Posts Tagged ‘religion’

I’m just working on a sermon here from Mark 8:27-33 – that famous passage where Jesus asks his disciples who they say he is – and I was struck by the insights of Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.  Now they may not strike you as the most insightful of western theologians, but there are some stunning similarities between the life of Jesus and the life of the character in their song, “Mama’s don’t let your babies grow up to be Cowboys.”

Cowboys like smokey old pool rooms and clear mountain mornings,
Little warm puppies and children and girls of the night.
Them that don’t know him won’t like him and them that do,
Sometimes won’t know how to take him.
He ain’t wrong, he’s just different but his pride won’t let him,
Do things to make you think he’s right.

I’m not saying it’s a perfect fit, but just let that sink in for a minute.  Jesus loved spending time with the base people of society (pool rooms and girls of the night).  Jesus often retreated to early morning mountain tops, and embraced the children (clear mountain mornings, puppies, and children).  The part that caught me the most from this song and this passage was the middle two lines: it seemed no one knew quite what to do with him, and even his closest friends were often shocked and mystified by what he did. Them that don’t know him won’t like him and them that do, Sometimes won’t know how to take him.

In this passage from Mark Jesus asked his closest friends who they thought he was and they were far from sure.  They offered the opinions of others and stared at their feet for a while before Peter piped up and called him the Christ.  Even then only a couple verses later it becomes obvious that Peter didn’t really even know what he meant by calling him the Christ.  The Sanhedrin didn’t know him for who he was and didn’t like him, and even the people who seemed to know him didn’t really get it.

Now obviously, I don’t think it was Jesus pride that kept him from trying to win people over.  It was more his holiness and focus on his mission that kept him from begging people to love him, but even there there are deep similarities.  As with any metaphor explaining Jesus, it ultimately breaks down at some point as nothing can fully explain God.  The cowboy in this song is kind of a sympathetic character.  Jesus often doesn’t get the credit he deserves for having lived such a difficult life.  He was constantly misunderstood, derided, and wrongly accused in public and even his closest friends didn’t really get him until he came back from the dead.  That was a hard, lonely, life I’m sure and today I’m thankful he didn’t just ride away.

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I may be a city kid that enjoys the comforts, noises and business of civilization but that does not mean that I do not have a taste for the outdoors as well. I grew up the son of a farm kid turned civil servant and thus spent some time out on the farm too and was raised with an appreciation for nature. I still remember going camping as a family in the musty, canvas, tents that would make up our home on the range for a couple weeks each summer – although in full disclosure we did switch to camping in a trailer in my teenage years. The tent was never permanent. It was not particularly water proof. It smelled funny with a combination of dirt, mold and water damage. It did not provide much security. It was home though. It was okay for a while for a change, but ultimately we all longed for the ability to settle down into the four solid walls of our house again.

I feel like I am living in a tent again. I do not have real place to set down roots in a safe, secure, defined environment. Every few days it seems someone else comes by to tell me that I cannot stay in the same place I have been making camp and that I need to move on to different places. Places that are full of trees without much level ground and that seem generally pretty lonely without much other human settlement around. Even if I realize there are other people in the same spot as me it is tough to really connect with them because we all live in our own tents and do not really get to stay in the same spot long enough to stick together. Honestly, it is getting a little tiring.

I guess it is not much different than the spot that God’s people have been finding themselves in for millennia now. The Israelites wandered around living out of tents for a long time until the settled in the promised land, and God himself had only a tent for a dwelling until Solomon built him a temple. Even later after Jesus came, the son of man did not have a place to lay his head. Should it really be much of a wonder when it feels like I do not have a really solid place to make camp right now?

It seems like the city that the neo-reformers like John Piper and Mark Driscoll have built and reside in is pretty sturdy – maybe too sturdy.  The walls they have built up are way to tight for me and keep so many wonderful people out that I would really like to have the chance to get to know and share this journey with.  On the other hand the village that the Rob Bell‘s and Brian McLaren‘s of the world have constructed seems to have so many holes in the walls that it can barely be called a village at all.  There is no comradry or security in a camp seems to allow anyone in or out, but clearly condescends to anyone who might choose to live elsewhere. I do not think I can really feel at home in either place.

Like I said, I realize there may be more places to set up camp than these two and that there are likely many people who feel just as torn and lost as I do in the wilderness between these two waring factions right now: not belonging to either and feeling like inevitable collateral damage. I fear for the others stuck out in the cold like me and hoping and praying that we might somehow be spared and find a way to set up camp together. I do not know where that ground in between is yet, but I certainly hope to find some people to travel with and set down roots with eventually. It is getting a little lonely out here.

So, it’s about that time again, when it’s my turn to preach again, and I’m looking for input again, so I don’t get accused of heresy.  This is a job posting in the sense that I’m looking for people’s input on what they think of the sermon, and it’s a job posting in another way in that this time around I’m preaching from Matthew 28:16-20, aka the great commission. I’ve got some thoughts that have been running through my head that I think are right but that I’ve never heard anyone say before.  Hooray, for maybe having an original thought again!  Most of the message is pretty straight forward, but I’m always looking for ways to make it better.  However, the section that is near the end of the sermon is the section I’m really looking for your input on.  I’ve highlighted it in blue and would love to get your take on it.  I won’t ruin the surprise or anticipation by telling you what it is.

Have at it and burn the sermon if the heresy factor is too high!  mt28v16to20draft

That’s right, I said it, “purple monkey brains”.  It has nothing to do with what I’m writing here but I figured it would likely get your attention quickly and maybe a few people to read this sermon before I preach it on Sunday.  In an effort to become better at what I do and to mine the depths of the souls and minds of those I know I’m prescreening my sermon here again.  The last one I did this for wound up with applause afterwards, so I’m counting on you to make this one good enough to deserve a standing ovation and maybe backflips.  Seriously though, if you have time and have some thoughts about it let me know and I’ll try to improve on what I’ve got here.

It’s been too long since I’ve had time to post here, and frankly I haven’t really had a useful original thought in about a week and a half here either.  I’ve been run off my feet with youth and family related events and I’m looking forward to the end of this weekend.

Anyways, here ya go: 1ptr2v2to10

label-maker.jpgNo, I haven’t apostasized.  Like I said last night, I still love God and he loves me.  We’re on good terms.  It’s kind of funny how a lot of my posts begin with disclaimers lately, eh?  Like I mentioned at the end of my last post though, I’ve recently been struggling with how to label myself.  I’m not a big fan of labels because they really only serve to stereotype people.  If we’re being honest though, we are all going to be labled whether we like it or not so I’m at least trying to have some say in what that label is.  No, I’m not ashamed to be associated with Jesus Christ.  I willingly and gladly associate myself with him.  My problem is that by associating myself with Jesus through the label “Christian”, I am unwillingly associated with some people who label themselves Christian that I’m not sure Jesus would want his name associated with.  People who are filled with hate instead of love, and say that they hate in the name of Jesus.  People who judge like they are God himself, able to see straight to people’s hearts and then deal with them accordingly.  People who give Jesus a bad name.

I finished reading unChristian by David Kinnaman a few weeks ago and it just kind of confirmed to me that I wasn’t alone in what I’d been thinking and feeling for quite some time now.  He did a survey, especially looking at the opinions of american youth, and asked what they thought of Christians.  The most common opinions expressed were judgmental, anti-gay, and hypocritical.  These “big three” traits were all opinions of Christians that were held by over 80% of those polled.  None of these surprised me.  Why wouldn’t the world think that these are natural traits of Christians when the only Christians they see or know of are in the media expressing these exact traits: picketing Heath Ledger’s funeral, holding signs up saying “God Hates Gays”, blaming the California wildfires on the acceptance of homosexual lifestyles there, blaming 9/11 on things like legalized abortion and gay rights.  I was reading Tim Kurek’s blog today and he said that when he read the book, “I am reading all these statistics about how people outside our religion (ages 16-29) perceive our faith and it isn’t a good thing. My first instinct when I started reading it was to say “this isn’t accurate”, but then every experience I have had over the past few months has shown the data to be correct. It breaks my heart.”  I totally agree with him that it breaks my heart that this is how Christians are perceived, but to me these statistics weren’t at all surprising because even as a pastor I think this is my perception of a number of people who call themselves Christians.  Yup, I’m a pastor and I’m really struggling to label myself a Christian.  I don’t think I can do it anymore.  Labeling myself a Christian in public closes so many doors and ends so many conversations before I even get a chance to start them.  If people find out I’m a pastor, then they quite often just say something like, “Oh, that’s interesting.  I have to go now.”  I’m not ashamed of Christ, I’m just ashamed of the public persona of “Christians”.

I felt pretty strongly about this before today, and then today it was confirmed to me how urgent it is that I find a new label when I was introduced to the stunning sermons of Pastor Steven L Anderson of Faithful Word Baptist Church in Arizona.  Wow.  I saw this video on David Crowder’s blog of his sermon in which he blamed the ills of western society on the fact that men are being forced to urinate while sitting instead of “pissing against the wall” (standing up) as God intended men to do.  Guys who sit down (including other pastors and President Bush apparently) to urinate are only “males” not men.  He got this from an obscure passage in 1 Kings 14:10 where god promised to punish Jeroboam and would cut off all those who “pisseth against the wall”.  This is a King James Version metaphor for men, because they urinate standing up.  Unfortunately, he failed to recognize that those who “pisseth against the wall” were the ones who were going to be punished by God, not the ones that he accepted as examples of manhood as Pastor Steven would have it.  So I did some more research on this guy and found a lot that made me want to either scream, laugh hysterically, or would cause blood to shoot from my eyeballs.  He has elightened essays expounding on important topics such as why the King James Version should be trusted over the original greek, why men cannot become gynecologists because all nudity outside of marriage is sinful (it’s adultery), why all music less than 50 years old is from the devil (because it originated from “ungodly sinners like Little Richard, a sodomite filthy animal”) and yes that includes all “Christian Contemporary” music too, and why bible colleges are anti-christian.  Oh ya, and if you look on youtube you can find his sermon on why Billy Graham is going to hell.  According to Pastor Steve, Billy Graham “will be responsible for more people going to hell than any other man I can think of right now”.  This guy is nuts . . . scarry nuts.  Thankfully, based on pictures of his congregation, it looks like the church consists of his wife, his kids (ya he has kids), and his next door neighbors too scared not to come.  This guy calls himself a Christian.  If I label myself a Christian, I’m lumped in with this nutbar.  Western society would have no reason to distinguish between the two of us.  I can’t accept that.  I won’t accept that.  My best friend Jared and I may have theological differences, but compared to this guy we’re identical twins.

I don’t have a problem with the term Christian itself.  I love being associated with Christ.  The issue is that over time, due to the limitations of language, words can become tainted or even broken to the point that they no longer mean what they used to.  I think the word “Christian” may be broken.  I’m not sure that the label can be again rescussitated in this generation.  There is just so much baggage that accompanies the label that I think it might be time to move on to something that doesn’t kill relationships before they start.

I’ve been thinking of what else I could label myself.  When Christianity was just starting it’s was often known of as “The Way”, and Christians weren’t Christians, they were “followers of the Way”.  I could use this one because it doesn’t have any baggage at all.  Unfortunately, it also holds no meaning in this society either.  If you say you’re a “follower of the Way” most people would likely think you are into some kind of new age mystic cult.  I’ve thought of using the label “Christ follower” because it’s quite straightforward in explaining what it is and not too many people actually have a problem with Jesus, just “Christians”.  I think this is so close to the Christian label though that it’s going to be engulfed in baggage with a year or so though too.  I’ve thought of using Tony Campollo’s new label, “Red Letter Christian“, but the issue there is that I’m not just a red letter Christian; I’m a black letter Christian too.  I believe that the whole of Scripture is inspired and useful, not just the things that Jesus said directly.  So, that leaves me where I’m at . . . looking for a new label.  Let me know if you come up with anything.  I’m open to suggestions.