Monday, January 23, 2012

Jesus > Bloggers

Almost 2 weeks ago, Jefferson Bethke posted a video on YouTube in which he confronted the self-righteous and proclaimed Jesus and his life-changing grace.

And sixteen million people listened.

The response was absolutely staggering--and strangely alarming.

Millions took to their blogs, Twitter accounts and Facebook. Among them so did the Christians. And sides formed very rapidly.

Outspoken Christian leaders were quickly and publicly critical of Bethke, his poem, his words, even his motivation. Even in my small Christian community present on Facebook, the majority of comments were surprisingly negative.

The only saving grace in what ensued, strangely enough, was Bethke’s own response to it all. He was thankful, humble, teachable, willing to listen, and not at all quick to defend. In fact, he didn’t.

In less than 2 weeks, roughly 16.5 million people watched his video. Several major news networks ran his story, and some even aired his video. Chalk up on another couple million viewers. (CBS’s Morning Show alone captured some 2.75 million viewers last week according to Neilsen’s ratings, can you guess how many of them were watching today’s interview with Jefferson Bethke?)

Here’s the point. Semantics aside, Jefferson Bethke proclaimed the good news about Jesus--that Jesus, alone, saves sinners. That Jesus loves sinners. I mean, read his conclusion for yourself:

Because he took the crown of thorns, and the blood dripped down his face
He took what we all deserved, I guess that's why you call it grace
And while being murdered he yelled
"Father forgive them they know not what they do."
Because when he was dangling on that cross, he was thinking of you
And he absorbed all of your sin, and buried it in the tomb
Which is why I'm kneeling at the cross, saying come on there's room
So for religion, no I hate it, in fact I literally resent it
Because when Jesus said it is finished, I believe he meant it

It seemed clear to me that this was Bethke’s heart.  He seemed to yearn for people to come face to face with the real Jesus, and not just a an imitation.  And listening to him talk about Jesus in the ensuing spotlight proved as much.

Before you criticize, stop and think about the implications. Some 18 million people heard the Good News about the real Jesus--the one that transforms sinners. (I know, there were some points blurry and missing altogether for many theologians, but examine Paul’s sermon in Acts 16:31 and note all of the soteriology also missing from his Spirit-filled effectual proclamation of the Gospel.)

With God at work, I am confident there were a few out there who heard about Jesus and repented. And how mind-blowing is that!

But many people didn’t. Many more reacted. Many attacked. (And some perhaps shouldn't have)

If words were stones, this guy would have been killed on the spot. Oddly, it might have been fitting--uh, historically, that is. (c.f. John the Baptist, Jesus, Stephen, and Martin Luther--to mention a few) That’s how religious people responded to those who opposed them thousands of years ago. Is today any different? At least today we merely blog about them instead of stoning them.

Sadly, many devout, orthodox Christians were among them. Many whom I respect.

But why? 

I mean that.


To prove what? To prove there’s merit to being religious, sorta kinda? Okay, but really? To defend that Jesus was relgious, and we should be to? Huh? To defend that Christianity really is a religion? To defend that we must keep the law? (I really hope not!) To defend the faith?  Against a brother? 

Here’s my question: Was this reaction beneficial?

Pastor Kevin DeYoung, was your reaction beneficial? Laura Ortberg Turner, was your reaction beneficial?

I mean, the corrupt news anchor on a cable news network was “moved” while the orthodox theologians were “angry.” Sound familiar? Recall Jonah, pouting outside Nineveh quite angrily, all because God unorthodoxly pardoned the wicked, vile heathens. Recall the religious dinner guests of Jesus who were so put off because 1) a slut openly washed Jesus’ feet with the tears of her repentance, and 2) she was forgiven.

Paul the Apostle has words for the church that seem to connect to how the church should respond to prophets, prophecies, and those who would preach Jesus.

Take a listen:

Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. 19 Do not quench the Spirit. 20 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything; hold fast what is good. 22 Abstain from every form of evil.” (2 Thessalonians 5:18-22)

James, who also mentions religion in his letter, also added this:

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” (James 1:19-21)

And finally, to only highlight one more of many others, here's John:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.” (1 John 4:1-6)

I’m not prooftexting my point. I’m simply asking if perhaps we should have reacted a little more beneficially. There are so many important things worth defending to the death. But then there’s those things that aren’t--and especially not when the other person actually agrees with you.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Unanswered Prayer

Here's a harrowing thought for you Christians this morning.  The most heartfelt, passionate prayer ever lifted was prayed by Jesus, the very one to whom we pray and expect answers.  And it was unanswered.

I read this last night in Andrew Byers's book, Faith Without Illusions.  Andrew went on to point out that despite our desperate efforts to idealize this Jesus we worship, he most needfully remains Christ crucified.  When people ask, "Is Jesus real?" The answer ought to be, "depends."  It depends on which Jesus you're looking for.  A Jesus who gives us everything we need and could ever desire, a Jesus who cures every disease we have, and A Jesus who makes us comfortable for eternity--this Jesus is a lie.  He never existed. The Jesus who does exist is gloriously different.  He came to die, and he ever lives.  His last and greatest prayer was unanswered, and yet he submitted.  The truth is, sometimes Jesus cures a person's disease.  But sometimes he doesn't.  God doesn't always answer every prayer, and especially not always the way we want.  And he's good for it.  He is love.  He loves us.  He's big.  He's to be feared.  He's to be worshiped.  Are we worshiping an ideal?  See, Jesus didn't come to be worshipped.  He came to suffer and die.  We worship a Jesus crucified because we are a people most sinful.  That death was because of us, and for us.

We suffer when our view of God is idealized by our culture, by our own sinful desires.  When we subtly though wrongfully believe that He won't give us more than we can handle, we miss, as Andrew pointed out, that "God will sometimes give us way more than we can handle for the purpose of disassembling our self-reliance and establishing reliance on God alone."

So when your prayer goes unanswered, you're in the company of Jesus.  And then see God for who He really is, without illusions.  Because only then will you, like Paul, understand the secret of being content. (Philippians 4:12)

Jesus, the real Jesus, the lamb of God who was slain, alone, is worth it.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Why Christians like me need the Gospel

Yesterday was a date night for Arlee and me.  I liked Friday for that reason.

I also liked Friday the 18th of March because it marked the end of another tryingly transitional week.  Arlee's been working 8 hour days watching children--work that starts at 7:30 am. Arlee's roughly 19 weeks pregnant, and 18 weeks more pregnant than she was 18 weeks ago. I, on the other hand am pregnant with tasks and ideas and thoughts and to-do-lists outstanding. My day job is on the chopping block called "organizational renovation." It demands 8 hours a day from me, not including the one hour round trip to and from work and the 5 miles of walking I do to and from my free street-parking spot in Scranton every week.  My creative job is in my head, and that one involves me redesigning an organization's logo. Part of my week I'm also a photographer. As such, though there a million things I'm supposed to be doing, I'm currently wearing an accountant's hat, collecting my poorly organized financial statements and figuring out how to fill out a nasty form called Schedule C. And then there's my passion--leading the college & young singles ministry called Common Ground.  That's a job some men are paid to do, 60 hours a week.  Back to being married. I come home Monday through Thursday with less than four hours to do 75% of all the above in relationship with my best friend and lover, in a ratty old apartment with issues, with two needy and demanding kittens, and enough distractions to occupy me alone for weeks.

That's why we had a date night. We love each other desperately enough to cherish, protect and cultivate our relationship--together, enjoying a walk on a rare 65 degree evening, homemade pizza, and Manning's ice cream.  

We've been happily married for over 9 months now. I thank God for marriage, and I praise Him for making Arlee my wife.  (See Genesis 2.22) And I need her.  Our relationship that we share is precious.  But it's also fragile.  It's shaped by the effort and work we willing and lovingly put into it.  It's also shaped by the circumstances and forces of life all around us and even by the sin within us. And that's the simple reason for a date night.  It's a means to an end.  That is, a date night is the means to a beautiful, fruitful marriage.  

That's the good news.

Here's the bad news.

I've neglected God, and have forgotten Jesus.

I'm striving for things that don't matter.  I'm falling apart on the inside.  I'm worried and upset about many things, when only one thing is needed. (Luke 10.38-42)

The truth is, I also have a relationship with the Lord God, the creator of heaven and earth.  This one's got more weight than all my earthly relationships put together--including my marriage.  The reason is simple and yet profound.  See, He chose me and loved me, despite my wickedness and sin.  He sent Jesus his Son to bear my punishment on the cross, thereby making me completely right with God.  As a result, God forgave all of my sins, and brought me into a beautiful relationship with Himself through faith (belief) in Jesus.  And it's through this relationship that He is transforming me into a real man, one who lives and acts like Jesus to the glory of God--because He's worth it.

Only, the thing is, His worth is variable in our hearts.  We can't see him physically for who He really is because of sin.  If we could, we would die in fear. (Exodus 33.19-23)  Honestly, in a way, not being able to see Him is a gift from God. But the responsibility can be a curse.  Because we can't see Him, our only option is to trust Him through the Gospel. The Gospel shows us His worth.  However, without trying we forget Him and the Gospel.  And then there's an Enemy who spreads lies.  So does the world around us.  So does our sin.  As a result, things which do not matter become far more weightier than God, and the scale tips the other way.  We live for things that don't matter.  And it plagues us, and ruins everything.

My soul hurts tonight, because I'm out of touch with my Savior.  It's been a while.  And it's affecting everything.  But that's the undeniable reason why Christians desperately need the Gospel.

Just like Paul said to Timothy, "Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst" (1 Timothy 1.15)

This is my esse quam videri moment--"to be, rather than to seem to be."  Don't mistake the mask for the player.  I need his grace, just like you do.  I'm done pretending not to.

It's time to get one thing straight tonight.  He is worth everything.

"to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen."  -1 Tim. 1.17

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

A Clear Mind

"The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray."  -1 Peter 4:7
Ever since the doctors confirmed that I have some expensive health condition that predisposes me to feeling fatigued (or worse), I've had something to blame for my reluctance to wake up earlier than absolutely necessary.  And I think that made me worse.

Being clear minded is the opposite of what I am when my alarm goes off at 6:00 am.  Not being self-controlled is the reason I allow my alarm to annoy my wife until 7:30 am.

But being purchased, redeemed, loved, and forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ is the reason the former bothers me.  He loves me.  I love him.  I need him.  I need his strength.  It's how I grow in grace and knowledge.  And when I read these words in Peter's letter, I saw clearly why the Spirit of God through Peter issued this command.  Unless we be clear minded and self-controlled, we'll not be able to pray.

And as unspiritual as I am sometimes, I closed by Bible and talked to my God about one thing.  Being clear minded.

It's funny, but having a clear mind and being self-controlled create more hours in day.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Erasing Dried Dry-Erase Marker

I have a broad fascination with blank sheets of white paper, blank unused moleskine journals, and whiteboards. I love creativity. I love the raw potential that exists in all things white and otherwise blank. But I hate it at the same time. I used to dread taking out my water color set and not knowing what to create on that white paper. I dread the white unused spaces in my journal. I've identified it as my arch-nemesis. That's why I can never start my moleskines on page one. I'm afraid of messing up, making mistakes. Thats the page where my fear dwells. Essentially, while I'm full of creative potential creativity, I kinetically destroy it.

That's why I love whiteboards. More than that, I love colored dry-erase markers. I love using my fingers to perfect mistakes. Because whiteboards aren't the creation. They inspire it. Whiteboards are meant to be incessantly filled with words and pictures and then erased to be replaced. This is where my creation thrives.

Except when I don't erase it, and worse, when I walk away from it. And for a very long time.

Makes me sad.

Because erasing dried dry erase markers is impossible, no matter how hard I tried.

But I learned something. There's one amazing way to erase old, dried dry erase marker on a whiteboard:  Start creating again, right over top those old dried out stains.

And that's exactly what I'm going to do. As messy as I am. I'll give my fear only one page. This is page 2.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I discovered something about myself this week. I don't like to work. I'll be honest--I dream, I have a keen vision, I even have grandiose desires for my life; but I'm lazy. To be lazy is to be unwilling to work or use energy. What's worse is my having excuses. And I've gone no where fast. But now, I'm sick of it. Allow me to share with you the reason why.

I'm captivated by the relationship God desires to have with me. That I can enjoy and experience intimacy with the Almighty is a reality comparable to nothing else. Not only does He desire this relationship with us, He makes it all happen by His grace. He sets us free and gives us life to the full. Believe me, I desire an intimate, passionate, love relationship with God.

I have lived 24 years already and often wonder how many I have truly lived. I have made it my goal to live all of the days of my life. I don't want to merely survive, I don't want to get by, and I certainly don't want to die a slow death. I want to live.

I want to truly become a man--no, a dangerous-to-the-enemy, gentle, kind-hearted, wild-hearted, authentic, genuine, reverent, and faithful servant of God. I don't want anything to do with nice.

I want to be trained for ministry. I want to become a husband and raise a family. I want to do something significant with my life. But I was unwilling to do the work and use up my energy to accomplish these things. I found that it was easier to want to be these things than it is to actually work hard and pay the price to become these things.

And we all want these things don't we? We want to do something significant with our lives. We want to make enough money to be happy. The problem is, as I found it to be in my life, we are searching for a feeling instead of the real thing. (The American doctrine of Instant Gratification) We want the intimate romance of our dreams, so we spend our time looking for it and feeling for it going from partner to partner--instead of preparing ourselves for it, working on our character, working on having the strength to work at it, and working out our own issues while paving the way and preparing for the reality of a real romance. We want to make more money, but we despise our jobs--instead of working on our attitudes, building our character, becoming stronger so we can work harder and as long as we can to make having more money a reality. We want to do something significant so we talk about it and pessimistically search for the feeling of significance--instead of taking a risk, doing the extra work to actually be significant, if but only to the people we work with.

I wanted the intimate relationship with God, until I realized that intimacy is the result of an unabashed, relentless pursuit, requiring upmost, unconditional commitment and effort on the part of each. Sadly, I wanted the feeling of intimacy in my relationship with God more than I was willing to work at an intimate relationship with God. Isn't it the same with relationships? It's amazing how many people have sex to experience a momentary feeling of intimacy, though most often leaving them with intense regret and an insatiable awareness of a lack of intimacy. Easier to feel it here and there than work for the reality of living it out in our daily lives.

My mentor taught me that grinding my own coffee beans just before brewing them makes for the greatest tasting coffee--but, it's work. It is easier to go into debt buying less-satisfying nearly-instant coffee at my local Starbucks. And I do it, even though my coffee is 100 times better.

This week I read that Jesus himself, God in the flesh, learned obedience by what he suffered. It hit me. I don't want to suffer. I want the fruit of suffering, but am unwilling to first suffer. I'm an idiot. If He himself yielded to the pain of suffering before being made perfect, I had better quit running from the very thing God is using to form me into the very person I long to become. Am I willing to endure hardship? Am I willing to do the work and use up whatever energy I have? Are you?