Tag Archives: God

You ARE what you Fantasize About

In October we put the Masks on. Young and old alike slip into different costumes and attires, some more ornate than others yet all with the intent of becoming somebody who we are not for a brief moment of frivolity and escape. We laugh and giggle as we attend the parties, walk the streets and revel in the differentness of the moment. We get to be somebody else for a few seconds, appearing as another of our own choosing.

What if we weren’t becoming somebody else? What if we were more accurately expressing who we really are? What if the mask we put on was more of a complex portal peering into who we truly wanted to be?

I think back to my early Halloween costumes. Various super heroes, each year’s get up determined by the stage I was in and the feeble materials I could weave together to construct my disguise. I remember a year that I dressed up as Zorro, wearing a black garbage bag as a cape and my father’s black cowboy hat. I painted on a massive mustache and wrapped a piece of cloth around my head with two poorly placed eye holes cut into it (I could barely see out of that thing). I grabbed my plastic sword in my right hand and giant eagle bag in the left as I rushed out of the house to trick or treat in the cold of October (finding out that garbage bags do very little to insulate oneself against Western PA’s frigidity).

As I grew older, during tumultuous teenage years I would brandish a brown trench coat of my father’s, tie a piece of fabric around my head pushing the bowl cut flowing locks out of my eyes and carried a bo-staff I had broken off from the big sycamore in the front yard. I had whittled away at it with my pen knife making it as straight as I could, covering it with black electrical tape. A few playing cards later and I would be Gambit of the 90’s X-Men fame.

As I look back on those costumes I realize that they said something about my heart at the time; a thermometer dipped into my psyche. When I was very young I wanted to be a dashing hero, potent and wise, saving the day and disappearing into the night.  I was not very brave, in fact I was downright cowardly, I dreamt of being the opposite. During my tumultuous teenage years I wanted to be a smooth talking ladies man who was charming and confident. The mere thought of talking to girls put my stomach into knots, the acne, braces, thick rimmed glasses and deep lack of anything that resembled self esteem or confidence constantly reminded me I was indeed nothing like Remy LeBeau.

Gambit David

I desperately desired to be these symbols as I was hilariously lacking their attributes. On lonely bus rides to and from my prison known as school I would imagine myself to be these heroes, decimating my foes, winning the woman and righting all of the perceived wrongs in my tiny little world.

I believe on a heart level, what we dress up as, what we fantasize about is more real to who we are than almost any other factor. Consider how limited we all are by our genetics, environment and resources. Would Bruce Wayne be Batman if he wasn’t a Billionaire son of an ambitious doctor, who experienced the death of his parents at an early age? Who would Peter Parker be if he were not bitten by a radioactive spider? Even to some extent who would Peyton Manning be if he were not Archie Manning’s offspring, growing up immersed in every element of football. There is a sense of fate and destiny in all of those stories, fixed outcomes that many of us just don’t have the gifting to achieve.

But we can do anything in our minds. Any. Thing.

In our fantasy worlds we can be anybody we want to be, that is why it’s is so appealing. We can get utterly lost in it, burning through hours playing role playing games, reading comics and watching movies. But does that make it any less “real.”

There becomes this expectation that during our culture’s month long celebration of Halloween (or all year long at Comic Book Conventions) you can dress up as anything and it really has no bearings on who you are, you’re just having a little bit of fun. That is why if you head to a costume shop of any kind you will be assaulted by all of the sexy outfits that exist. Sexy Nurse, sexy fox, sexy cow, sexy serial killer……

There is a desire to be sexually adventurous at least for one night, at one event. It really doesn’t mean anything does it?

People think that they are dressing up as somebody who they are not; yet in reality they are probably showing us more of their true selves more than they realize. Just the selves they would be if it weren’t for those pesky societal norms and moral expectations levied against us.

It becomes scary when our true selves become obsessed with the dark, with vengeance with killing maiming and devouring (most of our first person shooter game). Let’s be honest our fantasies can take us to some chilling places. If I were to plug a flashdrive into your brain, download the content for a day and upload it to Vimeo (let’s be honest, there’s not way we’d get that stuff past Youtube’s filters) how would that make you feel?

Ask Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold if their fantasies ever became realities. Don’t know those names? Does the word “Columbine” stir up any memories?

Chilling thought huh?

From my understanding of Scripture, when Jesus tells us if we lust after a woman we are committing adultery with her in our hearts, or when we hate our brother we are guilty of murdering him he is not merely making life harder on us; heaping more archaic rules on our weary shoulders. Jesus is pulling back the veil and showing us the reality of the human soul. He is showing us that our true selves is that which we fantasize about, that which we would do if only we had the resources or if nobody else was looking.

No affair starts without a fantasy, no murder without hate. It doesn’t have to go that far to define us. May our heroes be true, may our true selves seek to do good. May the intent of our hearts be to strengthen and protect.

It says much of us if when we desire to be Spider-man giving it all, Superman swooping in and Captain American standing up for what he believes in.

God looks at the heart.

Our Masks are portals into our soul.

the C Word

My family will remember the date of July 27th rather well. We have gauged most of contemporary life as “pre” and “post” July 27th 2014. That day that we all sat around our humble kitchen table and heard our beloved, kind, compassionate mother utter the C Word. A word that you never expected to hear (because, in your mind it only happens to other people) an ugly, terrible word that injects fear into the hearts of loved ones. The more you love that person, the worse the word is.

“I have Cancer”

It’s like a terrible villain from a movie, an amorphous evil that has no shape or face but merely a dark, inky presence; as real as sin, as thick as tar. I’ve worked with teens my whole adult life and have heard every vulgar, explicit, profane word and their various creative incarnations yet no word is as filthy as this one.

You know that feeling you get when you see somebody fall and get hurt; that shot that goes through your body, that odd empathy that you (should) have for another human being? It’s the reason that people cringe at movies when a person is visibly, often times creatively injured and you wince at the act. In times of great visual agony the matching appendage on your own body may tingle as if you are being similarly afflicted by the world of pain they are living in.

When I heard the C Word it was as if my whole body was afflicted. As if my very soul was covered in malignant, fast reproducing cells seeking to ravage, consume and destroy. It felt as if tiny little spiders were ripping me apart from the inside.

I felt as if I was going to vomit, as if the world was spinning. I realize now why in old movies they ask the person on the other end of the phone line if they are sitting down when they receive terrible news.

Every time I have to say the word Cancer now it feels like I am cursing, like I’m using the big daddy of foul language, a noun that makes the F word look tame, feeble and silly in comparison.

You soon learn that there are other variations of, and additions to the C Word, like acne covered junior high boys trying to impress each other with their vast vulgarity. Tumor. Stage 3. Chemotherapy.

I remember my art teacher in High School trying to explain what it was like trying to battle a brain tumor in his younger years. I’ll never forget his odd description of Chemo “They kill you, and hope they kill the cancer at the same time.”

Fighting sickness with poison.

As I type these words my mother is receiving her first dose of Chemo. They are pumping poison into her blood stream to try and kill the remaining cancerous cells that have spread to ravage and destroy. She was so nervous last night when I talked to her; choking up at the mere mention, begging to talk about something happier like her grandchildren, or how my sermon went that morning. She asked “Can we just talk about something else?”

It would seem that everybody has a C-Word Story that they want to share with me. I am consistently amazed at the lack of tact and common social understanding that logical adults exhibit in many of these instances. I do not want to hear about your grandmother who was given a clear bill of health after her Chemotherapy only to find that they didn’t get it all, that it had spread and she died in agony a month later. That is not something to tell me and my family right now. We know what can happen. I know that you are struggling to deal with the loss of your loved one and you need to cathartically share with others to continue to work through your tragedy.   However we are in it; we know the danger yet we need to claw through the dirt toward that faint light, that glimmer of hope.

We pray. I don’t know what we would do if we couldn’t pray.

Can God heal my mother? Yes.

Will He?

I do not know.

We pray and huddle together for warmth as winter approaches.

The Murky Swamp of Remaking God

Crisis’s of faith intrigue me.

Not that I’ve never doubted, questioned or faltered in my faith journey.  I’ve battled and struggled along in this Christian life just as many of you have.  There can be bright, shining mountaintop days full of hope, promise and deliverance and there can be abysmal, dark, valley nights seething with doubt, distress and depression.  And then there are also those normative, numbing, middle of the road days consumed with the hum drum of life (which can often times be the worst of all). 

However, I have never ceased to believe.  I have never said “There is no God” or “I am an Atheist now.”  I was submerged in scripture since my youth; Jesus Christ was always a fact and a fixed point of reference for me and I make no apologies about that.

Thus, I become very nervous when I hear a person who proclaims faith in Jesus say “I no longer believed in God” or “I gave up on my faith for a while” yet now I believe again.

I don’t know what to do with that theologically.  I’m not saying it’s impossible to leave and return, nor am I saying a return can’t be legitimate in any circumstance.  I just have trouble in light of Hebrews 6

“It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age  and who have fallenaway, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.”

This passage scares me.  I don’t fully understand it, yet I see a warning written on those pages that ought to strike fear into our hearts.

What I often times find amazing is what people’s belief looks like when they do return to the faith.  Previously they had fundamental issues with God, Scripture and Truth.  They wrestled with perceived inconsistencies and issues and found themselves on the other end of the spectrum; on the outside looking in. 

Often times when they come back to the faith they change God.  He fits into the box that they created for Him.  God has to appease them, has to make sense to them in order to earn their belief.  He becomes a God they can manage, that society will accept. 

Liberalism often times seems to be the last rung on the ladder of faith.  People want God yet they want Him to fit within their framework.  They want faith on their own terms.  I find it amazing how people want to live like unbelievers but just can’t give up on the idea of God.  I respect atheists more than those who try to change the Biblical God to fit their whims and wants.  At least atheists don’t blur the line for others.

When we remake God in our own image, when we edit scripture I believe that we head into murky swamps and there is a possibility that there may be no coming back.

 

 

The Offense of the New Alternative Lifestyle

I was recently asked to be a chaperone at a local High School dance.  When I arrived at the school the teacher heading up the volunteers passed out papers detailing our various responsibilities.  One of the parents asked that the term “no inappropriate dancing” be more specifically defined.  The short answer given was “no twerking.”

Ah yes…..Twerking, the nefarious disease that is ravaging the landscape of high school dances all over this once great country.  A dance move that has become exponentially more popular since the escapades of former childhood star turned shock princess Miley “defiler of foam fingers” Cyrus at the MTV VMAs a few months back.

Think about the word:  Twerking.  Before learning what it truly was it elicited images of drug use, rabid convulsions,  and oddly enough Twitter, in my mind.  I would find out that it was an evil far more terrifying.

Thank you Miley for bestowing this “gift” upon us.

Today I saw that my favorite pastor’s daughter turned contemporary sex symbol Katy Perry had recently collaborated with Miley; however it wasn’t for a poppy new hit single.  It was and image harkening back to the days of Katy’s song “I kissed a girl and I liked it.”

Yup.  Miley and Katy kissed……

Meh…..

I’m honestly neither shocked, nor angry, nor surprised, nor hurt.  For better or worse I am indifferent.  I’ve come to expect these things in my newsfeed.  It’s just so…..normal.

Then I saw an article that piqued my interest: “David Wise’s alternative lifestyle leads to Olympic gold.”  I began to read about the 23 year old husband and father:

“At such a young age, Wise has the lifestyle of an adult. He wears a Baby Bjorn baby carrier around the house. He also attends church regularly and says he could see himself becoming a pastor a little later down the road.”

My heart leapt for joy!   When did living as a devoted, religious, married young, father become alternative?  Can we “boring” Christians start claiming the title “alternative lifestyle”?  Have our ways become so alien that we are legitimately alternative?  As somebody who has lived most of his life on the outside of contemporary social protocol I am delighted.

Can I feel rebellious as I am changing diapers and cleaning up vomit while listening to John Piper preach through the book of Romans (I only have 149 more hours to go)?

A few years back I performed the wedding of a very young couple.  Both loved Jesus ardently and after a decent period of dating they asked me to marry them.  “Unfortunately” they were both only 21.

I was thoroughly shocked to hear all of the doubt and criticism thrown their direction.  You would have thought I was officiating a wedding between 13 year olds.  People were legitimately upset; they were far too young and hadn’t experienced enough of life yet.  Family members pulled me aside to petition me to not do the wedding.  They hadn’t even lived together yet!  Had they dated enough other people to even be sure they wanted to be together?  What if boredom sets in later and they cheat on each other?  What about finances?  What if they had a kid?

I am pleased to report that their crazy idea has worked out thus far.

I can’t help but wonder if the “alternative” is where Christians belong.   Isn’t there something intriguing to the idea of avoiding the normative?  What if Power, Money and Sex aren’t our idols?

There may be more authenticity in being on the outside.

I for one enjoy feeling like a rebel.

History Will Judge You!

I have heard it said of those who hold to traditional biblical standards “History will judge you as it did the racist proponents of segregation! Your children will be embarrassed of you and your legacy of hate will be a stain on your family for generations.  They will think of you as an intolerant Nazi, fueled by antiquated, oppressive standards.”

That may be a paraphrase or a conglomeration of statements I have read in the occupied territory known as the internet, yet it details many people’s view of us, the “bigoted, biblicaly based.”

History can judge me.

I’m fine with that.  History changes and fluctuates, it has been rewritten so many times that I’m still not entirely sure who to trust.  The victors define History until somebody conquers them and rewrites the whole thing with their own pen and perspective.

History doesn’t scare me.

God Does.

If we are all “Unique Apes” as Richard Dawkins claims, then I don’t care one iota about what History or a collection of Unique Apes have to say about me.  If we are all grunting, grumbling, complex creatures whose origins are a cosmic accident of sorts, then why should I care? Give me my 70-90 years and forget my name (because it only meant something to a few other Unique Apes in my small context anyhow).

But if there is a God, who created everything, who knows everything and who is weaving a divine story of redemption, if there is meaning and hope apart from what we have created……well now, that is different.

What if that God has established a standard that does not waver from who He is?  What if we cannot find true fulfillment in anything that is apart from Him?

And what if one Day He, not History will judge us?

Here is what I will do: I will raise my children according to His Word, not yours.  I pray that they accept fulfillment and purpose only from God and that they seek His face.  I will teach them to love everybody, to see people as image bearers of God with value, worth and purpose regardless of the broken choices they make.

I understand that they may not believe this way.  They may learn to live like Unique Apes and someday judge me according to the culture and time that they live in.  That they may participate in tacky, hollow, mass weddings at a popular awards show in a neon, faux church of their own creation, following their own doctrine in an attempt to give myself and my people a shining middle finger.  They may strive to rub my face in it and shame me into agreement.

If that happens, so be it.  It’s sad, but I’m not angry, broken or deterred in my belief.

I don’t fear History.

I Fear God.

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God is Not a Matter of Opinion

God is not a matter of opinion.

He doesn’t care where His approval rating stands, how many books He’s selling or how focus groups are rating His appeal to 18-25 year olds.  This may come as a definitive shock to you: God isn’t concerned about your opinion of Him.  You are not going to “shame” Him into changing nor could you do anything to make Him rethink who He is.  You aren’t going to hurt God’s self esteem.

God is God.  He is self defining, a fixed point of reference.  When Moses asks God for a name He tells him “tell them that I AM has sent you.”  A literal translation of that title is “I Will Be What I Will Be.”

In our culture often times we believe that everybody, regardless of position or title must eventually bow to the will of the people.  If the majority of people want something, and they make enough noise eventually those in control must give in (or face insurrection or at least bad political memes on Facebook).

You can’t impeach God.

You don’t have to believe in Him, you can ignore His Word,  you can kill His people, and discredit them,  yet that doesn’t make you “right.”

Sin is defined as “missing the mark” and this is true, but whose mark are we talking about?  Mine? Yours? Miley Cyrus’s?

Sin is anything that is not God, anything apart from Himself, His personality, His standards.  He defines right and wrong.  Not us, them or you.

We ask so many questions of morality, social issues, environmental concerns etc, but when we ask those questions do we ever truly ask “What does God think about this?”