The Westminster Confession of Funk

Talking about theology, but keeping it funky

I am a husband and father and pastor of Trinity Covenant Church and teacher as St. Abraham’s Classical Christian Academy in Santa Cruz, CA.

I married my Indian Princess just before Y2K. I am an old fashioned Protestant Christian Humanist who lives where people vacation. I love music, love to surf, coach soccer for a hoard of minions, play the drums, and read actual flesh and blood books. I enjoy theology and literature and history and philosophy (if Sophie is serving beer) and Anglo-Saxon Poetry.

If I could have lunch with any three living people, I would have buffalo ribs with a butter, mushroom, cream sauce, Roxy Ray would be singing with Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings, and I’d be at table with Tom Wolfe, ?uestlove, and Adam Schlesinger (and Brad Bird, because it’s my fantasy, and no one can count in my fantasy).

If I could have dinner with any three dead people (and the TARDIS was there with its universal language translation circuit) I’d have slow smoked dry ribs with the author of Beowulf, Herodotus, Martin Bucer, and Polycarp (see the previous paragraph if you have questions about my ability to count). And Janis Joplin would be singing with Louis Armstrong and his All-Stars backed up by Parliament Funkadelic of course.

My carefully crafted internet persona is also much cooler than my actual person, but I can live with that.

Giving up the Heterosexual Lifestyle

There is a misunderstanding going around about what the church teaches about heterosexual love that I feel the need to correct. It seems that everyone discussing the difference between homosexual marriage and heterosexual marriage presumes and expects that homosexual marriage has to be given up to follow Jesus but heterosexual marriage does not have to be given up. That you can walk through the doors of the church in a heterosexual marriage and Jesus and will just leave it alone.

"Oh, your marriage is one man and one woman? You don't have to give that up to follow Jesus."

But that is just not the case.

If you're going to follow Jesus then you have to be ready and willing to give up anything and everything.

Jesus puts it this way, "If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple" (Luke 14:26).

Anything you insist on holding back, anything you put a death grip on, anything you refuse to give up will go rotten. Anybody that you claim for yourself, about whom you tell Jesus he has no claim because they are yours, you will destroy.

Following Jesus is not a turn away from a lover or spouse just for the homosexual. Every person that turns to Christ must turn away from their spouse. Jesus is no traditional values conservative. He says quite plainly that he came to bring a sword specifically for the family.

Think not that I am come to send peace on earth: I came not to send peace, but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter in law against her mother in law. And a man's foes shall be they of his own household. He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it (Matt. 10:34-39). 

Heterosexuals do not get off the hook. A heterosexual infatuation with your spouse that you will not set aside in order to follow Jesus will disqualify you just as much as any homosexual infatuation that you will not set aside. It is not just gay spouses that must be given up to follow Jesus. Every spouse must be handed in. No spouse can be held back. Every spousal loyalty must be surrendered to follow Christ. Every love must be set down. Every desire must be abandoned to follow Jesus. 

To follow Jesus is to lay down everything. To be willing to exchange all that you have and all that you are for Jesus. To give up your life. “He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for Jesus sake shall find it” (Matt. 10:39).

To be willing to be marginalized, misunderstood, disreputable, threatened, to be willing to take the road the Jesus walked, no matter the cost. To sell everything if that is what it takes. That is the call of discipleship.

So there is not a special call to homosexuals to give up their chosen lifestyle. There is one call to all people to give up everything. It does not matter if what you have in your hands is good or bad. You cannot carry your cross when your hands are full.

And so if this call seems too much, then go somewhere else. Follow anyone but Jesus.

I would

I would if I could.

Jesus messes up everything. He continually appeals to his people to lay down their lives and follow him. He calls persistently to let go of your all your own desires and follow him.

But for those that are following him, once you have seen and tasted the words of life, everything else is sawdust in your mouth. Once you have glimpsed the risen Jesus, everything else is ruined for you. He is truth, goodness, beauty. He is love and in him is real hope.

So I could go somewhere else, but where could I go?

Giving up everything, letting go of it all, or even resisting to the point of death becomes a small price to pay for the treasure of knowing Christ Jesus.

So yes, following Jesus involves giving up everything. And yes, laying down our sexual desires is part of what everyone has to lay down. But if you keep it all and don't have Jesus, you still end up with nothing. And to give up everything and find Jesus, the treasure hidden in a field (Matt. 13:44) you find that you have given up nothing of value compared to what you have gained.

To follow Jesus is to let go of everything, even giving our bodies to be burned or killed if it is called for. To resist to the point of death, setting aside  our very life as nothing compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus is what it means to be a follower, a disciple, a student, a convert to Jesus Christ. To give up lordship over ourselves and to submit to Jesus is the call of discipleship.

Thus the Martyrs of the church have always been set up as an example even when there is no persecution. To follow Jesus is to consider our life expendable in His cause, trusting that in the resurrection of all things that all will be well and that all manner of things will be well. To see even the shedding of our blood as of little consequence compared to the joy of hearing, “Well done,” from the mouth of Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world.

So when a homosexual says that giving up homosexuality is like giving up themselves, I don't try and convince them that it isn't. I say, "Yep. And that is the call of Christ. To let go of self so you can cling to Jesus."

It is a hard calling. It is a hard word. But it is the call that Jesus extends to everyone. 

Jesus is a fountain of the water of life and everything else is just a cup with a hole in it. It might give you a drink for a moment, but it will end up empty, and you will just end up thirstier. So we are all called to follow Jesus to the point of shedding our blood in his service. And in the end, when Jesus raises the dead and puts all things right, it will all be worth it.

Everyone is called by Jesus to let go of everything that they believe defines them and have their life completely reoriented around Jesus. That is what it is to be a disciple. That is what it is to follow Jesus. No matter who you are or where you come from.

But to give up the whole world to gain Jesus is to give up nothing of value compared to what you have gained.

The Worship Wars

“Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy.” (Psalm 33:3).

From Plato’s Republic Book 4

Then to sum up: This is the point to which, above all, the attention of our rulers should be directed, --that music and gymnastic be preserved in their original form, and no innovation made. They must do their utmost to maintain them intact. And when any one says that mankind most regard

The newest song which the singers have, they will be afraid that he may be praising, not new songs, but a new kind of song; and this ought not to be praised, or conceived to be the meaning of the poet; for any musical innovation is full of danger to the whole State, and ought to be prohibited. So Damon tells me, and I can quite believe him;-he says that when modes of music change, of the State always change with them.

Yes, said Adeimantus; and you may add my suffrage to Damon's and your own.

Then, I said, our guardians must lay the foundations of their fortress in music?

Yes, he said; the lawlessness of which you speak too easily steals in.

(Plato’s Republic, Book 4 p. 312)

Plato sees that there is something fundamental and formative about music for a people. He must not allow any new musical fad to come in and take root. New musical modes, new songs, and musical experimentation are dangerous.

And the truth is, many Christians, when they start talking music, jump in with Plato and say, "Yeah! Stick with what is old and traditional. New music gets on my nerves."

But let’s look a little deeper at what Plato means. In The Republic, Plato is arguing about what would make the very best society, what would produce most functional government, and what would lead to the happiest cities. And Book 4, (where our quote is found) is about how to create the kind of citizens that will live in this ideal society.

What will allowing a new kind of music threaten? Socrates has just finished explaining 1) the importance of taking the extra money that the rich have and giving it to the poor. 2) That a good citizen will understand that wife swapping amongst friends is good for the city. (Speaking of wives, he says "Friends have all things in common.") And 3) the police force of the city should be assigning and enforcing whatever labors they see most fit for each person. Taking the strongest at a young age away from their parents in order to be brainwashed into mindless enforcers of the cities bureaucratic educational codes.

He says, if we only allow for certain kinds of music, making sure to never allow for any musical innovation, then we will be able to produce these "well conducted and virtuous citizens" (p. 313).

In fact, he goes so far as to say that such well-educated citizens, so long as the government is paying close attention, will surely breed these good quality citizens. Quality livestock can be produced with careful oversight by the owner and quality citizens can be produced with careful oversight by the state.

Such well bred and managed citizens will even be self-policing. They will produce for themselves an army of bureaucrats that will in turn produce an ever more complex set of rules for themselves. This is why Plato says we have to fill up the city with only thumping and cheerful music.

And there is a very real sense where Plato is right. Music is a powerful, foundational human endeavor that speaks right down to our identity. Music speaks to us in a deeply connective way. As Boethius wrote, “Music is a part of us, and either ennobles or degrades our behavior” (De Institutione Musica).

So when Plato wants to control people, he says, NO NEW MUSIC.

But God who is rich in mercy makes every one of Plato’s nightmares come true. Because when God began converting the Gentiles, he didn't put together a revolutionary political platform on how they were going to make it into the upper courts of the Empire (though they did end up there). He didn’t give them a strategic plan for a military coop. He started a musical war.

He gave us a New Song to sing.

Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord (Eph. 5:19).

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord (Col. 3:16).

Is any among you afflicted? let him pray. Is any merry? let him sing psalms (James 5:13).

When God comes to us, he calls us into the choir of the new song. In his commentary on the Psalms, speaking of Psalm 40:3, St. Augustine said: "He put a new song into my mouth. What new song? A hymn to our God. Possibly you were accustomed to sing hymns to other gods, old hymns; it was the old person who sang them, not the new person. Let the new person come to birth and sing a new song; let the renewed person love what has made him or her new. What is more ancient than God, who exists before all things, with no end and no beginning? Yet when you come back to him he is new for you. When you went away from him you grew old....”

By giving us a new heart and a new song to sing, he is laying the foundation of the city that is coming down from heaven to cover the whole earth. One of the great signs of the coming victory of the kingdom of God over all the nations of the earth is that they are a musical people, who always have a new song.

Sing to Him a new song; Play skillfully with a shout of joy. (Psalm 33:3).

He has put a new song in my mouth— Praise to our God; Many will see it and fear, And will trust in the Lord. (Psalm 40:3).

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! Sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless His name; Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His wonders among all peoples. (Psalm 96:1–3).

Oh, sing to the Lord a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory. The Lord has made known His salvation; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations. He has remembered His mercy and His faithfulness to the house of Israel; All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. (Psalm 98:1–3).

I will sing a new song to You, O God; On a harp of ten strings I will sing praises to You, The One who gives salvation to kings, Who delivers David His servant From the deadly sword (Psalm 144:9–10).

Sing to the Lord a new song, And His praise from the ends of the earth, You who go down to the sea, and all that is in it, You coastlands and you inhabitants of them! (Isaiah 42:10).

Music is foundational in the city of God. But the city of God is not static and stationary like Plato’s vision. The city of God, the New Jerusalem, is expanding and spreading and filling the earth with fruitfulness and blessings. So the church is always singing new songs. And the old songs of the church are always becoming new again to the people of the world as they are brought into the church.

So as the world comes to the Lord, it is important that we protect and enjoy our musical heritage. Because these new songs, and the ones that are being written now, and the ones that will be written in the future, are the inheritance of the whole world.

Following God - Psalm 119:8

I will keep thy statutes: O forsake me not utterly (Ps. 119:8).

When this verse is taken apart from the rest of this section of the psalm, a misunderstanding can occur. It looks like what the psalmist is saying is that when we keep God’s law, then God does not forsake us. It looks as if there is a perseverance that is based on our works. As if God does not forsake us because we obey him.

            But we have seen in the first seven verses of this psalm that it actually functions exactly the other way around. The Psalmist has made it clear that the first blessing that he is after is the blessing of following God’s law. We do not obey God just to receive blessings. The obedience itself is the first blessing.

When he writes, “Oh forsake me not utterly” he is crying out to God saying that he desires, above all things, to be faithful to God’s commands. He wants to obey the Lord. And he knows that he cannot do that unless the Lord’s blessing rests on him. Remember, he has given this description of the blessed person. This is what a person looks like when they are under the blessing of God. They are undefiled and they walk in the way of the Lord (v. 1). The blessed person keeps God’s testimonies and seeks the Lord with his whole heart (v. 2). The blessed person avoids iniquity and follows God in the way that he lives (v. 3). God’s blessing is obedience shaped. God’s way into greater blessings is to bless us with a desire to do what is right.

God’s way of filling our life with fruit is giving us the blessing of obeying him, and as we produce fruit, God blesses us with more seeds to plant and tend. Then the next harvest is bigger, more seed to plant and cultivate and water comes with the harvest.

In our microwave culture of wanting everything now, of always choosing the easy route now, we are wasting our seed. And when we waste our seed we are choosing to not have fruit later. As we put off getting married, put off having kids, put off starting a career, and put off investing their time and energy into the hard things in our youth, we are choosing fleeting experiences now over abundant fruit later, and that means that the fruit will not be there later.

If we are not plowing and planting by obeying God’s word now, then we are not going to have the blessings later to be able and plow and plant in the next phase of our life.

So when the psalmist says, I will obey, do not forsake me, because of the verses leading up to this verse, we know that he is saying is that he does not want to be forsaken to disobedience. He knows that he needs the Lord’s grace to hold him in obedience.

But God does not only pick us up from where we should have been. He picks us up where we are, so begin your obedience from where you are, and then say thank you for the blessing of desiring to obey.

God, History, and Worship - Psalm 119:7

I will praise thee with uprightness of heart, when I shall have learned thy righteous judgments (Ps. 119:7).

As I prepare to teach ancient Greek history this year, I have been reminded yet again that God is at work in history, undoing the curse of death with his justice and mercy. The Greeks were a people under Adam, under the rule of death. And even though they polished their chains to a beautiful shine, they like all of the ancient world, were a cursed and condemned people. And so neither their culture, nor their power structures survived the judgments of God in history.

The Psalmist tells us that learning the righteous judgments of God will change us. When we learn the law, so that is seeps into our whole heart, soul, mind, and body, then our response will be to praise the Lord. In God's righteous law he shows right and wrong.

One of the central ways that morality comes to us in the Bible is through God’s judgments and actions. As he tells us how to make judgments in the law, as he gives us history in which he makes judgments. He gives us proverbs and prophets in order to explain and enact his judgments. God has not just told us what righteousness is. He has shown us He has shown us what true justice is. He has shown us what it is to do right.

The psalmist says that the more we understand God's justice and righteous judgments the more praiseworthy God will seem. He brings low the wicked and lifts his people up. He humbles the proud that set themselves up. He lifts up the humble and the righteous. And the more we understand, the more laudable God becomes in our eyes.

The Spirit of God has always been active in the world. He has given us the Word of God, as a description of the way that God is making all things right in the world by his judgments. He has enacted the salvation of God, teaching Noah to build the ark, and bringing animals two by two. Calling Abraham out of Ur. Speaking to Moses out of the burning bush. Parting the waters of the red sea. Bringing water from the rock. Knocking down the walls of Jericho. All of the way through history, the Spirit has been enacting the judgments of God. And we are given the scriptures so that we can understand and imitate God's righteous judgments.

And when we see God judging and saving all throughout history, if we have learned what we should be learning, our response is to praise God and turn from sin. It is no use trying to praise God without an upright heart. God's judgments are righteous. We will also learn that God's justice, God's righteous judgments, are beautiful. We will find ourselves drawn to worship. The more we know the scriptures, the more we will see our God as praiseworthy.

Just think about the revelation of God in Jesus. What an amazing story. How beautiful are the feet of him who brings the good news. When God is revealed to us in Christ, it is such a shocking and wonderful thing that the sheer beauty of God's holiness causes us to praise the Lord. God judged sin once and for all to be evil and worthy of death by dying on the cross. But he judged life to be stronger than death, love to be stronger than evil, and grace to be stronger than sin, once and for all, by raising Jesus from the dead.

The more you come to understand God's word and his righteous judgments, the more you will seek to praise Him with uprightness of heart. 

Shame and the Christian - Psalm 119:6

Then shall I not be ashamed, when I have respect unto all thy commandments (Ps. 119:6).

Shame is real. It is the experience that we something that we wanted hidden is revealed. It is what we feel when sins that we would rather have in the dark are brought out into the light. God knows everything. There is nothing that is hidden to him.

Nothing.

None of your sins are hidden from the eye of the Lord, which sees everything.

Everything.

Here the psalmist explains that the root of our shame is disobedience and a lack of single-hearted devotion to following after the life of God as it is laid out in the law. But the psalmist wants to not be ashamed, and he sees that one of the purposes of the law is to keep us from shame. God has not given us the law in order to shame us. He has given us his word in order to keep us from shame. When we respect and obey God’s commandments, we avoid shame.

Respecting God’s commandments means that we honor the fact that God has a right to tell us how this place works. He has the authority to define the world for us because he is the creator, not only of the world, but also the creator of us. Respecting the law is another way of saying that we believe that what God says about the world is true. It is another way of saying that we trust God’s word.

God’s word has the authority of God as the creator and sovereign king over creation. And the psalmist tells us here that, in his word, God has told us how to avoid shame. God has told us the way that he has created the world. There are mysterious things about the world.

There are things hidden and difficult to understand. Avoiding shame is not one of those things. God has plainly told us how to avoid shame. Live the life described and prescribed by the law of God. The life that is the life of the Triune God.

But we have sinned. We have done shameful things. We have lived lives that have uncovered ourselves before God and before one another. This would be the end if we had to fix ourselves. We would do no better than Adam and Eve  when they tried to hide their shame with fig leaves.

But God, who is rich in mercy, came to us in Christ Jesus. But God, who is rich in grace, sent his son to become one of us. But God, who is rich in mercy, sent his Son Jesus to die on the cross for us. But God, who is rich in mercy, allowed his son Jesus to be stripped naked, taking our shame upon himself, so that his death could be the death of our shame. And not the death of our shame only, but he has taken the shame of all those that believe in him, those near and those far, and nailed it to the tree in his body. Though we were ashamed, we are now covered in the righteousness of Christ.

Confess all that you are ashamed of, and be covered by God’s mercy.

Blessed with Obedience - Psalm 119:5

O that my ways were directed; to keep thy statutes! (Ps. 119:5)

We all have those keys that we keep because we don't remember what they go too. And it is too risky to just toss them. Because when you find the lock and go looking for the key, it will be the one that you tossed. 

For many Christian's, obedience to the law is that lonely key, that we know that we shouldn't throw out, because we are sure that it goes to something. We just can't remember what it unlocks.  But the author of the 119th psalm comes to our rescue and reminds us that obedience to the law is a key that unlocks many of the gifts and blessings that God has hidden for us in the world. But the key that unlocks, the obedience itself, is also a gift. 

The psalmist has established that God’s blessings begin by training us to keep God’s commands (vv. 1). God commands are in themselves blessings (vv. 2).  So he cries out to the Lord for the blessing of obedience.

He asks specifically that his ways be directed. He has already discussed how the ways in which the Lord lives are spelled out in God’s testimonies (vv. 3). The law of the Lord is a description of the way that God lives, and the psalmist begs that God would direct his own ways so that he would keep God’s statutes. The Psalmist wants the law to be his path.

He wants blessings, but unless the first blessing of obedience comes he will never reach the blessings that are further down the road

The life of God is true life. Those that are made in the image of God find life when their life is directed after the life of God. The law of God is like food. We cannot live without it. That is why Asaph writes “I am the Lord thy God, Which brought thee out of the land of Egypt: Open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10). He quotes the opening statement of the ten commandments, and then writes, now open up, because you are about to be fed.

The Psalmist cries out to the Lord for the blessing of being able to follow after God, knowing what he has already told us. God’s pattern is to bless us with obedience. Whereas disobedience to God’s law is death-shaped, obedience is itself life-shaped. But then, through the obedience, more blessings come. So he is praying, Lord bless me with a way of living that leads to more blessings.

He is embracing the way of God, which is the way of building blessings over time. Everyone is either moving towards the fullness of blessings, or a fullness of cursing. Pleading for the blessing of obedience is pleading to be put on the path that leads to the fullness of blessings, all of the way into the resurrection.

Too often, we look to get the blessings directly without first looking for the gift of obedience. But God’s blessings are given in history, and the key that unlocks the blessings of the earth is obedience to God’s law. It is still all grace, we still have to say thank you for all of it as a gift, because the obedience was given as a gift in the first place, but one of the primary ways that the Lord God pours his blessings upon us is by means of obedience. So look to leave behind your sin, and ask the Lord that he would direct your ways to keep his statutes. 


I Will Assemble the Lame

In that day,” says the Lord, “I will assemble the lame, I will gather the outcast And those whom I have afflicted; I will make the lame a remnant, And the outcast a strong nation; So the Lord will reign over them in Mount Zion From now on, even forever.” (Micah 4:6–7).

God has picked us for his kingdom because we have the right set of talents and gifts in order to make the church into a really effective institution in society. At least that is the story that we tell ourselves. God assembles us together because we are the few smart ones that are really going to be able to make a difference.

God promises that his people are going to be a strong. He promises that we are going to make a difference in the world as we deliver his transformative grace from heaven to earth.

But God says that he is going to use the lame and the outcast. He is going to use us weak things of the world in order to show his strength.

God is like a warrior that shows up to a sword fight with a fish. Anyone can win a sword fight with a sword. Only the greatest can win a sword fight with a rainbow trout.

God is going to make his people a strong nation. A nation that he will rule himself from a throne on the heavenly Mount Zion, who remain more than conquerors no matter who or what comes against it.

But he will make this strong nation from the lame and the outcasts. So if you limp, if you don’t fit, if you are weak, flawed, and shaky at your best, then you qualify for citizenship in God’s strong nation.

The Parable of the Man Who Rocked the Vote

Once upon a time there was a man who had never voted.

He was a registered voter. (He had registered at an MTV rock the vote in college. He had just never made it into an actually voting booth). He had recently been convinced that he should be voting, making his voice heard, and all that, so today he was walking down the street towards the library. There might be a voting booth there? Or at least someone who could tell him where to find one.

On the way, he saw a school that was falling down and said, “I should vote for whoever will fix our schools.” As he continued down the road, he saw a bank that was closing and said, “I should vote for whoever will fix our country’s banking problem.”

As he got closer to the library he saw a child who was lost. He crossed to the other side of the road and said to himself, “I should vote for someone to come up with a system to help lost children find their parents.”

As he got to the end of the block, a dragon swooped down and landed right in front of him. It was carrying a woman in a fair amount of distress. She was even screaming for help while being placed into the scorching and foul-smelling mouth of the great wyrm. (Our story did begin once upon a time after all, it has to have a dragon). Our young conscientious voter, in a surprising act of bravery, threw his voters pamphlet over his shoulder at the dragon as he ran for it, leaving the distressed young maiden to her fate.

Thankfully, just at that moment, a city bus pulled up and he was able to hop on. He thought to himself, “I will definitely vote for whoever expanded public transportation.”

 

Lent is Victorious

Lent means lengthening. It is named for the time of the year in which the days are lengthening. It is the season of the church year that counts down to Easter.

Liturgically speaking, it is the time of the church calendar that is focused upon the life of Christ from when he sets his face towards Jerusalem until his Crucifixion.

Lent is not always an easy thing to know what to do with. The five evangelical feast days of the church calendar, Christmas, Good Friday, Easter, Ascension Thursday, and Pentecost are easy to celebrate. They are memorializing the great victories that God himself has won in the work of Christ. The church seasons (Trinity Season, Advent, Lent) are different kinds of memorials. They are intended to remind us to continually live out of the Good News of what Jesus has already done. And they are the vestiges of the victories of the church.

Lent was established to fight a battle. Every festival of the Roman Empire is forgotten. Lent is still here. The gospel advances. The gospel transforms the world. And Lent is the evidence.

The gospel came into a world that had turned itself into an idol. In the ancient world power, strength, and control over the world and over other people were the ingredients of salvation.

In ancient paganism (and modern evolutionary mythology), violence was fundamental. In the beginning there was chaos. And everything is always threatening to revert to chaos. Mankind must be strong enough to fight back the chaos. We take control over the world with strength. We control other people in wars and battles. With power we fight back the chaos. Our hold on the world was idolatry. We claimed to have mastered the world. But really the world had a hold on us.

Lent was the early church’s denial that power gained over the world was the power save ourselves. Through self-denial, by turning away from power and turning to weakness, the church proved that in our weakness, God’s strength is shown. The weakness of a faithful people was stronger than the strength of all the empires that idolized strength.

Like the bronze serpent that Moses put up as a memorial in Israel, Lent began as a fight against idols, but later became itself as idol. And like Hezekiah cutting down and burning the bronze serpent (1 Kings 18:4) faithful people removed lent from the life of the church for a time.

But though it was misused and turned into an idol, Jesus later came and told us that the bronze serpent pointed to him in John 3:14. So Lent, which began as a time devoted to the setting aside of paganism, became itself a means of power mongering and self-righteous idolatry.

And yet, Lent has survived. And it has survived as evidence that the good news of Jesus Christ has overcome idolatry, continues to overcome idolatry, and will overcome idolatry until every enemy is put under the feet of Jesus. And so, whether we celebrated it or ignored it, because Jesus overcame the strength of the idols of the world with his weakness, it has been Lent. Now let's have some Easter.

Living the Good Life - Psalm 119:4

Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently (Ps. 119:4).

God tells us how to live our life. This is a verse that the Devil has a problem with. There are precepts, principles, and instructions that God wants us to obey. And when we are being honest this verse that is difficult for us too. God’s commands and precepts are not just advice that we can take or leave. We are required to follow. We are required to submit. We are required to obey.

There is an ultimate chain of command. God has reserved his right, as our creator, to tell us what to do. God is the one that defines for us what is right and what is wrong.

There are three errors that are easy to slip into:

The first is to flatly disobey. God says do not get drunk, you get sloshed. God says do not steal. You stuff your pockets at the mall and run away. Straight forward disobedience is a sin, and the answer is straight forward repentance. Turning away from our sin and doing what we are told. Agreeing with God that we have sinned, asking for forgiveness, and then responding to God’s forgiveness with obedience.

The second is to see that there is a chain of command, that God gives commands, and then assume that whatever you believe is right and wrong is therefore a command from God. Because, of course, God wants us to do what is right. He has commanded us to do what is right. Therefore whatever I think is right and wrong must be a command from God. But God has commanded us, and it is his commands that are binding. Not what you think his commands are, or what you think would have also have been a good idea.

This is one of the sins that Jesus went after most often, the sin of treating your own commands as if they have the force and authority of God’s commands.

They do not.

We study the scriptures and discover God’s commands, and it is those commands that are binding.

And lastly, we see that God has given us commands, and so we grit our teeth, and obey, even though we think God’s commands are a heavy burden. We obey with a bad attitude. Or we obey and then act like we are martyrs because we are being kept back from something better by God’s commands. We obey the fourth verse of Ps. 119 while not believing the first three verses.

It is a blessing to be on the path of the Lord. It is a blessing to be able to walk in the law of the Lord (1). It is a blessing to be able to keep God’s testimonies. It is a blessing when our whole heart is trained on Jesus (2). Because when we know the Law, and are blessed by God with the ability to keep it, we are actually living the good life (3).

The law is not keeping us from the good life. The law is not an obstacle course that we have to get through before we can start living the good life. The law is a dissected description of the good life because it is a dissected description of the life of our Trinitarian God. The law is God saying, “Follow Me.”

God gives us commands because he wants us to know how to live. The law is only restrictive the way the string on a kite is restrictive. It is the restriction on the kite that makes it able to capture the wind.

But we have disobeyed. We have treated God’s law like a punishment. God commands us to stay out of the cage of sin. And we respond like some scrimpy and stingy god is abusing us. But God is not stingy or tight-fisted at all. Instead, he is merciful and generous. Confess your sin and taste his forgiving grace.

The Spider and the Starfish

There are certain kinds of spiders that do not have stomachs. When it is time for them to eat, they inject their digestive juices into their still living victim, secreting digestive enzymes that break down the body of their prey. She sucks up the liquefied flesh-pulp and then secretes another load of stomach acid, repeating the back and forth, in and out, with the digesting flesh until her victim is an emptied shell or the spider is full.

How often do we let bitterness take root and become like these spiders. We let our bitterness so color the way we see someone that in our harsh and selfish way of dealing with them we bite and devour them. We digest them while they sit in front of us, and all the while, because of our bitterness, we tell them that they deserve it.

When a starfish is going to eat a clam it wraps itself around the clam and begins prying open the shells. Even though a clam has one of the strongest muscles in the sea, once the starfish is attached, it relentlessly pulls and pries until it sneaks open the hard shell guardian. And then the starfish shoots its stomach into the clams, where the tongue and soft tissues are all snug and supple.

The starfish then wraps up the tender innards of the clam in its stomach and begins digesting. It grasps and absorbs the clam’s interiors by digesting and swallowing it until it is dead.

How often are we the starfish, limbs of suckers wrapped and pulling in order to crack open and fill our family and friends and neighbors and coworkers with our digestive guile. And all in the name of what they have done to us.

But bitterness is a canker. Bitterness has tentacles that sprawl into everything. Bitterness has fangs full of poison, and when allowed to mature, it bites indiscriminately. That is why Paul tells us to get rid of all bitterness.

Have you been bitter? Bring it to the Lord right now. Lay it down. God is not bitter at you, so you will find grace and mercy. Have you been biting and devouring, digesting people alive. Lay down your God’s is gracious and merciful, glad to forgive.

The only way to become someone who gives grace and mercy is to live before God as someone in need of grace and mercy.

Bring Your Shipwrecked Life

From the very beginning of our lives, we are a people dependent upon receiving grace. Grace that we have never given. Grace that we can not immediately return. We are born needy.

And we are born a fountain of both sin and beauty. And the sin and beauty are intermixed. Interwoven completely. Only the scalpel that can separate body and spirit can divide them. And this sin and this beauty is waiting for the might to make its mark on the world. Waiting for the strength to build and tear down.

Then God gives us to broken people. Needy people. Crooked and kinked people. Bent people. To raise and train and teach and nurture. And we are gift to them. And they are a gift to us.

And we need grace that we have never given to be given to us even before we can give it. We need to be fed and warmed and loved and taught how to sail our lives through the seas of life. Each of us taught to sail by the captain of a shipwreck.

When we are parents, we try and call from our shipwrecks to our children, hoping they will sail further than we have. But they all call, O Captain, my captain, why is your ship up on the rocks.

Religious pride tries to make sure others crunch their life on the same shoal of rocks that we have. But humility uses confession as a lighthouse others will avoid the rocks that we ruined our ship on.

Then we come together to worship God, and God takes our shipwrecks and knits us together, one providing a hull, another a mast, another a steering wheel, another a rudder. God picks up our shipwrecks and sews together the tatters of our torn sails into one great patchwork sail, stained with blood and tears, and it catches the winds of the breath of God. And we sail.

We are all broken people. On our honest days we know it. But God is building a church, all made out of shipwrecks, and it is all grace. It is all a gift. Because our God loves, our God builds us into one another. Lashing us together like foremast and flying jib.

So bring your crashed and broken life. Others need the broken parts to be made whole.

Working off of different scripts

How often have you said, “What are we even fighting about?” You are in the midst of conflict and you don’t even really understand why.

Sol Stein, in his book 'On Writing,' tells the story of his early work in theater. In rehearsals of plays still being written, he would take two actors, give them two different setups, and then tell them to improvise once they got to the end of their script.

To one he would say, "You are a school principal meeting with the mother of a recently expelled child. He is a little terror. If this student stays he will sink the entire school into primordial chaos."

To the other he would say, "You are the mother of a sweet child. A brilliant child. He has just been expelled for a misunderstanding. The principle of the school is a jaded old man who ceased liking any children three decades ago. You must convince him to allow your child to stay."

And then he would sit back and see where the scene went. As a writer he was merely doing research. Trying to prime the pump of creative juices. But Stein is really onto something. Because how often is conflict in our lives a matter of two people working off of different scripts. We have different ideas about the kind of scene we are in, thus, the tensions rise.

There is not much to it. One thinks they are the hero of a scene, defending the honor of a friend. The other thinks they are the thoughtfully pious in a scene, talking about staying modest yet fashionable. Each thinks themselves the strong one. Each thinks themselves in the right.

Maybe one is right, maybe both are right, maybe both are wrong. Either way, the ingredients of the conflict are on a slow boil.

If we are in different scenes in our head, casting ourselves into different roles, we need to stop and listen. When you find yourself in conflict, stop and listen. This is the time to remind yourself of James 1:19. "Let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger" (James 1:19b). Because a lot of words lead to a lot of sin. "When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent" (Prov. 10:19). 

But what are you listening for? You are listening to understand. Specifically, you are trying to understand what they think the conflict is about. You are restraining your lips so that you can find the differences between your scripts. Look for the ways you are being cast as the villain, and decide if there is truth to it.  

We should, as far as we are able, work to be at peace with all men (Rom. 12:18). And learning to listen carefully is the beginning of peacemaking.

The shape of a blessed life - Psalm 119:3

They also do no iniquity: they walk in his ways (Ps. 119:3).

As the psalmist continues (v. 1, v. 2) to explain what a blessed life looks like, the psalmist writes that a blessed person does no iniquity. Being given over to sin is the opposite of a blessing. Sin is death. Sin is the opposite of life. Turning to sin is to turn away from living. One of the central ways that God blesses us is by changing our desires. He turns our hearts away from sin and towards righteousness. When we are under the blessing of God, our desires for sin begin to be undone. God is changing our desires so that we no longer find ourselves slaves to sin, no longer slaves to death. Instead we are slaves to life, slaves to righteousness.

Doing right is in itself a blessing. Doing right is a description of living. Real living. But notice what else it is. Those that are blessed, do not sin. They walk in God’s ways. They follow after God. The opposite of sin is to walk in God’s ways. Those that do not sin are the ones that do the kind of things that God does. They follow after God and imitate him. They do what He would do.

The law is a description of life because it is a description of the living God. The law is the ‘come follow me’ discipleship of the Old Testament. God gives us the law so that we can be like him. He tells us what he is like, He tells us the shape of his life, by giving us the law. That is why the scriptures are called the word of God, and when Jesus comes he is called the Word dwelling among us. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. . . 14And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1, 14).

 The law is a description of Jesus before he comes because the law is a description of the life of God, and Jesus is the full revelation of God. If you want to be like God, then follow the law. If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus. He is the most alive. He always does what was right. In fact, because he had never sinned, that when he was crucified, he was so alive that he came back from the dead. Death could not hold that much life without bursting at the seams. The grave could not hold someone so full of the delight of living. The strength of the life of Jesus was too much for the grave.

David, prophetically describing the mockers surrounding Jesus while he was being crucified wrote, All they that see me laugh me to scorn: They shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted on the Lord that he would deliver him: Let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.” (Psalm 22:7–8). And as the Chief Priests and scribes and Pharisees mocked the naked and hanging Jesus, one of them shouted out, “He trusted in God; let him deliver him now, if he will have him: for he said, I am the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:43). Jesus delighted in God and called himself the Son of God. And as the Son of God, he walked without sin because he was born of God (1 John 3:9; 5:18). He walked in the way of God because well-loved sons delight in their Father. “Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him.” (John 8:28–29).

So when Jesus was raised from the dead, life was vindicated, living in the way of God was vindicated, and living without sin was vindicated.

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Valentine's Day With Fountains of Wayne

There are only ever a few great poets writing popular music at any given time. And they are rarely recognized in their greatness until the end of their career. Because it is generally the entire corpus that is seen as great, rather than a single hit song. Fountains of Wayne is one of those bands. One of their greatest songs is not a love song, but instead a ‘near love song.’

There are two characters, Seth Shapiro and Beth Mackenzie. Check it out.

They are both likable and looking for love. They would probably make a great match. But it turns out that the reason that Beth Mackenzie is single is that she’s selfish and cold hearted. Opportunities are right in front of her, but she sees people as obstacles to her success rather than opportunities to connect. And so she leaves Seth Shapiro for dead and, presumably, ends up a lonely old cat lady, talking to herself while she watches reruns of the King of Queens.

The moral of the story. The people around you are people. People made in the image of God. Treat them as such. Not as obstacles. You may be surprised at the connections you make with strangers if you take seriously the admonition to be kind to strangers (Heb. 13:2).

Saying Thank You For Your Obedience - Psalm 119:2

Blessed are they that keep his testimonies, and that seek him with the whole heart (Ps. 119:2).

Here we have a description of someone who is blessed. Those that keep God's testimony are those that are blessed. Those that seek God with their whole heart are blessed people. These two things are descriptions of a blessing. You are really a blessed person, God has been very kind to you, if you find yourself keeping God's testimonies and seeking God with your whole heart. Even our obedience is something to say ‘thank you’ for.

God's testimonies are a description of a blessed life. God's law is where we find a description of a life full of blessings. And keeping of God's testimonies, obeying God’s law, is the way that we find God’s blessings. God has hidden many wonderful blessings in the world, and the treasure map that he has given us to hunt out those blessings is his law. Obeying the law keeps the piano strings of our life in tune so that we can produce beautiful music. The God who made the piano understands how to tune it. So when God wants to bless us, he begins by blessing us with obedience, because so many other blessings are hidden in little cupboard doors that obedience opens.

Christianity is not a Gnostic mystery religion full of secret and invisible blessings. The God of the Bible gave us the Bible in order to be clear about where the blessing were. And a blessed is shaped like obeying God's law.

A blessed life is also marked by an undivided heart. Blessed are they that are seeking God with their whole heart. A divided heart is a heavy burden. Paul calls us to live our lives unto the Lord with our whole heart. Simplicity of heart, single-heartedness, where our whole heart is focused on serving Christ is a blessing that we should be seeking and saying thank you for when it is given us.

“So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart” (Act 2:46). “For our boasting is this: the testimony of our conscience that we conducted ourselves in the world in simplicity and godly sincerity, not with fleshly wisdom but by the grace of God, and more abundantly toward you” (2 Cor. 1:12).But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).

Following Jesus is not generally complicated. It is a matter of not letting our devotion get divided between Jesus and anything else. Blessings are obedience shaped. Obedience to God's law is what it looks like to seek God with your whole heart. Since Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15) a heart that is focused upon Jesus will keep his commandments. And when we obey, we can then say thank you for that gift of obedience.

Walking in the Law - Ps. 119:1

Blessed are the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the Lord (Ps. 119:1).

The one who is blessed by the Lord walks in his law. Notice that it does not say that the one who walks in the law of the will be blessed. The scriptures do say that in other places, but here it goes back even deeper. Before the blessings that come from obedience, comes the blessing of obedience. The obedience itself is a gift.

God's grace precedes our obedience, and then our obedience flows out that grace, and then blessings come to us through the obedience itself. Walking in the Law of the Lord is here evidence of someone being blessed. They are a blessed person who finds themselves walking in the law of the Lord; who find themselves in the way, on the path

But why is walking in the law of the Lord a blessing? We tend to think of following the law of the Lord as something that is restrictive. We want to do one thing, but we have to do another because God has gone and made it illegal. But the law is given to us as a description of living. This is what real life looks like. The Ten Commandments are not given to us to keep us from living. They are given to us to keep us from not living

A love and desire for the knowledge of the scriptures should drive us to learn the scriptures. We should be making it to church to hear and learn what God has done and said. We should be reading the scriptures, both to ourselves and to our families. And we should look for creative ways to redeem our time. Audiobooks and recorded sermons while we drive or do laundry are wonderful ways to learn what it looks like to walk in the Law of the Lord.

The law is full of signs that say, "Lookout! There is a pothole here, and a cliff there. Death lurks deep in this swamp. Stay out!" Blessed is the one who is still in the way, on the road. When God tells you to not do something, trust him. He loves you and wants you to have life and to have it more abundantly. Sin is death. Blessed is the man who is walking in the law of the Lord.

Tackling the Evil Squid Bot of Sin

Sin needs to be dealt with. That is the perpetual truth that everyone everywhere agrees on. People disagree about what sin is. People will disagree on how to deal with it. But everyone agrees that it needs to be dealt with. It is what makes us as easy to manipulate as Silly Putty left in the September sun. And why we have the sales resistance of a junior high boy at July fireworks stand on a Redbull jacked spending spree. Because we are looking for solutions to sin.

Some people will try to deal with it with community force. The force of law, the force of coercion, the force of tax and penalty, the force of social pressure and mockery, the force of economic sanctions, the force of propaganda.

Some people want to deal with it through individual self-improvement plans, where each person takes up the problem of their own sin and deals with themselves within themselves. Where personal trainers, and life coaches, and counselors that help you find your triggers, teach you to avoid yourself, and separate yourself from your self.

Some people will try to deal with it by telling lies about it, thinking that if people do not know the truth about them, then it maybe becomes less true. If their regrets remain a secret, if what I know about me never colors the way everyone around me sees me, then I can keep it buried.

People disagree about what is sin and how to best tackle that abominable squidbot of sin, but there is worldwide solidarity that it needs to be tackled.

But the problem is, sinners trying to deal with their own sin are like little kids trying to wipe their face clean with dirty hands. No one would do the laundry and expect it to get clean in a washing machine that was drawing water from the sewer. Sinful people with plans, be they religious, self-help, political, sociological, or psychological, will never do anything but make it worse.

When the problem turns out to be us trying to rescue ourselves, we discover that we need to be rescued from the outside. The beginning of any return to sanity is the realization of the complete inability for a sinner to deal with their own sin.

And that is where Jesus comes in. He came from outside, born of a virgin, out of the line of Adam, the Son of God from all eternity becoming like us in every way except sin. And he came himself distinctly because no son of Adam could rescue us (Is. 59:16).

So give up. Declare your own incompetence. Your real need is a savior. And no one else can do it. Jesus died on the cross and was raised from the dead because we could not save ourselves. So go ahead and give up and come to Jesus. Confess your sin, and ask for help. Our sin is stronger than us. But God's grace is stronger than our sin.

Dealing with Guilt and Shame in the New Year

Guilt and Shame. Guilt and Shame. Guilt and Shame. The plague of the modern disassociated self is a sense of guilt and a life of shame. Everyone has emotional ailments and psychoses galore. And a whole heap of them are compensations for the feelings of guilt and shame. Guilt and shame plague and follow us like seagulls with a crab boat. And every time that we think that we have escaped them, they bound from behind the dumpster of the alley of life and mug us all over again.

There are whole industries devoted to dealing with the guilt and shame. We explain it away as a personal hang up. ‘I just gotta’ get over it.’ We convince ourselves that (despite the evidence to the contrary) ‘I am better than this.’ We blame our parents or teachers or the rassafrassin politicians that are screwing up this country. We attack those closest to us as if they are root from which our guilt and shame grow. We go to psychologists and counselors or talk to random people on the street (or as just recently happened to me, in line at the grocery store) to find someone that can help us get rid of the feelings, because they don’t seem in the least bit interested in leaving us alone.

But what always seems to be assumed is that the feelings of guilt and shame are unfounded. It never seems to cross our minds that the feelings of guilt might come from the fact that we are guilty, that the feelings of shame might come from the truth that what we have been doing is shameful. In short, what if our guilt and shame actually come from sin? Because the modern world has gone way out of its way to deny the reality of sin, guilt and shame seem like alien invaders, living in our lives as if they don’t belong.

But the reality is that the banishing of the reality or possibility of sin is the reason that we don’t know what to do with our guilt and our shame. If we are sinners, then guilt and shame are fit for us. They make sense. They are proper. And there is something to do with sin.

If our problem is that we feel guilt and shame, there is nothing to do but practice psychological gymnastics. If our problem is sin then the solution is forgiveness. Sin can be dealt with. Jesus died for sin. If we are guilty of sin then Jesus, the incarnate son of God came and died it. Jesus was crucified for the guilt of sin. And he was crucified naked for the shame of sin. And because Jesus died for our sin, when God forgives us of our sin, the root of our guilt and shame has been eliminated. Sin can be forgiven. And when God forgives sin, he forgets it. The sin is gone and the guilt and shamefulness are forgotten.

So this year, be a sinner. Come and agree with God that you are guilty of sin and that it is shameful. And then trust that Jesus took your sin and shame and nailed it the cross. Make 2014 a year full of the freedom of confession and forgiveness.

 

Don't be Like Lando: Leadership that is a Blessing

At all events the victory of Constantine over Maxententius was a military and political victory of Christianity over heathenism; the intellectual and moral victory having been already accomplished by the literature and life of the church in the preceding period. (Phillip Schaff, History of Church Vol. 3, p. 28)        

Schaff, describing the first of a series of events that ended in the official persecution of the imperial persecution of the Christian Church in the Edict of Milan in 313 AD. For the first time since Nero began persecuting the church in 65 AD it was not illegal to be a Christian.

There had been generations of faithful Christians worshipping and writing and living that hoped for that day, but never saw it. But Schaff is right that this new found freedom to worship was the fruit of those previous generations living well, dying bravely as martyrs, and writing defenses of the faith. Because while the rest of the empire was growing weaker in its connections, both to one another and to previous generations, the church was remaining connected in its resolve.

If someone wanted to be a leading farmer, he could drive his tractor out to all of his neighbors and give them advice on fertilizer, crop rotation, planting times, and the merits of all the newest equipment. If he is slick, he might be able to sell them on it, but he is selling them on ideas that he has not tested and tried himself.

The other option is to get at the work of plowing and planting and harvesting your own field. If we really do have the best methods, then it will show in our harvests. If our harvests really are the best, then we will have other farmers coming and looking for our methods. Admittedly, this methods looks suspiciously like hard work. And it will take patience. And having our results judged is much more uncomfortable than explaining ideas. But leadership that leads the way is better than leadership that points the way. Jesus said, “Come this way,” not “Go that way.”

But we are in the reverse situation. As the revolutions of the 60’s raged, the leadership of the left understood this principle better than anyone. Todd Gitlin, former president of the SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) wrote that, the Left began by “marching on the English Department while the Right took the White House” (p. 12, Nancy Pearcy, ‘Saving Leonardo’). They saw that winning the argument was more important than winning the power. At the time, the Christian Church was barely even engaged in the argument.

In spite of the fact that we lost the intellectual, literary, poetic, artistic, and moral arguments of the previous century, (mostly by not even showing up) much of the church is still attempting to fight for political victories. But God’s pattern has always been that his people first win with literature and life. God’s habit is to first fill the church with truth and grace until it is billowing out the doors of the foyer every time they are opened. Only later are there any victories outside the church. Because only then would we be a blessing.

Only when the church has minds, souls, and hands dripping with grace, mercy, and righteousness is it a blessing to the world. Only when our own field is overflowing is it a blessing to let us plow outside our own field. And God is not concerned with his people having power. He is concerned with the families and nations of the earth being blessed. When it would not be a blessing for his people to lead, then ten enemies chase away his ten thousand.

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In the meantime, plow and plant and harvest your own field. Drop all of the envious sidelong glances at the power of the powerful. It just makes you look like Lando Calrissian just before you turn the Rebel Alliance over to the Empire, more concerned with your own power and influence than being a blessing. Care for the field that you already have. Whether it is your family, your job, your church, your kid’s soccer team, your high school’s surf team or chess club, or even just your little dorm room empire, prove that you know how to be fruitful where you are.

The communication revolution that we are living through is opening opportunities that are still stretching the imagination further than a circus contortionist could dream. It appears as if the stage is being set for something. The church needs to be faithful in the place that it already has and learn to speak, write, explain, declare, and live the Good News of the grace of God there. And then remember and believe that God is righteous. He is always faithful to his promises.