Tag Archives: christianity

Pompeii Bastille lyric pic

Where Do We Begin? The Rubble? Or Our Sin?

I love it when Popstars are the Prophets. I love it when a song, a lyric, a melody moves into you, through your ears and straight to the heart, making us change the way we think about the world around us and our role in it. Bastille has a song like that for church leaders. Turn it up!

Bastille: Pompeii

The Important Question

Did you hear the question that singer Dan Smith asks over and over and over in the song? “Where do we begin? The Rubble? Or our Sin?” That’s a great question, isn’t it? The song, “Pompeii,” juxtaposes a city being overtaken by, well, the very historic volcanic pyroclasm (you can never say that word enough), and a life taken over by sin (“my own devices”).

It’s a portrait of sin collapsing upon a life, the way that the volcanic cloud crashed over the rooftops of Pompeii.

“We were caught up and lost in all of our vices //
In your pose as the dust settled around us.”

Pompeii Bastille lyric pic

Cosmetic Theology

The question, “Where do we begin? The rubble? or our sin?” is the right one.

The Church is in the sin/forgiveness business. The Gospel is about a God who steps into the aftermath of the Mount Vesuvius in our lives and begins to sweep away the ash, revealing a life that will now be overcome by his, and only his, love.

As a church leader, I’m often tempted to ignore the painful distraction of walking with others through the rebuilding of their exploded lives. It’s even more tempting to get cosmetic, to fix something that needs fixing, paint something that needs painting.

Where do we begin? Addressing the pain and destruction of sin in the lives of those we are called to love and lead? Or to remodel the sanctuary and let people work it out on their own?

When we look at Pompeii, we see a city in need of new walls, fresh paint and manicured lawns. If we were able to get a contractor and a capitol campaign, people could move back into Pompeii. But so what? Who needs another retail condominium?

There were real people in Pompeii. People like you and me, who had experienced personal cataclysm long before an environmental one:


People sin. We do. It’s the way things are. It’s not popular to talk about. At all. Sconces and pew cushions…now that is more like it, right? It might be easier, but it’s not the Church.

The question is: Do we have the courage to get down into the messy, complicated, uncomfortable reality that all people wrestle with daily?

Bastille ask a question that we need to answer: Where do we begin? Since the Gospel proclaims freedom to those who are covered in sin, would we rather proclaim that freedom? Confront sin and point to the God who forgives it? Or redecorate the Welcome Room and perfect the practice of something closer to a theology of cosmetics.

“If someone falls into sin, forgivingly restore him, saving your critical comments for yourself. You might be needing forgiveness before the day is out. [Gal 6:1;MSG]”

God in the Ruins

When Jesus answers the question, it’s always going to be about beginning with sin. Rest assured that as Christ would walk through the uncovered ruins, the rubble wouldn’t be on his mind.

The people would.

Forgiveness is measured in lives, not walls, souls, not paint. A cosmetic makeover is nice, but soul-change is necessary. While a new color scheme is great, a new life is greater.

The truth is, living like Jesus never feels nice. We tend to want to point out the cosmetic changes that will one day make “all the difference,” but Jesus looks beyond the gloss and bokeh – pries deep into the places and spaces we believe are too dark to be seen and plants a light there, makes a home there, speaks to us from there. Where does he begin? In the places we most wish he wouldn’t.

And that’s where we belong.


Ever Have A Christian Conversation Go Like This?

Genius, no?

The whole entire goal of Christian Conversation is rooted in what Paul says to Timothy in 2 Timothy 2: 2

Take the things you heard me say in front of many other witnesses and pass them on to faithful people who are also capable of teaching others

Learning the language takes a community who are oriented in the same direction — discipleship — learning the words of Jesus and passing them along to others. A weird language has developed in the Christian hemisphere: Christianese. It sounds like your saying something, but…nothing could be further from the Truth.

Comments are open! When is the last time you had a conversation with someone just learning to speak “Christianese?”

For another funny look at the same thing, Click Here to watch two actors speak English the way non-English speakers hear it.
: one R-Rated line toward the very end.


The Streets May Not Have A Name, But They Have Music!

Content Warning

I’ve included the warning above because I’m going to blog about humanity and humanity in its current state needs a bit of a caution for readers. Humanity isn’t the squeaky clean, TV scripted version we watch between commercials. In reality, it wouldn’t play on the CW or NBC. Especially, the new show

I say that because it’s a post-technopocalypse, meaning there’s no electricity or anything of the fruit of electricity and yet everyone looks clean showered in every scene. Maybe there’s one storyline where the dude is a bit ‘day old underwear,’ but they’re all largely fresh washed. That’s not dystopian. Dystopia stinks. We read it in books. We see it on TV. We watch it on the big screen, but it’s out there in the world right now. Right now, while you are checking this out on an old Mac (or PC), thinking about the new MacPro that just came out and wondering whether this would look better on it, all hell is breaking loose in someone’s life. But it’s a world away. All we have to do is literally change the channel — or surf to another site.

This is Lebanon. Last week.

Last week a car loaded with 150 pounds of TNT exploded next to a car with a husband and a father, a son and an uncle. There were nine others who were killed. Unintended consequences of being there.

It’s easy to say, ‘Well, that’s Beirut! They’re always fighting.’ ‘Those Arabs are always trying to kill each other’ (or something equally callous) You might be saying right now, ‘You don’t understand naive blog boy!’ Yeah, we’ve read the same books, watched the same network and cable reports. We’ve listened to the same podcasts and radio shows. And we do this because we want to understand. We want to understand how something that we only experience in media can happen for real.

Here’s what I understand: Someone in Beirut painted music on these stairs. They could have painted anything, but they resorted to a Universal Medium that you and I both understand on levels so deep, it makes us relatives of the artist. When I see something like this, I can’t change the channel, I can’t surf to another website and I can’t imagine that a passive acceptance of violence anywhere, at anytime, is good.

Often times, we Christians like to say that God Is Love™. Recently, I was reminded that God’s love has teeth; God’s love is an enemy loving love (nobody trademarks sayings like that). The worst thing to do in this situation is to think that they are enemies. Whoever painted these stairs isn’t an enemy, they are a brother from another mother, a sister from another mister. They know about what goes on in my soul, because it goes on in there’s as well.

I cannot sit and watch the fiction on NBC, when Revolution is right in front of me. Real revolution. An anonmyous artist is living in a world where things explode, meanwhile, I watch a world of fiction that plays pretend in front of a camera.

This stirs my soul.
I feel it in my blood.
Apathy is unacceptable.
What story does apathy tell about us?
About you?

A long while ago, I heard a Persian professor discussing a prominent Persian poet. She said, “You mustn’t judge a country by its politicians. Judge it by its poets.” Walt Whitman wrote something similar in the preface to his Leaves of Grass, “Their Presidents shall not be their common referee so much as their poets shall.”

Someone took the time to show the soul of Lebanon on some stairs.

How do you use time to show yours?

Will you join me in praying for the me and you of the Middle East?
You know, the people who want a good life for their kids?
A life where cars don’t explode as you walk past.


Where Christianity and Islam Collide

Last night I stumbled upon this interview with Eliza Griswold, author of a book called The Tenth Parallel. In the book, the author describes her journalistic adventure into an area where more than half of the world’s Muslims collide with nearly half of the world’s Christians in daily life, matters of faith and politics.

When I looked up The Tenth Parallel on Google, I found an interview with Terri Gross and Eliza Gross linked here. Take a look at the following video interview, especially the last three sections. The last one includes the inspiring story Dr. Hawa, whom Griswold met while traveling. You don’t want to skip that one. Pastors, there’s a great sermon illustration.

Griswold joined Franklin Graham on a trip to Khartoum, Sudan to meet with President Omar al-Bashir. From the Fresh Aire interview:

“What President Bashir did was try to convince Graham to convert to Islam. The two men engaged in this faith-based one-upmanship where each tried to convert the other to his respective faith. … [Then] Franklin remembered that in his pocket he had a 2004 election pin for the re-election of George W. Bush. So he reached into his pocket and he wanted to give it to Bashir and he said, ‘Mr. President, you’ll be speaking to my president later on today and I think you should tell him you’re his first voter here in the Sudan.’ In one way, to read what that situation really meant, was Graham showing Bashir that he had the ear of the administration — that here’s where faith and foreign policy were really intermingled. Graham was not an emissary of the U.S. government in any way, yet the pin, which he’d taken from the desk of Karl Rove’s secretary, indicated that he had access to the uppermost echelons of power — and that’s what he was trying to tell Bashir. Bashir only met with Graham because he feared his country would be the next country, after Iraq and Afghanistan, to face U.S. invasion.”

Here’s the Video Interview. Great (and very kind) perspective on the collision of Christianity and Islam.

Sobering quotes from the Kindle site for her book:

Due to the explosive growth of Christianity over the past fifty years, there are now 493 million Christians living south of the tenth parallel—nearly a fourth of the world’s Christian population of 2.5 billion. To the north live the majority of the continent’s 367 million Muslims; they represent nearly one quarter of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. These figures are an effective reminder that four out of five Muslims live outside the Middle East.

This is a good reminder for Americans. Islam and Christianity are taking root in the Global South. The continental US does not represent very much of the global demographic. To wit, Griswold notes, “Today’s typical Protestant is an African woman, not a white American man.

Read that again if you need to.

Christianity is growing in the tenth parallel, “When it comes to gaining followers, Archbishop Akinola’s Anglican Church is more threatened by the rise of Pentecostalism than by Islam.”

By way of another example, Griswold ends the Fresh Aire interview saying:

Beyond the demonization of the other is really a fight [between the West and the individual] in terms of what peoples’ rights are. The real conflicts are not the religions, but inside the religions. Who gets to speak for God…the liberals or the conservatives?

Thinking through these this material isn’t only about Christianity and Islam.
It makes me ask the questions, “Where is my 10th Parallel?”
Where does my faith collide with values in conflict with my own?
Where am I trying to keep another culture separate from my own?
What do I do about it?
How do I respond to being in the majority?
Does that align with the values of my faith?

Interesting stuff. Look forward to reading the book. Just passing it on…

PC(USA): Deathly Ill, but not Terminal

Now that the whiplash and vitriol of the White Letter has calmed down, it’s being unpacked by one of its authors, Jim Singleton, who is Head Pastor of First Pres, Colorado Springs. By calling the PC(USA) “Deathly Ill, he sure got our attention. Politics aside, I believe that this is something we need to pay attention to.

One of my mission broadcasts for Glendale Presbyterian Church involves the Baptism of 50, before the end of the year. Now, I’m aware that I can’t force folks to be baptised, so we must engage prayer in new ways: asking great things, and expecting to see greater.

Singleton is fleshing out his published statements through a series of videos, the second of which is below. Give a look, leave a comment. What do you thinK?



Jim Singleton – PCUSA Fellowship – video 2 from Jim Singleton on Vimeo.

To read the full document, the link is here: The White Letter.

To watch the first Singleton video, which goes through the document in about six minutes, go here.

My thoughts are forthcoming, but first, I’d really love to hear from you!

Who is Jesus the Superstar?

My church, Glendale Presbyterian, is putting on a production of Jesus Christ Superstar.

As a result, I’ve been thinking about, well…Jesus.

Thought for the day:

Christ’s humanity is threatening.
He raises the bar too high.
It becomes clear that the only way to be like him is to live through him.
To take up our cross
and march the lonely & terrible
trail towards Golgotha.

Ignatius and the sound of the Household Codes

Coloring in a thought from last Sunday’s sermon: By the time Paul’s teaching on the Household Codes (Eph 5:21-6:9) had filtered to the next generation, I believe there was an artistic, poetic vocabulary used to articulate the idea of mutual submission (hupotasso). Read as Ignatius reminds the church in Ephesus what the Gospel of mutual submission is about:

“Therefore Jesus Christ is sung in your harmony and symphonic love. And each of you should join the chorus, that by being symphonic in your harmony, taking up God’s pitch in unison, you may sing in one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, that he may both hear and recognize you through the things you do well, since you are members of His Son. Therefore it is useful for you to be in flawless unison, that you may partake of God at all times as well.” Ignatius; To the Ephesians 4:1c-2

Isn’t that a wonderful way to restate, “Submit to one another in fear of Christ.” It’s like the Message version, except with music. In the abstract, I think that Paul was saying that relationships within the Christian Community have symphonic and harmonic characteristics, however the real mark of community is finding God’s note and joining in unison. Your harmony subjected to his melody.

While it’s tempting, to sing your own line, your own notes, with lack of regard of the song that is taking shape around you, Ignatius invites the church to join in God’s song so it sounds less like this:

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And much more like this:

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Does the song in your life, in your home sound like a proper submission of harmony and symphony? Or is it just noise?

Follow God’s Example: Imitatio Dei

”A new religion has supplanted Christianity in America. This religion teaches that “God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process,” Smith and Denton argue in Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers. They call this religion Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”

Collin Hansen quoting in Christian Smith and Melinda Denton †
in his book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists

This is why we pay attention when Paul writes, “Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God [and what follows, Eph 5:3-20].”

Whose example, which God, are we following? The Divine Butler? The Cosmic Counselor? Or the Sovereign Lord of all Creation, who is above all, through all and in all? Who we imitate is pivotal. Verse one is Paul’s prelude to growing in corporate character, and Paul locates character as arising from a central act: Imitatio Dei, Imitation of God.

Where in Scripture does God serve cocktails? When did David park it on the throne room sofa and regress his way to his Best Life Now? Some how, a diluted and anemic version of the faith has made its way into the mainstream. We all know what it is…don’t we.

In contrast to the Gospel Paul is proclaiming, “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism makes no pretense at changing lives; it is a low commitment, compartmentalized set of attitudes aimed at “meeting my needs” and “making me happy” rather than bending my life into a pattern of love and obedience to God [Dean, Kenda Creasy: Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church].”

If the quote above is true, it’s not just about teenagers. Where are they learning it from? Who’s doing the teaching? We are.

Dean continues, “The problem does not seem to be that churches are teaching young people badly, but that we are doing an exceedingly good job of teaching youth what we really believe: namely, that Christianity is not a big deal, that God requires little, and the church is a helpful social institution filled with nice people focused primarily on “folks like us”—which, of course, begs the question of whether we are really the church at all.”

This is exactly what Paul was trying to help the church avoid. If the moral lists of Ephesians 5:3-20 and the following household codes (5:21-6:9) describe what one has to do in order to imitate God then, to quote Sir Elton, “love lies bleeding in my hands.” Moral Therapeutic Deism is an easy leap. However, if first we imitate God and then upon looking backwards we see that our character has been transformed, it will look like Ephesians 5-6:9. By focusing the church on Jesus, who is the “visible image of the invisible God,” we are instructed to live like Jesus…period. That’s a faith that is lived and not learned. That is a faith that will rub off and not fade away.

† sociologists and authors of Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teens

Reconciliation, Resurrection and the Superbowl

Right now, we are studying Ephesians @glenpres, where reconciliation is a predominant theme. During the Superbowl, Coke seemed to pick up on the theme. Coke, the great unifier of orcs and dragons. Coke, the peace of nations.

<a href="http://msn.foxsports.com/video?vid=58983ba9-9dcd-490e-9eaa-0ad66929bd58" onclick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'outbound-article', 'http://msn.foxsports.com/video?vid=58983ba9-9dcd-490e-9eaa-0ad66929bd58', 'Coca Cola: Dragon']);" target="_new" title="">Coca Cola: Dragon</a>

<a href="http://msn.foxsports.com/video?vid=d4180862-7859-4c8d-96ea-3104a22ac65a" onclick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'outbound-article', 'http://msn.foxsports.com/video?vid=d4180862-7859-4c8d-96ea-3104a22ac65a', 'Coca Cola: Border Patrol']);" target="_new" title="">Coca Cola: Border Patrol</a>

And also, falling into the “Faith on TV” category, behold the Resurrection Power of Nacho Cheese Doritos.

<a href="http://msn.foxsports.com/video?vid=92bf7e1a-0ed9-4305-97b5-8ab0b40faf2f" onclick="_gaq.push(['_trackEvent', 'outbound-article', 'http://msn.foxsports.com/video?vid=92bf7e1a-0ed9-4305-97b5-8ab0b40faf2f', 'Doritos: Healing chips']);" target="_new" title="">Doritos: Healing chips</a>

Tell me your life is changed

The Seven Suns

In Robert Rodriguez’ 2010 contribution to the Predator franchise (which, by the way, is the best offering since the original), a group of mercenary-type earthlings are transported to a distant planet where they eventually come face to face with the alien species who brought them there (bet you’re ready to rent it right now). In one early scene, the humans catch a glimpse of the sky and see stars and planets which tip them off to the fact that they’re not on the right planet. They’re not even in the right solar system. Seeing the alien horizon prompts Royce (played by Adrien Brody) to remark quite intently, “We’re going to need a new plan.”

The many suns of this imaginary world remind me of the seven suns last Sunday’s portion of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. (2:11-3:6). In this passage, Paul uses seven words that contain the Greek prefix συν (pronounced soon, actually). The inclusion of sun as an adverb or adjective conditions the word Paul is using as something that is done in community.

In describing what Christian community is and does, the sun prefix is instrumental for our understanding. As Paul writes, we are citizens together, who are joined together and built together, knowing together that we are heirs together. We are Christ’s body together sharing all things…you guessed it…together.

We are like citizens of another planet, living in an alien world. We get our bearings from the seven suns, our togetherness. As we move forward as the Church, we’re going to see God do new things, experience the Risen Christ in new and powerful ways.

And, oh yeah, we’re going to need a new plan.