To be there...

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I’ve learned an awful lot from my daughter. The wonder and adventure of life with Jesus. The trust in him that is so simple and pure. The creativity that comes from looking at something from a relatively blank slate. The importance of really sinking into the perfect hug. She’s taught me a lot. Especially about how to notice people. She waves from our busy corner lot to everyone who drives by. She pets every dog who walks by and greet all of their owners. She tries to engage every possible person like there is seriously nothing more important in all the world to do. She’s taught me a lot about that.

And I have a lot to learn. Because I’m an adult and I have an iPhone. And an inbox. And a busy job. And a busy mind. And perhaps most troubling of all – a busy heart. Most adults too. And it’s robbing us from true community. We’re not going to be available to the people around us with an open hand and a warm smile and a ready conversation unless our hearts are unbusy. We’ll be there, but not really there. And I’m guessing you know exactly what I mean by that.

And the only person I know of who can change that in me is Jesus. He’s the one who unburdens my heart – who can take my heart from a tossing sea and turn it into water that softly ripples. He does that by paying attention to me. By giving me his very real, personal attention through his Word. And when he does he tells me that he is the one who gave himself not only to my heart, but for my heart. The one came not only to forgive my turbulence, but to lessen it too – to secure me with his promises so that I don’t have to busy myself with – well – myself. I can be free – just plain free – to busy myself with the people I bump into along my path.

It’s actually quite the adventure – living that way I mean.

To see each person who I run across as someone to be loved right then and right there. To see that each intersection doesn’t merely have to be transactional.

My family and I went to the zoo the other day and we talked to the guy with the corn snake and really got to know him a bit. We chatted up the hygienist at the dentist’s office, wished the tired looking cashier at Aldi a good day with a hearty thank you and a sincere smile. We petted the dog who walked down the street and talked about goldendoodles with the owner. We even got into a conversation about Jesus and tacked on a very natural invite to our church at the Apple Store in Augusta of all places. All because Jesus had made us emotionally and spiritually available as we were doing our callings in life.

I could write more about how we can love our community. Much more. What I want to say here and now is that my heart sees a culture that’s having a hard time looking up from a screen. And in a culture and community like that perhaps the most important love we can show in our Kroger’s and doctor’s offices and restaurants and wherever else it is that we may be is a face that not only looks up, but also looks at those around us with a heart and a mind that’s spiritually and emotionally available. That is a powerful, powerful gift we all can give to each other – a gift we’ve all personally received in spades from Jesus.

Jesus is the one who frees us to simply and truly be there in a moment for others. Because the honest to goodness truth is that we already are and someone else is too. 

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Dealing with Your Christmas Pain

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As a pastor I’m very used to seeing the amazing amount of pain people in the Scriptures express, but still I was blown away by Isaiah’s audible groan, “Oh, that!” (Isaiah 64:1) when I saw it. You know what that is? That is the sound of a broken heart. It has to be. The way that an “Oh!” rushes out of a person with a violent gust of air. The way it gushes out like a verbal geyser. “Oh!” is a single syllable that communicates emotional pain more effectively than 800 other syllables ever could. And that “that” that comes attached? That’s all you need. You don’t have to know exactly what Isaiah’s pained over. Because that “that” tells you that there is something he’s staring at in his life that is tearing up his soul.

What Isaiah goes on to do in the chapter is to give voice to that inner pain to God. And not just in any old way either. He asks God to grieve a grief as deep as his.  It's amazing to think about that. Isaiah didn’t merely ask God to show up on the scene in Isaiah 64. He asked God to show up feeling a certain way when he did. That’s why he prayed for God to “rend” (Isaiah 64:1) the heavens. He wouldn’t have had to ask quite that way. He could’ve asked God to cut the heavens to get down here or to saw them or something like that, but he didn’t. He asked God to rend the heavens to get down here. You know why? That is the language of profound grief. Because that’s exactly how people in that culture grieved. They would rend their garments. They would do to their clothes exactly what had been done to their hearts. And they would do it on the spot. Immediately. They wouldn’t take the time to grab a tool out of their garage so they could cut their clothes in a more thoughtful, more emotionally controlled way. They expressed their grief in the same way pain had entered their lives – on a tear. And so they immediately tore their clothes with their own bare hands. That’s how the prophet asked God to come.

Isaiah asked God to be so deeply in sync with our pain here that God would be driven to come down and deal with it with his own bare hands.

I’m hesitant to analyze that prayer too much. I really am. Because I don’t want to lose the incredible emotional temperature of it, but I think I have to. I think I have to point out that scholars all agree that this is Isaiah praying a lament. Specifically, it’s a communal lament. In other words, it’s not just Isaiah praying about his pain. It’s us crying about ours. Do you see the importance of that? We’re not merely supposed to listen in on this. We’re not just supposed to sympathize with Isaiah. We’re supposed to share his heart’s cry. God is helping us here to feel and acknowledge our pain. That’s God's purpose in lament.

Lament is your chance to have a truly authentic spirituality – to recognize what’s wrong and what’s broken and what’s painful in your life with such clarity that you speak your pain out loud.
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And I’m convinced we’re no good at it. I think that’s why we hardly use the word lament let alone practice it. It’s a part of our culture of denial. And we do live in that culture. We live in a culture that asks us to be spiritually plastic about pain – to be spiritually inauthentic. To present a self to the world that is always sure and optimistic and bright and beautiful. We live in a world where boys aren’t supposed cry and where big girls are supposed to tuck in their lips. To just button on the emotional armor and try to get on to another better day. I hear it all around me. I notice how people in pain think that they shouldn’t come to church like that. They say, “I’ll be embarrassed of my tears.” As if God and his church actually believe that tears are weak. (Aside: God cried when he was here. He even fell apart and wept.) I even hear it even at funerals. People say, “I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t be like this.” Like deep grief and falling apart at those times isn’t a totally appropriate emotional response. I’ve even noticed that when we do admit suffering, our tendency is to immediately divert ourselves from it – from ever truly staring too directly at it. We say, “I’m in pain, but it’s not as bad as so and so over there has it.”

But God doesn’t want emotionally inauthentic people. He doesn’t. He doesn’t want us walking around as spiritual zombies who are numb to their own lives. He can't have that. God can't have people walking around with calcified hearts hard to the brokenness of ourselves and our world. He can’t have us bottling everything up and just grinding on with their lives. He can’t have us being emotional stuffers. That’s why he calls us to honestly feel our pain. To lament it. To acknowledge it. To see and feel and react to ourselves and our world for what we could be, but aren’t. And that kind of lamentation? It always gives birth to hope.

When we truly lament what's missing, we can begin to hope not only for what should be, but we can also hope for what God will do yet.  

It sure did for Isaiah. “Yet you, LORD, are our Father.” (Isaiah 64:8) That's what Isaiah saw. And he had every reason to hope. Because Jesus will come yet. How do I know that? Because Jesus already rent the heavens once before. That’s the truth of Christmas. God grieved our pain so deeply once before that he did the inconceivable. And I hope you appreciate that wordplay. Because that’s just what he did in that virgin. The Lord grieved his broken creation so much that he became a part of it to love us with his own, bare hands. That's proof that he cares enough to come again.

And that is what Christmas is about. Something that real. Something that authentic. It’s not chestnuts roasting over an open fire. It’s not presents and eggnog and ideal people laughing and connecting over ugly sweaters. It’s saying, “Oh, that!” deep in your soul about yourself and your world to your God. To everything that pains you. Your ugly sin. Your busted dreams. Your hurting relationships that pain you especially this time of year. Christmas is the perfect time for that. It's the perfect time to let all that pain just well up in your soul to God. Not for catharsis, but for hope. Hope not just in what could be, but what will be yet. That’s what I pray you do this Christmas: hope in the God who in Christ not only hurts with you, but already once hurt for you. When you do, you'll deepen in the belief that he cares as much about your pain as you do - that he's going to rend the heavens just as soon as he can to fix what he’s already forgiven in your life.

The surprise will be finding out what he brings for you when does.  

When he comes the second time he’ll come bent on un-breaking your heart all the way with his own bare hands.

And I’m convinced that when he’s done that, you like the prophet once did will give your own version of Isaiah's ancient verbal geyser. As you stare at the world you've always longed for that's now been delivered your heart will overflow so that you say, “Oh, that!” to your God. But I think you'll agree that you'll do that - can we say in honor of this time of year? - for only the most merry of reasons.  

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Why You Should be Happy Jesus Denied His Mother

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I’ve always thought that some of the most profound and saving thoughts are found in looking at what God does not will. I know that sounds strange because of how often we talk and focus on what he does will. He wills to die for sinners. He wills to heal the sick, etc. But I still stand by it. Some of God’s most saving thoughts are found in what he does not will and what he does not do. Like how, for example, he does not will that anyone should perish (2 Peter 3:9). I could gush on that for a while, but for today I’ll hold off.

What I will do is gush about how God willed not to answer the prayer of his mother (Matthew 12:46-50). He straight up denied her. And get this: it was an easy prayer request for him to answer! No miracle required. She messaged him essentially saying, “Come outside and have a conversation with me and your brothers.” That was it. And he said, “No.” Sort of. It was actually starker than that. He didn't bother to answer her at all. He stonewalled the request of his biological mother. And that is one saving thought.

I know. You think I’m nuts. You’re thinking, “How can you be happy about that? Mary gave up everything for him. Her reputation for starters. Plus, she changed his diapers and stayed up late with him and saved him from gashing his chin open on the hearth like a zillion times. How can it possibly be a saving thought for us that Jesus denied the request of his birth mom? Why should I care that Jesus does not first listen and honor and care for his biological family?”

That last question is pretty important. We need to understand that Jesus didn’t deny the request because he was failing to care or honor or respect or love his mother. He clearly did. Isn’t one of his most moving statements from his cross the one where we heard him think so tenderly of Mary even as he was dying? This isn’t carelessness or a lack of love for Mary in Jesus. It’s something else.

Do you see it? 

Jesus is trying to show us that there is a love in his heart that trumps biology.

That outweighs a shared last name. That is outsized and better and higher and fiercer and more on his heart than genetics or facial structure or shared childhood experiences. Something more in him than the love of his mother. And that really is something. Because even we care about our mothers deeply. Even we listen to them in very committed ways. But Jesus? He did that in a way only God could. We could even say he loved his mother divinely, but he loves the people of faith even more.

He considers us family in a truer and higher and better way than even Mary. He thinks we are connected to him in a more profound and ultimate sense than her. But why are we surprised? The cross was how fierce he was for us. The grave the extent of commitment to us.

Such is his love and his loyalty and his faithfulness to us as family that he wills to commit to us and hear us and run to us ten thousands times before he'd do that even for his own biological mother.

And that is one saving thought. I'd suggest letting it come – and I write this very deliberately – home to you right now. How quickly he plans to run to you when you call. How much you’re on his heart when you talk to him. How willing he is to save you and care for you and protect you. Even more so than he was for Mary. Let that come home and your entire world will be rocked. Totally ROCKED in the sense that everything will not only feel, but also be that solid for you.

See what I mean? Some of the best truth you’ll ever discover about Jesus is found in what he wills not to do. Because it’s right there where you also discover what he does will.

Jesus wills to listen and to act and to save you in a way that surpasses even the totally divine love of his own mother.  

Learn more about that here. Or, better yet, join us on Sunday right here at 10:00am for a look at that truth in much greater depth.

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Finally!! A Way to Kick Your Anxiety in the Teeth

Don’t hate me too much, but I feel like I need to be Captain Obvious for a second. We've got waaaaaaaaay too much anxiety these days (Overboard with the a's there? I thought so too.).

I’m even a little reticent to punch you in the gut with all the stats about it because if you’re not anxious already it might make you anxious. Stats say that 38% of girls between the ages of 13-17 have a diagnosable anxiety disorder of some type. Stats also tell us that we’re searching the term “anxiety” on Google nearly twice as much as we did five years ago. Stats even tell us that college kids and young adults are seeing therapists and receiving meds at unprecedented rates. And aside from stats just look at the culture. We gave the Tony for Best Musical to Dear Evan Hansen, a show with a huge anxiety theme. We binge listen to podcasts with names like Generation Anxiety. We have experts saying that we’re no longer the Prozac nation. That these days we’re the Xanax nation. I even read an article that we can now make a case for being one the most anxious generations to ever live on this planet.

Oof.

Have you ever thought about what anxiety is?

Anxiety is emotional uncertainty. It's the inner sense that your life may well fall apart. It's the condition of believing that everything probably won’t be ok. 

And everybody’s against it. Everybody. That’s why we treat it. Nobody wants to stay up nights with visions of what could go wrong. Nobody wants to sit on pins and needles waiting for a text or a test result to come back. Nobody wants to have this awful sense of foreboding that things in life aren’t going to be ok. Nobody is good with anxiety. 

Least of all God. Did you know that? God tells us in the Scriptures – no commands us – not to be anxious about anything. (Philippians 4:6) God even goes so far as to give us very deliberate and purposeful strategies to rid ourselves of it like casting it away to him through prayer. (1 Peter 5:7)

Have you ever thought about why God is so against it though? I’ll give you a hint. It’s not simply because God wants you to be more emotionally comfortable in life. Like we should all imagine God as a sort of divine anesthetist who’s always trying to dial up the serenity for us. It’s because of the way anxiety functions in the human heart. It’s different than sadness, which doesn’t get a prohibition in the Scriptures that I’m aware of. Sadness is us merely reacting to difficulty in life. Anxiety though?

Anxiety is spiritually caustic to us because it functions as a prophetic preacher inside.

If you’ll let me push on that preaching metaphor just for a second, think of how true that really is. We all understand that anxiety is not us simply reacting to our present circumstances. It’s an emotion forecasting for us what’s to come. It an inner prophetic preacher, an awful visionary, a seer of sorts that’s saying, “Things aren’t going to turn out well for you.” Or, “God doesn’t care. You’re not going to end up respected or loved or ok. God is going to give you what you deserve.” Understood that way it’s not surprising that God takes issue with anxiety. It goes directly against everything he promises to do for us. 

How fiercely does he take issue with it? He goes to war against it. And how? I should ask you something first. Have you ever thought about what the polar opposite of anxiety is? What the opposite of an, “about to fall apart,” and, “won’t turn out well,” sense is? It’s peace.

Peace is the ying to anxiety’s yang. Peace is the push to anxiety’s pull. (Not convinced of the antithesis I'm proposing here? Check out Philippians 4:6-7.)

Peace is the inner sense that everything will be ok. Peace is the sense that everything will hold together and will turn out well and whole because you have God at your back.

See it? That’s how God goes to war on our anxiety. He pushes peace. Just think of how he does that especially in the great Christological events in the Scriptures. Just think. What did the angels sing when Christ was born? Yeah. Peace on earth. (Luke 2:14) And what did Christ himself say when he showed up to us after his resurrection? My point exactly. Jesus made peace personal. He said, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:21) And what did Paul write in what many consider the most important book of the Bible in one of its greatest transitions. Precisely. “We have peace.” He even put peace on steroids there saying, “We have peace with God.” (Romans 5:1)

You know what’s interesting, but not surprising when you analyze God's combat methodology that I just outlined? It’s interesting, but not surprising that God does not make it his practice to say to us in our anxiety, “Buck up and trust me more.” Anybody who struggles with anxiety knows that doesn’t work. We’re just not naturally inclined to internalize peace well by ourselves. How’s that for honest?!? You know what does work though? Someone preaching peace to you. Like the angels once did. Like the Christ once did. Like Paul once did.

Like I am now. You ready? I'm going to do it with one verse. "God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8)

Work that through the gears just for a second. If God gave Christ to die for you while you were still a sinner and you deserved to have your life fall apart. If God had Christ make the ultimate sacrifice for you then when nothing should’ve turned ok for you. If God did that then, what is true now that in Christ you are forgiven before God? That is the question. Seriously, work that question out for yourself.

If God had Christ die for you when you should’ve meant less than nothing to him, what does it mean for you now that you mean everything to him?

I take that back. Don’t work it out for yourself. I’m here to tell you. It means peace. It means peace and wellness and wholeness for you in the complete biblical sense. Shalom as the Hebrews would say. Rest in it, reader. It’s all yours. Through Jesus everything really will be way more than ok. Forever. That’s the gospel truth.

Take that right in the teeth, anxiety. 

Peace out.

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Chester Bennington and Your Great Heavy

I’m really sad about Chester Bennington. Really sad.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve actually been listening to a lot of Linkin Park. That was true for me even before the latest news hit about his death. If that surprises you, don’t let it. Chester’s legacy here is deeply, deeply spiritual. Make no mistake about it. It’s spiritual. I would even argue that that’s why he connected so profoundly with so many people because he was giving true artistic voice to what so many of us feel.

 A screenshot of the texting thread with my twin

A screenshot of the texting thread with my twin

How true is that? Well – just listen to what Linkin Park actually sings. They’re amazingly blunt and raw about their inner condition. Check out the song Heavy from their 2017 album and you’ll see what I mean. Other albums are similarly revealing. I remember being on a run in early July when my twin reintroduced me to another one of their songs called What I’ve Done. So tragic. So sad. Listen to it if you haven’t. There’s this voice in there crying out with immense pain – this voice that gives a graphic depiction of the human condition, one of failure and lie. And those are just two of his songs. Check out the rest of his canon of work too. It’s amazingly spiritual.

But that shouldn’t surprise us.

We are spiritual beings. And our greatest pain is the one Chester so often names: seeing our failures.

And what I think may be the most painful part of that condition is that we just can’t seem to escape it. It’d be one thing if there was a way to redeem ourselves. To finally get our entire act together. To finally arrive at a spiritual state that we know is satisfactory to ourselves and to others and to God, but then there it always is again: failure.

You know what really made me think about the inner pain that kind of realization produces? Romans 3:23. It’s hard to see it in English, but if you read the verse in Greek it’s a stunner. All have sinned (past tense) and are failing (present tense) God’s glory. We’re never done with that. That's what's so painful to see. Not just that we have failed, but that we are. Not just that we have messed up, but that we are. We all know it. Or, at the very least, Chester did.

And that’s our gravest human threat. I don’t care if you’re a tough army guy or a little old lady who knits or a teenager who plays baseball or a young woman in her twenties. That’s our gravest human threat. Because we know it means we shouldn’t be loved or approved of. Not by other people and certainly not by God. That’s the conclusion Linkin Park came to. There’s only deserving self-erasure for it all.

“In this farewell there no blood, there’s no alibi ‘cause I’ve drawn regret from the truth of a thousand lies so let mercy come and wash away what I’ve done. I’ll face myself to cross out what I’ve become. Erase myself and let go of what I’ve done.”

So I write. I write today for the inner you that might understand that at an all too visceral level. I write today so that that inner you might not come to the same conclusion the band did. So you know.

You need to know that who you are and what you’ve done has, in fact, already been faced. That a self-erasure has, in fact, already happened on your account. That that reality is, in fact, the Christian gospel. A man named Jesus on a Roman cross was erased for the truth of a thousand lies. A Christ was sent just so that mercy could come. That’s why I write so you know that mercy has now come to us all, “freely by his grace.” Romans 3:24

Or perhaps I could reframe the Christian gospel using Chester’s poignant vocabulary and phrasing like this: Jesus faced what you’ve done and crossed (See that little word cross in there?) out what you’ve become.

I just have to tell you that because here's the truth: I know how real and how wide-spread Chester’s feelings are – if we’ll take the time to look inside. And I feel I do know that. And it’s not just because Linkin Park was such a commercial success and became such an important cultural voice for so long either. It’s because I’ve had the chance now for almost a decade to love and talk to people in the most spiritual vocation on earth. It’s because I’m a pastor. (On a side note: pastors aren’t at all like the caricature my generation grew up seeing on The Simpsons. The pastors I know are the most insightful spiritual people on earth. Talk to one about what matters to you and you'll see what I mean. I even suggest you try this one who's writing if you're in the area.) 

And so this is what I know: Some of you have people in your lives who are always tearing you down and pointing out very real failures. Some of you have secrets that are tearing at the fabric your heart. Some of you have a past that you’re worried God can never, ever forgive. Some of you just plain wish you were a better person – someone who’s made better decisions or was a better mother or friend or husband or fill-in-your-own-blank, but all of you see in yourselves that you’re not quite right and so you’re threatened.

And that’s why I write. I want you to know that the historical reality of Christ’s death means that despite everything you know about your condition you still get to have all the love and approval you need. You really do. By his death, Jesus ruled out every rule or standard or secret or sin or person that threatens to show how you're failing in who you need to be. They don't get to do that anymore. And do you know who I think needs to read that and take that to heart the most? You do. If I know people (I’m arguing I do to some degree.), your self-condemnations are the most vicious assaults you experience. Jesus means you don’t get to do that anymore. Here's why:

Only God gets to make an evaluation of you that is meant to stick and he has in Jesus. The verdict? You are forgiven.

Let that sink in and I think you’ll feel light. For the record, I chose that word on purpose. I chose it for those who like me often feel Chester’s inner pain – what he has called, “heavy.” There truly is erasure, cleansing, and absolution for everything that you are. Don’t take my word for it though. Take Jesus’ word for it. After all, as gorgeous as some of Chester’s sung metaphors were, that particular metaphor of spiritual heaviness came from a greater genius, Jesus. Jesus, the one who used that exact metaphor to tell those of us who so often feel heavy that he is the one place where we can be – not just feel! – light (Matthew 11:30).

Here's a much more involved take on the same topic.

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Happiness and You

I popped open one of my apps last night and noticed that once again (and this is a good thing!) there was a blog getting some traction about the relationship between the Christian and happiness. It wasn’t surprising to me. Not for a minute. I had been thinking about it too. I don’t know if it’s because I generally have too much time to think this time of year (I love to sit out during the week of the 4th of July and I did again this year!) or because there is that little line in the Declaration of Independence that while we remember little else of it we do seem to perpetually share in our collective memory the words life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. So I don’t know if it’s too much time on my hands or our Declaration, but I too have been thinking about happiness recently. Apparently others have been too.

Because who doesn’t want more of it? And what Christian these days doesn’t have a firm theology of it? You know what I mean? I think just about everybody has some kind of personal belief system about it. We may not have crystallized it, but on some level we have all worked out for ourselves whether or not we think God’s committed to our personal happiness. And a lot of times we have come to believe that in some way, shape, or form God has a personal declaration of his own that he is pursuing on our behalf: God is pursuing happiness for me! And so we sort of imagine our God showed up on our scene through birth and death and resurrection to sweep us away to a kind of eternal divine theme park. Unicorns! Cotton candy! Gum drops! Rainbows! You get the picture.

And please understand something. I do think God cares deeply about our emotional state. Deeply! I would never say differently. I never have. It’s just that I’ve always felt that while happiness is nice it’s sort of cotton candy nice. And that while happiness is enjoyable it’s sort of the emotional equivalent to a sugar rush. I think Christians have always sensed that on some level. Perhaps that’s because the Scriptures never seem to push hard on our happiness. You have to stretch a lot of verses to get there. Or perhaps it’s because we seem to understand that if in the great Christological moments of the Bible (Think Jesus’ birth and resurrection) if the gospel writers told us about the impact of Jesus by saying, “Happiness on earth,” or, “Happiness be with you,” we might even have been just a little disappointed. As if the best Jesus could offer us as we work our way through this world so busted up by sin was a way to “happy” our way through it.

I’m going to suggest that God is up to something else - that God built us for something more than something akin to an emotional sugar rush or an emotional fix during the pain. I'm not, however, going to make that suggestion now. I need a lot more time to adequately develop the idea. I have that time on Sunday at 10:00am at Peace. We'd love for you come join us! You can right here. For more important sermons in our Romans sermon series, click here.

- Pastor Jonathan

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Jesus, The Exorcist

Demons can't stand it when people live together in community, specifically Word of God community.  So, most demonic activity according to the experts happens in North and South Dakota.  When I first heard this, it shocked me, but it makes a ton of sense because that is where we find demons in the Scriptures most often.  They are always out there in desolate places and driving the demoniacs there with them.

This coming Sunday, we will take a look at Luke 8:26-39.  We will see Jesus save the unsaveable.  We will hear Jesus tell this same man to go home to community and there to retell the great acts of God.  We intend to do that same thing this Sunday.  Please join us in the only place where demons shriek in terror - right in the holy presence of Jesus, his Word, and the community that he founded.

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Your Family's Black Friday Survival Guide

Sorry! This is not your guide to beating the crowds or getting the best deals later this week. If you would though, give me just a second more before you click away or mentally place this post into the click bait bin. Our greatest risk on Black Friday is not having some guy grab that 4k TV right in front of us. It’s trying to fill our souls the wrong way. It’s looking for a way to deal with guilt or emptiness or pain without Jesus. In other words, if our souls are going to survive Black Friday that will only happen through true and lasting contentment.

So let’s be clear about contentment. It cannot be taught – at least not in the way we normally think of. If it were that simple and easy, we’d all do that all the time. We'd teach ourselves the logic of it and it would stick. “Don’t you see,” we’d tell ourselves and our kids, “contentment makes the same sort of sense as 1 + 1 = 2.” And then we’d all nod our heads in agreement won over by our own irrefutable logic. Pretty sure that’s not effective. Why? Because I know me. And I know my wife and my daughter. And if the Scriptures are true, I know you and your family too.

If I’m going to tamp down the whirring, yearning, and chasing of my own discontentment this Christmas, if I’m going to help my family do the same, there is only one force with both the consistency and the power to deliver. His name? The Holy Spirit. He alone will allow me to walk past the Apple store without a second thought (Man alive that new iPad Pro looks sweet!). He alone will allow my three-year-old daughter to walk past racks of Christmas toys without throwing a tantrum or convince her she’s alright without that additional Christmas cookie.

Keeping that in mind, here are a few quick thoughts on unleashing the Spirit on you and your family:

  • Unleash the Spirit on yourself. In the Word, you’ll find this incredible, mind-blowing God who has met everyone one of your most basic and most profound needs in totally overwhelming ways. Did I gush enough to make my point? The reality is that if we parents are not convinced we have everything we could possibly want or need in Christ, how could we possibly hope to share that same news with our kids? My daughter can smell a rat a mile away! BTW, this bullet point is pushing the same Spirit provided secret Paul said he “learned” in Philippians 4:12 for contentment.
  • Unleash the Spirit on your child(ren). See above. Just think, Christmas is coming soon! What better picture is there than that mangy manger for teaching the love and promises of God?!
  • Live gratitude. Even shout it! When I see another stunning Carolina crescent moon, my whole house knows about it and who put it there. Sometimes at dinner, I’ll very intentionally ask my wife and daughter, “What are you thankful for today?” I do that at my daughter’s bedtime too. At the tender age of three, she sometimes has a hard time getting past the zoo, but – hey – I don’t mind asking her, “Are you thankful for Jesus too? Why?”
  • Ignore, squash, or redirect discontentment. Pray for wisdom on which of those triggers to pull in which circumstances and then pull one. Don’t be afraid to let the Spirit convict through you. Whatever you do, don’t EVER indulge discontentment. The human heart is a bottomless pit. One more thing will not satisfy. Only Jesus does.

Finally, build these rhythms into your family life intentionally, practically, and concretely all the time. The human heart doesn’t magically heal from discontentment after Black Friday or after December 25th rolls by. I promise you that. Before we know it, 2016 will drop in on us and once again in the New Year we will find our hearts in need of Holy Spirit provided contentment. I am also delighted, however, to tell you that once again in the New Year you’ll reliably find the Spirit for yourself and your children in the words and promises of God.

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Grace. Why You Should Care About it Especially This Week.

Grace. Everybody likes it. It might be the one Christian word that our culture still appreciates. I came to understand that in a brand new way when I was starting this church. I would tell people, “I’m here to start a church that’s all about grace.” And inevitably - church goer or not - they’d say something like, “Boy, our community needs more churches like that.” At some level, people still grasp a need for grace and want to understand what it means for them better.

But not everyone takes the time to reflect on its history - why we retain any clear concept of grace today. 500 years ago, grace was on conceptual life support. Depending on how you view the historical evidence you may even say it was dead. Gone. Buried. History had basically done to grace what Joseph of Arimathea had done to Jesus’ body after his crucifixion (Matthew 27:57-60). I mean it was bad. The supposed mouthpiece of God, the local church of the time, marketed and sold spiritual get-out-jail-free cards like your local Chevy dealer does Chevrolets. It was bad.

Until God made grace rise from the spiritual dead. It’s really amazing to think about. God gave grace to grace. Just when Satan thought he’d successfully stamped that viral and pesky little truth out. Just when he thought grace was dead and gone and forever put out to pasture. Just when his work in defeating knowledge of Jesus’ work, the fountain of grace, was done. Grace rose from the dead when it captured a little monk’s heart. His name? Martin Luther. 

Because honestly? Satan couldn’t erase Jesus’ gift to us. It was already historical fact. Grace had already suffered. Grace had already been crucified. Grace had already died. Grace had already risen from the dead. Grace was here. Satan couldn’t change that. What he could do was make us ignorant of it. He could stop us from understanding or appreciating it. He could ruin us to any knowledge of its profundity - its bottomless depths that transport us to the highest heights of perfect forgiveness and endless mercy. 

Satan’s nasty little plan worked like a charm until that viral and pesky little truth called grace got a hold of Luther. Not everybody was real happy about it at the time. The religious power brokers tried to tamp down the scrappy little group of people who fell in love with grace. In an effort to get them to give up on the idea, they even used perjorative terms to describe them. They said things like, “Oh, those people who think they get into heaven for free because of Jesus. Those Lutherans!” So that group of people kept the term. They wouldn’t. They couldn’t stop self-identifying as the people who clung to grace. 

I don’t tell you this because I think you’re particularly interested in that sort of nuanced history. I tell you this because I’ll bet you’re curious about grace. At some level, everybody in our culture is. And if that’s true for you, it’s going to be well worth your while to check out a church that teaches grace so powerfully and with a commitment so fierce that 500 years later we still retain a perjorative term to tell the world how much we love grace.

Start this week. The historians will tell you that grace started its comeback 500 years ago on October 31st. It’s called the Reformation. Think of it. Your God was so committed to give you grace that he bought it and he won it for you at the infinitely high price of his Son. And then? Through the Reformation, he made sure that today you’d retain some kind of clarity on the subject. That’s worth caring about this week and showing up here to learn more about it.

“For it is by grace you have been saved.” (Ephesians 2:8) Happy Reformation, world!

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Shepherding Under the Good Shepherd, Jesus

Dear Peace Family,

Seven years ago today a young man stood in front of a church and made promises. That man remembers it like it was yesterday. He promised to visit the sick. He promised to comfort the dying. He promised to counsel the spiritually hurting. He promised to preach and teach the Word of God and only the Word of God. He promised to teach the Word the way it really is: Jesus, Jesus, and only Jesus. In short, he promised to be a pastor.

You’ve probably guessed it, but that man is me. I want you to know that I couldn’t be more thankful that I get to keep those promises still today to you. I will be there for you when you’re sick. I will comfort you when you’re dying. I will counsel you when you’re spiritually hurting. I will preach and teach the Word of God to you. And I promise to center it all on Jesus, Jesus, and only Jesus. In short, I will be your pastor. I'll work at that high calling always drawing on the strength of our true Shepherd, Jesus.

I remember how I was when I stood making those same promises seven years ago. I remember my conviction. I remember my joy. I remember how tears were glistening in my eyes. The truth is that right now as I write this they are all over again. Because my convictions have in no way diminished. And because my joy in the gospel is even more complete. Today please know how thankful I am to be a pastor and know how thankful I am in particular to be your pastor.

– Pastor Jonathan Bourman

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Heap Those Hot Coals?!

 I wrote the following blog as a follow-up to last week's great discussion during our Peace Academy session.

I wrote the following blog as a follow-up to last week's great discussion during our Peace Academy session.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:17-21)

One of these things is not like the others. Yeah, I totally just gave myself away. I grew up watching Sesame Street. (That’s about all I was allowed to watch. My mom would just tell me to go read books.) At any rate, it’s worth singing that song when you approach these verses. They all seem to fit together. Until you get to that part where it talks about “heaping burning coals on his head.” What are we supposed to make of that? Don’t hurt someone so that you can end up hurting them? Is that the message? Weird, huh?

Just work through the section for a second. Don’t repay evil. Do right. Don’t take revenge. Then God goes on to say, “Don’t not do something to your enemy. (Terrible grammar in there with the double negative, but hopefully you’ll give me a little artistic license to make the point.). Do do something for him/her. Feed him if he’s hungry. Give him something to drink if he’s thirsty.” Then after God makes those points he comes up with this apparent zinger. “If you do this, then you will be heaping burning coals on his head.”

Seriously. What does that mean? Is God saying that by helping your enemy, you’ll get a certain kind of revenge? That’s what some Bible commentators suggest. They have glommed on to a discovery that dates back about 50 years made at the University of Leipzig.[1] Apparently, in ancient Egyptian culture a thief would return to the person from whom he had stolen with a tray of burning coals on his head and “his crimson face below the hot coals was demonstrating his shame over what he had done.”[2] Does that mean then that our ultimate goal in doing good to our enemies is to get our pound of flesh through shaming?

I doubt it for a couple of reasons, it seems odd to me that Solomon, who Paul is here quoting, would mention an ancient Egyptian cultural practice to ancient Israelites. It seems even odder to me that Paul would talk to Roman people about it. Furthermore, why would Paul talk about going to the nth degree for your enemy out of love only to undercut the whole idea by basically saying, “If you do this, then you will be able to shame him really, really good.” It doesn’t add up.

Here’s what does. If you can bring your enemy food… if you can bring him water and if you can do God’s spiritual work at the same time, then - well - you’ve got a winning Christian combo. And that’s what’s going on here. Let me explain. While we can’t be sure there was any shaming practice in ancient Rome associated with the heaping of coals, we can be sure that there were ancient cooking practices. Neighbors sometimes needed fire from neighbors. We can be sure of that. Occasionally, the coals might get heaped up a little high during the exchange and anything underneath - as you can understand - might get a little hot.

Do you see it yet? You can’t get food from someone.... you can’t get water from someone - especially if that someone is someone you don’t particularly like or someone you have it out for - and not have a spiritual reaction. You just can’t. You’re going to think to yourself, “Do I have this guy right? Is it me who is a little off kilter here? Am I out and out wrong?” There’s going to be spiritual heat in an interaction like that. That’s why Augustine, one of the church fathers, who thought about this verse said that the “coals of fire serve to burn,” and he was thinking about the soul. And, again, another church father named Martin Luther said an experience with a kind, compassionate “enemy” can lead a person to ask themselves, “Why did you hurt this pious man? Why did you persecute an innocent person?”

Being the catalyst in a spiritual confrontation like the one described is a rewarding, and motivating thing for any Christian. At least, it is for me. It strikes me that that is the work that Jesus did in me. I was his enemy. I had it out for him. I really do believe that (I’ve managed to show that quite well in my life by now too.). But Jesus gave me food. And Jesus gave me drink. He even gave me himself. That spiritual confrontation has drawn my soul to him like gravity draws my feet to earth. I’m stuck on him now. The gospel has a hold on me. That’s why Jesus did what he did. He wasn’t crowning me with a tray full of burning coals to shame me. He was crowning me with life. He wasn’t trying to get me to grovel before him in guilt. He was drawing me to himself with mind blowing truth. If I can embody that kind of love to someone else… if I can be a catalyst for inner spiritual confrontation that leads to life-giving faith, then - wow! - I’m in.

Besides, I don’t want my pound of flesh (I wouldn’t have any left if that’s what the God of this world was about.). What I really want is for God to use me to start someone else down the same path he’s already taken me.

[1] http://wlsessays.net/files/ZellFiery.pdf

[2] Ibid

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To Melanie with Love,

 Melanie and daughter, Elliana

Melanie and daughter, Elliana

Note: this a piece originally written for a national periodical called Forward in Christ.

Dear Melanie,

I knew what the news would do to you.

How could I not? It had been quite the frenzy recently. With only a month to prepare, your mom had come. There was excited shopping to do and a baby shower from our church family to attend. Just a joyous time. Everything was ready for the big day. Mia was coming home! Everything in the house was ready for the daughter you would soon adopt. The baby blanket was draped expectantly over the rocking chair. Mia’s name was pinned to the wall in letters lovingly chosen from the local Hobby Lobby along with the butterflies that symbolized your heart taking flight in the promise of a coming child.   

So much history came to bear during that time. I was there for all of it. Marriage seven years earlier along with the hope of an immediate pregnancy. Do you remember talking about five future kids? I know you pictured it and prayed for it with so much of your being. I know it’s all you really wanted to do outside of being a wife.  

I know it was hard for you to wait to see doctors when pregnancy didn't come. Three years you patiently waited to get through the Seminary life where there would be a steady paycheck, health insurance, and a doctor to see. And even then there were no answers for you. None. The tests explained nothing. Your exploratory surgery was inconclusive. Finally, you sought out the best of the best in fertility medicine.

I know you remember sitting in that quiet, meditative office with the green walls and the upbeat staff. I know you remember the plan the smartest doctor you ever met laid out to treat the infertility. I know you had hope. Lots of it. I know you remember how each time the doctor met with you he'd say, “Now, let’s get you pregnant.” And you’d hope.

That’s how it was. Each month there was so much hope. Let’s try this. Let’s try that. Maybe this is it. Maybe that’s it. And it never, ever was. Each month there was more pain, more tears. Each month another disappointment. I was there for all of it.

I saw the very mixed feelings you experienced at a Facebook birth announcement or the news of an unwanted pregnancy. I saw how some of it was envy you fought and some of it was sharp pangs and longing that were put into difficult, sharp relief like a desperately dehydrated desert traveler who looks on as another person is showered with water - water that is always just out of reach. Then there were the well intentioned comments that felt like daggers such as, “When you decide to start a family…,” or, “Some day when you have kids…”

I also knew what the tears, the pain, and the deep disappointment did to you in those years. It withered hope. It grew Hope. Do you remember that? Do you remember how right there in the ashes of burnt dreams grew beautiful, gleaming Hope? So counterintuitive to what you’d been expecting. So freeing. So beautiful. Those moments of pain became defining moments for your Hope in Jesus. You rejected a worldview that said, “Life is unfair.  This random infertility is only an unfortunate circumstance to fix.” You embraced a divine view that said, “This is an intentional, designed pain in my life that is here to do one thing: send me into the arms of Jesus.” And I got a front row seat to watching you step closer and closer to Jesus painful month after painful month. I saw your conviction grow and heard you say, “What I really need is Jesus.  He is all I need.” Right there in the ashes of burnt dreams grew the greatest gift of all - a planting of Hope in Jesus.  

That’s why I knew what the news would do to you. You were ready. The phone call came. “She decided to keep the baby.” You were numb at first. Really sad later, but never defeated. Never devastated and never in despair. You didn’t have hope (for a baby). You did, however, have Hope. You trusted that despite all appearances there was a master plan in play that kept your best interests in mind.  Yes, I think we both know that on the day this hope died, Hope lived.

As time passed for the first time in your life, you could talk about being a childless woman and it was ok. It really was. You were even trying to figure out when and how you could share this conviction with your mom who had been on this journey with you. Remember the conversations about not only accepting a childless life from God’s hand, but actually celebrating it as a gift? Remember that? Yes, hope had died, but Hope had grown strong.  

I know you now see how divine and necessary it all was.  You wouldn’t be the woman you are now if none of this had happened. You wouldn’t be so confident in adversity. You wouldn’t be so peaceful when the going is tough. You wouldn’t be so focused on the finish line of heaven’s gates unless it had happened just this way. You can see how the identity of motherhood was chiseled, hammered, and pried away from your soul. You can see that as that identity was carved away your true identity took a firmer shape in your soul and came into greater focus in you. It became your anchor, your lifeline in life’s greatest waves. “I am a blood bought child of God,” you’d say as if it was the only thing that mattered in the world. And it was. You came to see those circumstances as tailor made to drive you to your gospel centered mantra: “If Jesus would care to forgive me and resurrect me, then he certainly would care to bless my family life - perhaps with no children.” And, yes, it is true you came to believe that too would be a blessing.  

And that’s when I knew you were finally ready to get a different bit of news. You were ready to be the kind of mom that my Holy Spirit had shaped you to be - a woman who is my child first and now happens to be a mother (instead of having it the other way around). Melanie, you and I both know that it wasn’t a coincidence that another pastor asked your husband about your story. I was in that. I personally saw to it that just days later that pastor would come across a young lady who needed to place her baby for adoption. And, remarkably, it was just three days later when Elliana’s birth grandma called and said, “Melanie, we want you and Jonathan to be the parents." A few hours later you were holding Elliana with all the love, tenacity, and strength only one of my children can have.  I know you remember and treasure deeply that first moment of motherhood. You always will.

As you held her in that moment is how I have always and will always hold you. Don't see pain, failure or disappointment in any other light. Its intent is always to drive you to my gospel. And there, my dear daughter, you will always find all the love, comfort, identity, joy, and strength you’ll ever need.  

With love,

Your Father

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Why I'm Ok If I Never Walk My Daughter Down the Aisle

I’m ok with it if my church never gets off the ground.  Truth be told.  I’m also ok if I never walk my daughter down the aisle or hold a grandchild in my hands.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’d love to do any one of those things and every one of those things, but I’m ok with it if none of them ever happen.  No, I don’t have any cancer that I’m aware of.  No, I’m not being morbid or apocalyptic in my thinking.  At least, probably not in the way you might think I am.  I just woke up and read the paper this morning.  That’s all.

 Before you read any farther, I need to explain to you a bit further about who I am and who I’m not.  I’d like to do that because some of my readers are just getting to know me and are hopefully beginning to trust me and I don’t want to ruin any of that.  I’d like to enhance it.  So I want to be clear.

I don’t hold to any belief that hasn’t been believed by millions and millions who have gone before me and millions and millions who will probably come after me.  I just don’t.  You won’t find me diving deeply into little corners of the internet to try to understand Mayan calendar theory.  You also won’t find me hanging out in Harold Camping’s company.  Do you remember when he predicted the end of the world back in May of 2011?  Oops.  Messed that one up.  That’s not me.  

I do believe something simple and profound about Jesus.  I believe he is the true and only God-man who, yes, walked this earth.  I believe he lived innocently.  I believe he suffered tragically.  I believe he died horrifically.  I believe he was buried.  I believe he descended into hell.  And, yes, I actually believe that in real, live history that same God-man rose from the dead as the first of many.  Sound familiar? I hope so.  That was just a riff on what is arguably the most ecumenical creed out there - the Apostle’s Creed.  It’s what all Christians believe.  It’s sort of our most common denominator.  Or to say it another way, it’s one of the lowest thresholds for what can qualify as a Christian belief system.  It’s just basic, basic Christian stuff.  

Do you remember what is listed there as the last great act of Jesus? It’s actually the only one that hasn’t yet happened.  Jesus will come again.  Do you see why I had to tell you who I am and who I’m not before diving into that? Unfortunately, there is so much baggage surrounding that truth.  There are people who immediately think of 666 getting tattooed to people’s foreheads; people who proclaim that Putin is the Antichrist foretold; and people who are deathly afraid that computer chips are going to be placed somewhere inside their bodies.  Yeah, I’ve heard it all.  That is not what this blog is about.  It’s about one great, simple truth that Christians have always believed and will always believe.  Jesus will come back.  We just don’t know when exactly.

That brings me back to what happened when I woke up this morning.  I popped open my iPad apps one by one and read the news.  And this blog just kind of wrote itself.  Let me explain.  I’m no prophet nor am I the son of a prophet.  Like I said before, I’m a simple Christian with a simple faith.  I believe my Savior is coming to get me.  And this morning, it was like that Savior - who did tell me to watch for signs of his coming - reached through my iPad, grabbed me by the lapels, and said, “Brother, don’t forget.  I really am coming.”

In Revelation 4, where Jesus is showing us what the world is going to look like leading up to his return, he says four main things are going to ride in.  That’s a metaphor by the way.  I do live in a horse town and do love horses myself, but these things aren’t actually going to ride in on horses.  It’s just a memorable way for us to picture these things coming into the world.  So here are those prophecies:

  • “Then another horse came out, a fiery one.  Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other.  To him was given a large sword.” (Revelation 6:4)  See how clear that is?  War is a precursor to Jesus’ return.  Click here, here, and here.
  • “I looked and there before me was a black horse!  It’s rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand.  Then I heard what sounded like a voice… saying, 'A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages…'” (Revelation 4:6) Yeah, food is expensive.  Sound like a drought to anyone? Can you imagine working a whole day just for one quart of wheat? We’re talking drought, famine, and perhaps a case of price gouging.  Click here, and here.
  • “I looked and there before me was a pale horse (Think sea-green color or what you might look like if you were nauseous.)! It’s rider was death...” (Revelation 4:8) I think that’s a pretty obvious one too.  It’s sickness.  Click here and here.

  • I left the best one for last, but it was actually the first one listed in Revelation. “I looked and there before me was a white horse!  Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” (Revelation 4:2) And who do you think that might be? Sure looks like Jesus, doesn’t it?  Click here.  Yeah, I admit it.  That was self-indulgent, but it hopefully made the point.  Jesus is out there with his gospel bringing his victory over all the other “horses” to us.

I know.  I know.  This is all scary stuff.  Armageddon.  Apocalypse.  Right about now you might be reliving about 800 movie scenes.  But all of that is beside the point.  And I get to tell you why.  For Christians, Jesus’ return isn’t the end.  It’s the beginning.  It’s not destruction.  It’s creation.  It’s not death.  It’s life - finally.  See, here’s the deal: We believe Jesus is the Messiah.  Messiahs fix everything.  Everything!  He’s coming back to make ALL things new (Revelation 21:5).  We’ve all watched enough HGTV to know that all great restoration projects start with destruction and it never bothered us then.  It shouldn’t in this case either.  The truth is that after it’s all said and done our jaws will be on the ground staring at the most dramatic and beautiful reveal in history.

That’s why as excited as I am to start Peace Lutheran, it’s totally ok with me if I never get the chance.  It’s why I can be more than ok with missing out on walking my daughter down the aisle or holding my first grandchild.  Because I trust my Messiah.  I know that life’s best moments whether it’s a laugh over a beer or that romance with your wife or the satisfaction you feel in a job well done are nothing compared to what our Jesus has prepared for us.  Nothing.  There’s a song that I think of often when I think of these things.  I think it’s because it had just hit the airwaves when my grandpa died.  And it speaks to what I’m trying to say right now.  It starts like this: I can only imagine.  Exactly.  (YouTube it.  It’s worth it if you haven’t heard the song before.) The bliss will be incomprehensible and unending.  That’s what we believe.  

It isn’t any wonder that Christians have quietly yearned and prayed for Jesus’ last great, Messianic act ever since he ascended into heaven.  Fun fact.  Do you know what the second to last verse in Revelation and the last prayer of the Bible is? Yeah, I am arguing for its importance here.  It’s really simple and goes like this: “Come, Lord Jesus.” (Revelation 22:20) My heart knows exactly how to respond to that, “Amen.”

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Hot Cars, Humanity, and Jesus

 A scene from Cobb County, GA

A scene from Cobb County, GA

A rushed parent.  A quiet child.  A hot day.  You forget to get your child out of the car.  You just forget.  The Aiken Standard is trying to help.  This week it ran the front page headline Look before you lock.  Governor Nathan Deal thinks this is such a significant issue that he actually launched a statewide campaign in Georgia to prevent hot car deaths called Look Again.  We understand why.  It’s every parent’s worst nightmare.

Or is it? There are sickening allegations coming out of Cobb County, GA right now.  The story is simple.  Justin Ross Harris left his son, Cooper, a beautiful toddler locked in his SUV in the middle of a Hotlanta summer.  The question is why.  Was it the act of a distracted, busy parent? Or was it the act of a brazen murderer?

Cobb County’s finest allege that this was a homicide.  They claim to have some chilling evidence.  There was a Google search performed trying to determine how hot it had to be outside to kill an animal trapped in a car; there was research on how to survive in prison; and there were articles read on Reddit called “child free.”  Then there was the bizarre and adulterous behavior of the alleged murderer while he was at work that day.  According to a CNN report, “he was exchanging nude pictures and explicit texts with up to six women.” It’s not hard to imagine a prosecuting attorney arguing that that is exactly how someone might cope - albeit through awful, sinful, negative behavior - while suffering from overwhelming guilt.

Yeah, I know.  It’s heavy, heavy stuff.  I don’t like it either.  The thought that someone could commit premeditated murder against their own child - we even have a word for it: a filicide - is, well, nothing short of horrifying.

There’s often a question that comes to our minds when we come across atrocities like this.  It’s this one: How could they?

How could they?

How could someone with a mental capacity like mine? How could someone with emotions like mine? How could someone with a will like mine? In short, how could someone with a humanity like mine? How could they?

Did you know that the Bible makes some pretty startling and stark claims about humanity? It uses words like blind (2 Cor. 4:4), dead (Eph. 2:1), and hostile (Romans 8:7) to describe what naturally lies beneath our skin.  Really smart, wonderful, Christian people have long called this phenomenon original sin.  That means that our baseline, our starting point, our natural self is to look to please ourselves and give God, natural law, etc. the shove.  And from time to time - when that nature is not constrained by threat of law or repented of in faith - it manifests itself in ways that make us sick to our stomachs.

Why do I bring this up? FOR THE SAKE OF THE GOSPEL! How’s that for shouting in print :-)? I don’t like, enjoy, or look forward to talking about difficult, hard truths, but I will because they serve the gospel.  How does this serve the gospel? Let me explain.

Some are under the false assumption that Christianity is only a belief about Jesus.  That’s actually not entirely true.  Christianity isn’t just a belief about Jesus.  If it was, the Bible wouldn’t have so many stories of people gone haywire.  Christianity is also a belief about yourself.  Let me say it another way.  You will have a Jesus that matches what you believe about yourself.  

That’s why, for example, when the Small Catechism makes its statement about Jesus it simultaneously makes a statement about us.  Check this out.  It's from the explanation to the Second Article of the Creed, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature… (emphasis mine)” It’s just like the Small Catechism says.  Christianity isn’t just a belief about Jesus.  It’s also a belief about yourself.

Let me illustrate why this is so important to grasp.  If you believe that you’re a person who does ok except when life gets tough, then Jesus will be your friend.  He will be someone you pray to, look to, and lean on in suffering.  You’ll see him as someone who is there for you when you need him.  On the other hand, if you believe that, yes, you’ve got some significant issues, then Jesus will be your most excellent, superstar guide and light through your darkness.  You’ll even understand him to send his Holy Spirit to get you over the sanctification hump.  Now let’s be clear.  Jesus is all of those things, but he’s not principally any of those things.  He’s so much more.  

If, as the Bible claims, you are hopelessly bent inward, lost, and condemned, then you need more than a friend.  You need more than a superstar guide.  You need a person who can perform a divine rescue.  You need a Savior.  And you’ve got one!  You have a Light for your darkness.  You have Forgiveness for your sin.  You have a Selfless one for your selfishness.  You have Life that awakens, cures, and resurrects you - get this! - both physically and spiritually.  He’s everything that we aren’t and everything that we need.  You have a Savior.  That’s who Jesus is.

Now’s let’s apply this to the happening in Atlanta.  There is a better reaction in the face of atrocity than be stunned, clap our hands over our mouths, and ask, “How could they?” It’s this: be stunned, clap our hands over our mouths, and ask, “How could Jesus?” How could he really see everything that we are and still care?  How could he see all that darkness with his holy eyes and do anything other than walk away?  How could Jesus?

When we ask that question with clear, unblinking eyes trained on our born natures, our amazement can only grow that he stared straight into the heart of darkness and it only fueled his resolve to die for it.  So ask that question.  Ask it about whatever it is that happened in Georgia on that hot day.  No.  Ask it about yourself.  And then answer it!  With faith!  You’ll find that the answer is grace - oceans, streams, and torrents of grace straight from the heart of God to you.

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A Father for Fathers

 My princess and I

My princess and I

I haven’t played it for a while, but I opened up the YouTube app on my iPhone and played Lead Me by Sanctus Real this morning.  It got me again.  It usually does.  I only hope Melanie didn’t notice.  You know why it got me?  It’s way, way too real.

We dads see it in our lives so easily.  We think about the cliché that we know is a cliché for a reason.  Dad works too many hours.  Girl longs for a male figure to show her the respect, honor, and love she needs especially as an adolescent.  When dad doesn’t meet those very real needs, girl finds them in wrong, destructive places.  Sometimes it sets her on a life course from which she never truly recovers.

Yeah, each story has different nuances, twists, and turns.  Inevitably, however, the stories have the same beginning and the same end.  Dad isn’t there.  Girl ends up in destructive life circumstances.  It’s not just girls that suffer from a lack of attention and/or misdirected attention from dad.  It’s the boys too.  There’s a reason why it’s said that all sons are on either one of two journeys.  They either (a) try to live up to their dad or (b) try to make up for their dad.  We dads think about stuff like this.

It’s not because we’re neurotic either.  Really smart people have been studying the importance of dads for a while now.  In her book Father Hunger: Fathers, Daughters, and Food, Margo Maine argued that father hunger (caused by father absenteeism) leaves the daughter navel gazing and seeking her self-esteem in external sources like her peers.  Of course, thought and study of a father’s influence far predates Margo’s book in the 90’s.  It was Sigmund Freud who said about 100 years ago, “I cannot think of any need in childhood as strong as the need for a father’s protection.”

None of this is academic for us dads.  It can’t be for any dad who loves his kid.  And I do love mine.  I finally understand quotes like, “There is nothing that moves a loving father’s soul quite like his child’s cry.” It’s not just her cries that get me.  I love her current obsession with Minnie Mouse.  I think she has the best dance moves this earth has ever seen.  I’m ridiculously proud of her when she asks to use the potty.  And I can barely stand it when she says, “daddy.” Her mommy is my queen and she is my princess.  

So yeah, we dads think about this stuff.  We can’t have little girls or grown up boys who are starved, searching, and hurting for dad.  And if I know anything about my God, he can’t have that either.  

So tonight on my quest for a godly fatherhood, I grabbed Luther’s Small Catechism.  Incredible work.  I’m constantly stunned by its wonderful simplicity.  I’m finally figuring out after 33 years of life that simple is about all I can really handle.  And I turned to this little section called the Table of Duties.  It’s a handy dandy little book of instructions for various roles.  I found the one for parents and read, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.  (See Ephesians 6:4; Colossians 3:21.)”

Yup.  That’s it.  Startling, isn’t it?  Fathers play this outsized, huge, enormous, insert-your-own-adjective-here role in the lives of their children and yet God is incredibly quiet on the subject.  Two don’ts and only one do.  That’s it.  Don’t exasperate.  Don’t embitter.  Do bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  That’s it.

There’s no explicit message about dads providing for their kids.  There’s nothing that says you should date your daughter.  There’s no instruction to make your son belly laugh once a day.  There’s no word on letting boys be boys.  There are no tips on iPad usage with toddlers (Boy would I love that.  She just said iPad for the first time this week.  We’re in trouble!).  There are two don’ts and one do.  Don’t exasperate.  Don’t embitter.  Do bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

You know why? I think it’s pretty simple actually.  Those two don’ts are two things we dads must NEVER EVER do.  Why not? It not only ruins our relationship with our kids.  It ruins kids.  Bitter kids spite dads who then try to teach them the Word.  Exasperated kids can’t hear - I mean really hear - from their dad exactly what God so desperately wants them to hear - God’s message to them through their dad.  Don’t embitter.  Don’t exasperate.  Do ALWAYS, ALWAYS bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.

That’s not to say that dads aren’t busy doing other things too.  God assumes they are.  They have compassion on their kids (Psalm 103:13).  They discipline (Proverbs 3:11-12).  They carry (Deuteronomy 1:31).  They exhort and encourage (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12).  God wants and is assuming that we as fathers are doing many things for our children.  But he’s taken the time to give us only two don’ts and one do that are specific and explicit to how dads are to relate to their children.

And that’s what brings me back to Sanctus Real.  It is a moving and powerful song.  I really do like it.  It lays out a narrative that is all too real.  Men fail as leaders of their family.  The commands are simple and short.  Don’t exasperate.  Don’t embitter.  Do bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.  I’ll get personal.  When I hear that my soul says, "Ouch." I have failed my princess.  No, that’s not true either.  I have failed God’s princess.  And, I, more than anybody else should know better!  That’s why I can’t get through the song without a fighting back a tear.  

But I need to tell you dads that the song is incomplete.  It’s one verse short.  It asks the question, “(Father) won’t you lead me?” And never answers it.  That’s something I might forget do.  It’s not something God would ever forget to do.  He always answers questions like that.  ALWAYS.

Because that’s what our Father does.  He’s a Father to us fathers.  

When we pose the question, “Father, won’t you lead me?” He immediately answers with the gospel.  He tells us that he is strong precisely because and when we aren’t.  He tells us that he was, is, and will be an ever-present Father for us and our children whether we are present or not.  And get this: he promises that the same brokenness that we pass on to our children and, sadly, even cause our children at times is forgiven in his Son, Jesus.  And as if that weren’t enough, he promises to roll back all that pain, reverse it, and heal it through Jesus’ final and complete Messianic kingdom that we often call heaven.  I can’t wait!

I’ll tell you what fellow fathers.  Let’s head to the gospel this Father’s Day.  It is an incredible grace to be a father.  So influential.  So powerful.  So important.  It probably can’t be overstated.  That means that at least for me I need a whole truckload of grace from my Father in Jesus Christ.  And the gospel tells me I’ve got it.  

For what it’s worth, below is an alternate ending to the song spoken from our Father to fathers.  

I’ll lead you with strong hands | I’ll stand up when you can’t | Won’t leave you hungry for love, | Chasing things that don’t fill up

I’ve shown you I’m willing to fight | I’ve given the best of my life (Jesus!) | So you can finally come home | I’ll lead you ‘cause you can’t do this alone.

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Please Don't Like This Post. And Definitely Don't Share It. Seriously. I Mean It!

Please don’t like this post.  And definitely don’t share it.  Seriously.  I mean it!  

At least, I think I do.  

On second thought, maybe I don’t.  

Earlier this week Bruce Feiler told us his social media story.  It made me laugh.  He was walking through the airport when he noticed a magazine cover that had an only female cast of executives.  He quickly snapped a picture and blasted it to the world through Twitter saying, “Woman on the cover.  Not just for girlie magazines anymore.”

He shared his experience in what I found to be a wonderfully transparent and comical paragraph.   “Then I waited for the love.  I checked the response before passing through security.  Nothing.  I glanced again while waiting for the plane.  Still nothing.  I looked again before we took off.  Nobody cared.  My little attempt to pass a lonely hour in an airport with some friendly interaction had turned into the opposite: a brutal cold shower of social isolation.”

My wife and I did a social experiment with a picture on Facebook a couple months ago.  We both posted the same cute picture of our year and half old daughter at the same time.  And the race was on!  Whoever got the most likes in 24 hours would win.  It was actually pretty exhilarating to check in as the hours passed.  60 likes!  93!  120 likes!  People like me.  They really like me!

Facebook, of course, didn’t create the need for humans to seek approval.  Feiler in his article tells us that our brains are wired to seek approval.  He told us about a 2012 study out of Harvard that says that humans devote up to 40% of their time to self-disclosure.  That statistic blew me away!  He bolstered that statistic when he told us about one study that said people would even give up financial incentives to talk about themselves and about another that said that social isolation was as painful to humans as a broken leg.  

None of this surprises me about people.  Some say that undercover cops and clergy are the two professions with the most cynical view of people.  What surprises me is when I see it so clearly and definitively in myself.  It might be one of the greatest spiritual lessons God is teaching me as I plant a church for him.  I intentionally try to go to places and gatherings where I get to meet new people.  I did it again last night.  As I walked into this particular gathering I noticed someone I thought was new to the area.  I stuck my hand out and started a conversation...  turns out he wasn’t new.  There was absolutely nothing malicious about what happened next, but happen it did.  Three people rushed up to him and welcomed him back from his hiatus.  And the circle closed in front of me.  Gulp.  Move on.

Now I’m not saying seeking approval is bad.  I’m not sure that it is.  What I am suggesting is that seeking approval in the wrong places is bad.  But please don’t think of this issue in a merely self help kind of way.  Wrong headed approval seeking wrecks far more than our fragile egos.  It’s wrecks important relationships.  Imagine a married woman who heads to a cocktail party secretly saying to herself, “I hope the men in here check me out.” She now not only has little hope for a healthy self-image, she also is halfway down the road to destroying her relationship with the man she should really hope is checking her out, her husband.  

We understand that scenario.  That’s why God so often compares the God/human relationship to the husband/wife one in the Scriptures.  See what I mean? Seeking approval isn’t bad.  Seeking approval in the wrong places is what’s damaging.  And, again, this is not about our personal ego.  That kind of spirituality separates us from the one being that we actually should be hoping is checking us out.  

God actually made us to need that from him.  It’s part of what makes him God and us his creatures.  He’s our everything (or should be).  That explains our need to self-disclose.  It also explains our incessant need for approval, love, and accolades.  We were made that way.  It’s just that lately (ever since the fall into sin) we’ve been looking for it in the wrong places.

Rewind to a garden where God said to Adam and Eve.  “I think the world of you.  You name the animals.  You rule the earth.  You decide how to manage it.  I’ll come by in the cool of the day and we’ll walk together.”  Love.  Acceptance.  Accolades.  It was all there.  In God.  In him.

Then the tragedy happened.  The first human acted on a thought like this: “Maybe the importance I crave is not actually in God.  Maybe it’s in eating this fruit.” She was wrong.  It wasn’t.  But it was too late.  That nature would come down to us, which explains an awful lot of recent human behavior including my own.  

So what’s the fix to this? The same message that God gave us millennia ago.  God told clergy in the Old Testament to say, “The Lord bless and keep you.  The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you.  The Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.” (Numbers 6:24-26)

At my last church, we would close just about every worship service with those words.  I can still see what one pious, Christian would do.  As she was listening she would lift her face heavenward with a barely discernible tilt, close her eyes, and - I’m telling you the truth - every time whether it was the day after her mother’s funeral or not the corners of her mouth would lilt into the most serene smile you could ever see.  I think I know why.  

You know what Moses wrote right after he wrote that blessing? He told us that God said, “So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them.” In other words, he was saying, “I am doing and will do exactly what these words are announcing.  Right here.  Right now.” (BTW,  that’s how it always works.  God said, “Let there be light.” And there was!  God announces, “You are forgiven.” And you actually are!)

Do you see why that woman smiled?  She smiled because she heard God saying to her that he thought so much of her that he was going to see to it that she would be kept as his own and blessed.  She smiled because she heard God saying that he had so much acclaim for her that his face was shining on her (Even if she actually deserved to have him glower at her).  She smiled because he had so much affection for her that his circle would never close in front of her.  It would always turn toward her, beckon her, and love her.

None of this is just Christian psycho-babble or vain happy talk.  Jesus Christ’s resurrection is in the history books.  He went to the grave and back to guarantee my eternal approval.  That’s exactly what the resurrection means.  The Christian faith says that Jesus' completed work makes God perfectly inclined toward us and busts up our personal graves with resurrection.  Think it through.  If Jesus' busted up grave means that my grave gets busted up too, then God likes me so much that he apparently wants to hang out with me - well - forever.  I couldn’t be more loved or more affirmed or more approved than that.  Neither can you.  

That changes everything.  Go ahead.  Like this post on Facebook.  Or don’t.  Go ahead.  Share it with someone else.  Or don’t.  Just promise me you won’t do it for my sake.  I already have all the approval I’ll ever need and so do you.  

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Dear Mom, You're More Important Than You Ever Knew

 Elliana with her mother and well on the way to recovery

Elliana with her mother and well on the way to recovery

Warning: this blog is personal and raw in places.  God blessed me with that kind of week.

 My daughter Elliana had major surgery for a second time in her very young life earlier this week.  I don’t tell you that because I’m looking for pity.  I’m telling you to give you a little context for my thought life.  And there was a lot of thought.  If there’s anything I’ve learned about hospitals over my many visits as a pastor and now the few I’ve had as a dad, it’s that you have time to think there.  You may not have much else, but you do have that.  The hidden blessing in that is that you can’t stuff away spiritual and emotional hurts.  You have to deal with them because they stare you in the face. 

 I didn’t even realize that’s what was happening to me until it happened.  We were sitting in preop actually having a pretty good time.  They give little kids happy juice before surgery so Elliana got a little goofy and that led to some pretty good belly laughs together.  Then it was time to pray as a family before surgery.  The millisecond I reached out to God in the intimacy of prayer my voice cracked and there it was – all kinds of emotions rising in me.   That’s when I realized I was hurting for my little girl. 

 There are many surprising things about God.  Perhaps one of the more surprising ones is that in moments like I described he hides himself.  He didn’t reach down and hug me from heaven, supernaturally comfort me, or wipe away my brief fit of tears with his divine finger.  I’m not the only one to notice this phenomenon.  It is the way God commonly relates to us.  He goes unseen and un-sensed.  Isaiah talked about it in his great prophetic work.  He said, “Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God, and Savior of Israel.” (Isaiah 45:15) Later one of the great church fathers, Martin Luther, even coined a term for this phenomenon.  He called it the hidden God.

 And, yet, as I worked through my thoughts I was reminded that God was there and he was at work in powerful, beautiful ways.  I want to highlight just one of them.  He was showing love and care to Elliana through her mother.  She comforted her, held her, kissed her, prayed for her, and sang to her.  If you think about it, he often works that way.  I can see it in my own mother.  She was on bed rest for months so my twin and I could get a good start in life.  She put Band-aids on my scraped knees.  The list could and should go on for eons.  My mom was my mom.  In my mom and in Elliana’s mom and in all Christian mothers you catch a glimpse of something totally divine.  You see God’s heart at work.

 Martin Luther talked about that.  He talked about how our callings are really “masks of God,” where we see God working through people to love and serve us as the perfect Father he is.  Do you see that? It’s why immediately after God gave us commandments about how to relate to him (commandments 1-3), in the very next breath he gave us a commandment about our parents.  Parents are that important because they are God’s representatives (one of his masks) to his little people.  That’s what I treasure so much about being a dad.  I get to show my little princess how the Great, High King feels about her.  And I get to do to it everyday. 

 I remember sitting with my Seminary president just before I graduated.  He said a number of things to me, but I remember one of them particularly well.  He said, “Show them Jesus.”  And I understood what he meant.  By the life I would lead and the love I would show, I would show people God.  No, I’m not calling the pastoral office or fatherhood or motherhood a sacrament or anything like that.  I’m simply pointing out that these people are God’s representatives and, therefore, God is hiding his service and care to us in the people who minister to us.

Do you see that? You may not have sensed God hugging you when you scraped your knee, but he gave you a mom who would.  You may not have seen God pick you up from school every day for over a decade, but he gave you a mom who would.  God may not have physically changed your diapers or helped you with Algebra, but he gave you a mom who would.  Moms give and sacrifice, give and sacrifice.  And then they do that some more.  In that giving and in that sacrificing, God is working out his love and care for you.

 That’s what makes that calling so incredibly holy and important.  Christian mothers don’t do what they do to preserve their genes, as evolutionary science would have us believe.  Christian mothers do what they do because they are people created, sanctified, and motivated by God to do what they do.  That’s also what a Christian mother desperately wants her kids to know about her.  She wants her kids to see that her love is God’s love and God’s work.  After all, that’s whom she works for – the God who redeemed and loved her first.

 So here’s what I propose this Mother’s Day weekend.  Make a deduction about God based on the love of mothers.  That’s actually not such a new idea.  It’s the same deduction Jesus had us make when he pointed out in Matthew 7 that if evil fathers give good gifts, just imagine the gift(s) he will give as the perfect Father.  Yeah, make that kind of deduction.  If broken, sinful mothers kiss away tears after a surgery...  if they fiercely stay by their child’s side...  if they hold a hurting body...  if they turn on Dora or get the nurses attention...  if moms do that, just imagine what kind of God would create, redeem, and motivate moms to do that.  Make a deduction about the God who underpins all Christian mothers.

 Dear Mom, that’s what makes you more important than you ever knew.  You represent the God you love.  You were God’s mask to show me that a being exists who loves me more than you ever could (imagine that!).  You were a mask of the God who loved me enough to not only give me a mom like you, but a brother like Jesus.  You were a mask that helped me see that my God has a love that moved him to enact a plan to ensure a future where there is no more surgery or pain.  You were a mask that taught me about the God who transcends even a mother’s love to give my family (and yours too, dear reader!) a guaranteed future of life and life and life.  Happy Mother’s Day, world!

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New Office at The Mill on Park

Hey everybody,

We are up and running downtown.  Pretty exciting!  Come by when you can to see the place.  You are always welcome.  As you can see, we're still waiting for a couple of bookshelves and a desk (who knew furniture needed 6-8 weeks of lead time?!), but it's a place to work already.  Check out our view too.  Best in the building I think!  

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Salvaging Paramount's Noah

russell-crowe-as-noah-014-noah-s-russell-crowe-says-that-banning-was-to-be-expected.jpg

My track record isn’t the best of late.  Why is that? I went to go see Noah this weekend.  I did it even though I saw my sister-in-law’s Facebook scream, “DO NOT GO SEE NOAH.” She isn’t prone to Facebook screams so I probably should’ve realized something was truly off about the movie.  I found out the hard way how right she was.  The movie was really tough to watch.  Although some disagree, it wasn’t tough to watch because it was boring.  I watched with intense interest the whole time.  Was it because that piece of history is so personally important to my faith and worldview? Was it because Russell Crowe was such a powerful albeit maniacal Noah? I have a pretty good guess, but what I know for sure is that I was warned it would be tough to watch and I went anyway.  Now I’m doubling down and I’m writing a blog about salvaging the movie.  When I told my wife my idea at the breakfast table this morning she said, “That movie was so bad.  How exactly are you going to do that?” So, yeah, my track record of late in listening to good advice is questionable at best.  I’ve been warned and now so have you. 

Before I continue on my ill-advised salvage mission, let me just be clear.  The movie was anti-Christian in every sense of the phrase.  If you’re taking the time to read this blog, you know that the flood was gutted of its historical, Christian meaning.  I’m trusting you know that already because you’ve seen other blogs or talked to other Christians about the movie at church yesterday.  Perhaps by now you’re even able to rehearse in your mind the numerous conflagrations that were passed off by Paramount as “artistic license.”  I won’t rehash here the Ent-like rock people who played an outsized and ridiculous role.  I won’t regurgitate the hallucinogenic tea that made a complete mockery of the clear, rock solid prophecies that God actually gives to people.  I won’t bring up the horrifying, barely averted infanticide of Noah’s two granddaughters (by his own hand!).  That’s all been detailed in other places in far better ways than I can probably manage.  

What I’d like to do in this post is salvage what little can be salvaged from the movie.  In my book, there are three big things.  First, I think it’s worth trying to understand what this movie says to Christians about this age.  So let’s ask some questions.  What does it mean when Paramount says, “...we believe that this film is true to the essence, values, and integrity of a story that is a cornerstone of faith for millions of people worldwide.” What does it mean that Russell Crowe calls the criticism the film has received “irrational” and was looking forward to the opening weekend of the film so that the audience can finally see it for themselves?  Read: he honestly believes the film vindicates itself.

I suppose we can assume that Paramount and Crowe are off their rockers.  Maybe that’s true.  But assume for a moment that they’re not.  What if they honestly believe that their Noah did the historical narrative justice? What then? What does the movie say to us that in their view validates it? Answer: it speaks to the only morality of our day.  Think about it.  All of our day’s "isms" have produced an ethic that says, “You can do anything as long as it doesn’t hurt somebody else.”  Yes, I know that’s really no ethic at all, but if you follow that ethic down its wormhole you realize it means you’re free to do just about anything as long as you’re not hurting the place where everybody lives.  That makes today’s unbelieving people of conscience all environmentalists.  And voila!  That explains why in an opening scene Noah reprimands his son for picking a flower and in another we hear him recounting how God made creation “in balance.” It’s also why as the camera pans movie Noah’s earth the landscape looks like something out of a World War II battle scene.  Finally, it’s why you generally feel like we should all become vegans immediately upon leaving the theater.  That’s my first attempt at salvage.  Movie Noah gives us some clarity about our cultural moment.  

Then there’s the fact that movie Noah is driven by inner convictions and piece meal visions.  He relies on no clear message from God.  As I watched the movie I actually began to ask myself if we as a Christian community have somehow led unbelieving onlookers to think that that’s how it works.  That you somehow need a little Sherlock Holmes’ deduction ability to figure out what God actually wants from you.  I know that doesn’t sound like a big deal except that it really, really is.  I actually think that you could think of this movie as a parable of what happens to a man when he doesn’t stick to the Scriptures for light and truth.  You are at risk of thinking that God wants everybody dead and, therefore, it’s your job to exterminate your grandkids.  I know that’s not what Paramount was after in the flick, but it sure is worth considering.  

Perhaps I wouldn’t take the time to point that out if it weren’t both for the Smalcald Articles and an experience I had Saturday morning.  My wife and I had a couple of friends over for Bible study and we got into a fascinating discussion about this very subject.  The young man was talking about how exhausting and guilt producing it is to constantly be looking for signs, whirrings in the mind, and indications from God about how, what, or why you should or shouldn’t do something.  He even said he quit a baseball scholarship because he thought God was leading him to do that (He’ll tell you that he now owns the decision and sees how God blessed it.  God is so full of grace!).  And then, of course, there’s the phenomenal point that Luther makes in the Smalcald Articles when he says that people have been getting themselves into trouble for trusting inward, spiritual calls instead of God’s outward, firm promises in the Scriptures since – oh – about the fall into sin.  It was Adam and Eve who first left a clear Word from God in favor of an inner response.  That’s my second salvage attempt.  Movie Noah reminds us to set our faith, hearts, and minds on God’s clear promises in the Scriptures.  

 But, finally, this movie cannot be salvaged unless we all stop and own the same gospel truth that the real Noah preached and believed.  I want to launch into that faith – as heretical as this sounds after reading Christian reviews of the movie! – using a quote from the movie.  When movie Noah became convinced that all humans deserve to die, he was actually onto something.  His wife came to him and tried to poke holes in that belief by saying (something like), “Don’t you see the goodness in our sons?” And in a poignant moment that resonated powerfully with me Noah said (something like), “The evil is not just in the sons of Cain.  It’s in us all.  Shem is driven by his lust.  Japheth will do anything to make people happy.  You will do anything for your children and so will I.” I thought Russell Crowe nailed that moment.  There was a certain tender sincerity that came with such force that everybody watching knew it was unimpeachable.  The evil is in us all.  The problem for movie Noah is that he thought God’s action step out of that truth was death for people.  Boy, was he wrong.  

Contrast that with the real Noah.  The real Noah knew that truth demanded faith in a deliverer from his personal evil.  He knew that someone would have to bring him the righteousness he needed.  When the real Noah stands up in Hebrews 11, he is seen and celebrated as one of a multitude of people who are heirs “of the righteousness that comes from faith.”  (Side note: Yes, it is biblical and accurate that Noah got drunk and lay “uncovered.” If that doesn’t showcase God’s point that Noah was saved from a righteousness not earned, but granted through faith I don’t know what does.)  Better yet, Noah trusted who would give him that righteousness.  It would be someone from his line.  That’s why his line was to continue on the earth. God was keeping that line and promise alive through the ark so that it could be passed on until Jesus, the promised bringer of righteousness and the son of Noah, would come to save us all.

And, yes, you can bet your bottom dollar that Noah celebrated that and taught it to his family.  There were a number of scenes from the movie that came dangerously close to getting that right.  I believe he did take sacred moments to tell his sons “the story my father told me.”  I believe he did gather his family under the roof of that ark.  I do believe he spoke with a gravitas and strength greater than Russell Crowe could muster on the silver screen.  I do believe in those moments that Noah’s family hung on his every word. And I believe in those moments he said (something like), “When we pushed God away through our rebellion in Eden, God promised he would heal the massive gap with a son.  One of our descendants will have that son. He will crush that ancient snake.  His righteousness will be our righteousness.” I’m not sure their fingers would glow in those moments when the birthright and the promise were passed on from son to son, but I do know that their hearts most surely did.  How do I know this? Because mine still does.  I’m still in awe that that promise is just as much mine as it is Noah’s.  

If you’ve made it this far through the blog, let me just say this.  I realize that nothing I said actually salvaged the movie.  My wife’s right.  It can’t be salvaged.  I do, however, believe this moment can be salvaged.  We can take this moment to believe what the real Noah believed.  We can believe it not based on some inner conviction or piece meal vision, but based on the clear and unmistakable promises of God.  I AM RIGHTEOUS THROUGH FAITH (There’s my written scream to match my sister-in-law’s from this weekend :-).  God wanted us to have righteousness so badly that he had Noah build an ark so the Savior could come along and win it for us.  And let me just say this about movie Noah.  In a way, he makes the perfect water cooler conversation starter.  He was so off and so not subtle that when we pull out the real Noah people will easily see how clear God is with his promises and how merciful he is through Noah’s ultimate Son.  That’s not salvaging the movie, but it is salvaging this moment for the gospel – for us and for others.

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