Monthly Archives: October 2013

Good and Evil: When Bad is Broken

“The Doctrine of (no Hell) can only be born in the quiet of the suburbs.” -Miroslav Volf

“Vengeance is Mine says the LORD.” -St. Paul

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Last week, I started a Bible study with a young Muslim man from West Africa. A few of us are reading through the Gospel of Mark together talking about the life of Jesus.

When we came to the part of Mark where Jesus exorcises the demon from the man in the synagogue, I told our African friend that most of us around that table had never seen this kind of evil, and I asked him if he had anything to say.

Turns out he did.

Today I’d like to finish this little blog series on Evil, with one more final, and I think timely observation. I started this series because Vince Gilligan had captured America’s imagination with the story of a High School Chemistry teacher turned Meth Cook, drug kingpin, and murderer. Little by little, Walter White broke bad. And I’d like to remind you one more time of the Creator’s philosophy of this story:

“If religion is a reaction of man, and nothing more, it seems to me that it represents a human desire for wrongdoers to be punished. I feel some sort of need for biblical atonement, or justice, or something…I want to believe there’s a heaven. But I can’t not believe there’s a hell.”

What an interesting way to say that.

The Hell of It

As fans of the show watched the unraveling of the character we’d grown to love to hate or hate to love, we noticed that there was also another character to Breaking Bad. Karma. Underwriting every scene was this idea that the other shoe was going to drop and evil people would get their comeuppance in proportion to their crimes against humanity.

But this is where I think Breaking Bad is more naive and hopeful than almost any fairy tale that has gone before it. Because the world doesn’t work as cleanly as that…and in some ways that is the point of the whole show. This is how Vince Gilligan wished the world worked.

And it’s why I believe in Hell.

But not the way you might think.

I’m not sure how God’s final judgment is going to work, I’m pretty sure it’s different than what most of us think of when we think of Hell and Satan with pitchforks. In fact, I’m pretty sure that it isn’t what most of my American friends think of when they bring it up. Because when the Bible talks about God’s final judgment it seems to always assume that this is a good thing.

In fact, the doctrine that God will judge the entire world was always seen by God’s people, not as a condemnation, but as a comfort. And it was also seen as a great resource for how to respond to evil in the here an now.

In the jarring words of the great theologian Miroslav Volf:

The practice of non-violence requires a belief in divine vengeance…My thesis will be unpopular with man in the West…But imagine speaking to people (as I have) whose cities and villages have been first plundered, then burned, and leveled to the ground, whose daughters and sisters have been raped, whose fathers and brothers have had their throats slit…Your point to them–we should not retaliate? Why not? I say–the only means of prohibiting violence by us is to insist that violence is only legitimate when it comes from God…Violence thrives today, secretly nourished by the belief that God refuses to take the sword…It takes the quiet of a suburb for the birth of the thesis that human nonviolence is a result of a God who refuses to judge. In a scorched land–soaked in the blood of the innocent, the idea will invariably die, like other pleasant captivities of the liberal mind…if God were NOT angry at injustice and deception and did NOT make a final end of violence, that God would not be worthy of our worship.

Is God a Pacifist?Mark Driscoll

Over the past week, it seems that there has been a resurgence of people claiming that the idea of non-violence is un-manly. Controversial Pastor Mark Driscoll is once again is being controversial, and once again the argument seems to be something like, to be a man means that you need to own a gun and be willing to take up arms against evil.

Now I own a gun, and understand the God-given instinct to protect the weak, but I don’t like this conversation at all.

It seems to me that the people who talk the most about Hell understand it’s implications the least. Because the good news about the coming judgment of God is that God will set the world right, And that His judgment works differently.

Think about how Jesus deals with those demon possessed. Whatever Jesus says, the demons obey. there’s no arguing with the Son of God for them. In Mark 5, Jesus kicks a whole legion of demons out of a person, and the person is still standing. Jesus’ judgment is for the person, and against evil.

Think about one of the few times that Jesus talks about the eternal fire of judgment. Look at what he actually says In Matthew 25, Jesus says, “Depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and His angels” 

Hell wasn’t made for people. Hell was made to judge the evil of the world. Hell was made because God cares about all the ways we’ve hurt each other. It is God’s final way to break bad.

Which brings me back to my friend from West Africa. He told us about Witch Doctors and goat sacrifices, about voodoo spells that drove a friend crazy, and ultimately about the civil war that ravaged his country and killed his father. He had seen men light other men on fire, behead one another and he saw dark forces at work behind it all.

My African friend has no problem with the idea that God has some judging to do.

The good news about the judgment of God is that there is such a thing as justice for us to work toward, but we must also recognize we will never be able to fully bring it because we are a part of the problem too. None of us know exactly what people deserve, and if we are honest none of us are qualified to dispense the judgment of justice toward others because we are deeply broken ourselves.

If there is a judgement day, then we don’t have to take the burden of justice all on ourselves. If God will set the world right, we don’t have to worry about trying to fix it all by ourselves. And we don’t have to take up the means of evil to defeat it.

Is God a pacifist? In a word: No

But that doesn’t mean that God’s people can’t be.

Because vengeance is His. One day God will make every sad thing come untrue. At the restoration of all things, when death itself is dead, when bad is fully broken.

Zoe 2013: Here With Us

If you grew up in Churches of Christ, chances are you haven’t heard much about Advent before. But for over a thousand years Christians have observed a season called “Advent.” Now I grew up in a church that was suspect of all things Catholic (I wasn’t allowed to be friends with girls named Mary). But this is not just a Catholic idea, Christians from all the traditions have celebrated Advent, and even if it is new to you, I think that Advent might have a word to bless you.

For the upcoming Zoe conference this weekend, Jeff Childers and I sat down to talk about what Advent means and why it matters. If you are interested in digging deeper into this for your churches go to the Zoe website. Jeff made four separate videos talking about why Advent matters,  or, if you can come, to the Zoe Conference this weekend to learn even more.

Here are some highlights from hearing Jeff Childers talk about Advent:

  • Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.
  • In order to understand Advent, it helps to understand the ancient Christian Calendar. Christians have had for thousands of years certain ways of thinking about time and space, and Advent is one of the ways that we can understand the way that the whole world revolves around Jesus.
  • Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different…to be better.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And this is the difference between what Americans call Christmas and the Advent season. Every year for Christmas we wait and anticipate for Christmas morning and family gatherings and gifts. And every December 26th we tend to feel a little let down, because we realize what we should have known all along.

Something is missing that can’t be wrapped up with a bow. And Advent says that something isn’t a thing. It’s a Someone.

Jesus is coming to the world.

He does every year.

Ephesians: A Gospel Mystery

This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus. –Ephesians 3:6

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I was reading this morning in the book of Ephesians, and something stood out to me that I’ve never noticed before.

Paul was a single man, and Paul really, really appreciates marriage. And our churches need to notice constantly both of these things.

For the longest time we’ve mis-read Paul. We’ve thought that Paul was trying to get all the churches that he planted to think that the Jewish law was a bad thing. We got this idea from Martin Luther, that the Law was a burden that was given to break the Israelites into realizing that they can’t keep all of those rules.

But that’s not true at all.

Remember that God gave the Israelites the Torah after He gave them Himself. They had just come out of centuries of slavery in Egypt, and they don’t know how to live. You don’t want to just drop off a bunch of slaves into a foreign country and let them figure out how to live on their own. That’s how we got Australia.

See Paul is a good Jewish Rabbi who knows that the law was a gift from God, so why does Paul talk so much about Jewish regulations in his letters? Because Paul is trying to create communities that transcend Jewish and Gentile labels.

He’s trying to create church.

See back in the day, one of the main indicators of a ruler’s power was His ability to create unity in diverse places. This was one of the ways that Caesar “proved” he was Lord. By being able to bring peace, or the Pax Ramona (Peace of Rome) to the world. But the way Rome brought peace was not by forcing unity at the end of a sword.

And Paul is trying to create unity at the foot of the cross.

A Unity Movement

This is what Paul’s ultimate ministry is about. Creating communities of people who have different backgrounds, genders, races, and perspectives but who all can come together to worship the God of Jesus.

And it’s interesting that Paul uses the word “Mystery” to describe this.

Go back and look at Ephesians 1:9, and then go read Paul unpack this idea in Ephesians 2:11-17. The whole goal is to reconcile very different people groups in the name of Jesus for the glory of God. And the way Paul has to do this, is by stripping these different clichés of their ways they used to separate and justify themselves.

See back in that day, people used to try to one-up each other. So people would come to church thinking that there was the “enlightened” and the “primitive-minded” or the “rich” and the “lazy” or the “poor” and the “greedy” or the “religious” and the “Spirit-Filled” or the “intelligent, thoughtful person” and the “charismatic” The single, the single again, and the married…the Jew and the Gentile.

I know it’s hard to imagine, but that was the kind of church Paul was addressing.

That’s the mystery. That somehow people could get over defining themselves over and against another group, and how they were better than someone else, and just define themselves as people who were united and loved by God.

So over and over again in Ephesians, Paul refers to this as a Mystery.

And then He gets to marriage.

And we love to focus on the part of Ephesians 5 that talks about power and submission. We’ve even created camps about who takes what position and how wrong “they” are and how right “we” are.

But that goes against the very spirit of the marriages that Paul is talking about, because it goes against the mystery of the Gospel.

Mega-Mysterion

In Ephesians 5, Paul actually calls marriage a profound mystery. In the Greek, he says this is a Mega-Mysterion. It’s something that is hard to explain, even harder to live, but easy to understand when you see it. the-sacrament-of-marriage

Because when a Christian marriage is on, when he’s giving himself fully to her, and she’s giving herself fully to him…they aren’t trying to define themselves as better than the other, or justify their own behavior, they are trying to, in spite all of their differences, reconcile together for the sake of the Gospel.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve seen this time and time again. I’ve preached so many funerals where the husband or wife was saying goodbye to their spouse, and the whole church was moved. I’ve seen what can only be described as a tangible change in the atmosphere when the church gathers to mourn a spouse losing another spouse, and celebrate their faithfulness to one another. There is a holiness that is hard to put into words. It’s is a mystery.

Because there is something so powerful about a marriage that has gone the distance. But it’s more than some kind of Nicolas Sparks romance, according to Paul it is a glimpse of the Gospel.

In a marriage, we are forced to reconcile what previously had been separated.

And this is why I believe marriages in the American church matter for the single person, and the divorced person. Because marriages are a way God reminds his people of the kind of community He is creating. And in this community, you aren’t better than someone else because you aren’t divorced, and you aren’t better than someone else because you happened to get married. You are all being reconciled to the same God, and so we each have to make room for one another.

This is why Paul ends his letter to the Ephesians by saying this:

Pray also for me, that whenever I speak, words may be given me so that I will fearlessly make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains.

What Paul is doing in his chains, he thinks Christian couples are doing in their marriages.

Paul, a single man, appreciates marriage as a symbol of the way to unify everyone. 

Divorced people, single people, married people, rich people, poor people, tall people and smart people. Now all people can come together because of the Gospel.

That’s the mystery

Making it Home

So this coming Sunday is Homecoming for ACU, and at the Highland Church that means a lot of friends and family that we haven’t seen in a while are back in town for worship. This video is a promo that we shot for this weekend back in July. It’s about the series we are going through this Fall, but for me it’s a lot more special than just some promotional video.

It’s the Little White Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas, the place were Elvis was married, where Sinead O’ Conner was married, where Brittany Spears got married….twice. But for me it was Holy Ground, because I got to make this video in the very room my parents got married in 50 years ago.

They eloped to Las Vegas, and were married in the middle of the night by a Church of Christ “Reverend”. Their only witness was a woman in a Chanel House coat (who I actually got to meet back in July!) It was holy ground not because of the place, but because of the promises made there. My parents had promised to give their lives to each other, and for the past 33 years I’ve watched them do just that.

So Mom and Dad, thanks for making that promise. Because of that promise you didn’t just give me a house to grow up in, that promise was how you made it home.

And If you are in Abilene this weekend, we’d love to see you at Highland. I’ve never seen somebody do what we are going to try and do this weekend, and I’ve been dreaming about it for years. But you’ll have to come to see! Services are at 8:15 and 11:00 and our Instrumental service is at 5:00 P.M. at our Grace Campus (N. 9th and Cypress St.)

So if you happen to make it to Abilene this weekend, we hope you can make it home!

The Sequels: Adam and Eve

Jonathan Storment and Richard Beck – Adam and Eve from Highland Church on Vimeo.

This week I’m at a conference for preachers and haven’t had time to write. So I wanted to share this sermon that Richard Beck and I did this past Sunday. The sermon came out an observation. We noticed that much of the discussion between and about men and women in marriage lacks very much imagination, and even less generosity. And so we wanted to ask what does it mean to try and live out the cross in our marriages?

Here are my favorite points of the sermon:

  • The problem isn’t just the war between the sexes (women vs. men) it is the war within the sexes (men judging other men, women judging other women).
  • This isn’t a new problem, blame and shame started in the Garden, and marriage was the context for the first sin.
  • Mary and Joseph are an example of a reverse Adam and Eve.
  • We ask the question what is a man like, what is a woman like? But the better question is What is God like? (This point was Beck’s idea, but he let me say it).

We were trying to cast a vision for Mutual Submission that everyone could buy into, and Beck brilliantly came up with the parable of Duck Dynasty. (You’ll just have to watch)

One of the best parts about being at Highland is having so many gifted people who care deeply about the local church and living out the Gospel. This series has been a great example of that. From Jeff Childers, to Sally Gary, to Richard Beck, (and in a few weeks the one and only Leslie Storment will be talking with me!)

If you are interested in more about this series, or for a free accompanying E-book go to www.thesequels.org

Leading With Kindness

021313-kindness-quote-612x339In his book The Good and Beautiful CommunityJames Bryan Smith talks about how William Penn became a Christian. George Fox, the founder of the Quaker movement, had baptized Penn. And two of the major distinctive’s about the Quakers are their pacifism and their refusal to accept class distinctions.

It was common in William’s day for the men to wear swords, not so much for violence as a class distinction. And since William Penn was from an upper-class family he had grown up wearing one. Until he was baptized. Then he began to wrestle with the question, “Can I still wear this?” After all, the Quakers were very much against war and status, both things that the sword represented.

And so finally, William asked George Fox, “Can I still wear the sword?”

Cost of Discipleship

After this past Sunday’s sermon, and the subsequent conversations, one thing I’ve realized is how important it is for American Churches to relearn discipleship.

We have very little idea about what discipleship is or how it takes place. We like the word, and we know it has something to do with Jesus-y things but we don’t know much more than that. So here’s my take in a nutshell: Discipleship is learning how to live like Jesus would if Jesus was living your life.

Sally and I talked Sunday about the idolatry of sexuality (I’m actually pretty conservative about Christian sexual ethics) and about how we can’t put the weight of worship on sex. But our sexuality is only Christian because it is connected to being like Jesus.

And here’s a starting point.

Jesus didn’t live life by Himself.

We don’t do this well. We have such an individualistic society that the idea that anyone, anywhere could tell me how to live is seen as oppressive. So we accrue debt, and fly through relationships and fill our lives with trivial things to numb the fact that we are dully aware of: we are doing life all alone.

And sometimes we even try to use church to numb that fact. But church, real church, can’t numb it, it must confront it, and say “To sign up to be Jesus’ body, you have to sign up for a certain way of life…with others…just like Jesus did.”

But that leads me to my second observation.

Christian living is for Christians

We can’t expect to enforce a Christian ethic on people who don’t believe in or like Jesus about the world, their bodies, what it means to be human etc. We can work for the common good (which I hope we do) and for human flourishing (which has been traditionally been what Churches were known for in the world) but we can’t impose Christian values on non-Christian people.

They didn’t sign up for following Jesus. We did.

Repentance and Kindness

There are two main ethics in the Bible. The ethic of purity, and the ethic of compassion. Think about the stories of the Prodigal Son or Jonah or Hosea to get an idea of the ethic of compassion in it’s clearest form. And for the ethic of purity, we have things like Paul’s letters to churches, or Jesus turning over the tables in the Temples, or most of the Hebrew Prophets.

But sometimes those ethics mix, like in marriage. Because for me to be pure is an act of compassion for Leslie, and for her to be pure is an act of compassion for me. (Maybe this is why the marriage metaphor is used so much to describe God’s relationship with His people).

So what do you do when you are wanting to be pure and compassionate?

You try to act like Jesus.

To the people inside he slowly challenged, prodded and sometimes rebuked. To the people on the outside, Jesus took their side over the religious people of his day. Constantly.

Do you remember Jesus saying anything to Zaccheus about his unjust behavior before Zaccheus repented? What led to that kind of extravagant honesty about his own sinful life?

The only people that I know of in the Gospels that Jesus led with the message of repent, were the religious people.The sinful woman

This week I’ve heard people quote Romans 1 a lot, but not much from Romans 2, but the two have to go together, because this is where Paul does a Rabbinical Ninja move. He gets all the religious Jewish people nodding their head about how bad idolatry, and sexual immorality and breaking the Law is.

And then he tells them this:

But If you judge someone else, you have no excuse for it. When you judge another person, you are judging yourself. You do the same things you blame others for doing. We know that when God judges those who do evil things, he judges fairly. Though you are only a human being, you judge others. But you yourself do the same things. So how do you think you will escape when God judges you? Do you make fun of God’s great kindness and favor? Do you make fun of God when he is patient with you? Don’t you realize that God’s kindness is what leads to repentance?

Did you catch that? “God’s kindness leads us to repentance.”

Essentially, Paul is leveling the playing field, he’s asking people (who can easily find the sin in other people’s lives), to remember how patient God has been with them and their own sin.

Which brings me back to that sword that William Penn wore. William thought that Fox was going to tell him he had to sell it or destroy it. Because it was obviously a strong central conviction for their church.

But that’s not what Fox did.

Instead he just told him, “Where it as long as you can William, wear it as long as you can.”

If Fox would have given him a command (on something that the Bible talks much more about than almost anything else) he would have robbed him of the opportunity to listen to the Holy Spirt, and he would have just given a rule.

Fox knew what we forget. God’s kindness really does lead to repentance.

But if you lead with the demand for repentance, no matter what kind of spin you put on it, you aren’t going to be kind, and you probably won’t get heard. And from the conversations I’m seeing on the internets that might be a good thing.

Once Jesus even told the religious people, if you’re going to throw your rocks of “repentance” just do a little heart work yourself first. And make sure that there is no one, anywhere, who could throw one at you.

Eventually, Jesus would tell that woman to go and sin no more.

But not first. First He led with kindness.

The Danger and The Glory

“A person once asked me…if I approved of homosexuality, I replied with another question, ‘Tell me: when God looks at a gay person, does he endorse the existence of this person with love, or reject and condemn this person?’ We must always consider the person.” -Pope Francis

“91% of American Young Adults think of the Church as Anti-Homosexual” -David Kinnamin in UnChristian

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This past Sunday at Highland Church, Sally Gary and I talked about the one thing that churches either don’t ever talk about or talk about way too much.

We talked about human sexuality, and what it looks like to be a disciple of Jesus in today’s world. Sally has written about her experience with same-sex attraction in an incredible memoir “Loves God, Likes Girls” and her ministry has helped Churches and Christian Universities all over the country think through how to talk about sexuality in a more productive way…and what being a disciple means today.

And if you are a Christian, that is the question, not which side of LGBT issues do you fall on, but what does being a disciple of Jesus require of me?

Selling Sex

In their non-religious book, “Premarital Sex in America: How Young Adults Meet, Mate and Think about Marrying” the authors (research psychologists) have interviewed 10’s of thousands of young adults to find out what they think about when they think of sex. And they found that there is really 2 core themes that people in the West or inundated with:

1. Sex isn’t really that big of a deal

2. Sex is the only thing that matters

We’re constantly told that you can’t be fully human if you don’t express your sexuality in whatever venue that you feel appropriate…and that anyone who tries to constrain you is really just holding you back. But here’s a question? Who’s telling this story and why?

Yesterday Sally made the point that sex is the capitalist market best method for selling just about everything. We make fun of the  commercials with the girls in bikini’s selling some totally unrelated product…and then we go and buy that product. Maybe that’s the most damning thing about our current world, the reason that these incredibly degrading advertisements keep coming…is because they are working.

Our church partners with a ministry that helps rescue girls from sexual slavery in other parts of the world, because we know that we shouldn’t sell sex. It is too sacred. But the ugly truth is that we are exposed to selling sex everyday, because Madison Avenue knows what we don’t talk about.

Sex still sells.

Do you remember what Jesus says to the woman at the well in John 4? Does it surprise you how quickly Jesus gets into her sex life? Not just to fix her, but because Jesus is going to go directly to the parts of our life where our heart is.

It’s important to remember that Jesus isn’t trying to take anything away from us. He’s trying to give us the best possible way to be human. And to the woman who is struggling to find “the one” Jesus solution isn’t to try and fix her marriage(s) it is to give her Himself.

The Idolatry of the Family

Listen, I affirm the classic Christian view of sexuality, however, I don’t think that most Christians have any idea how much that view actually challenges all of lives/marriages/relationships.

And that brings me to why, I think, the American Church has had such a problem talking to the LGBT community.

Rockwell pictureThink about the way Churches talk. Think about how many sermon series, and blogs, and all the Christian books you’ve heard about how to have a “Christian Marriage” or how to have a better “Sex life in marriage.” We’ve even got Christian bookstores called “Family Christian.”

In fact, if you are a celibate, single Christian, or if your experience is as a sexual minority trying to follow Jesus, it is incredibly difficult to belong fully to a church. and from time to time you might even wonder, “If Jesus was a single man, who was known for being friends with prostitutes and friends with both men and women alike….is it really Jesus we are worshipping?”

We’ve reacted to the kind of Victorian prudish Christians we saw before us and we’ve arrived at a place of idolatry.

We’ve reached for Jesus and sometimes we’ve actually grabbed something more like Norman Rockwell’s vision of the American family.

I think one of the reasons that the American Church and the LGBT community have had such problem having productive conversations is because often what the Church has been guilty of saying is “You can’t worship the same idols we worship.”

What we really should be saying is that while sex is a good thing, and family is a gift from God, it is also a dangerous thing. Like all good things, it can be made into an idol very easily.

Part of the reason the church has responded so poorly to the Gay community is because we (along with many others) have placed the weight of worship on sex. And sex, even the best sex, can’t bear that weight.  Most churches I know, have very little problems welcoming people who wrestle with greed or a bad temper, but if you’re divorced or a sexual minority it’s hard for us to know what to do with you.

It’s why two weeks ago, Jeff Childers and I after preaching about God’s gift of singleness and celibacy found ourselves surrounded by single Brothers and Sisters saying, “We’ve never heard that sermon before.”

Because idolatry has lots of symptoms.

Now I happen to have a pretty good life, and a family, and a wife, all of whom I love very much. But, on my better days, I don’t love them as much as I love Jesus.  

And if that sounds harsh, than we really need to reconsider what it means to be Christian.

The Christian response to any and all kinds of sexuality is discipleship. If you believe in historic Christian theology than you believe that your body is not your own. You didn’t make it, you don’t sustain it, and ultimately you aren’t going to raise it.

Your body belongs to God.

And so does His Body…the Church.

And I think Jesus wants His body to look a lot more like Him.

Because reading through the Gospels, it seems like Jesus first response to everyone was always one of love and kindness.

So here’s what we challenged people to do at Highland…We believe that the Church and LGBT community overlap in certain places, and one of them is the Anti-Bullying initiative. If you are a Jesus person then you are committed, not to a position or sound byte, but to a posture of being for people.

Following Jesus means you are called to not laugh at those jokes, to not allow someone to be shamed and ridiculed, we are called to stand up for people on the margins in loving and kind ways.

And just like Jesus, we are called to honor the image of God in everyone.

Good and Evil: The Wages of Sin

“I did it for me, I liked it. I was good at it. And I was really- I was alive.” -Walter White

“For the wages of sin is death.” -St. Paul

good-evil-verse-slide-copy.jpgIf you haven’t seen the Breaking Bad finale yet, you might want to stop reading now. Sunday night, millions of people tuned in to watch the train wreck that they knew was coming. Walter White, a former chemistry teacher, father of two, and normal American society member made a decision to start cooking meth.

And that one decision led him to exploit, murder, lie, and destroy all the people that he loved.

One of the most disturbing things that the Old Testament prophets say about idol worship is that you will eventually become like what you worship.

Which is true of Walter White, but Breaking Bad matters because it’s so true for all of us.

Playing God

Growing up in Arkansas, I actually had several friends get hooked on Meth, and one of the reasons that it is so popular is because it makes you feel so powerful, you feel radically free and confident. You feel almost god-like.

Walter White started using people the same way that the people used his product.

So this past Sunday at Highland, we had hundreds of people (including me) come forward and write down on cards what idols were tempting us right now. And then yesterday I spent sometime praying over the different cards and what people had written down. And it’s powerful. Not because of how bad it is, but by how diverse it is. People wrote down everything from alcohol to money to toys.

And none of it is intrinsically bad, it’s just not big enough to bear the weight of worship.

In his new book Playing God” Andy Crouch points out that every idol makes at least one of 2 promises:

1. You will be like God

2. You will never die

And then Crouch says this:

“In the success phase of idolatry, you will never convince an idolater that his addiction is not working. It is working. It is rescuing him from his human vulnerability and giving him and intoxicating taste of invulnerable ecstasy.”

For those of us who watched Breaking Bad, we know how true this is. The first few seasons showed a mediocre-seeming man rise to a position of power that a normal high-school teacher could never dream of. He was a Kingpin, feared by all, loved by none. But in the words of one secular psychiatrist, “Idols ask for more and more, while giving less and less, until eventually they demand everything and give nothing.”

Parables of Hell

I know that this show is incredibly dark, but it is also incredibly profound and even Biblical. After all that’s what the show’s creator was trying to do all along was tell a kind of Parable for our need for what he called “Biblical atonement.” He wanted to tell a story that exposed sin for what it was.

Which is actually not a new idea.Gollum

J.R.R. Tolkien wrote the Lord of the Rings as a way of telling a post-Christian Europe the story of the Gospel in a way that they wouldn’t recognize at first. And one of the best examples of idolatry that I’ve ever read or seen, Tolkien tells us about a character named Gollum.

Gollum started off life as a normal Hobbit, but then he found the ring and the power (for a little while) to be like God. And over time the ring made him into a monster. He had once been somebody, and now he was a twisted version of nobody. And he did it all for what he called “His precious”

It was his idol. And if you know this story, you know it was also became his Hell.

I like the way that N.T. Wright talks about this:

Hell is actually something that happens on earth when people don’t follow God’s way of peace..the way I talk about final loss is this: People worship idols–money, whatever. Their humanness gets reshaped around the idol—you become like what you worship. [And] If someone chooses to go that route, what they are choosing is to collude with the deconstruction of their own humanness.That’s a lot of big clunky words for saying that they are in love with death. They don’t know it, but that’s what it is.God has made us in His image. And if we choose to say, “I’m going to deconstruct myself,” then, God, with great sorrow, will say, “Okay, go ahead.”

You know it’s interesting, in the last scene of Breaking Bad, as Walt is dying, he goes back to the meth lab. He puts his bloody hands on the equipment that had made his life and then ruined it.

The creator, Vince Gilligan, said this was the scene where Walt needed to die, but what Gilligan actually said, was that this was where Walt could die surrounded, “by his precious.”

The worst thing that can happen to someone in the Bible is that God gives you exactly what you want. Left to our own devices we create gods for ourself. We need to worship something. And we most certainly will.

This is why Paul writes Romans 1 and 2, the way he does. Contrary to popular belief, Paul is actually not elevating certain kinds of sin, he’s actually leveling the playing field. He lists off every kind of ways that both religious and secular ways have for worshipping gods that are not God. He talks about sexual immorality and greed and lying and then he turns to the religious to talk about their sins of exclusivity and hypocrisy.

And then Paul goes on to say that the word for all of our misplaced worship is sin.

Sin, something we all do, is falling short of the glory of God.

And sin pays, or in the more poetic words of Paul:

The wages of Sin is death.

Just ask Walter White.