Monday, December 17, 2007

An interesting movie that is expected out in 2008

I'm a fan of Don Miller's writing and would recommend his book Blue Like Jazz. Now he has announce that they are about ready to start filming a movie based on the themes of that book. It will be interesting to see how well they pull that off. Blue Like Jazz is a collection of essays written in a post-modern mindset. There are a bunch of interesting vignettes and personal stories in the book, but it isn't a cohesive story at all. Miller explains that the movie will try to maintain the same theme as the book, but is in no way a retelling of the book.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

False Maturity

I'm creating a message for Grace Point that I will be giving on December 30 as part of a family worship service. The theme that I'm working on is Maintaining a child-like faith while growing in maturity. This theme has caused me to consider what real Christian maturity must look like. As a result, I've been digging through the scriptures (focusing on the Book of Matthew) looking at false examples of maturity. That is, people who thought that they and their actions epitomized mature faith, but who Jesus specifically rebuked for missing the mark.

I'm not sure exactly how I'm going to use this yet, but here is a table of my discovery so far.

“Religious” claim



We lean on our fathers’ faith

Matthew 3:7

God can raise up followers from nothing, no need for heritage

Righteousness will earn credit toward the Kingdom

Matthew 5:19

Righteousness alone is not enough

Keep the right company

Matthew 9:11

Jesus’ gift is for the sinner not the righteous

To follow rules perfectly

Matthew 12:1-13

They forget to show love to others

Demand to see signs

Matthew 12:38

Miss the most obvious signs written in the scriptures

Hold rigidly to traditions

Matthew 15:1

Traditions often substitute for what God really wants

Debate the finest points of the law

Matthew 19:3

They miss the bigger points of God’s Grace

Use the law as a test of spirituality

Matthew 22:34

They miss that the goal of the Law is to help people to be close to God

Unfortunately, I think that too many Christians today struggle with these same problems of false maturity.

While most evangelicals wouldn't lean on the faith of their fathers as the Pharisees did in 3:7, we do tend to uphold time as a measure of Christian maturity. "Oh, he's been a Christian for years. He'll be a good leader." Over time many will grow in maturity, but as a measure alone there are many who find a comfort zone and never grow, or grow very little in many years. Further, we will elevate people who come from a "good Christian family" equating their upbringing to the development of their faith.

Again few evangelicals will assume that works will create a door to heaven, but we aren't above looking at works for a measure of value in our churches. "That family gives more money to the church than anyone else. Should they have more say on this issue?" We often also focus on the surface response of people. In my work I know many children who have excellent behavior when their parents are around, but take mom and dad out of the picture and you can see some clear spiritual flaws. Unfortunately, too many evangelical leaders focus on discipline in teaching parents to raise their children. This discipline often leads to a surface/works-based religiosity.

On the issue of company (i.e., friends), I'd suggest many evangelicals are stuck using this false measure of maturity. "I'm just glad that most of my daughter's friends are church girls." To assure that church people keep the right company, we make sure that most of our evenings and weekends are spent in church event or at least with other Christians. We even take our families to Christian camps in the summer because we need to make sure that everyone that we hang around is Christian. Not always, but too often, Christians choose to homeschool or send their children to Christian schools because they are afraid that their children might make friends with non-Christians.

Of course rules play an important role in the contemporary Christian sense of religion. Yes God does set some clear standards in His Law, but some of these rules are strange too like, "he can't be a Christian; He's not even Republican." I've heard this one a most recently of a presidential candidate with a strong testimony. Or how about, "That person isn't growing in his faith since she's not bringing her Bible with her to church on Sunday." How many other rules have we developed that are not a part of God's Law which when summarized is simply to love God and love others.

Tradition is an issue that often divides evangelical churches, particularly when it comes to music or "worship" styles. Unfortunately, I still hear people on both sides of the music isle upholding traditions that have little to do with commands that Christ taught. Most of these traditions have to do with methods that we use for worshiping or discipling. My main pet peeve is that we equate the hour plus that we meet in a large auditorium (aka. The Sanctuary) as our time of worship for the week. More precisely, we equate the time that we are singing as our worship time. And in regards to discipleship, it amazes me when I hear that a church would evaluate the level of discipleship going on in a church based on the number of people that show up for a Sunday school class that is often fact based and seldom challenges its members to reach out in service to others.

Doctrine is important, but I wonder if evangelicals haven't been led to believe that main issues are important that really aren't. The doctrine of the timing of Jesus return comes to mind as an issue that is made important beyond the scope of the Scriptures. An other issue might be exactly how and how long it took God to create the world (sorry, the universe) also comes to mind.

Finally, evangelical will use the law as a test of spirituality. "He doesn't drink; he must be spiritual." "She said a dirty word; she must not be." The problem here is that our measuring sticks may have appropriate roots, but we make the branches of them the measure, not the firmly planted roots. I mean, for example, while drinking in excess can be a sign of a spiritual problem, we are incline to label anyone whose had a drink in the last (you determine the time) as an unspiritual person.

It seems to me that the Christian church in the U.S. is struggling as much with understanding real maturity as the Pharisees of Jesus' day. I would hope that after 2000 years of being the church, we would be better at applying the words of Jesus to our community and our lives.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

A Balance Perspective on the Golden Compass

Few have not heard the controvery that surrounds the movie The Golden Compass. Here is a well written piece found on Walt Mueller's the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding website. I suggest all parents would do well to check the CPYU site on occation or subscibe to Walt's e-newsletter. I've included the quote from cultural analyst John Seel below, but be sure to read the whole letter by Walt Mueller. I've empasised with green text some key points.

One senses a tipping point, assertive atheism has found its voice. Several years ago Dartmouth University professor Walter Sinnot-Armstrong wrote an article in their alumni magazine entitled, "Can You Believe It?" in which he called for atheists to breakout of their self-imposed silence and to take up the mantle of "evangelistic" atheism. He wrote, "Outside the classes, most atheists feel little to be gained by broadcasting their beliefs. Theists won't listen, and atheists don't need to listen. This defeatist attitude means that evangelicals get away with spouting harmful nonsense." Many have risen to his challenge. The bookstores and magazines are filled with anti-God and anti-religion diatribes.

It was only a matter of time before imaginative literature aimed at children took up this theme. The film, The Golden Compass, opened in December and is based on the first book in Philip Pullman's trilogy, His Dark Materials. In an interview in the Washington Post, Pullman candidly remarked, "I'm trying to undermine the basis of Christian belief.” Pullman has also been outspoken about his desire to undercut The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.

The most powerful aspect of culture is the way it shapes our moral imagination. As Einstein observed, "Imagination is more important than knowledge." Books and films such as The Golden Compass are opportunities for important discussions with our children about truth and the nature of reality. We need not be defensive or udgmental. God's truth will prevail. All that is at risk is casual Christianity and unreflective belief. Assertive atheism can be a good thing, if it encourages us to become serious seekers of truth. Many will simply use such films to justify their rebellious attitudes toward authority. That shouldn’t surprise us. More important than blaming atheists for what they think and write is to acknowledge the failure of Christian believers to provide a thoughtful, winsome, and life-affirming alternative in our culture. This is the challenge of our time.

It is the proper role of the Follower of Christ to do good, not to fear and to protest. Let these words be your guide and your comfort.
Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil. For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.
--1 Peter 3:13-18 (NIV)

Rember also, that media will not bring about the end of Christ's mission and the Gospel will continue to be spread.

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.
--Matthew 16:18 (NIV)

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Grace Point Staff prayer day reflection

I know it has been a while since I last posted, and this isn't the most meaningful of posts. Still I want to keep to my practice of posting my reflections of the staff quarterly prayer day.


My time today was spent in reflection on the state of my soul. It was about repentance for the sins that dominate my life. I have many and my heart is burdened by them all. Still there are some sins that dominate my ministry making it less effective than it should be.

First, I admit that I struggle with the same sin as the Church of Ephesus in Rev. 2:1-7. They were guilty of giving up the burning passion of their first love, Jesus. N. T. Wright demonstrates in Simply Christian that worship, when true, is much like one reacts to a rock star. I remember having that passion toward God and his word once, but it is diminished now.

My next sin is that of judgmentalism. Looking at my brother, I am inclined to see his sin before my own. His vision is clouded by that tiny little speck I'm sure. Don't bother me with the log that I'm dealing with.

My last sin, connected to my second, is hypocrisy. I believe in several noble missions that I challenge others to support but do nothing about them personally. I must make my life mission congruent with my actions. Most note worthy is the issues of poverty and aides.

I am sorry for my sins and pray the God will help me to overcome them.