Seeing the Kingdom in Suicide Squad

suicide squadSuicide Squad was released a few weeks ago. It has been a hit with fans and panned by critics. Certain aspects were controversial, but overall, as a writer and comic book lover, I enjoyed the movie despite it’s plot and production problems. This post, however, isn’t to weigh in as a formal critique. Instead, I will explore why it has become so popular as it is rooted in the purpose of the Kingdom. I will try to avoid serious spoilers.

Suicide Squad began in the comics. As comics became darker with Frank Miller and Alan Moore and others through the 80’s. The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen proposed the realistic concept that our superheroes might not be as moral or pure as we may have thought. That influenced everything from Superman to Batman, especially in DC, where the heroes were more “heroic” even in their personal lives, although it did affect Marvel, as well.

By the 90’s, more adults were buying comics, and so the writing matured. The heroes turned darker and the villains were humanized. What if our heroes were to turn evil or get out of control? So the gubmint in the comics decides to form a team of villains they could control.

Hence, the Suicide Squad. When the movie was first announced, the comic fans were excited. We loved the idea when it came out, and since Harley Quinn became such a popular character, seeing her in the movies for the first time appealed to us.

Even though the critics have tried to destroy the movie, it continues to be popular. Why? And how does this connect to the Kingdom?

While the writing has matured over the last 30 years, superheroes are somewhat difficult to relate to. They have superpowers we don’t have … and they consistently use them for good. It is inspiring and cool, but we don’t fully relate to it.

What we do relate to is criminals who want to do better but seem stuck in a cycle of selfish behavior.

And we relate to the reality of a large institution that will use us only if it can control us.

So even though the movie was severely problematic, it was wildly popular.

These are disturbed and decadent individuals, but their dreams were simple and universal – time with a daughter, a stable marriage filled with love, the return of lost loved ones. Redemption.

And yet their whole life, including their individual choices, are obstacles to their dreams.

These are the people the world turns to when the impossible needs to happen. They are forced to accept, but that control does not last. It cannot.

The villains are ultimately given the choice. The government can no longer control them. They could leave if they choose and not fulfill the mission. But these villains and misfits decide to do good, of their own volition. For the good of others. To save the world, they learned to work together.

It reminds me of the Kingdom. We have all made mistakes, have regrets, and lose hope. If we are honest, we are all misfits and villains. But we want to be heroes in the story. We want to do what is good and right for the right reasons. We want a chance for redemption.

Through the transformation of Jesus in the Kingdom, God gives us all that chance. The invitation is open to everyone, whether we feel we are beyond redemption or not, whether we feel filled with the devil or not. God extends his love to all, inviting us to come and participate in the power and mission to save the world from evil.

And then we join in with other villains, or former villains, to work together for good, for a mission. I pray we all find that team in our lives.



Why Christians Love Science More than Anyone Else

creationWe have developed, over time, this concept in our modern culture that assumes Christians who believe in a single God who created all that is seen (which is a very diverse group in and of itself, not simply the extreme Ken Hamm Creationist) are uneducated and ignorant and “hate” science.

To be clear, the issue is when these individuals question the scientific validity of cross-species macro evolution and evolution as a creative event. They are believers in a “flat earth” and “closed minded,” despite the evidence to the contrary.

While I will not excuse how religious authorities have suppressed certain movements either in the past or currently, I will say that some of the stories surrounding these issues are so exaggerated as to be legitimate propaganda tools more than reasonable and balanced explorations of how the very preponderance of education in the west is directly due to Christian evangelical influence, not to mention how Christianity is more involved in raising the educational level and living standards of the poor throughout the world than any other group.

None of this is the general point of this article. I am not attempting to debate how right or wrong Christians are in their beliefs or even evolutionists. The point is to help people understand why Christians, despite the propaganda, love science more than any other group.

Christians follow Jesus Christ, the Son of God. God and His Son, together, created the world and the universe through an act of word and will. Not only do we follow Christ, we believe that we are born of the Creator. We do not only have an intimate relationship with the Father through the Son and the Spirit, we are born of Him. We were born again upon repentance and God is our Father.

So when we discover the design of this world, how things work, or when we see the beauty and the amazing things that we discover as we explore (Christians are, by nature, educators and explorers since knowledge and truth are paramount in Christianity), we smile in a sense of awe but also feel a personal connection to creation since our Daddy did it.

I am a creative person. I will not say what I create is good, for several reasons, but I write songs and books. I create series for church discipleship, make them my own. My point is this – my children see me create things all the time.

And it interests them. They feel a connection to what I create. “Daddy, is that your book?” “Daddy, did you write that song?” “Daddy, I like that song.” Whether or not it is quality work, my children feel a sense of pride in something their daddy made.

I have a friend on FB, and his father passed away not long ago. His father was a blues guitarist and made a record back in the 60’s. The record is rare and goes for $2k or more online, if you can find an original. He is willing to pay top dollar for this record. Not because it is good, even though it probably is … but because his father made it.

My grandfather wrote a book called Struggle in the Coal Fields, a book which is used at universities to help study the issues surrounding the coal industry and unions in the early 1900’s. I own a copy for one reason. He was my grandfather. I bought a copy for my father for one reason, his father wrote it.

Now if you go to my children and point to a book I wrote, and you say, “Your father didn’t write that.” Of course they will argue with you. They will say, “No, he wrote it. He told me he did.” They will point to my name on the cover. They will tell you how they see my character in every line.

(As an aside, it was interesting when people read The Living Stone, they continually said, “I could hear you saying all this.”)

One reason Christians have been at the forefront of science through history is for this reason, the discovery of the design of this world and the wonder within is deepened within us, further than someone who doesn’t have a relationship with God as their Father can understand. In effect, we love science more.

I am not trying to establish that Christians are more correct or incorrect in their scientific or religious assertions, only to help those who use name calling as an argumentative device to understand instead of demonize.

When we see a sunset that takes our breath away, it is personal for us. It is our Father who took our breath away. We see His hand in the way things work, in the good science can do. Ironic that a culture that increasingly accepts someone’s self-identity as legal reality, in fact celebrates it, despite all the evidence to the contrary, will so easily dismiss a whole group of people that seek to further love their Father.

Or perhaps not so ironic after all. Our Father told us about that, too.



How Dystopian Fiction Expresses the Longing for the Kingdom

v for vendettaIf you know me, you know I love sci-fi and comic books and fantasy. When I was younger, some science fiction took on the elements of how great the future could be, how advancements in technology and culture would lead us to a utopian existence. Star Trek was the most popular of these ideas, on how “in the future” we would get rid of poverty and money and ownership (all that evil stuff!) and realize what is essentially a Marxist dream. Other sci-fi stories did the same to another degree or from other perspectives.

We can understand how one could extrapolate that conclusion. The West, and America specifically, achieved a certain amount of rapid progress and wealth over a short amount of time, and continued to give hope with the advances in civil rights through the 60’s. In the future, who’s to say what is possible? And with fantasy, there was the same hope of an idyllic existence, especially with the Tolkien-esque idea of the elves, who seem to have it all figured out.

There were dystopian views in sci-fi, and fantasy, as well. Social commentary is the root of sci-fi, especially. But over the years, we have few, if any, true utopian stories in science fiction. Even in modern Star Trek, the Federation of Planets suffer corruption and internal conflict. And with the popularity of worlds like The Hunger Games and others, dystopian stories have become the rage, the norm.

That’s not even discussing the Zombie Apocalypse narratives that were once B-movie fare but are now major games, movies, and shows, making millions.

It is fascinating that our culture is more and more comfortable with a pessimistic view of the future – the whole world is going to hell in a handbasket. While our society and politics become even more and more godless and Marxist, the corruption only increases and takes us further into despair about what is to come. We’re chronically disenfranchised … with everything. Religion, politics, philosophy, economics, whatever. It’s all crap. And our pop culture is reflecting and communicating that sense.

And in reality, everyone – conservative, Christian, liberal, atheist, agnostic, everyone – we all connect with that dystopian view of the future, even as we blame the other side for it.

God forbid we blame ourselves. But that’s another post.

We all understand tyranny, oppression. We believe that authority and power has been abused and will continue to be.

While that is interesting, it is not the most fascinating part to me.

What is fascinating to me is that all of these stories, in all of them, the only response is to fight the tyranny. The heroic response is to do whatever we can to throw off that oppression.

This is on the one hand, a very American idea. Our philosophical foundations were a Declaration of Independence due to an extensive list of grievances, of how the big, powerful Empire, the most powerful one at the time, perhaps in the history of the world, had abused their power. The American colonists revolted, formed their own government, and political history since changed.

Also, this is the longing of the human heart. To make our own choices. To see justice done. To feel a sense of unity around a noble purpose. And that longing comes from a Creator who has purpose, and since he created us in his image, downloaded purpose into us.

I take the fascination one step further, however. The end of these stories is always the death of the Emperor, the destruction of the oppressive system. The towers of tyranny are toppled, and the story ends there.

We almost never see anything better replacing it in these movies. So we can agree and connect with a feeling of oppression, a philosophy of self-determination and freedom, and fighting to the death for that right, and yet when it comes to seeing how the world works after the tyranny has been abolished, we don’t see how it should functionally occur.

Take the recent Star Wars movie, the Force Awakens. We left Return of the Jedi full of hope and the death of the evil Dark Side Emperor. What comes next? The struggles of a new Republic to establish a fair and just system in the place of the Empire? (To be fair, the novels did explore some of that, and those stories were pretty good overall.)

Nope. Not in the next movie. In the next movie, we have yet another all-powerful First Order taking over the galaxy. The First Order uses their weapon to take out this new Republic, you know, the one we never even experienced or saw how it worked. This vague idea of a government, a republic, was destroyed in fire. And we’re back again to tyranny and oppression.

So we have this longing for freedom and justice and a government that ensures what is truly right, leaders that don’t abuse power but use it wisely and for good, and yet we can’t even conceive of what that would really look like, or at least agree in our own agendas as to what that would be.

As usual, this all makes sense when you understand there is a Kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is that perfect government, that utopia that we all long for and yet imperfectly express. It is a real longing but vague in the details for one reason – it must be revealed by the King.

Even now, there is a freedom, a power, a means of resistance to the oppression and tyranny of the world. Make no mistake, the systems of the world will always devolve into tyranny. It is their nature. Now, however, we belong to and exist within an eternal power over and above all of those temporary systems. If we are disciples of Christ, we are children of the King and heirs of that Kingdom, and we possess the power of that Kingdom.

We also wait for a further revealing of that Kingdom, in a new heaven and earth, where what we know and experience through Christ is realized in the earth around them. We who experience it now long for that even more than the world to whom their longing is vague and misunderstood. We have drunk from the fount and know the sea into which we will plunge. It does not now exist as a government of this world.

But it does exist. There is only one way to see it, to enter it, to be a part of it, be born of it and inherit it, however, and that is by falling in love with and following the King.


Unity and Diversity are Kingdom Ideas

unityThe Bible tells the story of how the world was corrupted, through the sin of man, through disobedience, and left on our own, humanity divided itself through violence and then was divided even further by God because their unity was to worship themselves and not the Creator worthy of their worship. And of course that was His love, just like a father who sees his child hurtling toward a cliff, he will do whatever he can, even clotheslining the child in the process, to avoid a sure death.

But God did not stop there. He called a man, Abram, and made him a promise. If he would leave his family, his father’s house, and go where God led him, then God would make a new family out of Abram, and from his descendents would come a SEED, and through that SEED all nations would be blessed. “Through you and your seed, every nation will be blessed.”

Paul in the New Testament clarifies that the SEED wasn’t the Israelite people but their Messiah, Jesus Christ, the one that would bring all the diverse nations into unity once again.

“Through you and your SEED [unity] all nations [diversity] will be blessed.”

The Gospel of Jesus, of King Jesus and His Kingdom, is the way by which the diverse nations of the world will be unified again in truth and reality.

That Jesus is the unifying catalyst is clear. He was born of God, fully God and fully human. He is called the “firstborn from the dead” and the “second Adam,” a unifying reality back to the Creator and away from the corruption of division based on sin and disobedience.

And there are different peoples and cultures and languages all around the world. The growing sense and promise and prophecy of the Old Testament was that all nations would come to the “mountain of God,” that the nations wouldn’t have to come to the Israelites to know God, but that they would each have the opportunity to know Him. The nations retain a sense of identity, of individuality, even within the unity.

A primary example of this is the Day of Pentecost, which is coming soon, a day in which God filled the disciples gathered in Jerusalem with his very Spirit, his essence, his power. The New Testament, by the way, says that there is ONE Spirit. There is not one Holy Spirit in me and another in you, like they are divided. They are not. They are one in every way imaginable and ways we cannot conceive. When the disciples expressed the works of God by the Spirit, they did so in different languages, to each gathered there in their “home” languages as they were gathered from the scattered corners of the Roman Empire.

After that moment, they all stayed. They lived as one family. Oh, there were issues – the Greek Jews felt discriminated against and unity had to be reestablished – but God drew them back into unity. It took persecution to scatter them, not internal division.

That unity was voluntary. This is important. That unity was by their choice. They were called and chosen, but they also chose. No larger worldly government had to force that unity or manufacture it. It was organic and voluntary.

The world, as usual, has attempted to appropriate these ideas without the source of them. The ideas are attractive and inspiring, and should be since we all recognize the corruption in the world systems, no matter what your beliefs, and so the modern progressives or other philosophers have attempted to incorporate or identify with ideas of unity and diversity as humanistic ideas. There are two problems with this.

First, to claim these ideas as something that originated with humanity, or is human in its character, divorces them from the one Person that can realize them. God, as creator and designer, is alone qualified and able to unify and maintain dignified diversity in a voluntary way. Since humanity does not have this ability, then that leads us to number two.

Second, since humanity doesn’t have the ability to maintain diversity voluntarily, then it must manufacture it by force – taking away rights to be different, ironically, and oppressing into a form of unity that is firmly held by fear and violence. You know, like the original corruption. Because without God’s help, that’s all we have left. And there you have the history of socialism, communism, and bad governments throughout the world.

So why do we try to do it without God’s help? Well, because we want that “diversity” to include our sin.

Whether that sin is economic or sexual or religious, we don’t want to give up our pet sins. It was sin and disobedience that divided and caused the corruption. Do we really think we get to keep the sin and be brought back to unity?

Well, for some reason, we do. As the Apostle John says, we reject the light and embrace the darkness “because their deeds were evil.” So we call it “progressive” and “enlightened” while falling into the same trap of the Garden.

Do we not see that it was Abraham’s obedience by faith that was the spark of this redemption? It must only continue with obedience.

Also ironic is that the one chance for unity and diversity, being under the rule and reign of Christ, is increasingly hailed as the most divisive tool of all. Any religion or way of life is acceptable, no matter how abusive and damaging in practicality, as long as we don’t give validity to the true.

As a final thought, I will admit that it is problematic that “Sunday mornings” are one of the most segregated times in our culture. We have denominations (which means “division”) and we segregate the Body of Christ by whatever suits our fancy and then make excuses for it. I agree it is sad and not the design.

But to leave it there would be intellectually dishonest. You see, as I said, this unity must be voluntary. It cannot be forced like in a public school setting or with some sort of government program. That, as we’ve seen in history, only breeds more division and oppression, ultimately. Since it must be voluntary, we don’t see it as we should.

However, we do see it, though. I have been around the world and met other disciples of Christ and I can give witness to the same Spirit, the same God, despite cultural differences and linguistic limitations. There are many churches that boast a very racially and culturally diverse congregation. One of the largest churches here in the Atlanta area boasts people from over 100 different nations.

The amazing thing is not that it doesn’t happen … but that it does. And it is voluntary. And therefore, more powerful and real than anything our modern, intellectual progressives could achieve.

Because it’s of God and His Kingdom.




Half-a-Jesus is Really No Jesus at All

half jesusIn a conversation with friends the other night about some recent events, the comment was made, based on a meme (oh, how we have progressed), that “Jesus ate with sinners and prostitutes but obviously wouldn’t have __________ (insert conservative Christian hypercriticism here).”

Political implications aside, this statement made me pause and think. Not because it was true or even insightful, but because there was something fundamentally so wrong about the logic that it took me a moment to work through it intellectually and spiritually. (Full disclosure: I had a beer or two and I was tired, so my brain wasn’t working as fast as normal.)

As I’ve meditated more on it since then, the fundamental problem with the statement became more and more troublesome and more an insight on the spiritual narcissism and danger of our modern culture.

Essentially, what is expressed in the original statement is that Jesus went to eat with people considered sinners, out of love, and so therefore, then we who claim to be His followers should do the same. On that point, I have no argument. That is biblical.

But here is also what Jesus did. He reached out to those people to change their behavior. Do we think that Jesus went to eat with the Pharisees and others that would eventually seek His death, giving false witness at the Sanhedrin, possibly, without an agenda of addressing their lifestyle and behavior? With His scathing words against the religious leaders of His day recorded for us, of course not.

Do we think he went to eat with sinners (prostitutes, tax collectors, etc) with the expectation that it was okay with them remaining as they were? With the woman caught in adultery, Jesus absolutely fought for her absolution and forgiveness against those who would judge her out of their own hypocrisy. But he also said, “Go and sin no more.”

Sin is destructive. It kills. Out of love, Jesus sought to bring people into a righteousness that came from the deep places of compassion and the heart. Knowing that the acts of sin come from the heart, then it was the heart he sought to change. Change the heart to one of love for God, and righteous acts that please the Father would follow.

So yes, we should encourage those who claim to follow Jesus to reach out to all people regardless of behavior, but if Jesus is the model, then our agenda should be to change hearts and correct behavior for their good.

Love corrects. The scripture says that if I don’t correct my children, I hate them. It says that God loves those he disciplines (chastens, corrects, etc.). We should see the correction of God, as uncomfortable and countercultural as it may be, as love. He loves us and it is for our good.

Culture, modern philosophy, ancient rock and roll stars, these do not define love. God does. If He is love, then He defines it, not us.

But those aren’t the kind of Christians we want. Because that’s not the Jesus we want. The modern, “progressive” view of love is that we let people do whatever they feel makes them happy, despite how it goes against any moral code – unless what makes them happy is something conservative and Christian based on that moral code. To take a stand on that is evil, somehow, and exempt from the modern definition of love.

We don’t want the Jesus of the Bible, of the scripture, of sound doctrine, the Jesus who loves us so much he seeks our good through correction, through transformation, through change of our hearts and behavior.

Jesus is after the sin in our hearts, the sin that we think makes us “happy” as well as the sin we see as evil. Greed, lust, betrayal, pride, unbelief, and yes, sexual sin. All of it.

To want a Jesus who “loves” us but does not seek our correction is to want a Jesus who hates us. We are asking for a God who hates us.

But that God doesn’t exist. And so what we manufacture with our own hands based on our modern, “progressive” philosophy is an idol. And idols will tell us whatever we want to hear.

Jesus loves us to reach out to us where we are. He comes to us in the midst of our mess. “While we were yet sinners” he died for us. But he loves us too much to let us stay there. He seeks our good, our eternal happiness, and works for that. He guides and corrects for that. It’s all love.

It humbles us and angers us and makes us wrestle with big questions and our own pride and selfishness, but in the end we are saved and blessed in our Father. Sounds like love to me.


Palm Sunday and “Gas Station” Christianity

bad coffeeMeditated yesterday on Palm Sunday.
Jesus comes into Jerusalem, and the people celebrated him like a king coming into his kingdom. They threw their robes and palm branches down, crying out “Hosanna!” to him, literally, “God help us! Save us!”
As we know, the Jews were looking for a Messiah that would free them from their Roman oppression and establish a new Jewish kingdom more extensive and powerful than David and Solomon’s combined.
They got that. But just not as they defined it. They got something far better. An eternal kingdom and an eternal king, a freedom not predicated upon local or imperial law that can be changed and abused but upon an eternal reality that can never be shake, a heavenly Kingdom that will shake and dismantle every earthly one.
But since that Jesus didn’t meet the expectations of many of the Jews – the ones in power, the ones whose power was based on Rome’s power – then they had to end him to preserve and accomplish their ends.
God can disappoint you. The true God and Messiah, the true Gospel, the eternal Kingdom, is bigger than modern political positions, agendas, and leaders. And if we want what is less that what God is, God angers and disappoints us.
Was it the same people on Palm Sunday that cried “crucify” the following Friday? Probably not the exact same, but it would be beyond logic to think they were two totally different groups of people, as well. 
The point is this: it is ironic that the greatest being in existence, the one who is the source of love and creation, can be seen as “not enough” to the very same creation. That disappointment, and resulting anger and disbelief even that God exists, is a deception based on lowered expectations.
One of our “coffee” pastors was talking with another coffee distributor the other day, and this distributor was giving our pastor a hard time about how much we pay our farmers for the coffee – like, we pay too much. And our pastor turned to this distributor and said, “We’re not serving gas station coffee, here!” Not realizing that this distributor’s expertise was, in fact, coffee in gas stations.
Our coffee is the top 1% coffee in the world and we were taught to roast by one of the best roasters in the world. It is amazing coffee. Additionally, we pay our farmers 4-5 times fair trade, directly, and that money gives dignified employment and relief and ministry. We also support pastors, missionaries, and other domestic relief by selling the coffee here in the US.
Even though our coffee does amazing things and tastes as good as anything out there, some people prefer bad coffee. You know, they were raised on Folgers pumped full of sugar and milk. Smooth, great tasting coffee makes them wince and spit it out.
Coffee isn’t the point, though. That’s just an example of the principle. There is nothing greater than the Eternal King and Kingdom. But if our expectation of Christianity, of God Himself, is colored by what is by nature less – the things and thinking of this world – then when confronted by the real thing, we wince and spew it forth. We reject it, and ultimately, because the source of our thinking is this world, then it is no surprise when we reject all forms of Christianity and the existence of God Himself.
The only solution to this is relationship with the person of God. That will train our spiritual pallet to what is real and true, lift our vision ever higher with peace and joy. Taste and see. He’s good.
It works the other way, too. When we are used to great coffee, as I am, then it is easy to recognize bad coffee, crappy coffee. Same with the Kingdom. Through a consistent relationship with the Creator, I can more easily recognize that which is not of Him, that which is of the world.
God isn’t offering “gas station” Christianity, or a “gas station” Kingdom. It is the greatest eternal Kingdom that can possibly exist. That’s all he offers. There is no watered down version of that. It cannot exist. He loves us too much to offer less.

Patrick and the Kingdom of God

StPatrick1As usual, we have another “Christian” holiday that is more about cartoon characters and what we can get rather than celebrating, you know, the actual person and what they stood for and believed. That would be too “religious” I guess, so we should just drink a lot of green beer, pinch each other for not wearing green, and butcher Irish accents. Because that’s what St. Patrick was about.

If you haven’t heard the story about St. Patrick, it is an epic one. I would love to see a quality film made based on his life, but that’s probably not going to happen for a while, if ever. The powers of Hollywood are busy with their own agenda; real history and great story are sacrificed for that.

Patrick was a Briton under Rome and somewhat educated in the Christian religion. As a young man, he was abducted by Irish pagan raiders and brought back to Ireland as a slave. While a slave, he learned Irish language and culture from his captors/masters and began to seriously pray to God. God spoke to him and told him to start walking and leave his life of slavery. Through a series of amazing events, he returned to his family and began to pursue a life as a Catholic priest.

While studying and moving forward with his religious career, Patrick had a dream where an Irishman begged him to come and preach the Gospel to them. He struggled with that, as anyone would, but ultimately got the sanction from the powers that be to go be a missionary to Ireland.

This was more difficult than you might imagine. The Catholic church at that time saw “barbarians” like the Irish as practically unreachable. There was no effort to do so. Patrick’s request was unique and met with resistance and skepticism. But Patrick pushed forward. That’s what happens when you get a word from God.

Patrick was criticised and even sanctioned, to a degree, for how different he was with the Irish. He spoke to them in their own language, used their own culture to express the absolute truth of the Gospel in a new way, in contrast to the Roman way of making a people learn Latin and Roman culture and “civilization” before ever thinking a people could hear the Gospel. Patrick took ideas from Paul and the New Testament and miraculously changed an entire nation with the Gospel. He loved those that hated him and transformation happened.

A brutal and violent people were changed. Patrick used their love of poetry and song and education to teach them about the love and truth of Christ. And within a couple generations, Irish missionaries went out into Europe as the Roman Empire fell away and their government/religion along with it, and those Irish missionaries did what Patrick taught them to do – they preached the Gospel out of relationship and love and re-evangelized most of Europe.

As Seamus McManus said in his amazing book, The Story of the Irish Race, “The coming of Patrick to Ireland marks the greatest of Irish epochs. Of all most momentous happenings in Irish history, this seemingly simple one had the most extraordinary, most far-reaching effect. It changed the face of the nation, and utterly changed the nation’s destiny. The coming of Patrick may be said to have had a sublime effect not on Ireland alone, but upon the world. It was a world event.”

Patrick changed a nation, and history itself, with the love of the Gospel.

So of course, we should drink lots of green beer and put leprechauns on our FB pages. Makes sense.

To be fair, I will be drinking some beer today, hopefully a Guinness, because I am of Irish descent and that’s how we roll.

But more importantly, I will be reminded of the world-changing power of the Gospel as we celebrate St. Patrick, because I am a child of God. And that’s how we roll.


The Kingdom House on a Rock

house on rock… and the rain descended, the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house; and it fell. And great was its fall. – Jesus

At the conclusion of Jesus’ famous sermon, what we call the Sermon the Mount, he gives his conclusion in the form of a parable.

There are two men. If you hear these words and do them, then you’re like a man who built his house on a rock, and when the rains and storms came, then the house remained standing. If you hear these words and do not do them, then you’re like a man who built his house on the sand. When the rain and storms came, the house did not remain. It fell.

And great was its fall.

Looking at the contrast here, let’s first look at what they have in common. First, they both built a house. Whether we know it or not, we’re building on something. We can deny it, even, but that doesn’t make it more or less true. We all build our own “house”, our life, on something.

Second, the rains and storms came to both. If you think Christianity or following Jesus or entering the Kingdom means that we are now exempt from hard times or struggles or storms beating on us, then that isn’t the Way taught by Christ, nor is it the faith expressed by the Apostles in the New Testament. We’ve all had times in our lives when we felt like life was “beating on us” to the point we didn’t know if we would survive.

Third, they both heard the word of Christ. Both went to church. Both heard the sermons and teachings and read their Bibles. They both know what Jesus said.

The only difference between them was that one did not live by the word of God and the second did. And that one difference was the difference between life and death.

In his letter to the church, James says it this way. If we hear and do not do, it’s like a man who looked in the mirror and then when he walked away immediately forgot what he saw. It’s like it didn’t happen.

God’s revelation about Himself and the Kingdom is precious. It is the most worthwhile substance in existence. And to have that and not follow it is like crapping on diamonds and gold. Except multiply that by infinity.

Living by the Revelation of God and the Kingdom (all interconnected) is the most secure thing you can imagine. Many of us live by our feelings/emotions or our intellect or our will, all of which are not evil in and of themselves but were not designed to be the foundation for reality and life. Therefore, they each become idols apart from God’s revelation and that leads to a fall. And how great is that fall.

The revelation of God, the love of God, the Kingdom, is unfailing. It is immovable. it is unshakable. Because it comes from the only God in existence, and he is immutable. His love and revelation and Kingdom are of the same nature. And the Kingdom of God is meant to inform the intellect, stabilize the emotion, and purify the will. It is holistic.

God loves all of us, every part of us, so His Kingdom engages the mind – what better or lofty topic than the powers and influences that are unseen but created all that is seen? His Kingdom gives us emotional security – we are loved, accepted, and we have worth. That is not something we emotionally seek or can earn but possess within our very identity. His kingdom gives us the proper motivation and will – to love and serve others solely for their eternal good and needing nothing in return since we will possess and will inherit the Kingdom that is over all.

That is a complete love we can only experience in relationship with Him. The words I just used cannot begin to describe how fulfilling and amazing that love is.

It is not a love or a Kingdom that rescues us from the storms and the winds of life that beat upon us. No. It is a love and a Kingdom that will endure these things and still stand shining in the sun after the storms do their worst.

To live by anything else is tragic. How great is that fall.


The Heart of Idolatry

golden calfThe Israelites had seen God break the most powerful nation on earth in order to free them. Every symbol of the Egyptian religion mocked or destroyed – the Nile to blood, crops mutilated, the death of the firstborn, etc. All because Egypt wouldn’t let Israel free to worship their, the only God.

As an aside, this is one of the misconceptions about the Exodus story. Moses never asked for the slaves to be set free. His request was to be allowed to be free and independent enough, as a people, to worship God. God’s anger was directed against the government that would not allow that freedom of worship. Their freedom from slavery was a result of their desire and priority of worship.

Moving forward, the Israelites go through the Red Sea on dry land and watch the protection of a pillar of fire and see the army – a symbol of strength – of Egypt drowned in the Red Sea.

Once they arrive at Mt. Sinai, they are filled with terror at a cloud of smoke and fire covering the mountain, and they watched Moses march on up to the summit to meet with God.

I’d think that would be enough to believe, right? I mean, seems like a lot of “evidence” to work through a season of hardship and doubt.

Their faith didn’t last forty days.

Moses told them ONE THING from God before he walks up the mountain – idols are bad. They really piss God off. Don’t do it.

Moses is gone a couple weeks, close to a month, maybe, and the Israelites begin to doubt. “Moses is dead. What are we going to do now?”

The FIRST THING they do in their doubt is to make an idol.

They donate their wealth (given to them by the Egyptians to “please, leave!”) to Aaron, the brother of Moses, the dude left in charge. And Aaron makes a golden calf. The Israelites were a pastoral people, meaning they were noted for their flocks and herds.

The Israelites literally say: “This is the god that brought us out of Egypt.”

Isaiah has a hilarious discourse on idolatry. He talks about cutting down a tree. From that tree we burn some in the fire to keep warm. We make bowls and utensils to eat out of. Then we make a little statue, bow down to worship it, and say, “Hey, thanks for creating me.”

Idolatry, at it’s heart, at the source, is worshiping the work of our own hands. And while that exhibits itself in “graven images,” we must realize that we can worship anything apart from God that we have generated or manufactured.

That includes political systems, moral systems, cultural norms, postmodern ideas of identity and reality, economic systems, philosophy, logic, science, religion, relationships, romantic love, etc.

If I formulate an argument, despite how intelligent it seems, that God does not exist, the irony of using an ability gifted to me by God from his own likeness to prove that Giver does not exist is the same nature of self-deception as making a bowl and an idol out of the same tree. To choose what was created, as good as it may be, over the One who created it, is dangerous and destructive.

When we ascribe power to what does not possess it, that is also a form of idolatry. My ability to think and reason, while good, is limited in its ability. To ascribe it more than is prudent will lead to deception. And without a true revelation of the Creator, then something “good” becomes a deathtrap.

Religious traditions can possess the same problem. When used in context of the Creator, the only one with power, and in relation to him, then traditions can be good and reasonable reminders of revelation. But when we begin to believe those traditions have power in and of themselves, or that they are the solution, we can create idols within Christianity, which supposes to worship the one Solution, the Savior, the “only Potentate,” as the KJV says it.

But when the revelation of God through our relationship with Him is given its proper place, the primary position in our lives, the position of LORD and KING, then I can truly appreciate the good things in life without seeking to worship them. That leads to peace and purity and life, and that life more abundantly.

That is my prayer for all of us.


Transformation of the Kingdom

transformationSometimes I use words like “kingdom” and “transformation” and the context is more metaphysical or mystic or even philosophical, but I wanted to share a couple things today to make it a little more practical.

We’ve been building relationship with these new families that have been attending our church. I’ve been part of discipling two brothers. And over the last two months, we’ve really seen a major change in their life.

What does that mean? They’re more at peace, feel more purpose, experience more love, have a deeper relationship with God, see the results of change in their family relationships.

In the midst of this growth, one of the brothers has been embroiled in a fairly crappy situation. I won’t go into details for the sake of privacy, but I’ll summarize to say that it has thrown the family into crisis.

All it has done is reveal the change, the transformation, that has happened at the core of these families. They see the hand of God in the midst of trial and trouble. The young man has shared is faith and started praying with another young man in a similar situation because the second young man said, “What’s so different about you?”

This crisis situation has brought these families closer together. They’ve gained friends and close relationships out of it.

And I hear statements like, “This isn’t how I would have acted or reacted before.”

This is only the most recent example of many, many people I’ve seen transformed over the past twenty years by a relationship with a loving God and His people. Or, to be use the religious term, Christ and Christians.

These transformations produce joy and peace, healthier and more loving relationships, a greater sense of purpose. And others around them, like me, are inspired and encouraged to further their own journey of transformation.

In other words, it isn’t mere religious acknowledgement of fact, nor is it a belief that has no bearing on everyday life. Quite the opposite. The simple and loving message of the Christian gospel and faith permeates every detail of life for the better. It is simple yet infinitely deep and practical. “Life and that life more abundantly.”

You’ve probably heard it said that people can be so heavenly minded that they are no earthly good. The opposite is true. Unless you are heavenly minded, you can be no earthly good. The unseen affects the seen.

The Kingdom of God, the rule and reign of a loving and holy and perfect Heavenly Father, results in good. Since God is the creator and loving, then this good is holistic. It affects the mind, the heart, the soul, the strength. It affects every part of us.

That doesn’t mean that there won’t be troubles or that we are exempt from trials or struggles or hard times. And I don’t have space in this post (perhaps another one) to go into the reality that when you are of the Kingdom of God, you become a target for other kingdoms, both spiritual and material, that cause trouble and bring the battle.

But the change is not only felt but evident in behavior. People change. And it is always a gift to see it.