This page is mostly for personal and spiritual posts (a.k.a. non-fiction).
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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Pray for the Prosperous

If we would learn to profit [spiritually] from our prosperity, we should not need so much adversity. If we would gather from a kiss all the good it might confer upon us, we should not so often smart under the rod... Charles Spurgeon

"The squeaky wheel always get the grease," they say, and all too often that is true in our relationships and ministries to others. But in my recent studies for teaching the book of Ephesians, I noticed again that the apostle Paul took time to pray for those who were spiritually prosperous, not just for those who were hurting. In Ephesians 1:15 he begins his prayer saying that he had heard "of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you, and your love for all the saints." Many members of the Ephesian church were walking by faith and showing sacrificial love to all Christians without discrimination (even those in other cultures). These are marks of spiritual maturity and stability, so some of us might think that Paul was wasting his time by praying for them when there were so many others trapped in sin and doctrinal error. Shouldn't we primarily pray for those who are especially "needy"? Not according to Paul; in fact, a study of his other prayers recorded in the New Testament reveals that he actually seems to have prayed more often for those Christians who were succeeding spiritually. He did pray for people with problems, but he certainly did not take them off his prayer list when they had "conquered their problems" and were living in a manner pleasing to God.

One reason for this is that Paul knew there is always room for growth in any believer's life. None of us reaches perfection while we are in this world. We trust Christ but we do not trust Christ as much as we should. We love the saints but we do not love the saints as much as we should. We serve Christ, but we do not serve Him as much as we should. We know some of the Word of God but none of us knows as much as we ought to know. No church is as spiritual as it could be, and no individual Christian will get to the point in this life where he or she does not need our prayers any longer. On the contrary, there is actually a serious danger in withholding or removing prayer support from people simply because they are "doing well." First Corinthians 10:12 says, "Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall."

How do you think the Notre Dame football team took a 24‑0 halftime lead over USC in 1972, only to lose 55‑24? And how do you think the Buffalo Bills accomplished the greatest comeback in National Football League history in 1993 when they beat the Houston Oilers 41‑38 after being behind 35‑3 in the third quarter? Part of the answer must be that the Notre Dame and Houston players became overconfident with their big leads and relaxed their efforts enough to allow such debacles to occur.

Unfortunately, that kind of defeat can happen in the spiritual dimension as well, in the lives of churches and their individual members. The history of the church at Ephesus itself is a testimony to that sad fact. Paul wrote in his letter that it exhibited great faith and a love for all the saints, but not many years later Jesus had to speak these words to the church: "I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Remember therefore from where you have fallen" (Rev. 2:4‑5). And not only can churches or individuals "lose their first love," but they can also fall hopelessly into a spiritual deadness or even an outright denial of Christ (Rev. 3:14‑18; cf. Demas in Philemon 24 and 2 Tim. 4:10).

That danger should motivate us to not only pray fervently for churches and individual members who are in the midst of crises, but also for those who are currently in a spiritually prosperous condition. They can lose their enthusiasm, their stability, and their commitment to Jesus Christ and His truth. But through our prayers God can deliver them from such a fate and grant them His continued blessing (cf. 1 Cor. 1:11).

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Passion of the Christ

Yesterday was Good Friday, and tonight we are planning to watch and discuss an edited version of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ (with the violence toned down some...see below), so I thought I would reproduce here a newspaper interview I did years ago, during the week that the movie was first released. I hope you find it interesting and edifying, and that it will help you to better understand the event that is truly the "crux" of history...

1) Are you planning special church programs on The Passion movie? Why or why not?

The only thing that our church might do is have a message around Easter time entitled "The Passion--Fact and Fiction," or something like that. The goal would be to instruct our congregation about the truth of Christ's sacrifice, but also to possibly attract some people that are interested in the movie and its topic. I am frankly surprised that so many church leaders are endorsing this movie, and viewing it as a form of evangelism, in many cases even before they have seen it! I have seen it, and find it to be a somewhat disconcerting--and potentially dangerous--mixture of truth and error.

2) Do you see this movie as bringing people to your church and/or Jesus? Why or why not?

Of course I do want people to be drawn to Jesus, and also to our church, if that is the best place for them. But if people are truly drawn to Jesus by the Holy Spirit, it will not be through the movie itself, or the emotional experience of viewing it. It will be through the Word of God (biblical truth) contained in the movie and expressed through it. The gospel itself is "the power of God unto salvation" (Rom. 1:16). The medium of film definitely has the power to move people emotionally, but the power to change people spiritually can only come through an understanding of the words about Christ, as Romans 10:17 says.

3) What role does Jesus' suffering play in your spirituality? Why?

Wow! I would need to write a whole book to answer that question! But in shorthand, the source of all my motivation for living as a Christian comes from the conviction that because Jesus died for me, I should live for Him (2 Cor. 5:14-15, 1 Peter 2:24). I love Him because of what He did for me, bearing the penalty for my sins and freeing me from any fear of the judgment of God. Also, Jesus' suffering is a model for me, since He said that I should take up my cross, and follow Him (Luke 9:23-25). I need to be willing to give myself up for the glory of God and the good of others.

4) What do you think of the way the movie treats the Virgin Mary? Why? What role does she play in your spirituality? Why?

This is one of my biggest misgivings about the movie. Knowing that Mel Gibson believes strongly that Mary is both a "co-redemptrix and co-mediatrix," as he told an interviewer recently, and merely having my eyes open while watching the film, it is obvious that he wants people to place their trust not only in Christ, but also in His mother. Mary is referred to as "Mother" by everyone, is portrayed as if she is offering up her Son, and at one point she matches steps with Satan on the other side of Jesus, implying that she is also a more-than-human character playing a significant spiritual role in the proceedings. But most significant is the fact that every time Jesus falls under the cross, he looks to Mary and receives from her the strength to go on. Mel Gibson himself said that he was surprised that evangelicals are so supportive of the film, "because it is so Marian."

I believe what the Bible says about Mary, and nothing more. She was a good model for us when she submitted to God's will and praised Him (Luke 1:38-55). But she was also a sinner like everyone else who needed to be saved like everyone else (Luke 1:47). The big problem with making her more than that is what I alluded to above: people direct their trust and worship toward Mary when the Bible is very clear that we should trust and worship God alone. So what we end up is a dangerous form of idolatry--or "maryolatry," as some have called it. And the Bible makes it abundantly clear that idolatry is displeasing to God and dangerous to those who practice it.

5) Do you consider the movie too violent? Why or why not?

Yes, that is the other biggest problem I have with the movie. I can't say it better than so many of the critics have ("the goriest story ever told," "a merciless excursion into motion-picture ultraviolence," etc.). But I can suggest a couple possible reasons for Gibson's enigmatic excesses. First, he is a product of Hollywood, where whole companies exist to create special effects for the purpose of depicting grisly realities. So if it can be done, they will do it, sometimes only because it can be done! Second, and more significantly, he is inordinately preoccupied with the physical suffering of Christ, which is actually consistent with his Roman Catholic beliefs. He believes that the mass (which the cast of the movie observed every morning on the set) is a re-sacrifice of Christ, in which the bread and wine are changed into the literal body and blood of Christ. The belief of Reformed Christians (and I would say the teaching of the Bible), on the other hand, focuses more on Christ's spiritual suffering, when the Father turned His face away and Jesus bore the pains of hell in a once-for-all, unrepeatable atonement.

For your information, by the way, Matthew and Mark and John only mention briefly that Pilate "had him scourged," without giving any further details. Luke does not even mention the scourging, and records a speech that Christ gave after He was scourged (Luke 23:28-31), which is long enough and cogent enough that it would have been unlikely he could have delivered it after the kind of beating that the movie depicts. The fact is, Gibson got the excessive scourging idea from a mystic and stigmatic 19-century nun who claimed to be receiving visions from God about the passion.

I think it is very unfortunate that what many will remember most about the movie is the overdone violence and gore. The Bible simply doesn't linger on it like the movie does, not even close. So it will be known as the movie Roger Ebert called, in a positive review, "the most violent film I have ever seen." The fact is, Jesus' physical death was not the most violent death ever, so the movie warps reality. On the other hand, His spiritual suffering--the Son being separated from the Father--was utterly unique. But that can't be captured on film, and Gibson makes little attempt to communicate it.

6) Would you take children to see the movie? Why or why not?

Not unless I thought they were old enough, and mature enough, to discern the truth from error and to realize that it is merely a movie, the gore is just special effects, etc. Rather than watching it in a theater where the screen is huge and we are at the mercy of what flows across it, I would rather view it on video where it can be fast-forwarded and discussed along the way. I also do not believe my children, or anyone for that matter, would be impoverished in any way if they do not see this movie. The written Word of God, read and taught, is sufficient to produce faith and godliness, and a wonderful relationship with God, as I alluded to above (see 1 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3).

7) How does Mel Gibson's Catholicism affect your view of the movie? Why?

Well, I think you can figure that out from the comments above! I view the movie as a kind of "evangelistic tract" for Roman Catholicism. In fact, it has been reported that cast and crew members were converted to Catholicism during the filming. Mel Gibson is not just selling Christ--he is selling a particular perspective on the person and work of Christ. That being said, I am grateful for the scriptural truth that is included in the movie, and I believe and pray that God can use that truth to draw people to Himself.

8) How does your spirituality treat the suffering Jesus? Why? Do you focus more on the Resurrection? Why or why not?

Yes, you keep reminding me of problems I have with the movie! I don't want to be overly negative, because I think much of the source material (namely, the New Testament) is fantastic! But maybe my criticisms can serve as a helpful balance to those who are uncritically accepting the movie...

I understand that the movie was about the passion of Jesus Christ, and not His resurrection, and that one movie cannot cover everything about Christ, or even everything about His passion. But again, when it lingers so long on the gory details of his suffering, and adds the resurrection merely as the cinematic version of a footnote, it seems to say something about the perspective and priorities of the filmmaker. It also implies that the resurrection, and the details surrounding it, are not necessary to an understanding of the passion. I would say they are, and that in true biblical thinking about Christ, the resurrection is just as important as the passion. Narratives about the resurrection and post-resurrection appearances are given just as much space in the gospels, if not more. And the epistles almost always mention the resurrection, in one way or another, when they mention the death of Christ.

9) Do you think Christianity needs to focus more on Christ's suffering? Why or why not?

We are always in danger of forgetting the great price that our Lord paid for our sins, and we need to be reminded of it. However, I don't believe we need to meditate extensively on the details of His suffering, especially on the extra-biblical details that this movie fabricates and obsesses over.

10) Do you see Christ's sufferings merely as past history,or something still relevant today? Why or why not?

I do not believe Christ's suffering are continuing today, or being repeated today, as Romans Catholics do. But I certainly do believe they are relevant today, as I explained in my answer to number 3 above: The source of all my motivation for living as a Christian comes from the conviction that because Jesus died for me, I should live for Him (2 Cor. 5:14-15, 1 Peter 2:24). I love Him because of what He did for me, bearing the penalty for my sins and freeing me from any fear of the judgment of God. Also, Jesus' suffering is a model for me, since He said that I should take up my cross, and follow Him (Luke 9:23-25). I need to be willing to give myself up for the glory of God and the good of others.

11) What do you think of crucifixes? Why?

Crucifixes are problematic in several ways. First, many people venerate them or use them as an aid in worship (e.g. kissing them, praying to them), and that can be a form of idolatry--placing trust in the object, as if it had some kind of magical powers, rather than trusting in God, who alone has divine power. Also, I think the fact that Jesus is represented as "still on the cross" often reflects the Roman Catholic misunderstanding of the Lord's Supper and the nature of His sacrifice (which I discussed above under number 5). So if we choose to display a cross, in our churches or around our necks, I prefer an empty one, so we can remember that the Lord is risen and reigning in heaven at the right hand of the Father!

12) What is the role of suffering in your spirituality? Why?

I assume that you mean my own suffering, because you already asked about Christ's. My suffering plays a very important role in my spirituality. I do not go looking for it, nor do I enjoy it, but when God allows suffering in my life by His providence, He uses it to help me "become conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom. 8:29). Suffering turns my heart toward heaven and away from the things of this world; suffering strengthens my character; suffering gives me an opportunity to trust God more; suffering enables me to help others who are going through tough times; and suffering for the sake of Christ gives me assurance that I belong to Him.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

God's Eye Better Than Ours

Spurgeon's Morning and Evening devotional for today is about 1 Peter 1:19, "The precious blood of Christ." He says, "The blood of Christ is likewise 'precious' in its preserving power. We are safe from the destroying angel under the sprinkled blood. Remember it is God's seeing the blood which is the true reason for us being spared. Here is the comfort for us when the eye of faith is dim, for God's eye is still the same."

Saturday, April 9, 2011

A Gold Rush of Great Poetry, Part Deux

Quick to judge Quick to anger Slow to understand Ignorance and prejudice And fear walk hand in hand... ______ To you, is it movement or is it action? Is it contact or just reaction? And you...revolution or just resistance? Is it living, or just existence? Yeah, you! It takes a little more persistence To get up and go the distance...I'm not giving in to security under pressure I'm not missing out on the promise of adventure I'm not giving up on implausible dreams Experience to extremes Experience to extremes... ______ It slips between your hands like water This living in real time A dizzying lifetime Reeling by on celluloid Struck between the eyes By the big-time world Walking uneasy streets Hiding beneath the sheets Got to try and fill the void...You know how that rabbit feels Going under your speeding wheels Bright images flashing by Like windshields towards a fly Frozen in the fatal climb But the wheels of time Just pass you by Wheels can take you around Wheels can cut you down We can go from boom to bust From dreams to a bowl of dust We can fall from rockets' red glare Down to "Brother can you spare..." Another war Another wasteland And another lost generation ______ It's not how fast you can go The force goes into the flow If you pick up the beat You can forget about the heat More than just survival More than just a flash More than just a dotted line More than just a dash It's a test of ultimate will The heartbreak climb uphill Got to pick up the pace If you want to stay in the race More than just blind ambition More than just simple greed More than just a finish line Must feed this burning need In the long run... From first to last The peak is never passed Something always fires the light that gets in your eyes One moment's high, and glory rolls on by Like a streak of lightning That flashes and fades in the summer sky... Your meters may overload You can rest at the side of the road You can miss a stride But nobody gets a free ride More than high performance More than just a spark More than just the bottom line Or a lucky shot in the dark In the long run... You can do a lot in a lifetime If you don't burn out too fast You can make the most of the distance First you need endurance First you've got to last... ______ The office door closed early The hidden bottle came out The salesman turned to close the blinds A little slow now, a little stout But he's still heading down those tracks Any day now for sure Another day as drab as today Is more than a man can endure...Dreams flow across the heartland Feeding on the fires Dreams transport desires Drive you when you're down Dreams transport the ones who need to get out of town... The boy walks with his best friend Through the fields of early May They walk awhile in silence One close, one far away But he'd be climbing on that bus Just him and his guitar To blaze across the heavens Like a brilliant shooting star The middle aged Madonna Calls her neighbor on the phone Day by day the seasons pass And leave her life alone But she'll go walking out that door On some bright afternoon To go and paint big cities From a lonely attic room It's understood By every single person Who'd be elsewhere if they could So far so good And life's not unpleasant In their little neighborhood ______ So many things I think about When I look far away Things I know, things I wonder Things I'd like to say The more we think we know about The greater the unknown We suspend our disbelief And we are not alone...Mystic rhythms Capture my thoughts Carry them away Mysteries of night escape the light of day Mystic rhythms Under northern lights Or the African sun Primitive things stir the hearts of everyone We sometimes catch a window A glimpse of what's beyond Was it just imagination Stringing us along? More things than are dreamed about Unseen and unexplained We suspend our disbelief And we are entertained Mystic rhythms Capture my thoughts Carry them away Nature seems to spin A supernatural way Mystic rhythms Under city lights Or a canopy of stars We feel the powers and wonder what they are ______ How many times do you hear it? It goes on all day long Everyone knows everything And no one's ever wrong Until later...Who can you believe? It's hard to play it safe But apart from a few good friends We don't take anything on faith Until later...Show me, don't tell me...You can twist perceptions Reality won't budge You can raise objections I will be the judge And the jury I'll give it due reflection Watching from the fence Give the jury direction Based on the evidence...Show, don't tell ______ If we burn our wings Flying too close to the sun If the moment of glory Is over before it's begun If the dream is won Though everything is lost We will pay the price But we will not count the cost When the dust has cleared And victory denied A summit too lofty River a little too wide If we keep our pride Though paradise is lost We will pay the price But we will not count the cost And if the music stops There's only the sound of the rain All the hope and glory All the sacrifice in vain, And if love remains Though everything is lost We will pay the price But we will not count the cost ______ I'm old enough not to care too much About what you think of me But I'm young enough to remember the future And the way things ought to be ______ In the house where nobody laughs And nobody sleeps In the house where love lies dying And the shadows creep A little girl hides shaking With her hands on her ears Pushing back the tears 'Til the pain disappears Mama says some ugly words Daddy pounds the wall They can fight about their little girl later Right now they don't care at all... No matter what they say... Everyday people Everyday shame Everyday promise shot down in flames Everyday sunrise Another everyday story Rise from the ashes and blaze In everyday glory... In the city where nobody smiles And nobody dreams In the city where desperation Drives the bored to extremes Just one spark of decency Against a starless night One glow of hope and dignity A child can follow the light... No matter what they say... If the future's looking dark We're the ones who have to shine If there's no one in control We're the ones who draw the line Though we live in trying times We're the ones who have to try Though we know that time has wings We're the ones who have to fly ______ A certain measure of innocence Willing to appear naive A certain degree of imagination A measure of make-believe A certain degree of surrender To the forces of light and heat A shot of satisfaction In a willingness to risk defeat Celebrate the moment As it turns into one more Another chance at victory Another chance to score The measure of the moment In a difference of degree Just one little victory A spirit breaking free One little victory The greatest act can be One little victory A certain measure of righteousness A certain amount of force A certain degree of determination Daring on a different course A certain amount of resistance To the forces of the light and love A certain measure of tolerance A willingness to rise above ______ Driving away to the east, and into the past History receeds in my rear-view mirror Carried away on a wave of music down a desert road Memory humming at the heart of a factory town... All my life I've been workin' them angels overtime Riding and driving and living So close to the edge Workin' them angels overtime... Riding through the Range of Light to the wounded city Filling my spirit with the wildest wish to fly Taking the high road to the wounded city Memory strumming at the heart of a moving picture... Driving down the razor's edge 'tween the past and the future Turn up the music and smile Get carried away on the songs and stories of vanished times ______ Like the solitary pine On a bare wind blasted shore We can only grow the way the wind blows ______ Exit stage left

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

A Gold Rush of Great Poetry

It's cold comfort to the ones without it To know how they struggled, how they suffered about it If their lives were exotic and strange, they would likely have gladly exchanged them for something a little more plain, maybe something a little more sane. ______ We are secrets to each other Each one's life a novel no one else has read Even joined in bonds of love We're linked to one another by such slender threads We are planets to each other Drifting in our orbits to a brief eclipse Each of us a world apart Alone and yet together, like two passing ships We are strangers to each other Full of sliding panels, an illusion show Acting well rehearsed routines or playing from the heart? It's hard for one to know We are islands to each other Building hopeful bridges on a troubled sea Some are burned or swept away, some we would not choose But we're not always free Just between us, I think it's time for us to recognize The differences we sometimes fear to show Just between us, I think it's time for us to realize The spaces in between leave room for you and I to grow ______ All the world's indeed a stage And we are merely players Performers and portrayers Each another's audience ______ Unstable condition, a symptom of life In mental and environmental change Atmospheric disturbance, the feverish flux Of human interface and interchange The impulse is pure, but sometimes our circuits get shorted By external interference Signals get crossed and the balance distorted By internal incoherence A tired mind becomes a shape-shifter Everybody needs a mood lifter Everybody needs reverse polarity Everybody's got mixed feelings About the function and the form Everybody's got to deviate from the norm An ounce of perception, a pound of obscure Process information at half speed Pause, rewind, replay, warm memory chip Random sample, hold the one you need Leave out the fiction; the fact is, this friction Will only be worn by persistence Leave out conditions; courageous convictions Will drag the dream into existence A tired mind becomes a shape-shifter Everybody needs a soft filter Everybody needs reverse polarity Everybody's got mixed feelings About the function and the form Everybody's got to elevate from the norm ______ Invisible airwaves crackle with life Bright antennae bristle with the energy Emotional feedback on timeless wavelength Bearing a gift beyond price, almost free All this machinery making modern music Can still be open hearted, not so coldly charted It's really just a question of your honesty One likes to believe in the freedom of music But glittering prizes and endless compromises Shatter the illusion of integrity For the words of the prophets were written on the studio wall, concert hall And echo with the sounds of salesmen ______ Sprawling on the fringes of the city In geometric order, an insulated border In between the bright lights and the far unlit unknown Growing up it all seems so one-sided Opinions all provided, the future pre-decided Detached and subdivided in the mass production zone Nowhere is the dreamer or the misfit so alone the high school halls, in the shopping malls Conform or be cast out the basement bars, in the backs of cars Be cool or be cast out Any escape might help to smooth the unattractive truth that the suburbs have no charms to soothe the restless dreams of youth Drawn like moths we drift into the city The timeless old attraction, cruising for the action Lit up like a firefly just to feel the living night Some will sell their dreams for small desires Or lose the race to rats, get caught in ticking traps And start to dream of somewhere to relax their restless flight Somewhere out of a memory of lighted streets on quiet nights... _______ His world is under observation We monitor his station Under faces and the places Where he traces points of view He picks up scraps of conversation Radio and radiation From the dancers and romancers With the answers but no clue He'd love to spend the night in Zion He's been a long while in Babylon He'd like a lover's wings to fly on To a tropic isle of Avalon His world is under anesthetic Subdivided and synthetic His reliance on the giants In the science of the day He picks up scraps of information He's adept at adaptationB ecause for strangers and arrangers Constant change is here to stay He's got a force field and a flexible plan He's got a date with fate in a black sedan He plays fast forward for as long as he can But he won't need a bed, he's a digital man ______ The dancer slows her frantic pace in pain and desperation Her aching limbs and downcast face aglow with perspiration Stiff as wire, her lungs on fire with just the briefest pause Flooding through her memory, the echoes of old applause She limps across the floor and closes her bedroom door... The writer stares with glassy eyes, defies the empty page His beard is white, his face is lined and streaked with tears of rage Thirty years ago, how the words would flow with passion and precision But now his mind is dark and dulled by sickness and indecision And he stares out the kitchen door, where the sun will rise no more... Some are born to move the world, to live their fantasies But most of us just dream about the things we'd like to be Sadder still to watch it die than never to have known it For you, the blind who once could see The bell tolls for thee... ______ And the men who hold high places must be the ones who start To mold a new reality, closer to the heart______ Changes aren't permanent, but change is