April 25, 2011
I recently got “Winter’s Bone” through my Netflix account. I had heard the buzz and acclaim about this film but having little ones in the house all I ever have time to see are “Tangled” and other kid friendly movies. I finally got the kids down for a nap and watched the movie.
I am not a movie critic nor do I try to be. But this movie was powerful, sad, and very tragic. It was not a feel good movie. I’m glad I watched it at home and not at the theatre. I’ll be honest when we finally get to go out to a movie I like a ‘fun’ or exciting movie. If I could go out all the time I would widen my viewing choices but with kids it’s a rare treat so I see the ‘event’ movies (such as my eager anticipation for ‘Captain America’ this summer). But I do appreciate and hunger for movies that speak to my spirit as well.
“Winter’s Bone” did that for me. The basic plot is set in rural poverty where a young girl, 17 years old, is doing everything to take care of the house and two younger siblings. Her mother is mentally unable to help. Her father is missing. He cooks at a meth lab and is supposed to appear before the courts and is missing. If she can’t find him they will lose their house due to his bond. That’s the plot.
The movie takes you through the world of rural poverty and the meth tragedy that is a part of this world. The movie shows the courage and strength of a young girl who really wants to do right by her family and is willing to take risks to protect them. I found it to be a powerful reminder of the real pain in our world and the strength that can be found in such pain.
This movie is unsettling and will leave you feeling very numb. You are shocked by the cruelty and brutal nature of this world and yet it is very believable and it is a reality that is all around us. I believe it is not meth that is the problem but meth is a symptom of the poverty. Jesus really did mean it when he challenged us to cloth the naked, feed the poor, and visit those in prison. The gospel is about making real differences in real lives.
I recommend this movie and I hope you’ll then ponder the questions left behind as the film fades to black.
April 24, 2011
Easter 2011 is here. Churches are gathering for early services as I write this. My own church will gather in a few hours for our morning worship. This is a the ‘super bowl’ of Sundays for preachers. It’s the big day. This is the day where the crowds fill the pews and we focus on that which unites us all- the resurrection of Christ Jesus.
I have sat through many Easters as a church member. And now as a minister I have preached Easter worship about eleven times now. Before that I did a few early Sunrise services. And each time I ponder how to make this message new again. I’m aware that there are those who fill the pews who come this once a year. I don’t beat up on the “easter crowd.” I’m glad they come. Maybe just maybe they will hear something that might connect with them and I do know stones still move. I pray their hearts will be move and something will happen that has not happened before. They just might find a touch of grace.
But the challenge is always how to preach these familiar ancient texts. I suppose the more we travel into the post-religious America we will find more and more that these texts are become more unknown and less familiar. As denominations shrink and church impact lessens we will find ourselves preaching a story that is less and less known. And I wonder if those Easter crowds will begin to shrink? Will the media and public focus on this day draw out the ‘spiritual but not religious’ or will more and more of those folks head to the lake, mountains, park, or stay in bed even on this high holy day? I suspect the Easter/Christmas crowds will become smaller but will still be larger than other days. I suspect that even some nominal religious people will still come out to see what this fuss is all about. And we better do the best we can to remind folks what the fuss is about!
So as you gather to worship and celebrate this day remember that this is a day where we celebrate the hope, life, and transformation that came upon us 2000 years ago. We may divide as Christians over a host of issues and we are fractured and ailing but on this day we are reminded that what unites us is Christ and Christ risen.
I look forward to gathering in my church. We are baptizing five today! I am excited about that. This reminds me there is life yet among the church today! Our local church has done well this past year and we are striving to be who God has called us to be. We aren’t perfect but we are seeking to be resurrection people. I’m looking forward to what God is going to do as we celebrate this resurrection.
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!
April 18, 2011
This past Sunday was “Palm Sunday” or as some now call it “Passion Sunday.” In our worship service I dealt with thoughts concerning this day. Historically this became a time where the church focused on that triumphal entry when on Sunday Jesus came into Jerusalem. It’s a festive time when you first think about it. Riding in among shouts of “hosanna” and waving palm branches. In our worship services we have children bringing in the palm branches and the service has an upbeat and exciting element to it. After a stretch of Lenten service and discussions of repentance this seems almost to be a triumphal ending for the Lenten season. And yet we know better. Thursday is the day Christians often observe “Maundy Thursday.” Maundy means “commandment” and this is when Jesus began the Lord’s Supper. By Friday he would be on the cross. Then of course we have Easter Sunday.
But before we get to that ultimate celebration Easter let’s think about Palm Sunday. It is the ‘end’ of Lent and the ‘beginning’ of holy week. And yet the shouts of hosanna are short lived. The celebration doesn’t last long and Jesus is quickly upsetting folks and turning over tables at the Temple. He is days away from being arrested, convicted, and executed. Many denominations observe other worship times during the week to highlight various events. But I guess because of our busy world and the fact that many really come just on those Sundays many Christians have begun to call this Sunday- Passion Sunday. Many have felt that if care is not given we jump from the triumphal entry-palm branches straight to the next Sunday- resurrection and skip the cross all together.
And so do we remember the palms or the nails on the weekend before Easter?
Palms or nails?
How about dropping the “or” and replacing it with “and.” We do palms AND nails.
Does it work? Is throwing all this together possible? The reality is that even if you just do the palms on Palm Sunday the death/nails overshadow the hosannas. The hosannas lead to horror. The celebration turns to sorrow. Laughter turns to tears.
And isn’t that life? We have palms AND nails in our lives. Good days and bad days. Ups and downs. Laughter and tears. Life can not be separated neatly into nice categories. We have palms and we have nails.
And yet because of next Sunday- Easter we know that the nails are here but the palms win.
And if we ignore God and reject Easter we still have the nails. Nails are a reality.
But those palms.
Oh those palms.
The palms are a hint of what is to come this weekend. The stone will roll away. The tomb will be empty.
We do live in a world of nails. Nails everywhere. The scars are all over us from past nails and we find new ones all the time. And yet palms are there as well. Moments of grace and love that remind us the nails will not win. Because stones roll away. Life comes from death. And so one day we will gather somewhere else and we will again shout hosanna and we will wave those branches. Nails will be a distant memory.
Are you ready for Easter?
April 11, 2011
Over the years I have usually done some type of “Holy Week Musings” and since we Baptists love tradition here goes!
It is Palm Sunday this weekend and we will be heading toward Easter. Holy Week this year falls on our local public school spring break and is later than it usually falls. The weather is nicer and so the competition for any Holy Week activities will be what it will be.
As we get out our best suit or buy that new dress or force our children to dress up will our thoughts be on whether it will be turkey or ham or on the empty tomb? Will we be wondering if our parents are going to force us to be in a family photo or will our thoughts drift to a hill called Calvary? Will we be thinking about the nicer weather and the golf clubs in the trunk or will we be meditating upon our sins and transgressions?
Let’s be honest this year! It’s hard to stay focused and Holy Week is no exception. Still as I have said about Lent we need this tradition and we need it to repeat itself each year. We do. Honestly we do.
Because we get busy and because we are pulled in so many directions we need this time to stop and think about our faith in a more intense way.
And I’d like to say offer a word on the church at this season! I once heard that really in today’s world the church can plan ‘big’ stuff from Advent-Christmas and Lent-Easter. After that folks rush to the four winds. It used to be just summer when the crowds dwindled and it was hard to get enough folks together to do much more than morning worship (most churches are lucky enough to get that most weeks). Then summer decline starter earlier and earlier (warm weather brings sports and activities and missing pews). It used to be that once the school bell first rang back came the crowds. Now it seems the weather has to get a bit colder and now maybe Thanksgiving will bring them back. Surely by Advent!
Church isn’t the focal point of our community life anymore and we all know that. The school, ball fields, lake, mountains, back yards, work place, and a thousand other places take that spot. Still many folks look up when they drive through town and spot a steeple and think heavenward about God and faith. Many inactive Christians have moments like that when God breaks into their everyday lives and reminds them in whom they believe and have trusted. Many folks feel an urge or nudge when special seasons like Easter hit to maybe just maybe come on out to church. And when disaster hits the church director is often quickly found.
I’m not mad at Easter crowds. I’m glad when anyone comes to church. I realize that church may not be top priority in our culture but maybe it never was. Oh sure folks may have attended more often but face it when everything in town closed up on Sundays and televisions aired three stations if that luxury was one a family even had church seemed real nice. I’m not sure we are any less ‘holy’. Still here we are in the 21st century and this is the world we face. And so we need Easter. We need Easter and those who will partake in this holy moment will find meaning and purpose again. They will find love in a world that is often missing such love. They will find some sanity in a world where the insane seems to run wild.
And maybe….maybe those who do so will feel a nudge to pick up a Bible, come to worship, live out their faith, and be God’s people and they might even do it some random Sunday in June.
April 8, 2011
I’ll add one more to my recent book review blog- Tony Campolo’s Speaking My Mind. This is not a ‘new’ book. It came out in 2004 but I did find it at a recent book sale and had not read it. Wow. What a book. I have read many of Campolo’s books and heard him preach before and so there isn’t anything surprising in this book. Much of the material is really what he has been saying for the past few years but in this book he sums up his thoughts in recent years in a clear, concise way that many evangelicals need to pay attention too.
Campolo is a contemporary prophetic voice. Having said that then those who read him might find points of discomfort. That’s great! That’s a way to think and pray. Campolo is basically reminding us that those in the evangelical church are not on one mind in facing many of the tough issues of the day. He reminds the reader that the evangelical church doesn’t always agree on social issues! He does a great job of summing up the growing and overall portrait of evangelicals today and then tackles ‘hot button’ issues: sexism, homosexuality, second coming of Christ, science, poverty, Islam, war, and morality. Campolo preaches and shares the message of Jesus and is very evangelistic. He isn’t afraid to share where he is on issues and also when he isn’t sure. And he also cares about people and does not want the church to carry a message that is violent or mean spirited. He also has great compassion for the needy and oppressed. He takes the teachings of Jesus seriously!
I realize the issues he addresses make some nervous. As you read his discussion Campolo simply wants to make sure that in our rush to get our theology right we don’t ignore compassion. Our deeds and words must match. This book has much meat in it and would be excellent for a small group discussion.
A few years ago I heard Campolo speak to the BGAV (Virginia Baptists) about loving our neighbor. He spoke about ‘three’ neighbors- Muslims, gays, and immigrants. I could sense some were getting nervous even mentioning those topics. While Campolo believes Muslims need Christ, we need law and order in our country, and that homosexual behavior goes against Biblical teaching he takes the call to love your neighbor seriously. He warned about ‘winning arguments’ and really losing. If we ‘win’ the battle of words but push people out from even caring to listen to our faith what have we accomplished? Really?
Prophetic preaching and writing isn’t easy. I’m reminded of the reception of prophets in the Bible like Jeremiah and John the Baptist. Speaking prophetically might lead to one’s head on a platter- literally! As I read the Sermon on the Mount and Jesus’ words throughout the gospel this Lenten season I am reminded that we need to think before we speak, always speak in love, and remember who we belong too. We preach Jesus but we live Jesus also. It’s easier to quote Scripture than to love someone. This doesn’t mean anyone has to change their values or beliefs. It doesn’t mean we have to change our core theological beliefs. This does mean that we model Jesus and the way he treated others. The only ones Jesus was ‘harsh’ with were the religious leaders- those in his own faith who should know better. So who would Jesus most likely challenge/confront today? Those in the church who ought to know better. As for the neighbors in the streets Jesus would of course hold to morality and values but he would love them with grace and mercy.
So why do we have such a hard time doing this?
April 6, 2011
I still do much of my reading the “old fashioned” way but I am enjoying reading more and more from my Kindle. I thought I’d share what I’ve been reading and some thoughts about each book.
The Good and Beautiful God by James Bryan Smith- A friend gave this to me for Christmas and I finally got around to reading it and loved it. This book would be excellent for group discussion (it comes with group questions). The book takes a look at God and how God is at work within each of us. How we view God impacts how we live.
Naked Spirituality by Brian McLaren- I have read almost all of McLaren’s works through the years and I believe this is his best. McLaren usually writes books that bring up issues that sometimes create a buzz. This is a different type of work for McLaren and I believe his most powerful work. McLaren tackles spirituality by exploring various words that impact our faith. The book is also designed in such a way that it could be used in a group conversation. McLaren does an excellent job of challenging the reader to take faith seriously and to explore what it means to be spiritual.
King’s Cross by Timothy Keller- The latest Keller book explores the book of Mark. I decided to read this for Lent (I’m preaching through Mark) for my own spiritual growth. It’s the only book on this blog that I haven’t finished and that’s on purpose. I’ll finish it during this season but I’m loving it. Keller has a clear and concise way of exploring the life of Jesus as shown to us through Mark. Keller sees the book of Mark as being half King and half cross. Keller has an engaging and unique way of using words that will captivate and draw the reader into what he is saying. I believe this book is a good one to give to someone who is thinking about Jesus and curious.
Love Wins by Rob Bell- I downloaded Bell’s new book when it was released and read it in one day. This is not a long and detailed work and is fairly easy to read. I hesitate to list it in my reading list because of all the controversy surrounding this work. I hesitate to mention this book because folks are so polarizing over this work that anything a person says will anger somebody! I find it interesting that a book about love creates such fury! Yet I also realize Bell tackles some hot button topics. But let me be clear- you should read this book. Too many people are writing comments, blogs and reviews and yet they have not even opened the book up to read it! Never review a book you haven’t read! I read all kinds of works and I read books that I disagree with. I’ve read books by popular atheists Dawkins and others in his camp. I read Bart Ehrman’s books (in fact his latest is on my library list and I will read it this month and I will probably write about it). Ehrman is a brilliant scholar who knows much about the New Testament but no longer believes in God and to me seems angrier with each new book. I believe he is a fundamentalist atheist. I read controversial author/priest John Shelby Spong’s books and I strongly disagree with where he is theologically. The books on this blog you are now reading are very diverse and the authors are not all in the same camp. You will not be challenged or grow if you only read those who you agree with 100 percent. Back to Bell. There are sections/ideas in the book that will anger many readers. And yet apart from those passages Bell has some powerful things to say that many readers will agree with. He has much to say about how the church needs to be doing work now and not just sitting around and waiting until we get to heaven. Bell is concerned about the way the world is and believes the church has a mission. He has much to say about what the Bible actually says and doesn’t say about the afterlife. His comments on how the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) addresses the after life might surprise folks how little is fleshed out regarding such matters. And pastorally he has compassion and mercy. He does believe Jesus is the message we need to share. Yet he also questions the exclusivist view of salvation and leaves the door open for folks who are not Christian to have eternal life. He does not embrace universalism (He doesn’t believe God will force himself on anyone) but he has a broader view of who is in then the typical evangelical. He opens the door for post-death decisions (something that is not grounded in the Biblical text) and has some tough questions about hell, etc. Much of the controversial views that are in the book are subjective and often come across as opinion. As I read the book I felt he was wrestling with some heavy issues and was sharing his struggles. He doesn’t come out in a Spong way and bluntly say what he thinks about some things and this probably makes many critics and fans alike angry. You know where Spong is on the same issues and he will tell you but Bell is much more content leaving the questions as questions. So know that when you read this book! I believe the book should be read by thinking Christians and those who are buzzing about this book should get together and read it and discuss it together. I predict a bunch of new books that will come out that will take Bell’s book on. I would prefer a different approach. Several years ago N.T. Wright and Marcus Borg wrote a book debating various issues of faith. They did so without hating each other or being mean or resorting to silly sound bites. Wright and Borg disagree on major issues and decided to do a book where each shared their opposing views in an intelligent and scholarly but accessible way. Someone should do this with Rob Bell. That would be a healthy way to deal with it and not by name calling, etc.
I have said more on Bell than I planned!
So this is what I’ve read recently. I’m also reading the Quran, some Jewish Talmud writings, One Life by Scott McKnight, and whatever else the library has for free. But I would encourage you to read the above and see what you think!