Posts Tagged ‘blog’

Legalism. We hate the word and all it conjures. Jesus hated it, saving some of his harshest criticism for the Pharisees and their fanatical attention to the law while ignoring the heart.

I grew up knowing Christians who would burn records, condemn certain books and never be seen at R-rated movies, yet who were horribly racist, or gluttonous, or indifferent to the poor. The church is experiencing a backlash against this sort of selective legalism, and that’s been a good and God-honoring thing.

I wonder sometimes, though, if disillusioned Christians (me included) have become so resistant to legalism that we also shun the ideas of personal holiness and intentional living.

If, for instance, I park myself in front of the TV some evening, scroll through a hundred channels and eventually land on some mindless reality show and veg for an hour, I’m probably not honoring God with my use of that time.

On the other hand, if I intentionally engage the same show, with an eye toward the spiritual state of our culture, and pop culture, then I probably am honoring God with that time. I’m engaging my brain and I’m letting the Holy Spirit, in effect, sit there next to me and have a conversation that I later can share with someone else.

In Philippians 4:8-9, Paul writes:

And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.  Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.

T.J. Addington, in his book and blog, “Leading From the Sandbox,” writes about intentional living — which he boils down to mean, “Does my schedule reflect my personal priorities?”

Take that thought further: Do my entertainment choices – even when no one else is looking — reflect my personal priorities? Or, more precisely, do they reflect what I would like for my priorities to be?

Maybe the more-common question is: Is it worthwhile for Christians just to spend time being entertained, with no higher purpose? Just a little time to rest and recharge?

I think it depends on whether that entertainment moves me closer to God, or further away from God. As Paul would ask: Where am I fixing my thoughts?

If I watch a movie or TV show with a lot of extra-marital sex, or drunken debauchery, I notice something about my spiritual condition. It has sunk. Not because I want to emulate the people on the screen, but because I’m letting myself be entertained by watching depictions of sin. And then if I’m going to keep watching, I have to shut the door on God’s voice – like the end of the “Godfather” movies where Michael Corleone shuts the door in his wife’s face so the men can discuss the evil business they do.

And even in that little example I open the door to a “What’s appropriate for Christians?” conversation that makes people uncomfortable. I can watch the Godfather movies as a profound commentary on America, family and hypocrisy … or I can watch them as brutally violent gangster movies. I can watch “American Beauty” and be struck by its message about the spiritual emptiness of affluent suburbia, or I can watch it because it has a lot of sex and nudity. Where am I fixing my thoughts?

Can entertainment be spiritually neutral? Sure. If I watch a few innings of a Cubs game, my relationship with God doesn’t change much. Then again, I may get either angry or depressed about the sorry state of my team. Being a Cub fan does make one very cynical.

If I watch “30 Rock,” or reruns of “Seinfeld,” can I appreciate those shows’ great writing and wit, and get past their very unbiblical worldview and content? Again, I think it depends on my spiritual state of engagement and where my thoughts are fixed.

And can I watch “Caddyshack” and appreciate the … oh never mind.

The bottom line is, this conversation leaves more than one spiritually solid place to land. That makes legalists uncomfortable.  At the other end of the spectrum, it touches nerves. But our entertainment choices do affect our spiritual condition. Let’s not avoid the conversation because we’re afraid of lapsing into legalism.

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To Boldly Go …

Posted: July 15, 2011 by Jim Killam in history, nature
Tags: , , ,

Growing up in the late 1960s and early 1970s, my boyhood was dominated by news about space. America was making good on John F. Kennedy’s pledge to land a man on the moon by the end of the ’60s.  I remember watching the live TV broadcast July 20, 1969, as Neil Armstrong hopped down that last ladder rung from the Lunar Module to the dusty moon surface. His historic line: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

The moon landing was Apollo 11, and that’s the one everyone remembers. But it was the Apollo 8 mission, in December 1968, that blazed the trail. Astronauts Jim Lovell, Frank Borman and William Anders became the first humans ever to leave earth’s orbit.

And as they came into orbit around the moon, they were the first humans to witness and photograph an Earthrise: the entire globe coming into view, from the vantage point of a completely other world. Think about the significance of that moment.

No one has seen an Earthrise since December 1972, the final Apollo moon mission. It’s been almost 39 years since anyone left Earth’s orbit. Cost concerns and the Vietnam War ended Apollo several missions earlier than planned. And now, with the postponement of a Mars mission, it’s going to be an awfully long time before anyone does it again.

It’s hard to believe that, in an 11-year stretch from 1961 to 1972, men reached space, then reached the moon … and then just stopped going where no man had gone before.

In one sense, the 1960s space race was about the Cold War and beating the Russians. But, in a broader sense, it was about the basic human desire to explore the unknown.

As the final space shuttle launched last week, signaling the beginning of a long break in America’s space ambitions, a lot of us felt a little sad. A few of our astronauts will still hop rides on Russian rockets to the International Space Station, but it’s not the same. Space exploration has become space commuting. It’s like an ocean liner never leaving site of shore.

Avoidance of risk and avoidance of adventure, because they cost a lot (and I’m not talking just about money), is a way of life that snags too many people, Christians included. In “Dare to Desire,” John Eldredge wrote:

“God has rigged the world so that it only works when we embrace risk as the theme of our lives. … All attempts to find a safer life, to live by the expectations of others, just kill the soul in the end. That’s not how we find life.”

Here’s hoping that we go back to space and that we reach Mars and beyond. God has wired us for exploration and adventure. Those slogan writers for The North Face apparel company get it: We’ve lost something as a human race, spiritually, when we stop exploring.

I am concerned about the drummer at church. I’m not sure he’s getting any air.

A few years back, when the church first went to a semi-contemporary service on Sunday mornings, the drum kit was set up nonchalantly near the back of the stage. As far as I could tell, everything sounded fine.

Then, one Sunday, we walked into the auditorium to see the drummer behind a set of three Plexiglas walls. It looked a little like one of those old privacy screens people changed clothes behind in 1960s movies … but minus the privacy. I wondered what sort of international incident had occurred to bring orange-level security around this one man with sticks.

Church services proceeded without incident, with the drums sounding a bit muffled. This setup endured for a year or two.  I was never sure if the drummer was being protected from snipers, or it the congregation was being protected from hearing the drummer. And I suppose those sticks could have shattered during some crazed rendition of “I Can Only Imagine,” sending shards flying into the front row and causing untold splinters.

But apparently this was not nearly enough protection, or drum muffling, because now they’ve completely encased the drummer in Plexiglas – roof and all. He wears noise-blocking headphones, which is a good thing because it must be so loud inside that box that his teeth are coming loose. And I don’t even want to think about what it smells like in there.

Meanwhile, all I can think about when the band plays during church is the “Rock and Roll Creation” scene in “This is Spinal Tap” when Derek Smalls gets stuck inside the plastic pod and keeps playing bass while the roadies try to open it with a hammer and a blow torch.

I’ve since learned that this veritable Cone of Silence is supposedly about sound isolation. You don’t want drum noise bleeding into everyone else’s mics. But before the Plexiglas house I don’t remember this ever being a noticeable concern. I’m not convinced this whole thing wasn’t just about throwing a bone to the people who think drums are Satan’s noisemakers and, along with saxophones and ukuleles, never should be allowed in church.

So the next logical step, for the good of all involved, is moving the drummer completely offsite, to a secure location fortified by 12-inch-thick lead walls. The sound feed from the stage could be piped in, and he could play along without causing danger to anyone.

Also the church wouldn’t have to keep a blowtorch at the ready.

Typically, when I talk with someone about matters of faith, the conversation ends before I get to the part about breaking baseball bats over my leg, or smashing a pile of cement blocks with my forehead. I suppose if you get deep enough into systematic theology at some of the better seminaries, those topics come up.

To understand The Power Team, you have to forget all sense of logic and … well, even then, I’m not sure there’s a good way to explain The Power Team. Their mission statement includes this: “Drawing people from all walks of life together into one setting, through the use of performing visually explosive feats of strength, by incredible athletes, who share the life-changing message of the cross.”

Uh, OK. I guess I get it: They’re a troupe that uses high-octane entertainment to whip up the crowd, and then at the end of the evening they body-slam them (see what I did there?) with the Gospel. “Look, honey. That muscle-bound guy just blew up a hot water bottle until it exploded in his face. Now there’s a faith I can use!”

Think about Christian believers in a place like Libya or Saudi Arabia, who have to gather secretly and who risk imprisonment and even death for their faith. Think about Christians right now in Egypt, who are living their faith under threat of attack and murder by militant groups. How, exactly, would American Christians explain something like The Power Team to those believers?

I wouldn’t even know where to start. Except to apologize.

However, no one knows the day or hour when these things will happen, not even angels in heaven or the Son himself. Only the Father knows.

Oh, and that one radio minister in Oakland, Calif.

— Matthew 24:36 (2011 expanded version)

It’s been another damage-control week for Christians, after the news media and pop culture have seized upon the predictions of one Harold Camping and his Family Radio Network. In case you’ve been hiding in your fortified bunker and haven’t heard, Camping is convinced the Rapture will happen at 6 p.m. Saturday. He also has a lot of money. So, he’s been buying billboards, radio ads and newspaper ads to warn people.

Not much more need be said about self-appointed prophets of doom with their prophecy charts and mathematical calculations. See our previous post: Say Cheese. Also see: Leeroy Jenkins.

But …

I must have heard or read a dozen conversations this week along the lines of, “If this was your last day on earth, what would you do?” This is not a bad question to ask oneself periodically. Movies like “The Bucket List” have posed it, only with the protagonists given quite a bit more time.

With only one day’s notice, your options diminish.

Would I travel? If I wanted to go anywhere exotic, I’d end up spending the whole day in an airport or on a plane. So that’s out.

Would I make a sign that says “Repent! The End is Near” and hang out at a busy intersection (which is basically what our friend Mr. Camping has been doing)? Nah. What impact am I going to have on a bunch of strangers who think I’m a nut?

Would I go 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Manchu? Only if I wanted to spend my last day on earth in a hospital.

The one-day-to-live question actually may be a better question than the six-months-to-live question. Because it doesn’t allow for any planning, any wild trips to Vegas or Mount Everest, or even any methodical charity. You have one day. The way you’ve lived your life up until now is really all you have to draw on.

Would I spend the day with loved ones, not doing anything crazy or expensive, but just letting them know how much they mean to me? I think so. And I think a lot of other people would, too.

See, if I treat my faith like fire insurance, the one-day question becomes a lot more important than it should. Then I’m thinking: “I’d better use my last day to make up for lost time and get right with God.” Whereas, if I live intentionally and with a sense that, really, ANY day could be my last … then whether I have one day left or 20,000, it doesn’t make a big difference. I’m already right with God. I’ve shared that with as many people as I could. I have cultivated friendships and lived my faith in front of people instead of pounding them over the head with it from a safe distance.

So, yes, I do believe Jesus will return one day, as the Bible says. I also believe Mr. Camping is a nut. But if his doomsday predictions have indirectly caused people to ponder important questions, maybe he’s done some good after all. Even if we’re all still here on Sunday.

One of the advantages of doing a blog on WordPress is that you get stats on site visits. We can’t tell who visits, but we can see what pages people looked at and how they got there.

This week, the following Google searches somehow brought people to this blog:

“planning for overflow attendance at church”

OK, that one I get. I’m sure we were no help whatsoever, but thanks for stopping by.

“ruined casino”

It wasn’t our fault. Honest.

“dsc leg sex”

Sorry to disappoint you, sir or madam. And good luck.

And finally…

“saddam pictures underpants”

Hmm. Apparently, in one post I mentioned both the Iraqi dictator and the greatly unappreciated “Captain Underpants” literary series. Do this Google search and you’ll find … weird photos of Saddam Hussein in his tighty whities.

And now you’ll also find us. Twice.

How could Osama bin Laden have hidden in plain sight in that Pakistani city for five or six years? Didn’t anyone see him? Talk to him? Invite him over for a game of lawn darts and a cold one?

I don’t know much about Pakistan’s culture, but in American suburbia, going unnoticed doesn’t even take much effort.

I’m ashamed to admit this, but Osama bin Laden could have been living in most of the houses on my street and the neighborhood never would have known. He could have driven to work every morning … taken out the trash … walked his dog (I’ll bet bin Laden had one of those annoying little yappy dogs).

We have friendly, back-fence relationships with three families on our street, and we’ve had a few conversations with two others. I’m not sure I would recognize the rest of my neighbors on sight at the mall.  And they would only know me as that really tall guy who needs to address his dandelion problem.

If you live in a well-networked neighborhood, you are an exception. And that’s anywhere: big cities, suburbs, small towns and rural roads. On college campuses, like the one where I work, more students than ever before request single rooms. People disappear for days at a time, playing video games … alone.  I’ve even been to large churches where my family and I visited several times and went completely undetected. We may as well have watched it on TV – which you can do now.

We addressed this problem last October in the post, “Dulled Ears.”

Robert Putnam’s important 2000 book, “Bowling Alone,” was researched and written before the mobile-device explosion. But even then, Putnam pointed out that America had become far less connected than in decades past – more individualistic, less community-minded. People are less likely to form a worldview because, well, we aren’t viewing the world. Just our little corner of it. 

If community is what occupies the space between people, then we here in America and in the American church have lost a lot of community in favor of … well, nothing. We’re a bunch of individuals, simply co-existing in separate, noisy realities.

That’s not a very hopeful picture of a world where we are called to be salt and light. But it’s certainly not hopeless. People still need and want community. Where that used to happen without much effort, today it takes intentionality. It’s about not being too busy to have an end-of-the-driveway conversation with a neighbor. Hey, maybe it’s even inviting them over for dinner this weekend. Or – if you want to get really crazy – getting several families involved in planning a neighborhood party.

My wife and I aren’t great at planning social events. But you know, every time we’ve intentionally set aside time to do something with the neighbors, the evening always – always – ends with, “We should do this more often.”

You probably won’t root out international terrorists in your midst. More likely, you’ll develop friendships and your neighborhood will become a better place.

There can be long debate about that gospel question, “And who is my neighbor?” But I don’t see any way to exclude the people who live on my street.