Tag Archives: Religion

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.

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Mark Driscoll vs Rob Bell vs Francis Chan

Farewell Mark Driscoll.

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As a young and sometimes angry pastor I have been saddened with each toss and turn of the waves in the ocean that is the drama circulating Mark Driscoll’s demise. I really liked the guy. I was introduced to the testosterone filled, Seattle megachurch pastor by like minded friends about six years ago. Driscoll was raw, cutting edge, controversial and theologically conservative. He said many creatively hard things that I wished that I could blurt out to my congregation (yet never uttered due to fear of repercussion and reprimand by my authority).  He was the toughest pastor I had ever downloaded. He spoke difficult truths that I would grapple with like a UFC fighter caged with diligent, savvy opponent. There were however, moments listening to Mark’s tone and delivery where I thought to myself “Wow, it would be hard to work for Mark, it seems like he can be very mean at times……I bet he’s overly stubborn/opinionated.”

I knew that many people didn’t like Mark. That fact fueled my interest in him, as it did the thousands who were downloading his podcast and buying his books, not to mention attending his church, Mars Hill.

I watched the recent circus unfold online this year with bated breath. All I had to do was google Mark’s name and the floodgates would burst open with various articles published 5 hours ago, updated an hour ago with the latest news surrounding the scandals. With all of the attention Mark was receiving you would have thought that it was a “Ted Haggard” sort of scandal or worse.   The hits just kept coming. There were the plagiarism accusations, the use of church funds to inflate sales of his controversial new book, the unleashing of crude forum posts Mark had written 14 years ago and the various elders and staff who were crying out in unison that they had been personally bullied/verbally assaulted/ignored by Mark.

When Matt Chandler turned his back on Driscoll; kicking him out of the Acts 29 network I knew things were bad. Matt and Mark were friends.

It would seem that Mark’s “death” was one of a “thousand paper cuts.” It wasn’t one “big” sin such as adultery or murder, no it was a whole bunch of little ones, building over a lifetime, accentuated by Driscoll’s massive reach in contemporary culture and status as a “Rock Star Preacher.” Granted the bloggers and liberal and conservative social media that Mark had openly, creatively criticized so long finally found a way to chip away at his defenses, hit him when he was most vulnerable and bring the giant to his knees.

I can’t imagine the misery Mark is living in right now, watching his 14,000 person church shrink to 7000, having to lay off numerous pastors, his name and legacy indelibly stained and having to resign from the church that he loved so very much as his enemies, both Christian and Other laugh loudly as they watch the once proud pastor brought low. It’s not like Mark was spewing heresy or anything along those lines…..

Which brings us to one of Driscoll’s nemesis’s, a man who also ruled an entity known as Mars Hill (the two churches are so different it’s comical, yet the similarity of their leaders demises is deeply ironic) the bane of conservative Christianity: Rob Bell.

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I remember liking Bell in college, he was far cooler than I was, or ever would be. Everything thing about him screamed “I’m here to chill.” His voice passionate, his tone mesmerizing and his thoughts so deep and poignant, you could chew on his words for weeks. He verbally crafted pictures of Jesus that seemed so real, you thought the son of God was about the reach out and take your hand (then lead you to a Starbucks around the corner and passionately discuss social justice and the environment with you).

Yet Rob Bell flew too close to the sun and dreamed a bit too much. He asked some questions (which led to answers) that scared many people. “What if God’s love was so irresistible that everybody would turn to Him even after they are dead? What if nobody is in Hell? What if Love Wins regardless of what we believe in this life?” The one that haunted me was when Bell questioned the existence of a personal Devil, leading us to believe that Satan is a myth or at best a metaphor.

In the blink of an eye and the click of a mouse Christians were pulling his books off the shelves (to ban not buy), breaking their replica Rob Bell Hipster glasses and turning Bell into a Christian culture joke.

Rob has since made public declarations about his feelings and convictions concerning various subjects near and dear to conservative/orthodox Christianity’s heart. He’s just come down on the opposite side, causing himself to become more estranged and reviled. Rob resigned from his Mars Hill (he’d probably tell us that it was amicable and mutual, but nobody reading this article is that naïve, correct?)

Farewell Rob Bell.

All of this is sad. It would seem that there is a mysterious force assassinating our “Rock Star Preachers.” It used to be that you had to sleep with your secretary, or snort a line of coke to fall from your perch as one of Christianity’s biggest and brightest. Is there any way to keep ones legacy intact in the upper echelon of contemporary Christianity (Joel Osteen fans be thee warned!)?

Well…….let me introduce you to Francis Chan.*

*No really; once at a youth event I had the privilege of introducing Francis to over 2 thousand people. It was a great moment; he’s an awesome guy.

Hello Francis Chan.

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The author of “Crazy Love” a book so simple yet so profound there’s a real chance it may make a practical difference in your life.

A man who has made millions of dollars off of that book……..and he gave it away.

A pastor who had a huge church yet stepped down, of his own will, at his own time, with his legacy intact.

Do you know what he did?

He left to go serve in the inner city of San Francisco. To downsize and to radically give everything he has away, as he strives to live in true accord with the teachings of Scripture.

Francis isn’t perfect and I’m sure he has his faults that those close to him are deeply aware of, yet this guy just might be onto something. He may have realized that the fame, the status and the fortune would eventually devour him.

Perhaps Francis is on to something.

We are too frail to fly that high, the smallest errors can build and if we want to exist as heroes we must live among those we seek to serve. The “Rock Star Pastor” may share similarities with the Tyrannosaurs Rex; they are big, loud and deeply interesting yet ultimately their destiny is extinction.

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.

Bill Nye’s New World Order

When the video ended, in a moment of maddening rage I contemplated breaking my iPad.

I had just concluded watching a 3 hour debate between Ken Ham the infamous “young earth” CEO of Answers in Genesis and Bill Nye “the Science Guy” on the topic of Creationism as a model to be taught to our youth.  In my heart of hearts I knew that I was going to be angry at this “culture wars” spectacle and left deeply disillusioned and disgruntled on so many levels.  However I felt it was my duty as a pastor and as one who tries to keep his finger on the pulse of culture to grit my teeth and tune in.  From my understanding #creationdebate was for a fleeting moment the number one trending topic on the internet that night alongside #JustinBieber and #hotties.  Jesus had to be so proud.

If the responsibility fell on my shoulders to choose a living representative for the Christian world I would have gone with the revered apologist Ravi Zacharias. I do not believe that the debate over creationism is simply a scientific/academic one. Yet on this fateful day, at this time I found Ken Ham to be “our guy.”

The debate was unspectacular on many levels.  There were a few good one liners, straw man arguments and polarizing opinions all of which were to be expected in an event of this nature.  When the debate ended, when the video bar had run it’s course and I realized that the circus was over I was stunned and shocked at one glaring omission.

I was waiting for it the whole time with bated breath; the big nasty question for non-theists; the one of Moral Lawgiver.  I thought, “surely Ham will bring this up, it’s the best weapon we in this debate.”  I felt like a kid watching Hulk Hogan wrestle and NOT hit the leg drop, or Wolverine to NOT use his claws, or the Steelers  NOT throw the ball to Heath Miller….

I have never heard a satiating argument to the question of “who sets the rules?”  It’s the biggie, the one that ought keep atheists up at night.  If it isn’t God, then who?  The king? The government?  The people? The media?  Those answers make all of mankind squeamish for a very good reason.

If a highly armed shooter waltzes into an elementary school and opens fire on a classroom full of kindergarteners who is to say he’s wrong?  What if he is just carrying out his beliefs concerning the survival of the fittest? Sure, we’ll avenge those kids and kill him (if he doesn’t put a bullet in his own brain first) but was he objectively wrong?

How can we be sure that Hitler was wrong?  Yes, I went there.  Doesn’t every  morality debate end with Nazis?

We keep hearing Nye talk about a world in which morality and progress should be driven by an evolutionary worldview.  He annoyingly pleaded with voters and taxpayers to consider the ramifications of choosing else wise.

My question is “what does Bill Nye’s New World Order look like according to evolution’s principles of survival of the fittest?”  What becomes of the old, the weak, the obese, the suicidal, the retarded, the disabled etc?  Aren’t they just holding society down?  Should we expend valuable resources to allow them to continue their existence?  What about unwanted children, unborn or otherwise?  Where is the line to be set and could you pull the lever of the guillotine?

Are we willing to lose our souls for progress?

But wait…..we don’t have souls do we? We are a meaningless conglomeration of molecules that came together purely by chance billions and billions of years ago.  Well then; carry on Bill Nye!  Guide us into the future!

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The Worship Wars

When I hear the old stories of the “Worship Wars” as some older pastors call them, I am perplexed, confused and deeply annoyed.  Hearing retellings of those primordial tales reminds me of the ancient wars mentioned and referenced but not entirely fleshed out in certain sci-fi/fantasy movies.  The “Clone Wars” from Lucas’s imagination or the”Time War” from the Whovian’s corner of fandom come to mind.  Ancient wars where blood was shed, old characters lives were altered forever but to the present day participant we really don’t know what went on.  It can be very much like listening to your grandpa ramble on and on about The ‘Nam while he slips in an out of lucidity.

That’s how I feel about the late 80’s and early 90’s war that went on in many churches all over America over the deeply secondary issue of Hymns versus Chorus’s.  This was no small deal to them.  Churches split over this.  Pastors lost jobs, left the ministry and families were literally destroyed in some instances; all the while I can picture Jesus in heaven with his hand over his face like Jean Luc Picard in all of those snarky face palm internet memes.  Some of the stories I hear are flat out absurd, sad and tragic.  There are pastors who react to a person picking up a guitar in a church like somebody pulling the pin from a grenade.

I heard that the worship wars are over, mostly.  Other than a few crazy vets from either side still battling it out like soldiers who never got the message that the Civil War was over, it’s mostly done.  We’ve moved on to other fights and small battles.  Appearance is still a big deal.  One of my youth group girls recounted a story of being at a summer camp where, during the message the speaker looked into the crowd and publically called her “a blue haired harlot on the path to Hell” due to the visible coloring of her hair and her Blink 182 shirt. Nice job man, really furthering the Kingdom with those remarks.

The spirit of the Worship Wars is alive and well.  Don’t worry, this generation will grow old and fight battles over frivolous issues that will directly, negatively impact the possibility of many coming to a salvific knowledge of Jesus Christ, of this I am sure.

I heard a story from a friend about his grandmother who in 1992, while the Worship War was poised to consume her church she said “I’ve had my time, it’s not my style; but it’s not about me, it’s about saving souls for Jesus.”  She realized that the style of the church can change yet the spirit of the church never should.

I have two adult leaders who are in their 60’s.  They are the much needed grandparents of the youth and they fill that role admirably.  The students love them.  They impart wisdom and kindness in the most non-judgmental ways.  I’m sure they would be happier singing an old, organ fueled rendition of “It Is Well” however I have caught glimpses of them worshiping to David Crowder, Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin.

When we are old and grey may remember that style is fleeting and secondary; Spirit is key.

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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?”