Jesus>the (future) President

Tomorrow, November 6th, Americans will head to the polls (if they haven’t mailed in already!) to vote for the next President of the United States. Presidential elections, thank God, only occur every 4 years. This year I’ve seen many of my friends and family alienated from one another because of emotional reactions to political opinions expressed in various formats. That, however, is not the subject of this blog.

The subject of this blog is what happens tomorrow night. After all the votes have been counted (which may actually take a couple of days), a President will have been decided. But something really odd happens after an election- some on the the “losing” side begin to wax depressed about how the country will fall into some dystopian state because “the other guy” won. People put so much stock in their political candidate, and invest so much emotional and intellectual energy into the cause of their preferred candidate that it negatively affects their disposition in a very strong way. I’m not saying it’s unnatural to have some sort of emotional reaction when you face disagreement, especially from half the country… but here’s what I am saying.

I’m writing this to ask Christians to check their hearts before heading to the polls. Many of you will feel this overwhelming sense of dread if your candidate loses. What if it means the end of America? Or at least America as we’ve known it? What if the newly elected President supports legislation you think is incredibly damaging? What if they’re pro-choice? What if they want to keep getting involved in foreign wars and conflicts? This will all lead to catastrophe!

Remember, when early Christians affirmed the statement, “Jesus is Lord” they did so in opposition to the Romans’ insistence that “Caesar is Lord.” Jesus fundamentally stood in opposition to the worship of the highest office in the land. Jesus is greater than any ruler. He’s the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, and I’m sure if the office existed during the writing of the Bible, he’d be the President of Presidents. These aren’t spiritual statements. They’re political statements. They all proclaim this one central truth: Jesus>.

Jesus>political parties.

Jesus>ideology.

Jesus>the President.

Jesus>fiscal policy.

Jesus>foreign policy.

Jesus>your candidate.

Plain and simple. Jesus is greater. All I want is for Christians to keep this in perspective as they approach the polls tomorrow.

If, after the election has been decided you feel a sense of dread, I would suggest you’ve elevated a man and his philosophy to the place of God in your heart. If you’re placing your hope of well being in who gets elected President, you’ve offloaded God’s responsibility to the President. If you believe that everything you’ve known can’t withstand a Republican or Democrat in office, you’ve elevated them to an unhealthy level, and rejected the teachings of Scripture. Remember, Romans 13:1 says that the authorities that exist have been placed in authority by God. God is truly the decider of elections. Not you. And He’s in control. So let Him do His thing.

So tomorrow, if you find yourself on the “losing” side, remember this: you are on the winning side because God is in control. Thank God, suck it up, and be a cheerful loser. Congratulate the “opponent”. Rejoice, because God has a better plan than you do. America is just a place, the Church is a people. People are always more important than a governmental system or political philosophy. Ultimately, tomorrow’s election will be simply that: God’s will being elected. All because Jesus is greater.

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In Tension- Father’s Day reflections

Holidays are weird. I’ve found that they often breed more tension than other days of the year because they come with lots of expectations. Unmet expectations, the wise Kevin Hall once told me, are the root of every relational conflict we experience. But this Father’s day I’ve experienced a very interesting emotion: tension. 

Most of you know my wife Julia and I are expecting a baby girl, Evelyn Rose Mooney, on July 25th, 2012. This has left me in a really weird position during this Father’s day… I’m kinda a father, but not yet fully a father. I have a child, but she hasn’t yet emerged into this world, ready to make it a better place, so I’m left in this awkward tension of kinda father/fully father. I don’t feel like a father yet- I don’t have a little girl to hold, to give baths, to cuddle with yet so I don’t really feel like a father. But I am a father. Though Evelyn isn’t in the world to brighten my day and lengthen my nights, she still is. She exists and is among my family… my wife’s profile attests to it! I have fatherly responsibilities, to take care of my wife, to prepare our home for Evelyn, and to make sure we have all the medical things taken care of (let’s be honest… Julia’s been doing most of that…), but I haven’t fully experienced fatherhood yet, things like teaching my daughter to walk, taking her on daddy-daughter dates, teaching her how to make espr… cookies, how to behave appropriately, etc. 

This tension of having a something already be a reality but not a full reality is exactly the same sort of tensions Christians have felt through the ages. We are currently experiencing the reality that God’s Kingdom is being injected into the world, but it has not been fully realized. Bible scholars and theologians refer to this phenomena as the “already/not yet eschatology.” The word eschatology comes from the Greek word “eschatos” which means ‘final’ and “logos” which means ‘word/reason’ so eschatology is the reasoning (study) of final things, sometimes called the “end times.”

Eschatology, in Evangelicalism, has unfortunately taken on a very “Left Behind” vibe, where the Antichrist will come and some nation, likely some communist country like Russia (wait, they aren’t communist anymore?) or China, will rise up to make the world into a “One World Government.” This paranoia of “the beast” and all sorts of crazy prophecies of Christians coming under intense persecution and such, while having some Biblical merit (highly dependent on how you read Apocalyptic literature in the Bible), strips away much of the important value to studying eschatology from our lives. For the longest time I completely avoided eschatology because there are so many interpretations (some people think Revelation is a prophecy where John was predicting modern technology… other people see many of the forward thinking prophecies as being already fulfilled) and so many people will call you a heretic for having a different interpretation than they do. However, since attending Northwest University, I’ve come to appreciate eschatology in a much deeper way. 

When Christ came to the Earth he began the process of eschatology, the process of God restoring the Earth to the way it was in Eden. Luke 11:20 tells us that with Christ came the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God (Matthew generally refers to it as the Kingdom of Heaven to avoid offending Jewish readers because the name of God was to be used sparingly) is where God’s will is done- both “on Earth… and in Heaven.” The Kingdom of God is now, when Christians gather together to celebrate Jesus, we are participating in the Kingdom of God. When Christians feed the widow and orphan, we are participating in the Kingdom of God. When we comfort the downtrodden and marginalized, we are participating in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God exists now. 

But it is not fully here. We still live in a world marked by brokenness and suffering. We still taste pain and hurt. We still see injustice in the world. We cannot see God’s perfect Kingdom just yet. But it is coming. God will restore our earth from the brokenness we have caused. Through Adam came sin into the whole world, but through Christ sin will be removed- and has been removed! This fallen world we live in will be restored to paradise- we will live in good relationships, we will not harm the Earth, we will not experience sickness, suffering, or pain.

Just like I am a father but not yet a father, so too is this world restored and not yet restored. Take hope! The day is coming where we will experience completion and joy, just like the day is coming where I will get to hold my baby girl in my arms and teach her about God’s graces in this world.

 

About a Boy- Themes of Christian Discipleship

 

One of the classes I’m taking this semester is called Youth Discipleship. It’s been an engaging class that I’ve very much enjoyed- especially because it has immediate implications for me, since I have the privilege and honor of discipling some awesome youth at EFC. One of our assignments for class was to watch the move “About A Boy” and analyze how it may relate to Christian discipleship. I submitted my paper and my professor, knowing I do a bit of blogging, encouraged me to adapt it for a blog post, so here it is.

The move stars Nicholas Hoult as Marcus and Hugh Grant as Will, the main characters of this dramedy about the evolution of a relationship between a socially awkward boy (Marcus) and a man (Will) who seemingly has it all. Interwoven into the tapestry that composes the plot are a few bright threads that bring a subtle critique of the American individualism that disregards the needs of others, the struggles of an essentially parent-less boy (he has an absentee father and a self-absorbed, hippie mother) caught in the throes of a vicious social atmosphere, and the blatant apathy of of today’s adult male towards familial responsibilities. This scenario is now the norm for Christian youth workers, and we must adapt and learn to address the issues facing us today. There are 3 main principles that show promise for Christian leaders to draw principles of discipleship from: 1.) the vacuum caused by absentee fathers, particularly for boys, 2.) the mimicry process that occurs in relationships, regardless of intentionality, and 3.) the mutual transformation that occurs in discipling relationships.

Within the last five years or so, there has been a lot of research regarding the male decline in society- which has lead to the question of how the church ought to respond appropriately.  “About A Boy,” clearly shows traces of this theme, as the lead character Will has no job, no commitments, and dates casually (going so far as to join a single parents’ group to pick up the ladies). Similarly, Marcus’ father also rejected his responsibilities to his son and comes around only for holidays. This leaves Marcus with very little idea of how to relate to society, except from what he has learned from his “crazy hippie” mother. This leads us to ask, how can we help fill this gap in students’ lives, particularly the boys with absentee fathers/male role models. Much of our job is not only to teach them about Jesus, but now includes teaching them what it means to be a man in an evolving world that seems to be rejecting any sort of masculinity of old.

An interesting part of the movie is how Marcus picks up Will’s mannerisms and demeanor. Marcus begins to glean social cues from Will’s interactions- even if Will did not intentionally go about teaching Marcus societal expectations. Human beings, but particularly young human beings, are naturally mimics. Infants learn by observation and mimicry, they do not understand language yet, so traditional oratory learning is impossible, it’s all mimicked learning. This means that the actions of Christian leaders will likely be passed on to our students- both the good and the bad. This is a powerful tool that can either lead to particular harm or good- if used well, a leader can do positive discipleship simply by being rather than actively pursuing a goal. This leads to stronger affirmation for the student because they do not feel like a project, but rather feel like a valuable human being. Alternatively, however, students can also mimic the negative actions of leaders, which can lead to negative growth in students- thus leaders must be conscious that their actions have behavioral implications for their students.

Finally, this movie clearly illustrates the transformational nature of discipling relationships- not only the character/intellectual transformation of the student, but the transformation that also occurs for the teacher. Not only does Marcus go from the nerdiest kid on campus who gets others beat up for merely hanging out with him, but Will also goes from being the guy that hits on college girls in the bar to bearing the guilt and shame of humiliation with Marcus during the school talent show. Will’s sacrifice of character in that scene has faint echoes of the sacrifice and humiliation of Christ on our behalf. This is the distinguishing factor that separates Christian leadership from other leadership types. Most corporate leadership encourages leadership that ensures the dignity of the teacher isn’t lost- that he/she maintains their power. Christian teaching, as Will picked up on, is based in serving. It requires us to get messy, to get deeply involved with the needs and desires of our students. Much like Christ had to enter into the human condition in order to bring redemption and to teach us the value of life, Christian leaders should make sacrifices in comfort and position in order to ensure the spiritual well-being of our students. Christian discipleship, then, often transforms the teacher as much as it changes the student. When we can model the love Christ has for us, it grows us and teaches us that much more about the nature of Christ’s sacrifice.

The Yo-yo Gospel?

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Yes. The Yo-yo Gospel. Sure, it may sound ridiculous but hear me out.

Lately, in a fit of nostalgia and more probably, childlike glee, I have had a renaissance with the yo-yo. I was first introduced to the yo-yo in the second grade when I saw some kids on the playground with the Yomega X-brain. I begged my mom to get me a Yomega Fireball and she finally caved. I came home from the mall with my newfound source of joy and ripped it open. When I finally removed the pesky packaging from my coveted prize I quickly put the end of the string around my finger and in one fail swoop managed to tangle my precious yo-yo in a rat’s nest of frustration. But, over time and with much practice I was able to finally throw a yo-yo and get it to do the most important of all things- to sleep. You see, the sleeper is the foundation for almost every trick you can do with a yo-yo.

After a while I developed some significant skills with my weapon (legend has it the yo-yo developed as a weapon in the Phillipines), at least I thought so anyway. I could walk the dog, go around the world, rock the baby, scale the Eifel Tower and even ride the elevator. After a while though, I lost interest in my yo-yo because I encountered a few problems. Number 1 was that I was in second grade, thus the maintenance regimen for my yo-yo was dependent upon my mother’s subsidization, number 2 was that tricks got increasingly difficult, and number 3, finally, was that my yo-yo strings broke while performing around the world indoors and I broke one of my mother’s favorite picture frames. Whoops.

Life moved on and I duly forgot about my yo-yo. Then I encountered it again through my students at EFC. I saw them doing some crazy tricks and asked if I could see their yo-yo. To my surprise I found that yo-yoing is similar to riding a bike. My wife was shocked that I had this secret “talent”. So I got a yo-yo and I am now able to do some pretty advanced tricks.

Between homework assignments I will intersperse some yo-yoing. This means I get lots of practice… cause I have lots of homework. Anyway while I was doing a particularly involved trick called Cold Fusion I got to thinking. I realized how absurd it was that I’m doing such a complicated thing with string and a piece of metal/plastic.

See, the yo-yo is extremely simple. It’s a classic toy- one that has been around for centuries and has entertained even my grandparents. The basic premise is that a circular object descends down a string and returns back up the string. Fun. Simple. The yo-yo is a giant paradox. It is simple enough for a child to pick up and use and complex enough for the masters to baffle everyone with.

The Tuesday after next I will begin a new teaching series at Praxis Youth Ministry. I will be teaching through the book of John. The book of John is the yo-yo Gospel, for it is simple enough that a child can understand what it says and complex enough to have warranted the largest body of Biblical scholarship throughout history. This Gospel is perfect because it is a great entry point for anyone and it is deep enough to keep even the most seasoned Christian on their toes. When you read through John’s account of Jesus life, you WILL encounter Christ. You cannot get around it- Jesus is the center of John’s Gospel. It teaches us more about the person of Jesus than any other body of scripture, in my opinion.

John begins his narrative of Jesus with the beginning. He takes us on a journey through the magnificent work of Christ and the story of His redemption of humanity through history. It begs us to ask ourselves where we fit within the narrative of salvation. How is the story of Jesus continued with us? John’s Gospel will ask these questions of us- even if they are just implicit questions.

So I want to encourage you- if you’ve never read the Bible before, start with John’s Gospel (4th book in the New Testament, about 3/4 of the way through the whole Bible). If you’ve read through the Bible more than once- read John’s Gospel again. Meditate on it. Let the presence of the Word saturate you in the Gospel story. If you are just checking out Jesus for the first time- John is a great place to start. If you’ve gotten a little distracted from your relationship with Christ by the busyness of life- John is a great place to re-encounter Christ. If you’ve been a faithful Christian for a long time, John has a wealth of spiritual depth to discover and mine.

Let us ultimately remember the words of John (The Baptizer), “He must increase, I must decrease.” Amen.

It’s Not Religion, It’s a Relationship!!!! (Or is it?)

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My wife and I were over at the house of some friends of ours playing Apples to Apples one night. It’s an incredibly entertaining game and it’s very simple. There are two types of cards, red and green. Green cards have an adjective on them and red cards have a noun. One person in the game gets to be the “chooser.” The chooser controls a green card, then everyone else places a red card he/she thinks fits the adjective the best. The chooser picks which of the red cards he/she likes the most. A small description/definition is included on each card as well, just in case anyone is unsure of what the card means.

It’s a great game because it forces you to learn the tendencies of the people playing, because a chooser might like a more literalistic approach, or ironic, or funny etc. You learn a lot about people from playing Apples to Apples with them.

Well I grabbed a green card because I had just won a hand and the card said, “Worldly.”

I thought to myself, “HA! NOW THIS IS GONNA BE GOOD!” I was expecting something really trite to be laid down. Like TV, drug dealers, Jersey Shore, sex- y’know, something really bad. Because that’s how Christians think of the word. “Worldly” always has a negative connotation for Christians.

Then I read the definition of the word. I was shocked.

“Worldly- experienced, sophisticated, materialistic.” I let out a sigh of relief that at LEAST the writers included materialistic!

It really got me thinking, though. Christians use words in ways that nobody else uses them ALL the time! We have our own little jargon to separate us from “the world.” We are supposed to be “Not Of This World” as one particular brand of Christian apparel so constantly reminds us. This Christianese is ridiculous. It doesn’t really get us anywhere, does it?

When people use the same words to describe different things, it leads to confusion. There are brilliant philosophers who’ve written scores of books about this. In argumentation, the power to define almost always gives you the advantage. Christians don’t seem to mind too much though, we still keep using words differently!

My favorite Christian slogan is an extremely common one. It’s all too common, but doesn’t really mean anything. One time, I had somebody ask me if I was religious. I didn’t even have time to think about my response. No, I had seen too many strong Christians handle this in a brilliant way before me, so my response was automatic. Perhaps you’ve said it too?

“Nah man, I’m not religious. I’m a Christian. It’s not a religion, it’s a relationship!!” Man… That TOTALLY worked. My friend, judging by the look on his face, was speechless. He must have accepted Jesus because he finally realized that it’s not about religion, but about relationship. In reality, maybe not so much.

Most likely he thought, “whatever floats your boat man. Last time I checked, Christianity was the biggest ‘relationship’ on the planet.”

A powerful video was just released on YouTube by a guy named bball1989. It’s a video entitled “Why I hate Religion, but love Jesus.” It’s been passed around Facebook by a TON of my friends. When I took a screenshot of it, 25 people had already posted it, but now it’s over 35. The video is fantastic, and I don’t want to dog it. But it still falls into that trap of using words differently than everybody else uses them.

Even some of my favorite preachers use this phrase. They say, religion is about rules but Jesus isn’t. Really? Jesus doesn’t give us guidelines to follow? Seems like Matthew 5 piles on even stricter rules than the Old Testament had given… And what dictionary in the world actually says that religion is about rules?

Now, I get that we aren’t saved by rules. The fact of the matter, however, is that when it comes to defining what religion is, the rest of the world tacks on “rules” almost as an afterthought.

Here’s how dictionary.com defines religion, “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

Huh, sounds like Christianity fits ALL of those criterion.

Maybe, when somebody asks us if we are religious in the future, instead of highjacking the question we should just answer them straight. “Yeah, yeah I am. Are you?”

Maybe, instead of trying to reeducate people about the Christian definition of religion we can just use our faith as a springboard for having a conversation. Maybe we can say, “hey Christianity might not be what you think it is.” Or “yeah I’m religious, could you tell? I’m glad you could- let me tell you what Jesus has done in my life to make me believe in him.”

Just say anything other than, “no man, I’m in a relationship with Jesus!” All religions claim to be in a relationship with their gods, we just need to show that ours cared so much about being in a relationship with us, He left his home and came to ours so He could be in relationship and community with us and to point us back to God.