Jong-il is a power ordained from God.

But they aren’t God.

Romans 13 isn’t a cart blanche commandment to obey all government orders if you are a Christian. They were respectfully not doing that at the time, and I’m glad that men like Dr. King saw past that reading of it in their day. It is a demotion from the position that Caesar’s just naturally want to take. But that is a position, Paul tells us, that is reserved for God.

And so judgment isn’t first and foremost something that is meant to just scare people. It’s a reminder to the powers that run this world that they answer to somebody. And that there will be a day that all powers are fully brought under the feet of Jesus. It’s also a reminder to leaders, church leaders included, maybe especially church leaders, that we answer to someone larger than popular opinion or church committee’s.

Now that’s not to say that judgment doesn’t have an individual level to it. The Scriptures say that everyone will face God. But the hell that was on the guy’s sign is also a word to the powers that be that they have a higher power that will hold them accountable.

That’s why Paul ends Romans 13 the way he does. By reminding the Christians he’s writing about why they live the way they do.

Because the night is almost over, and the Day is drawing near.

Because the One who sees what is going on will hold all accountable for what they did.

Because the Day of the Lord is dawning, then respect authority, even when they act-disrepectfully, but never transgress the one command of the God who sits on the eternal throne.

The command to love. That will be the language all of creation is fluent with on that Day.

Put that on a sign.

The Prodigal Baseball Player

The first time I had ever heard of Josh Hamilton I didn’t like him. I was at Wrigley Field, cheering on the Cubs as they led the Cincinnati Reds 3-1. My buddy, Michael Peters, was in the middle of explaining to me how Hamilton was a solid Christian, and God had delivered him from a self-inflicted hell of alcohol and drug abuse.

And about that time he hit a 3 shot, game-winning, home run.

Since then Hamilton has left the dark side. Joined the Rangers, become a Major League Baseball legend, as well as a rare role-model that little boys can look up to.

And then something happens.

Maybe you’ve heard already about Hamilton’s relapse. It happened back in January in Arizona. He went to a bar, one thing led to another, and within the last few hours pictures have surfaced all over the internet of him doing something that is less than honorable.

Be sure your sins will find you out, especially when there are poloroids.

But that’s not where this story stops. At least for me.

I know the power that addiction had over a person. From both personal experience and watching my close friends hurt themselves. And it’s easy to feign shock about someone making a tragic mistake like this, but in reality, anyone with a pulse knows what this is like.

We know what it’s like to do the very thing we hope we don’t do. Or not do the very thing that we want to do. And while some of us may not make the same mistakes that Mr. Hamilton has, I don’t think any of us want our worst struggles publicized.

One of the more famous stories that Jesus tells is the one about a Father with two sons. One goes away after shaming his Father, his family, and himself. The prodigal son runs away, he wanted to be free only to find out that he had always been his captor.

So the prodigal son comes home, the Father throws a party, and the older brother pouts.

But Jesus never says “The End” on that story does he? The story doesn’t resolve. There’s no fade to black. Instead, like most great stories, it is open-ended. It gives us a lens for how to view a reality that just keeps going.

So what if that prodigal son makes the same mistake again? What if he goes off again, drags his dad through the mud again? What if he abuses that same grace again? I think the story just starts over.

This is not to say that what God offers us is cheap grace, but the truth is that many times when we hear about stories like Mr. Hamilton’s our immediate reaction is much more like the older brother’s than the generous Father.

Maybe that’s why Jesus doesn’t tie the story up in a neat little bow. Maybe He knows that life doesn’t always end with the credits rolling at just the right time, and that none of our biographies tend to resolve the way we wish they would.

Because the Prodigal story happens every day. And there are followers of Jesus who consistently fall in the categories of each of the three characters Jesus tells us about.

Which brings me back to Josh Hamilton. This story is breaking, and I’m sure more details are yet to unfold. But as soon as he heard about the pictures he called a press conference and fully confessed to everything.

Which is not what MLB baseball players normally do.

The day after it happened back in January he told his wife, his team manager, and the MLB organization. And now, when the proverbial crap hits the fan, he already has a group of people standing behind him.

Donald Miller once said that when we make mistakes, God steps back and says, “Okay, let’s start there.” Because following Jesus is a process. Because life is open-ended. And because Egypt always looks better in hind-sight, maybe Josh Hamilton still is a good role-model.

But whether you want your kids to look up to him or not, beware of being the older brother.

Because like it or not, grace means, when someone returns to their senses they can always come home.

Names

So for the past year and a half or so I have been interested in names. I guess the fascination started for me when Leslie and I wrestled through trying to decide what to name Eden. How do you give a little person a word that she or he will hear to describe them for the rest of their lives? Someone, somewhere once made the mistake of Gertrude, and we didn’t want to repeat that.

You have to worry about nicknames, what the name might rhyme with, or how it might impact their psychological development. So we steered away from the clever ideas (my apologies to my pal Brady Bunch) and settled on Eden.

This may seem trivial, but it really is a central thought in the Scriptures. After all, God’s first task to humanity is to name the world around them. The Jewish people thought of names as the essence of a person. This is why if you wanted to know the emotional state of a Hebrew woman in the Old Testament, you just had to look at what she named her children. There are kids named in the O.T. the equivalent of “I’m depressed” which has to feel a bit disappointing to the kid.

This theme is especially prominent in the book of Genesis. Almost every chapter the storyteller is telling us who is named what, and why.

But in Genesis 11, a different concern creeps in.

The builders of Babel’s tower are interested not just in their names, but in making their names great. So they build, and God does his whole Jenga thing, and their building project falls apart. In trying to make a name for themselves, they actually become more disconnected from each other.

But the real apex of this theme is in found in the story of a guy named Jacob (meaning heel-grabber or liar). When we meet Jacob, he’s doing a good job at living up to his name. His brother actually says after being betrayed by him, “is he not rightly named Jacob?” Jacob had stolen his brother blessing, he had tried to be more than he was, and found out that just made him exactly more like himself.

Just like the builders of Babel.

In Genesis 32, Jacob is alone, and so the story tells us a man wrestled with him till daybreak. As if that was a perfectly ordinary thing that happens to people when they are left alone.

But this is not your average wrestling match. Jacob finds out later that he is wrestling with God. He gets God in a headlock, like you do, and asks for a blessing.

But his wrestling partner doesn’t say what do you want? He asks “what is your name.” Jacob tells him, and then the man renames him. He calls him Israel.* But Jacob wants to know who this guy is. Who are you to give me a new name?

But the guy doesn’t answer Jacob. Not yet.

It’s a few chapters later that Jacob finds out what was really going on. God comes to Jacob again and tells him that his name is now Israel. And the very next words are “I am God Almighty.”

Jacob gets his answer, and his new name.

The implications of this story are both subtle and profound. We spend most of our lives trying to live up to who others say we are. If you know that others expect you to be somebody, chances are you will pursue that identity, if the people around you have written you off, chances are you will as well.

But Jacob asks the one question many of us fail to. Who are you to give me this name? What gives you the right, mystery WWF man, to say this about me?

The Book of Revelation has a ton of allusions to the book of Genesis, mainly because on many levels it’s a book about a fresh start, about a new Creation. And in the beginning of Revelation we’re told that in God’s reality, God’s plan is to give us each a white stone with a new name.

The end of the story of God is all of us finally know who we really are.

Because if we’re made in God’s image, maybe he’s the only one who knows really knows who we are in the first place.

*If I was Jacob, I would ask for a more normal sounding name like Steve or Gary.