Composers Not Computers

I used to have my alarm set to wake me up to the song, “The Final Countdown” by the band Europe. I guarantee, regardless of your age, you have heard the melodic anthem of electronically generated sounds in some sort of bad movie, commercial, or TV show. If you know the song, you know why I would wake up to it. Its epic! If you don’t believe me just try it. I would raise from my pillow in the first few parts of the introduction and as the drums kicked in, I would stride forth to begin my day, brushing my teeth like a maraca to the chorus now soaring throughout my room. If you ever want to start your day off like you are a superhero, set your wake to “The Final Countdown.” Perhaps if I was braver I would carry around a giant boom box wherever I went to play music according to my life and my mood.

I love music.  In fact think it would be very hard to find someone who hates music. Have you ever asked someone their favorite band and they responded, “Oh, I don’t have one, I hate music.” That would just be bizarre. Now granted, some have more eclectic tastes, where some like only a specific genre. I think every genre is beautiful in its own right. I have woken up to 80’s rock anthems and at the same time gotten pumped up for an athletic event by Beethoven’s Cannon in D.  Music can trigger memories, emotions, and inspiration.

We use music to remember, to give thanks, to worship, to honor, to express, or simply to create. It doesn’t just have to be professionally recorded music. We hum in the shower. We sing to our children. We create, whether on pots and pans on the floor while mom does dishes, or perhaps in more developed manner. In any case, regardless of preference, ability, we all have a connection to music. Trust me, my mother-in-law is tone deaf and yet she has over 30,000 songs on her computer. Music evokes. It pulls things out in a story that otherwise might go unspoken; masked emotion, underlying tension, suspense, joy, fear, anxiety, celebration.  In scripture we can often find this narration perhaps citing a voice, “like thunder,” or, “a small whisper.” How about all of the times we encounter choruses of praise and joy?

I believe one of the reasons we have such a connection to music is because of the way we were created. As I have studied more books and responded regarding the creation of the universe and more so, the movement and perpetuation of that creation, I have encountered a perception that I am fearful of. It isn’t a reliance on evolutionary theory or a problem with how old the earth is. I am not overly concerned with the dinosaurs nor big bang theories. What concerns me is how all or any of these theories are applied to life.  Often they make us seem more like computers. We should live this long, we should have about this many kids, we have been in existence since such and such a date… I have brown eyes because of this, we descend from these creatures because of that, the world operates because there are rules and regulations set to make it operate this way. Take those numbers, divide them by x multiply them by y, and so on an so forth. My life however doesn’t seem to run like a math equation. I don’t see the world around me running like one either.

            One of the greatest stories ever told is found in Genesis chapters 1 and 2. I say story here not making a claim on historicity, but more so making a claim on the way we should read it and tell it to others. Like it or not, Genesis doesn’t read like your freshman biology book, and there is a reason for that. The story is telling us about more than just order, more than just about phylum and species.

When I read through the first two chapters of the Bible, I don’t read through to try to get a sense if God is for or against evolution. I am not overly concerned with his “ability” to create in one day or several and I haven’t spent much time on safari looking for the original Garden of Eden. What I learn is about who this God is, and who He made us to be. The story of Scripture is filled with this insight time and time again. Each time we read of who God is, we are met with a refrain of who he created us to be. For example: God is love and we are created to be loving or God is King and calls us to be those who live in his Kingdom.

The language in Genesis is artful it is poetic, is flows more like notes on a page rather than numbers on a spreadsheet. There are similarities between the two- the measurements, the intentionality, the precision – but both with their stark difference as well. I wonder as we engage scripture as it sets the trajectory for the story that is begging and If we stopped spending our time arguing over things God didn’t find valuable enough to come right out and say, we would see the things that he does tell us plainly. I have looked but I haven’t found a footnote that says, “on the eighth day God said ‘do,’ or, ‘do not listen to Darwin’s theory of evolution.” I am not sure he cares all that much and honestly, how much would that knowledge really affect your daily life? How much time to you stay awake at night reflecting on the ramifications of evolutionary theory?

What does tell us, or show us in fact, does actually have huge ramifications for our life. You should lose sleep over this. God shows us that he is a composer, not a computer. God is like the leader of a massive orchestra, calling things to being, moving, shaking, inventing, creating. Sometimes, I read through that story imagining the music that would accompany such a screenplay; the rise and fall of the melody, the heart stopping bass, the drums (of course). Think of Darth Vater without the brass anthem backing his every step. Would the absence of that theme change how you see iconic villain?

Look at a sunset; look at a mountain range or an oceanfront. Look out your front door for crying out loud. The evidence is everywhere. God is a composer.

What we learn next is equally as astonishing and consequential. God created us to be composers, not computers. God created us to dream dreams and live them out. He created us to imagine the world into a better existence. He created us to be reflections of his own image (Genesis 1:27-28). We are called to compose. Music enhances any story. It brings the story to life in a way that noting else can.

Sure, we do that with the arts, with music and dance, and paint, but the way we are called to create is far greater than only the arts. We are called to compose a soundtrack to the life we live. We are called to compose as our creator created us to compose. By the relationships we build, by the job we pursue, by the life we create, God calls us to compose. Maybe that is why I like movies more than books. A book leaves more room for imagination, but a great movie is accompanied by a great soundtrack, a soundtrack that emphasizes and enhances. It is as if the characters are willing the surrounding music into existence as they pursue the story they are living.

I guess that is why I find propositions for the existence of the world that exclude God not all that compelling. The God that we read of in the story of history, the God who created you, and the very air you breathe, doesn’t act like a computer. He isn’t a computer, simply following some unwritten rules of the universe, acting according to the sum of various cosmic equations. He is a composer, like a master conductor in front of a world-class orchestra. And as creation moves foreword, as you write your worn story, you are adding to the soundtrack.

What does the music of your life communicate about the story you are living and writing? Is the music emphasizing, enhancing your story? Is there any music at all? If the story you are living is the sum total of the life that you are living, the soundtrack is the way you are living it. God created us to be composers, to will into existence a beautiful harmony that accompanies a story we were destine to live.

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God Doesn’t Need Anymore Extras

Nobody wants to be an extra in the story. I mean, in the big story, the main story, your own story. I know a guy who was an extra in Batman: The Dark Knight, and I can say I would have loved to be an extra in that story. But Batman is only a movie. There is a greater story taking place in the world; a story that began at the beginning of time. The story has seen its fair share of twists and turns, its a story that has written both the echoes of history and the whispers of destiny. I can guarantee, no body wants to be an extra in that story.

There is something far greater than poetic poise or charismatic presence that separates the leading roles, the main players, from the extras and stock characters. It is not wardrobe or looks, not age or ethnicity. The depths of what makes a great character go far deeper than surface level evaluation. A great character is one who is willing to sacrifice for the sake of the story. They are willing to invest their whole being, their love at the risk of loss, their self at the risk of pain, their fears at the risk of failure, and their soul at the risk of loosing their entire being.

Are you willing to risk? As a read through the story God has penned for the world to take notice, I read about the history of my ancestors, and yours. I find it intriguing to note what everyone I read about has in common… they are willing to sacrifice everything to live the story that has been written for them, at the risk of being shamefully disappointed yet with the reward of discovering true meaning and full life.

I remember in high school when a pastor recommended to me the book The Purpose Driven Life by Pastor Rick Warren. The book leads readers through a series of daily readings at the promise of one conclusion, when the book is done, you will know the purpose of your life and you will feel compelled to pursue it.  I know the book changed hundreds of thousands of lives and is one of the all-time best sellers, however I must confess… I never finished it.

It wasn’t that what Warren wrote was wrong, nor that I would dare criticize a pastor/writer who has accomplished great things and a book that is an all-time great according to sales lists. I think Pastor Warren makes a compelling case for offering purpose and purpose through a life in Christ. But for me, I was seeking more than purpose. Purpose is static. I needed purpose with movement, with trajectory. I needed adventure.

I am an extremely competitive person. When I play a game, when I play a sport, I intend to win. I don’t want second place. I remember a comedian’s routine I once heard where they remarked that sliver would be the worst medal to win in the Olympics. “With gold you are the best, with Bronze it’s ‘hey at least I got something.’ But with Silver, you are the best of the losers. No one lost better than you.” Nonetheless, I love to win. My wife will never let me forget when we played Monopoly while we were dating. Halfway though the game she requested to count my money, a request I denied (she was my capitalist enemy after all). The conversation digressed first to a wrestling match where I clutched my pile of paper money in one hand vehemently opposing the spontaneous audit she requested while I held her off with my other hand; this was quickly followed by the end of our game.

I used to joke with some former staff at my church that my life motto is, “life is a competition, win it.” Although I have no doubt that clutching to that as a motto will get me nowhere but friendless and confused, there is a kernel of truth to life being a competition. Whenever you compete, you take a risk, you willingly put yourself out there for potential loss because of the equal yet more enticing potential for reward.  Donald Miller in his A Million Miles in a Thousand Years explains that a character is, “Someone who wants something and who overcomes obstacles to get it.” Simple enough, and yet according to that, Christians are most often awful characters, we are stock, we are extras in the very story God has written for us. I know there is exception but with over a billion Christians in the world, that exception is small. We are seen as passive, boring, ignorant, and arrogant. We aren’t the heroes of God’s story; we are extras. It is as if the secular world yells at us, “at l east non-Christians have a part to play. No matter good or bad, at least we are living something.” It is a myth that sadly most of us live into reality.

The great characters in history are people who were not afraid to risk.  When I say character, I don’t mean fictitious person, I mean someone who truly finds themselves as a part of God’s story, and who lives the role that has been written for them. Abraham was essentially homeless; he and his elderly wife had no kids. When they finally got one, God asked Abraham to kill him. Most of us know that Abraham ended up not having to  (God stepping in at the last moment) but Abraham didn’t know that at the time. He was willing to risk the one son he had because he believed God had written a story for him that somehow involved this risk, this pain, this unexplainable loss.

David was a young shepherd before he had a quick rise to power. Just when things were looking great for David, because of some Jealousy in the royal family, he was forced to flee and live in the dessert in the Middle East for years. He even had to ally with his enemies at times to stay alive. I have to imagine that David must have asked himself, “Is this all worth is? Wouldn’t I have been better with my sheep?” (Anytime you ask if you would be better off with sheep, there’s a problem.) David eventually returned to become one of the greatest Kings of Ancient history. Job had a great life, and then without explanation he lost everything. It wasn’t his fault, he didn’t do anything wrong. And yet he remained faithful to God, believing the story God had called him to. Job made it our alright, he got his wealth and family restored to him with more than he had before, but we witness Job, in the middle of his misery wondering if it is worth it. Is God really good? Does he really care about my story?

Moses was a murderer living away from his people well before he became the one to lead his people to freedom. Paul was a murderer before he started one of the greatest missionary movements of history. Peter was a fisherman who was confident he was living his great story. Then in a moment of weakness Peter hit bottom. He denied the very life he claimed he would die for. He failed. And yet it was that failure that he was called out of to start the Christian Church.

Pain refines. Pain turns good characters into great ones. Pain humbles the proud, forces the weak to be strong, forces the arrogant to rely on God. Yes, pain hurts, but Pain separates those who really want great stories form those who want easy lives.

You are a great character, and God has written for you a great story. He doesn’t need any more extras, he doesn’t need anyone else standing on the sidelines. God has written an epic masterpiece, and he needs you to play your part. God has written you a story, Great! The plot is established. Now what? He is calling you to want something, and he is calling you through the obstacles, through the doubt, through the failure, and through the pain, to go get it. He is calling you to sacrifice the character you are for the one you were made to be. He is calling you to change the world; he is calling you to tell his great story by living your own great story. Do you want to be a David or do you want to be a Havilah? Who? Precisely. There is a story written and waiting for you, its not easy, it’s not painless, it’s not all happy, the great ones never are, and it’s a great story.

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Jumping out of a plane

Jumping out of a plane is really more like getting thrown out of a plane. When I was 23, my younger sister who had just turned 21, invited me to celebrate with her by jumping out of a plane… at 7500 feet. I had talked a big game for a while before that saying that if she ever wanted to, I would be there. Now it was my time to back up what I had said. We went out to California, where my sister lived, and she made reservations with a skydiving company. We drove out that morning and were welcomed into a small shed. There were people in brightly colored jumpsuits everywhere. It was a sunny day and there were literally people falling out of the sky, grasped in the atmosphere only by their colorful canopies as the floated to earth in a haphazard  dance.

Upon our entrance, we were ushered into a small room featuring a few chairs and a small TV that still played VHS tapes. The message of the tape was simple so I will paraphrase it for you, “if you die, don’t blame us, its not our fault. There is no guarantee you will make it out alive” Very reassuring.

Following 20 minutes of our “pregame speech” we walked outside and were given a blue jumpsuit and literally two minutes of instruction.

“When you jump out do this.”

“When you are falling do that.”

“Pull the parachute at such and such a time.”

“Ok, lets go”

With that small introduction we walked over to a plane that, upon first seeing it, I was glad we had parachutes. It is always a great feeling to walk up to a plane in such poor shape that you say to yourself that there is a better than even chance you will need a parachute.

As I ascended skyward with my sister I tried to keep calm, being the big brother I of course could not be seen showing any cowardice.  Eventually we reached out destination, not ORD or LAX… simply 7500 feet.

After watching my other passenger compatriots gleeful jump toward the ground, I was strapped very tightly to an instructor whom I did not know nearly as well as the proximity of our bodies suggested.  He told me to kneel and cross my arms at the door, preventing me from stopping him as he threw us both out of the plane. And just like that there was no opportunity to stop, no opportunity to go back, no matter what happened from here that wouldn’t change one harsh but unavoidable reality, I was falling.

There is a truth about follow Jesus, it is much like being thrown, or jumping from a plane at 7500. To some people it sounds exciting, to some frightening, to some ludicrous. Some hear the prospect of a life pursuing God and they can imagine nothing worse. Some hear it and long to do so, they just don’t know how to find the plane, and yet others still, frightened and scared, kneel down, cross their hands, and simply fall.

I think we glamorize the wrong parts of the Christian message sometime. We glamorize heaven but we forget to talk about earth. We glamorize eternity but don’t talk about reality. We glamorize Jesus but I highly doubt, with even some of the most devout people I know, that they would love living a three year period walking around the dessert with no home, no clothes, no money, entering into the most desolate parts of society, and eventually being killed for your beliefs.

Here is the truth, there is a constant opposing voice in this universe which is dead set on planting within your spirit: doubt, fear, complacency, apathy, and alike. It is as if we are all watching a video that says, “if you give your life to Jesus it will be boring, it will be stupid, it will be a waist of your time, you will die without purpose, you will be poor.”

“If you give your life to Jesus, your shoot wont open, you won’t make it back to tell the tale… and its no ones fault but your own.”

Hebrews 11:1 says this in the best possible explanation to what this thing called “faith” is, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”

In my short life I have been chased by African elephants, traveled around the world, built a church, met loads of people, attended 4 colleges, received 2 degrees, watched young people do amazing things, shaken hands with a president, jumped out of a plane, gotten tattoos, broken some bones, given some speeches, played music live on stage, gotten in a fight with a baboon (there were actually a few of them and they were huge) and am about to have my first child. I have no idea what is next, but I have done this all in the life I have given to pursue Jesus, and I have done none of it with regret. God promises adventure. He doesn’t promise security, he doesn’t promise the American dream, he simply offers “life and life to the full.”  (John 10:10).

I can convince no one to live a life following Jesus, I can only offer my life and suggest that the lies we hear are wrong.  God is calling us to jump out of a plane at 7500 feet. He is calling us to let go, he is calling us to trust him. He is yelling at us that no matter where that plane lands, the true adventure is going to be for the ones who take the leap. And he also says this… The Parachute will open, trust him, he won’t let you down. Don’t believe the lies, don’t buy into the fear, take the leap, and let him show you how much of an adventure can be.

Honestly, there are a lot of people walking around claiming they love God and Jesus. I don’t judge them for a moment, but you can tell, they are still on the plane. They didn’t take the risk, they aren’t willing to trust yet, and with that they are missing the adventure. God calls us all to leap towards the world with all that we have, offering everything we have and leaving the safety of our comfort behind us. And when we jump, as we see the plane passing behind us, no matter what happens next, he guarantees us that there will be an adventure, there is no way to go back, and the parachute is going to open.

 

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Lost Story

We were made to tell stories. Literally, I believe we were made, created, to tell stories. Not just stories of exciting fishing exclusions when we caught a larger than life bass. Not just about the time the cop let you off of the ticket because you cried.  Not even about the time you won the big game, the time you proposed, or the time your first child was born. We were created to tell bigger stories. It’s a problem to me that in our culture today, in the early third millennium, that we are loosing our ability to tell big stories. With the daily increased use of texting and social media, the art of story telling is fading as a priori of communication.

When I say “telling stories,” I don’t mean fanciful tales, which hold little or no fact. I actually believe that those aren’t big stories. No I believe telling stories is about communicating heritage, love, loss, conflict, resolution, and above all, Truth. The best stories are not only compelling, but true. You know even if you read a mediocre book or see a less than compelling movie, your review of the story is always bettered when you hear it as “based on true events.” I love the Batman stories, but the story is only a fantasy. Something I can imagine but not live. Conversely, movies like The Blind Side, and Moneyball, are talked about nor only for their compelling storyline, but for the truth of that compelling storyline.

And yet we have lost our ability. You can’t get much emotion out of a text. Sure you can place something IN ALL CAPS! but does that mean anger or excitement? We have removed body language too. The physical ability to tell a great story has been severed by a million different ways to more “easily” relay information. We have lost the art of telling great stories.

Two-thousand years of years ago it was not like this. Well before the masses could read and write, only a select few scribes and learned individuals had the ability to decipher the written word. Religious leaders and philosophers would spend their lives memorizing sacred texts to communicate them to the people. They were forced to tell stories. They couldn’t show their audience something in compelling graphics or hand out pamphlets to follow along. They also knew that their audience would not have the ability to take notes. It was up to them to find a compelling way to tell the story they were telling, whether it be about the creation of the world, about the Roman conquest, or simply conveying current events.

Head back farther in history and you reach a time with even less “technology.” The chances of access to scripts and texts let alone read them is almost non-existent. And so, it was up to generation after generation to tell stories.

Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t mean information was any less true, it just means they had different ways that they viewed the importance and truth of information. Meaning, history, heritage, destiny, were all wrapped up in one story.

We are called to tell great stories. Although we have lost the art, that does not mean is permanently unreachable.  Donald Miller, in his book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, talks about making and telling great stories. Miller offers the insight that we all want to live a great story, most of us just aren’t. The reason movies and books like Harry Potter aren’t just popular because they are creative (they really are awesome) they are popular because they offer us better stories than the ones we are living.

I remember growing up seeing my friends parents come home from work all of the time. The dad or mom would come home, rest at the dinner table, ask the kids how the day was, and get ready for tomorrow. I reflect now that although they provided for their families, they didn’t offer their families anything more. They didn’t offer them a story that they were living. We wake up, we go to work, we come home, we go to bed, we repeat, then we die.

What I love about Scripture is that God has written a story for us to tell, the greatest story ever told. It is a story of power, and royalty, and love, and violence, and rebellion, and triumph, and mystery, and magic. The Ancestors of our ancestors knew this. They told their story to their children and their children’s children. It wasn’t some boring Sunday school class, focused on memorizing facts and figures. It was compelling story of the past, the future, and the significance every single person.

God has written us a story, and he has written you a story. Not a story of monotony, of capitalism, of 2.5 kids and a dog. God has written you a story of love, of greatness. God has written the love of the universe into the very fabric of your being.  And he is calling you. He is calling to tell his story, by living your story.

Today we find ourselves fighting against a culture that, because culture doesn’t understand the importance of a good story, wants to qualify our story in their proper categories: fiction, non-fiction, biography, history, etc.

We get so caught up in quantifying and qualifying story that we miss it. We don’t tell it. God calls us to tell great stories, and in that calling, he desires for us to live a great story. He has written you a story that is the best possible story that you can live with your life. What would happen if the people of God regained the ability to tell God’s story, and more so, continued to write God’s story with their own? I wonder if a movement known for boredom, conservatism, rules, and judgment could begin to be known for what it really is… a telling of the greatest story ever written, of the destiny of the universe, of the radical love that is bound to transform all of creation.

We read in the story of God, the chronicle of God’s love for the world, of person after person who meets is living a bad story, who God calls to live a great story, and who decides to either choose to tell a great story, or remain silent. God calls you to tell his story, and continue it by writing your own, but it is simply a call, it is up to you to do the telling.

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Does God believe in you?

“God believes in me? I thought that was supposed to be the other way around. I can believe in God but I, require no belief… how could he believe in me?”

This is just an excerpt from the conversation that took place inside my head the way home from work today. Truly I have found myself in one of the busiest seasons I have ever had. I am expecting a child any day now, my wife and I just started a new business, I am a few days away from leading my ministry to a camp with over 1200 high school students and I am grateful enough to be part of another ministry that is thriving and growing daily. These are all great things, things to be celebrated, and yet I reach the end of each day exhausted, drained, and ready for it to be over.

One of the greatest privileges of my life is that God has gifted me with the ability and platform to be able to recklessly tell young people that living their life after Jesus is the best possible way to live their life. This task is such a joy and yet sometimes I feel alone doing it. I fee like no body listens, no body cares, no body is hearing, and I wonder if it is even worth it to speak up at all. Sometimes it seems like it would be easy to throw in the towel, admit that maybe things didn’t work our how I had wanted, and move on.

It’s easy to hide. When we hit conflict, pain, discomfort, it is easier to hide that face it. Life offers us distraction, good and bad. Life offers us other comforts. Life offers us a way out. I will never forget when I sat down with two of my mentors, two people I looked up to greatly. They told me on separate occasions during my senior year in high school that they thought God was calling me into ministry. I politely said I might consider it but I thought that they didn’t make all that much money and I was going to go run track at a Big Ten school and get a major in business. (Yeah, it wasn’t that polite)

When I arrived at school I felt a prompting in my spirit that was hard to describe. I should’ve been excited, I was on my path. I was ready. But it didn’t feel right.  I told the track coach the day before practice started that I wouldn’t be running. I wanted to see what else I could devote my time to. I got very depressed, I felt like I had no direction, no goals, and thought that everything I had planned for my life, Big school, great job, lots of money, etc. just was not going to happen. I submitted my plan to God but apparently he was busy. I started to wonder if maybe I should have gone to study ministry. But it would cause me to change schools, move home, have different aspirations, and explain to everyone that I now wanted to be a pastor (not the easiest explanation).

Then it hit me, If God had a plan for my life, I don’t need a back up plan. If God was calling me to ministry, I didn’t need to major in business, If Go called me to the school down the road, I didn’t need to travel along the way… God believed in me, but did I believe in God?

God calls us to something bigger than the places we run to. Elijah was a prophet called by God; one of the greatest prophets. Elijah one time called down fire from heaven to prove to those around him how real God was (try it sometime). It was stuff like that, which got him in trouble. People who hated God also hated Elijah because he stood for God. They vowed to kill him. They chased him, killed his friends, and did everything they could to discourage people from following God. So Elijah ran. It was easier to run, than to risk pain, to face those who hated him, he wanted to be done with his calling.  Maybe he could become a businessman, maybe a doctor, maybe a salesperson… but not a prophet any more.

But we read in 1 Kings 19 that God met with Elijah. As Elijah was hiding in a cave he heard a huge wind, he saw a blazing fire, and yet God was not in them… and then God met with Elijah, in a small whisper. He reminded him that he was not alone. Other people believed what he did. He reminded him of his calling. God reminded him that believing in God wasn’t enough, that he must believe that God believes in him! So Elijah came out of hiding.

God doesn’t give us what we can’t handle. He trusts us with things that he could do himself. God doesn’t need me to tell young people about Jesus, but he lets me, because he believes in me. In the midst of this season of my life I just needed to hear that message from God. It didn’t show in a blazing fire, not on a fancy billboard, not in some miraculous way… it showed up in a small whisper. Perhaps you need to hear that to. Whether or not you believe in God, don’t know God, hate God, or Google just accidentally directed you to this page, God loves you; God believes in you! I believe in God but what is even more important to remember is that God believes in me.

 

 

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If you have ever woken up and asked yourself, “Have I already had the best moment of my life?” You are not alone. If I am honest, I can admit that I have asked this question far more than once in the limited life I have thus far had. Its not that I think overly high things of past events gone by; I have had some highs and some lows however they would make for a relatively mundane screenplay. More so, I look back and ask, will it ever be better than that? Will it be better than this? Should I be waiting for something more, or has what I should be waiting for already passed?

I will never forget a rainy evening in early spring, my sophomore year in high school. I was a sprinter and hurdler on the track team and although I looked relatively athletic, I was pretty decent. It was the conference meet, one of the biggest meets of the year, and I had made it into the finals of the 200m sprint (half way around the track for those of you unfamiliar). There were eight of us, and if all went according to plan, I would finish sixth, still not bad as a sophomore. I remember there was a senior from my team in the finals with me. He was revered as an unbelievably fast runner and overall a great athlete. Surely he would take first, and the rest of the field would follow behind. We got in to the blocks, my heart was pounding, and then, the gun went off.

I shot out of the start racing the curve of the track on the first 100m. When I got around the curve, I could see that no one was yet ahead of me or next to me (which meant I was in the lead). I sped forth down the straight to the finish and as I crossed I was met by a few members of my team and one of my coaches. They all looked baffled and confused. “Did you just…win?” I remember being asked by my coach, to which I responded, “I think so,” (still waiting to figure out why no one had crossed the finish line before me (turns out I just ran faster).

If I were honest once more, I would concede that I have longed to repeat that moment more than once: the excitement, the surprise, and the victory. And yet, it has passed forever, to be fondly remembered but never repeated. It is kind of a silly thing, to hold such a fleeting moment in such high regard, and yet we all do it, with a race, with a conversation, with a date, with whatever you choose, we all look back and wonder, is that they best it will get?

The writer of Ecclesiastes is likely best known for his contribution to a fairly popular Beetles song; through eleven and a half chapters, the write chronicles simple truths from a lifetime of wisdom. They cover everything from business, to social interaction to political reverence.  Near the conclusion the writer exclaims, “Meaningless, meaningless,” “Everything is meaningless.” Wow, what a relief, nothing matters. The writer however is not a nihilist, nor an early student of Nietzsche. In the few remaining prose the writer reflects, “now that all has been heard, here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the duty of every human being.” (Ecc. 12:13)

Really? All life is about is fear and rules? I was so disappointed when I first read that passage. “What and idiot,” I thought, there has got to be more to life than that. And there is…

This doesn’t mean the writer is wrong he is just misunderstood commonly. When he speaks of fear, he doesn’t speak of discomfort and trembling, he speaks of reverence and acknowledgement. Know who God is, in all his power, all his glory, and acknowledge him for that. Secondly, keeping the commandments isn’t about rules, its about having a healthy life. Acknowledge God, we covered that, don’t steal, lie, murder, covet, etc. All these things will decrease your quality of life, either through guilt, punishment, or lack of joy.

I read that book however and I am reminded, it is not about the great moment, it is about a great life…

When I graduated from High school, my track coach gave me a gift. He built a shadowbox and inside placed a picture of me sprinting. Next to it he inscribed a verse, 2 Timothy 4:7, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” As Paul, one of the greatest evangelists and church planters ever (who also wrote a great deal of the New Testament) was reflecting on his life and handing over his life’s work to his apprentice, he stated that verse. Paul had reflected on all that he had done, and not reminisced about fleeting moments that have gone by, but acknowledging that it wasn’t just about small moments, it was about having a great life.

That is a verse I have already decided I want read at my funeral, not in mourning, but in celebration. I hope that when I reach the end, someone can say of me not that I have simply had some great moments, but that I fought well and fair when life got difficult and I didn’t give up on my family, my friends, or myself. That I ran a good race, start to finish, for years upon years and finished it. And that through everything I remembered that God is faithful, that every moment spent without God, every bit of wealth, every success, is meaningless, and that I kept the faith.

My hope and my prayer is that I can wake up and not continue to ask, have I already had the best moment of my life, but Is my life creating great moments. We shouldn’t be afraid that our best moments have passed us by. If we do, we will likely live that belief into reality. Instead we should live in anticipation, that our life still has plenty more great moments to come and then we should go make them.

But I still wouldn’t mind running that race again…

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The universe needs redefinition

I read this morning in my devotion a quote from C.S. Lewis. He wrote of us as human beings preferring a God who acted much like our nice old grandfather, often being the one to spoil us a bit, seldom if ever disciplining us, and always reflecting a joyful peace that is comforting, never controlling. Lewis reflected that the Scriptures claim that God is love, and yet his, mine, and our, view of love much more reflect the benevolent Grandfather God than what we actually get. He wrote this in conclusion of the thought, “I should very much like to live in a universe which was governed on such lines. But since it is abundantly clear that I don’t, and since I have a reason to believe, nevertheless, that God is love, I conclude that my conception of love needs correction.” (From: The Problem of Pain)

We are beings who continuously seek to understand the universe on our terms. Why do bad things happen? Why is there mystery in creation, in biology, in astronomy? It is the ever present why of humanity that cause us to doubt, to fall away, to grow distant, bitter, and confrontational. Why if God says that He is Love, does He not do things that I would consider loving?

The universe needs redefinition. Perhaps instead of asking why God does not follow through with our expectations we should be asking a very different why: why were are expectations so different from God’s that we were surprised?

I think that Gospels are filled with these instances. We think that these antiquated books have little to do with our life today and in actuality, life hasn’t changed all that much. Look at just a sampling of the whys posed to Jesus: Why can you heal people when today is supposed to be a day of rest? Why do forgive someone before you heal him or her? Why does your religious practice look different than ours? Why is your interpretation different? Why don’t you save yourself? Why do you let these people kill you? On and on and on…

God must get tired of us. I mean, I would if I were he. We think we corner him, we think we figure him out, we think we have gotten him in a box, and just then, just when we believe we have everything figured out, we find out that we need to redefine how we see God, how we see love, we need to redefine the universe. We find ourselves like Peter, one moment confessing that Jesus is God and the next being reprimanded for not actually realizing what Jesus as God actually means.

We like to put God in our nice little packaging. It makes our life easier. Following a set of rules, a list of principles and practices… that’s pretty easy to do and pretty easy to check off. Following the living breathing, moving, active God, that takes a little more work. And since like me, you might be a little lazy, we find ourselves like the Pharisees, first trying to correct how God acts instead of correcting ourselves, and what we believe the Christian life is all about.

God is Spontaneous. That’s the thrilling part about faith. Often Christianity is criticized for monotony but it may the only truly spontaneous thing left in the universe. How else do you explain businessmen giving up high powered jobs to become missionaries, Students devoting their time, money, and efforts to ending hunger, people sacrificing their health and freedom to hold underground church services, the average person offering a random act of kindness for a stranger.

The truth is, if your faith isn’t spontaneous… you might need to ask how closely you are actually following Jesus. Religion has been the proverbial definition of structure for 2,000 years, but perhaps we need to redefine what this thing called “faith” is really all about.

God can’t be Fedexed. We can’t put him in a box so we know what he is all about. Yet sadly that is what our definition of God has been for too long. If all we do, all we say, all we are should be a reflection of who God is, then we need a new definition. The universe needs to be redefined.

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The Danger in Believing in Jesus

 

What is the most resilient parasite? A bacteria? A virus? An intestinal worm?… An idea. Resilient, highly contagious. Once an idea has taken hold of the brain it’s almost impossible to eradicate. An idea that is fully formed, fully understood. That sticks, right in there somewhere

-Walter Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) Inception

Inception is easily one of my al time favorite movies. Walter, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is an expert of the mind, of planting ideas. Walker it right. Ideas, powerful enough ones can overtake reality, they alter proper perception, they can replace what reality is. What we believe becomes our reality, so then, our reality may not be all the real.

Sometimes, believing in Jesus comes close to killing my faith. I know that sounds counter intuitive however, as time passes from the first time I acknowledged that I wanted to be come a follower of Jesus, my belief begins to remove me from reality, and yet it is in reality, not in belief, where Jesus lives. What I have found in my life, as I have found as I continue to work with high school students who are wrestling with and investigating their own faith, is that we so over-emphasize belief, that Jesus becomes an idea to believe in, a really nice one, but none the less, he becomes more like Aristotle’s supreme good as opposed to a living breathing human being, the every embodiment of love, and in the case of Jesus… We have turned historical reality into a nice idea.  The Danger of believing in Jesus is because we make him more into a Santa figure than recognize the Real, living, breathing Jesus. We make him something he is not.

I am convinced that a majority of Christians prefer the idea of Jesus to the real Jesus. Ideas are malleable, they are not concrete, and they are subject to whims, changes, and preference. It is a very dangerous thing to turn Jesus into an idea because we control ideas, we are the one’s who generate the idea; the idea is subject to us not us to it. The idea of Jesus is easier because we get to shape and mold him into a tailor made bundle of our preferences, our ideas, and our lifestyles. I guarantee we all think Jesus would agree, for the most part, with most of our life and lifestyle, yet in reading the Gospels, he was constantly calling people, including his closest friends, to a different life than they were living. 

I don’t think we do this intentionally however. We focus so much on having faith in what is not seen, we strive so hard to maintain a faith that is relevant in today’s world, we just feel that we need, consciously or subconsciously, to change Jesus, ever so subtly at first, however as we continue our faith I wonder how much the Jesus we believe in begins to resemble ourselves rather than our God.

In an oft quoted essay, Ludwig Feuerbach, a 19th century German philosopher, wrote, “It is not as in the Bible, that God created man in his own image. But, on the contrary, man created God in his own image.” Needless to say, Feuerbach’s quote was not to compliment Christianity and her believers. I think, although perhaps first met with protest, if you think hard about it, think about the Christian’s you know, think about the last political/religious debate you heard, think about the last disagreement you had… we tend to use God to prove the rightness of our actions rather than our actions to prove the grace and goodness of God. God resembles the former, not the latter.  When we encounter someone who, by the literal grace of God, has managed to flip that equation on its head, to go against the grain, someone such as Mother Theresa perhaps, we see them as such an unattainable saint that we see little point in even trying.

I think the problem, or at least part of the problem remains that we being with an idea of God, not God himself. We begin with a philosophical concept, not a real, loving being. I am not one who believes that someone can be argued into faith in Christ, but after reading Simply Jesus, by N.T. Wright, I was compelled with how he began his discussion of knowing Christ not with a list of attributes but with a historical description of the actual person, the real Jesus.

The man, Jesus of Nazereth, was born likely around 4BCE. His Father, Joseph was a carpenter and likely trained Jesus in the trade. He may have had a muscular build or callused hands from working in the family business. He might have had brown eyes, and dark hair, although none of his physical attributes are detailed in historical sources. The very language used in the Gospel of John 1:14, “The word became flesh,” actually means enfleshment or to put on human skin.

Until the age of about 30 he had, from what we can tell, a relatively un-eventful life. However, around the late 20s-30AD, Jesus of Nazareth began public ministry. He traveled all around Jerusalem and surrounding areas. He preformed real, unexplainable sights, healings, and wonders that have been called and considered “miracles.” Jesus was a great teacher, who amassed great crowds in all of the places he traveled. He was extremely versed and learned in the Scriptures and he was considered and called by the title “Rabbi” or “Teacher.” Between 30-33AD he was executed by crucifixion. And shortly after his followers claimed to see him resurrected from the dead.

Historically we can prove (Christian and non-Christian sources and scholars hold no debate) that a man Jesus of Nazereth was a living breathing man who lived and traveled and taught in the early first Century. Josephus, a Jewish leader who became a Roman official and historian in the mid first Century wrote in his Antiquities of “James, the Brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ.” He recorded in his Tesimonium Flavianum:

About this time there lived Jesus, A wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by en of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to live him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

It would seem odd for a former Jewish Pharisee (they didn’t much like Jesus) and Roman official (they didn’t care for him either) to take time to write about some guy named Jesus, unless he actually existed. There are other corroborative sources (see Tacitus or Pliny the Younger) that also discuss a real man named Jesus, who others claim did what the Gospels write that Jesus did.

The Gospels are of course the most reliable source for understanding Jesus but first lets look at a comparative study of how many manuscripts and documents we have of major sources we use from around that time period. We have 7 copies of Pliny the Younger’s History the earliest of we can trace back to 750 years after it was first written. We have 20 Annals of Imperial Rome written by Tacitus which is major primary source used to understand Ancient Rome. We can trace the earliest of those 20 copies to 1,000 years after Tacitus first penned them.

Remember this is still impressive to have 20, well before the copy machine. If you had to sit and copy word after word, page after page, it wasn’t going to be an unimportant text. For Homer’s Illiad we can trace 650 copies the first dating back to 500 years after Homer wrote the epic. That is in fact the most documented ancient work with 650 copies… except for the Gospels. In total the 4 biographies of Jesus are represented by over 24,000 copies, the earliest traced to just outside 25 years of when they were first written.

Now this man who lived and breathed and did ministry according to a multitude of early Christian and non-Christian sources made a remarkable claim… that He, in fact, was God. The very man who laughed and wept, and spoke, and taught, was God, on earth. What would it look like to not only follow an idea of Jesus, one we eventually make our own idea, and instead follow the real, living, breathing man, the real Jesus.

A.J. Jacobs, an agnostic editor for Esquire magazine wrote a book called The Year of Living Biblically in which he, despite his agnostic religious beliefs, lived a year trying to adhere to all of the commands in the Bible. When asked whether reading the entire encyclopedia (another of his books, I highly recommend both books!) or his Biblical year was more difficult, he reflected, “Living Biblically, hands down… the Bible project changed my life more deeply. If affected every part of my existence: the way I ate, dressed, talked, bathed, walked, worked, and raised my kids.” I think the problem with following the idea of Jesus instead of the real Jesus is that we can change the idea, or parts of it, depending on the journey we are on, the real Jesus however, the one we are called to follow, calls us also to change the journey altogether.  

 

 

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