In my mind there is one opening movie scene that is greater than all the rest. Try as directors have for years, it is and will forever be impossible to top this cinematic masterpiece.
Some movies start off a little more subtle. I think about the type of movies that open with 4 minutes of credits to some b-roll or animated figures. Listen, no one wants to sit through the credits. That is why they are at the end, so I can leave during them. Don’t give me that bait and switch.
Others never really take off at all. You wait, and you wait and finally you just realize you have wasted precious minutes of your life on this dry, unentertaining film while you could have been doing something more important like posting a picture of your latest meal to Instagram.
But there is nothing like a story that really comes out guns blazing. And the opening scene that I am thinking of does just that. It is in fact, the opening scene to the Lion King.
How do you beat it?
I have actually reenacted a one-person version of that scene after the births of both my sons. The Doctor did not find is as entertaining as the Disney version.
Every story starts somewhere, but good stories start… well good. They have tension and excitement, and they make you want to hear the rest. If you have seen the Lion King, can you imagine never seeing that opening scene? Or think about your favorite movie, imagine never knowing how it began?
No one should come in at the middle of a story. But that is just what we do. We are born in the middle of a story. We live in the middle of a story. And most of the time, we don’t take the time to go back to the beginning.
The first 4 words of the Bible go like this, “In the Beginning God…” If this were the Fairytale version it would be “Once Upon a time God…”
I love how we take the opening chapter of Genesis and ask questions of it that wont really change much for us.
At the end of the day, the What, the When and the How of creation doesn’t do a whole lot for me in the here and now. When I struggle, when I doubt, when I celebrate, or when I am need direction.
At the end of the day, my relationships aren’t mended, my bills aren’t paid, and my spirits aren’t lifted by knowing the age of the earth.
What helps, what changes everything, is the Why.
Throughout opening scene of God’s story, the first chapter of Genesis, God just starts creating stuff. Light, land, animals, plants. He even created Spiders… sometimes I think God has a weird sense of humor.
And after he creates these things he keeps saying they are “good”.
This isn’t saying, “yeah they are ok.” What he is saying is, “this is just as it should be, this is perfectly good.”
But when we get to the end of the chapter we read that God creates something separate from everything else. He creats something that bears his very image. He creates us and says that we are very good.
You remember how everything else was just as it should be? We are the pinnacle of all of that.
And the why? God is good, he created a good world, to reflect how good he is.
Now in the middle of the story, we know that the world is not all good. But in the beginning, it was good, and it showed the goodness of God.
Fossil records, and carbon dating, and interpretation, and dinosaurs that only eat plants all don’t do much for me here and now.
When I want to know why bad things happen, when I want to know why the world is not as it should be, when I want to know why God doesn’t seem to notice.
At the end of the day, my relationships aren’t mended, my bills aren’t paid, my spirits aren’t lifted by knowing that God is good, but it changes my perspective, it gives me hope.
Genesis 1 reminds us that we are not accidents. We’re not mistakes. Regardless of what the world says, or the failures we endure, before we did anything, achieved anything, proved anything, we are very good. We are image bearers of a good God who created a good world to show how good he is.
That’s how our story starts.
–cue catchy intro theme song-
I walked into Goodwill the other day and stumbled upon a great find. It was wrapping paper for 10 cents a roll. I immediately reached for Mr. Washington, secure in my wallet and informed the clerk I would take ten rolls.
Many people were appalled when I told them this because the wrapping paper was Justin Bieber wrapping paper. It was bright blue and orange and gloriously covered in candid’s from the Bieb’s career. Who wouldn’t want this? turns out, most anyone.
Weather its Justin Bieber, Richard Sherman, President Obama, Miley Cyrus, John Boehner, the Barrista who made your drink wrong, The guy who cut you off on the way to work, homosexuals, heterosexuals, news anchors, or anyone else, we all hate someone.
Many of us hate a lot of people.
Everyone has their own hate list.
My wife knows that the guy who makes me shovel the sidewalk well into his area has been on mine for the last few years.
Who is on yours hate list?
I mean everybody from people you just prefer not to be around to people you would physically assault if free from consequence.
We have two ways of lying to ourselves when it comes to people we hate.
1: We say we don’t hate anyone but we strictly avoid anyone who we disagree with. We don’t have to technically hate people because we are never around anyone who isn’t exactly like us. We stay inside our bubble. We say we love people outside the bubble but we never go out to actually know them. I can’t say that I love my wife if I never see her, never talk to her and live in a different place. It doesn’t work.
2: Some of us don’t stay in the bubble. We say things like, “hate the sin, love the sinner,” but we have a whole lot of trouble separating the two. Our actions toward the sin irrevocably affect the sinner as well. This manifests itself in small ways, like seeing a story on the news you disagree with and making offhanded comments, or in big ways, like angry Christian protestors gathering pretty much anywhere.
At best we tolerate people. We like them, in the most basic sense. And we confuse our like for love.
Maybe we don’t actually love to hate people but we certainly don’t love to love them.
What is interesting is that Jesus spent a disproportionate about of time with people the world seemed to hate. From what we can tell from the Gospels, the world loved to criticize, loved to judge, and love to hate the people Jesus spent the majority amount of time with.
Many of the religious people in Jesus’ day viewed the people he hung out with as enemies of the church. They hated the tax collectors, the prostitutes, the drunks, the misfits.
But not Jesus.
He walked into Jericho to a reception that filled the streets. But he called out to a man in a tree, who just so happened to be a chief tax collector, and spent time with him. The man was in the tree because the crowd despised him. Jesus called him about because Jesus loved him. The crowd mumbled criticisms at Jesus. He didn’t care.
Jesus was teaching in the temple when the religious leaders dragged in a woman caught in adultery and threw her at Jesus’ feet. They wanted to stone her. They hated her. They threw her down. Not Jesus, he picked her up, and sent her on her way.
Jesus called one of his first disciples. A guy who would be one of the founders of the early Church; his name was Levi. He was a also tax collector. He invited his friends, who are only known in Scripture as tax collectors and sinners. Others questioned why Jesus ate with them. Jesus ate with them anyways.
And why did he? His response is the same as it has been for 2000, because he came to the sinners, not to the righteous.
We think that to love everyone, we have to like everyone.
The Ancient Greek word that would equate to our word for “like” is the word Philia φιλία. It means friendship or preference.
He doesn’t call us to simply have Philia for people.
One day Jesus was standing on a hillside speaking to a group of followers.
He looked out and said “Love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”
The word Jesus used here is Agápe ἀγάπη It means love in a deep spiritual sense.
He doesn’t care if we like people, but he calls us to love people.
Why? Because he did.
I don’t have to like my non-shoveling neighbor, Justin Bieber, or anybody else, but I do have to love them, because I love Jesus.
What will historians use as historical sources in 2000 years? Will professors at the future universities of the world reference scholarly “selfies” and tweets that are detrimental to their research?
2000 years ago you had to be a ruler, a wealthy person of statues, a great war hero, or an infamous rebel to be penned in the annals of history.
Now we all right our own history, in 140 characters or less. We document our life weather we are a soccer mom, a college freshman, or a Billionaire.
Even though some stories get more press, more readers, and more interest, everyone gets an equal opportunity to tell their story.
So what story are we telling?
Are we even telling a story?
I spend lots of time each week with the most tech savvy generation that has ever walked the planet, High school students.
And what I see is that they stories they are telling are the stories they think the world wants to hear, not the stories the world needs to hear.
And that is where most of us find ourselves.
The world wants to hear stories of success, so we pursue them and try to tell that story. The world wants to hear stories of vanity, so we try to look the part. The world wants to hear stories of “comfort”, so we pursue that ever elusive goal that is always slipping through out fingers even after the next promotion, or bonus, or milestone.
There has never been a time in the history of the world when so many have had an opportunity to communicate so much so fast. And those opportunities are only growing.
But is the story you are telling, the story you were created to tell.
Because there are stories the world wants to hear, but then there are stories the world needs to hear.
The world needs stories of irrational hope when international conflicts seem endless; Stories of unconditional love when the divorce rate in America hovers around half; stories of courageous generosity when millions starve, and freeze and die from easily preventable causes.
History is often a record of people who told stories the world needed to hear, in a time people wanted something else.
May we all tell great stories.
P.S. I also started another blog How To Survive Christians. Check it out at howtosurvivechristians.wordpress.com
Pastors live on the outside spectrum of emotions. We are either overly happy, overly excited, overly concerned or overly angry. A lot of times we are overly angry, about what other people are doing, what they are saying, how they are voting, etc.
I don’t usually hear pastors get up on stage and talk about how angry they are about what they see as sin in their own life. They are just angry about what everyone else is doing.
A few weeks ago on the way to church I stumbled upon one such pastor on the radio he was so angry.
He was yelling and condemning all sorts of people. He said at one point something to the affect of: this is just how God feels about sin…
I was a little embarrassed.
Angry pastors scare me,
That is because have a lot of friends who wouldn’t consider themselves followers of God. They know I am a pastor. I wondered what would happen if they turned on the radio and heard this guy. What would they think that I think about them? What would they think God thinks about them?
The other morning I heard my son on the baby monitor. I hear him every morning, but this morning it was a bit different.
He was sitting down crying, dada… mama… dada… mama
I walked into get him and he was upset when I opened the door. The room smelled really bad.
I walked over to his crib and saw that he clearly had a stomach bug. He had diarrhea that had come out of his diaper and was on his bedding too.
It’s at this moment I had a decision… do I call my wife in? Do I leave him and say, “clean it up yourself?” Do I pick him up?
It wasn’t even a decision.
I immediately picked him up and hugged him. I called his mom into the bathroom and she cleaned him off in the tub while I took his bedding to the wash.
That morning I though, as simple as that story is, it helps me see God, and how God sees me, so much clearer than some angry guy on the radio.
Perry Noble talks about a similar story in his book, Unleash.
My son couldn’t get out of his crib, couldn’t get out of his mess, couldn’t hide is mess, and needed his father to pick him up, clean him up, and clean his mess up. And when I heard him, I ran in to get him.
Two thoughts wreck me when I think about God and how he sees my sin.
1. He is fed up with my sin
2. He is embarrassed by my sin.
And it is there that I miss grace.
Grace says, you can never fall too far, mess up too much, push away too hard. I will always be there.
When I walked into Patrick’s room, it smelled, it was a mess, and he looked up at me and said, “dada, out?”
There wasn’t an option in my mind. I picked him up, pulled him close, and said that I was going to take care of him.
But Danielle and I didn’t just clean Patrick up then throw him back into his crib with a rag and a bucket to deal with his own mess.
We cleaned it up.
So when we laid him back down, his sheets were clean, his room smelled nice and he knew he was loved.
But we also don’t hold it against him.
The only time we may bring it up is when he is older and we could joke about it. We would look back and laugh and talk about his he has grown.
I know it is important to talk about repentance when we sin.
I know it is important to talk about conscious decision-making.
But at the end of the day, I think God wants us to know first that he is there no matter what, and he loves us no matter what.
I so often can think that when I mess up, God must be embarrassed with someone like me doing something like that.
The reality is God has seen it all.
He isn’t embarrassed.
He doesn’t run. He doesn’t leave you to your own mess.
Gods not embarrassed by your sin.
God’s heartbroken by it.
And what he wants to do is pull you close, clean you up, tell you everything is going to be ok, and give you a fresh start.
If you know the Christmas story at all, you know it is not complete without the inclusion of the faithful shepherds who tended their flock late at night until they heard of the baby Jesus’ birth and went to see him.
My son recently received a children’s plastic nativity. Sure enough it came with Mary, Joseph, Baby Jesus who he affectionately calls “baby Jeeze”, and, or course, a shepherd with his sheep.
You just can’t have Christmas without Shepherds.
Why the shepherds?
I have never invited Shepherds to any of my birthday parties.
Shepherds are sort of conspicuous guests at the new baby’s birth.
In the first century shepherds were regarded as the lowest of the low. They were unclean and lived in the fields with their flocks. In some Jewish circles they were considered untouchables and subjected to segregation and prejudice from the community.
When Luke tells us that angels came and proclaimed to a group of shepherds that a baby wrapped in a manger was to be the savior of the world, the shepherds response would have likely been like:
Yeah, but not for us.
We are shepherds.
We aren’t who you want.
The religious leaders are just down the hill over there. They are going to be psyched!
The king is in his palace. He would like to know about this I am sure.
But God came to shepherds.
If he had gone to the priests, people would have thought: Of course! They are priests, God wants to meet with them.
If he had gone to the king, the rich, and the rulers, people would have thought: Of course! They are prosperous, they are rich, they are the elite! God wants to meet with them.
But when people heard that the shepherds were on the guest list, they would have been like, shepherds? Is that a typo? Did God make a mistake? What could he possibly do with them?
We miss this because our yard decorations all include plastic people with plastic sheep alongside the plastic baby Jesus. Most of us don’t know that back then you wouldn’t have wanted to be associated with a shepherd.
But you can’t have Christmas without shepherds.
After the shepherds heard about the news of Jesus, they wanted to go see for themselves.
They left running. Running was very undignified in the first century. People just didn’t run. But these shepherds did. This was finally the opportunity they had to be part of something.
No one talked to them. No one included them. But God was letting them into the circle.
They found Mary and Joseph and Jesus just as they had been told they would. Then they left and told everyone they met about the angels and about the child and everyone was impressed.
These guys who were to never had a role about shepherds because the pioneer evangelists. They were the ones who God used to begin spreading the word. And instead of being turned off or disgusted, people were impressed.
They had never impressed anyone. They were the least likely people to impress people.
They let the world know about Christmas.
You can’t have Christmas without Shepherds.
Luke finishes this portion of his retelling by saying that it turned out exactly as they had been told.
It takes a big risk to believe what God says.
It takes a big risk to go and see for yourself if this Jesus is really who he says he is.
It takes a big risk to overcome the disappointment that it could all be false.
It takes a big risk to step out and tell people, especially when you are the last person that God would ever want to talk to.
You are the last person God would ever want to use.
You are the last person he would want to include because you are the last person anyone else would include.
But you can’t have Christmas without Shepherds.
God went to the least of the people because he wanted to send a message:
THIS IS FOR EVERYONE.
No matter where you are from, what you have done, what people say about you, what you do for a living, or how far away form God you are, God starts with you.
So what did God want with the lowest of the low? What did God want with Shepherds in the field?
He wanted to change the world. He wanted to send a message that his baby was to be for all people. It wouldn’t be such good news if it was only for some people. It wouldn’t be good news if it was only good news to the right people. But it was, and is, and always will be good news for all people.
If you are willing to risk it, God wants to use you in remarkable ways too.
We are all shepherds.
And you can’t have Christmas without shepherds.
I have a confession.
I have been watching The Voice lately.
Let the public stoning commence.
I don’t watch it all the time, but when it is on, I keep it on. If you haven’t seen it, some of the contestants are really incredible singers. My son Patrick also loved dancing around the room when people sing.
The show welcomes young vocal talent to audition while 4 professional judges sit with their back to the singer. If the singer is good enough, the judge turns their chair around and tries to convince the singer to join their team for the season.
The judges are all successful musical acts, but they don’t sing, they coach. They train up the musicians until the next show and then the musicians preform on their own. It’s just them out there. The lights come on, the band kicks in, and the judge and coach is over in the chair not on the stage.
Sometimes I find myself seeing God this way. He is there to coach me, to give me insight, but when the spotlight is on, I am on my own out there. And he will let me know if I succeed or fail.
Pastors do this so often. If the sermon was great, all the credit goes to God. If it was terrible, that falls squarely on us.
I think I kind of suck at following Jesus sometimes. I know I am the only one who feels that way.
Many Non-Christians think they could never preform for God, or never would want to. Many Christians worry that their performance is never good enough.
Christians can get so caught up in our performance that we trade partnering with God to preforming for God.
And that is when we are terrible at being Christians.
I gain a lot of confidence when I read the Gospels however, because I read about how the disciples were sort of terrible at following Jesus too.
In Mark 8, Jesus had this huge crowd come to see him speak. He didn’t even have to offer them pizza or coffee, or comfortable chairs. They actually didn’t have any food there. And there were four thousand of them!
And they got hungry.
Jesus didn’t send anyone to the store. He didn’t send someone to fish. Jesus took seven loaves and a few small fish and fed four thousand people.
Everyone had enough food, and there was some to spare.
Next, Jesus and his close followers got onto the boat.
The disciples realized they had only taken 1 loaf of bread. At that point they are likely blaming each other for not remembering to bring the food. They know it wont be enough for the whole crew for the trip.
Seriously?! Jesus literally just few four thousand people with a few bits of food and these guys are moments later trying to figure out how there are going to eat.
They so quickly forgot what God had done in place of remembering what they think God can’t do.
Jesus knew what they were saying so he reminds them, “watch out of the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.”
They thought Jesus said that because they didn’t bring enough bread.
So Jesus chimes back in, reminding them of how he made food when there was not food, how he fed everyone, how he came through.
The Pharisees and Herod were not baking companies or yeast merchants, these were people who refused to see who Jesus for what he was. And Jesus knew that his disciples were missing it too.
And Jesus wanted to remind his disciples who he is.
and he wants to remind us who he is when we forget what he has done in place of remembering what we thing he can’t do.
He isn’t a judge. He isn’t sending you on stage on your own. He is going ahead of you and he is there with you.
We miss what God is doing because we are focused on what we are doing. We miss that God can feed four thousand because we worry how we are going to feed twelve.
If we want God to do big things in, through, and around us, we have to give up the small things we are too focused on.
When I was in high school I was part of a group that held a bible study on our campus. Once a year we would do a lock-in where student would stay overnight in the building.
I remember in our final planning meeting out adult leader looked at us and said, “Hey guys, when it gets late, people can sometimes get edgy. So I want you to remember that Philippians 2:14 says, ‘do all things without grumbling or complaining.’ If you seem on edge at night, I might come by you and say, ‘hey man just 2:14 it.”
I wanted to tell him that if he said that to me at 2am, I might punch him in the face. He was a far bigger guy than me though, so I decided not to tell him that.
It is interesting how easy we can find ourselves fall into complaining mode.
It really was a shot to my childhood imagination when I realized that there was likely no real meal that was shared between pilgrims and Indians during the birth of the New World.
My elementary teachers were such liars.
But nonetheless, every year we are reminded of the value of thankfulness in our lives.
We don’t have a day called Complaints Day.
That day would pretty much be everyday for most of us.
We will finish dinner on Thursday discussing how we are thankful and then wake up at midnight to shop on Friday and complain about how someone cut in front of us in line.
We don’t need a special meal for that.
We complain about what we don’t have. We complain about the political atmosphere. We complain about the cold, or the heat, or the rain, or the drought. We complain that our kids don’t behave. We complain that we haven’t gotten the promotion. We complain.
It pretty much comes second nature to us.
I would like to say that as a Christian, I no longer complain. I would be just as much of a liar as those who told me there was a real Thanksgiving dinner.
So why would Paul waste his time telling people not to complain? Why would he risk being punched in the face?
Because grumbling robs us of the opportunity to be thankful.
What is interesting is that complaining and thanking are both contagious. The more I complain, the more I find to complain about; the more I give thanks, the more I find I am thankful for. Paul wanted to breed contagious gratitude because he knew the natural human inclination is grumbling.
Instead of complaining I want to challenge myself to focus on how my current circumstance enables me to be more thankful.
If I am sick, I gain more of an appreciation for what is to be healthy and I have an opportunity to be thankful for the service of others.
If I find myself wanting something, I gain the opportunity to have provision which I have no control over or I learn to appreciate what I have in new ways.
When I am alone or in conflict, I gain the opportunity to be more thankful for peace and the opportunity to seek peace.
The reality is, we don’t need to choose to complain. We do that with about as much thinking as it takes to blink or breath. But learning to be thankful is an art I a, not good at yet am trying to learn.
Maybe me day we can all celebrate a fictitious meal where a group of people got together and complained. We can take a day off work to focus on all the ways we want to complain, because we are too busy being thankful the rest of the time.
They are judgmental. They are hypocritical. They care more about rules than they do about people. They are exclusive. They are elitists. They are all about rules. They restrict the fun in life…
What is interesting is that these are some of the most common criticisms of Christians.
I remember walking to class my first year of college. Right before I entered the building, I was confronted by large signs with red paint informing me that I, as well as all those on the Indiana University campus that day, were in fact going to Hell.
I thought I was just going to French class.
I knew the Hoosiers had a terrible football program but I was unaware that it was that serious.
I was a Christian already, and I remember thinking how disappointed I was that this was how the faith that had changed my life was being communicated to a group of strangers.
I know plenty of people and hear plenty of stories of people who believe it is their job to condemn the world. Yet Jesus reserved his harshest criticisms with those who did likewise in his day.
But when Jesus came across someone who was truly far from God, he met them with empathy, love, respect, and still truth.
He didn’t scream at Zacchaeus, a man who exploited the poor, while he hid in a tree, he went and shared a meal with him.
He didn’t stone the woman caught in adultery, he defended her from those who were about to stone her.
Jesus defended people from the ugliness religion can turn into. He shared his love in relationship, not judgment, and he calls us to do likewise.
Paul writes in Ephesians to speak truth, but he says speak truth in love.
I heard a speaker once give an analogy of how to speak this truth.
He said if your friend wants to go to New York but they get on a train headed for LA, it is not loving to not tell them, to let them go off to LA.
I disagree; I think the unloving thing is to let them go alone. Speaking the truth in love means sticking by people even when they wont hear it.
Instead of judging people because of the truth we know, we need to love people because of the truth we know. I didn’t propose to my wife by holding up a big sign saying “you are going to Hell.” No one would suggest that’s how I express my love for her.
Pastor Dan Kimball suggests that as Christians we need to judge people more. But instead of judging those who are outside the church, we need to judge people as Jesus judged them. We need to offer rebuke when our fear of sin interferes with our love of God and others. he suggests that maybe then there will be a whole lot more loving and a whole lot less judging going on.
I don’t suggest that sin isn’t real, truth can’t be absolute, and that Jesus just wanted everyone to be happy. I am just suggesting that we approach those who are far from God in the same way that Jesus did, that we love before we judge.
May we love as Jesus loved, and may we judge as Jesus judged.