Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Playing Air Guitar At A Funeral - Exercising spiritual gifts with maturity

If you won the title of Best Air-Guitarist in the World, would it be in bad taste to give an impromptu performance at a funeral?

Ever since I wrote the post about how I am not a fraud, I've thought about the idea of time and place. The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote about it. He was a smart guy, too, even if most Bible teachers think he's a bummer.

There's a time for birth and a time for death
A time to mourn and a time to dance
A time to watch a Time To Kill and a time to watch Timecop

I've been thinking about time and place in terms of spiritual gifts. I have some friends with strong gifts, and I feel like I can recognize when God uses them with these gifts. Every now and again, though, it gets uncomfortable. And so I wonder, was it a correct thing to say or do, but at the wrong time or place?

This question applies to me just as much as anyone else. I've heard correct words from God while I pray, but have applied them incorrectly to people. A few years ago, I felt compelled to tell my friend, "I think God wants you to know that your disappointment in Him is getting in the way of your spiritual growth." First of all, it was a bad time to do that during the message at a church meeting. Second of all, it really didn't have anything to do with him. He prayed about it for a month and had other church leaders pray about it as well. Everyone agreed, "This isn't for you."

I realized some time later that I was the one who felt disappointed with God. It hindered my spiritual growth. And that impulse to tell it my friend? I was supposed to have him pray for me. Correct words, but incorrect application, and definitely given at a bad time.

Dennis Bennett, an Episcopal Priest from Seattle, wrote about time and place in regards to spiritual gifts. As a pastor involved in a charismatic movement, I'm sure he had more than one disruptive episode of people exercising spiritual gifts. He said some people argued they couldn't help themselves when they felt the Spirit of God come upon them. He responded by saying if a person were in the middle of a prophecy, and someone yelled that the building was on fire, you can bet they would stop prophesying and run out of the building.

Paul had to teach the Corinthians how to order their meetings so it wasn't all chaos. At one point, he says in 1 Corinthians 14:31-33, "For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all may be exhorted; and the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets; for God is not a God of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints."

Bennett elaborates on this passage in his book, The Holy Spirit and You, by focusing on the phrase "the spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets". We do have a level of control over how we exercise our gifts. Bennett compares it to laughing at a dirty joke. We all have an impulse to laugh when we hear one, but a mature person knows when to suppress their laughter.

What do you think about time and place in terms of spiritual gifts? Do you think any suppression of your gift "grieves the Spirit" or "despises the prophetic"? Or do you think it's all malarky? I'm open to hearing all sides.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Look out, Eugene Peterson! - My condensed version of the book of James

Does anyone remember when I spent six months writing about the Minor Prophets? My friend Abe told me he could summarize the book of Malachi in four words, "Don't F*** With God" Only he didn't say "***" He used the other letters. While you may not hear your pastor say that on a Sunday, I think he'd at least agree with the meaning.

I remember thinking about what it would take to condense the themes of scripture in a way that didn't feel like an Illustrated Children's Bible. This thought occurred to me again on Tuesday with some friends from church. Lifehouse Church has people meeting mid-week to discuss the book of James. The chapter we covered this week had an exercise where we give a title or write a phrase to describe sections of verses throughout James. I haven't actually read the Message, but I thought I would try to Eugene Peterson the crap out of it. More than just paraphrasing the passages, I wanted to see if I could condense the whole book.

I'm not saying this idea is a book deal waiting to happen, but I figure you might like to see what I came up with. Maybe pick it apart.

James - In short

"Look, I don't need to assert my authority. My name is James. You already know who I am.

Don't doubt God's goodness when times are hard. Just ask Him what's going on. He wants you to know. And don't let those hard times justify immature behavior.

You want people to respect your faith? Then help those who are in real distress. Seriously. If you've been freed by grace, then you have to understand it puts a responsibility on you to live like a free person. I need to see some evidence of change.

What you say indicates a great deal of what's happening inside of you, but actions are way more convincing. You've talked like adults but acted like babies. Look at where your version of faith has led you. It's lame. The evidence doesn't line up.

Instead of thinking you have all the answers, you need to listen to what God is saying. He knows how to direct everything better than you, including how you handle your relationships. I mean, what do you know anyway? He's eternal and your life is brief. You're not fooling Him.

So what exactly are you living for? Money? I'm not saying it's bad to have money, I'm just saying how you get it matters to God. If you're in a hurry for genuine gain, just be patient. See all the good God will give you. So don't bet on how great you are or how great you're going to be. Nobody likes a bragger. Ask God for anything in humility.

Now encourage each other in this."

After I finished writing this in my workbook, I thought, "Hey, that's a great way to learn what the Bible says." So simple. So, so simple.

Two questions, then. First, do you have any thoughts on my version of the Message? Second, have you done overviews like this? Sub-question, did you find them helpful?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Celebrating a Milestone.

Today's previous post marked 100 posts on the Press. Can you believe it? It only took three and a half years, or something.

So even if you're not impressed, I thought I would celebrate by posting a video of the song I sang to myself as I drafted Press Post #100.


Who, me? - A look at Moses Syndrome

Last weekend, The Warrior Dash came to Tennessee. If you don't already know about it, imagine a 5K with obstacles like barbed wire hurdles, walls of fire, mud pits, etc. When you get the the end of the race, after having a fire truck hose you down, you get a 32 ounce mug of beer and a giant turkey leg to reward yourself. My company chose this as our yearly team build, and I loved it. Can you tell?

That's me getting sick air over one of the fire walls.

Here's one of me after crawling through mud under barbed wire. Jogging shorts aside, my Finnish ancestors may have looked like this.

Before this race, I had a terrible feeling I was going to embarrass myself, what with never exercising and all. But I felt great. Turns out I kind of like running. When my mom called to ask me about it the next day, I told her, "I expected it to be a lot worse, but I think I could really do well next time if I actually trained."

Then Mom said a very mom-like thing. "You've always been stronger than you think." It's one thing to hear this from someone like Mr. Miyagi from the Karate Kid. I'd probably nod my head without saying a word and continue to catch flies with chopsticks. But coming from Mom, this sort of stuff can still make a guy react like a junior high kid afraid his friends will overhear.

So I fought it. "Nah," hoping a simple dismissal would move the conversation along.

"It's true!" She said, dismissing my dismissal. "I saw you outrun all the athletes on the obstacle course in high school."

My next defense? I fought it. "Yeah, but that was back in high school. And those kids were smokers." This was, of course, a lame defense, since I had only just quit smoking for the second time back then.

Here's what I don't understand. In some settings, I act like the greatest guy in the room, but I act like a nobody when other people compliment me. When I play with the Summer County at some bar, I throw myself into the show. When my pastor asked me to join the rotation of worship leaders for our two campuses, I honestly wondered if I was the right person to ask.

Hesitation is a real problem, guys. And it's nothing new.

Burning Bush: "Moses, I want you to lead my people out of Egypt. You are now my official ambassador."
Moses: "Um, are you sure?"

Voice of God: "Jeremiah, I want you to prophecy to the King and all the people in Judah. You're just the guy I want for the job."
Jeremiah: "But I don't even have a degree, Lord. I'm just a kid."

Angel of the Lord: "Hey, Gid, God wants you to raise an army and overthrow your oppressors."
Gideon: "I'm a part of the weakest tribe and I'm hiding out in my dad's barn. Have you got the right guy? You'll have to give me a sign or something."

I wonder what it was that made Moses or Jeremiah or Gideon balk when God called them great men. Some people have a christ complex and think they're the saviors of the world. Other people have Moses Syndrome. But God saw something in these three guys. I mean, shoot, He created something in them. Think about it.

Does God ever have unreasonable expectations? Is it ever really possible for Him to be disappointed?

Friday, September 16, 2011

Image vs. Person - Considering the possibility that I am not a fraud.

After my house caved in a few months ago, I got a job as an office administrator. I say that as if I realized I needed better work so I could give my wife a new home, but that's not how it happened. I got the job because a guy saw something in me and offered me the position. I wasn't even looking for it, but then, that's how God blesses people sometimes. Theologians call it "providence".

This post isn't about providence.

I didn't want to confuse anyone when I told you about a startling realization I had as I walked into my office building. It's one of those fancy places with huge windows and glass doorways. I caught a glimpse of myself as I approached the door and thought, "Geez, do I really look like that? Didn't I have a huge beard and limp mohawk earlier this year?"

I sort of felt like a fraud. I'm not a corporate kind of guy. What happened to the fifteen year old kid who sang this song after school?

So this has me thinking about the idea of image versus person. Who I am and what I do doesn't match up to the image many people normally give Christians. I smoke a pipe and drink bourbon and listen to Planes Mistaken For Stars. Those are parts to Isaiah the person. I love Jesus and have given my life to serving him. That is also a part of Isaiah the person. But when people see me shouting on a stage, they might not think of me as the typical Christian. And when people read my weblog or meet me at church, they probably don't picture the dude with a tallboy of PBR singing T Rex on karaoke night.

Does that make me a fraud? Before you decide, let's look at this good idea/bad idea list I made:

1. Having a glass of bourbon and smoking a pipe with other adults, maybe after a meal: Good idea.

2. Drinking/smoking around kids who might already struggle with staying clean and sober: Bad idea.

3. Cranking Mastodon on my turntable: Good idea.

4. Sneaking Mastodon into the pre-service mix on the church iPod: Bad idea.

I don't think of this as hypocrisy. I think of it as a mature sensitivity to the people around me. My co-workers would have a hard time working around a guy who doesn't shower. Clients might not know what to think of the dude at reception with a viking beard. Likewise, there are some people I know who have a hard time with alcohol, rock and roll, my wife in a skirt, and other things I think God made for me to enjoy.

Here's my point. We're taught to consider who we're around in Romans 14:13-23. We're supposed to live in grace and pay attention to our conscience, but still consider how it will affect the people around us.

How do you deal with image vs. person? What do you think about it?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Thanks, Joe Strummer - A Question For Other Christians Who Play Music

Those who know me well know I love punk music. And even if I don't buy into the fashion or posturing or misguided egalitarianism, the music still greatly inspires me.

I made this video a few years ago to tell people about my introduction to punk and why I think it's so important. Sorry for the swears. and the video lag.

One major archetype in punk music is the anti-rockstar. Sometimes it's just a part of the show while the dudes have their napkin rings polished in the passenger bus. Other times, you'll find guys like Joe Strummer who said, and I think in earnest, "Fame is an illusion and everything about it is a joke."

I think the idea of fame should greatly concern Christians who make music. Musicians, good ones at least, will always struggle with fame and celebrity. Some want to achieve rock-stardom more than anything. Some don't know what to do with it once they get it. They will all have to make a decision of what to do with applause and cheers.

I didn't know why it made me so uncomfortable until I had a conversation with my friend Mirf a few years ago. He ran an all ages venue in Michigan and was deeply involved in the world of music. While talking one night after a show, he said, "You know, I have to wrestle all the time with the fact that I'm in the business of idolatry. I bring bands in to this venue so people will come and adore them. The kids even buy shirts, albums, and posters with the band's image because of their admiration of the artists." I didn't say it then, but this rattled me deep. If he felt conflicted about bringing in those artists, how was I supposed to feel about being one of those artists?

Now, I don't get the impression God feels anger at my writing and performing music. In fact, there are plenty of days where I think He likes it. I'll probably like it when my kid learns how to draw pictures or play an instrument. I wouldn't like it, though, if my kid were to let fame get to his head.

I'm not sure there's a simple answer to this, but I know some of you are Christians who also play music. So what do you think about this? Is the pursuit of fame the pursuit of self-worship?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Membership vs. Ownership - Another look at the fan club idea.

Some of the first posts I did on the press came directly from my book, Stark Raving Obedience. I put it in there partly because I felt self-conscious about starting a weblog and wanted to appear authoritative. Also, I figured if I was going to say things like "God said such-and-such to me", I should probably have an explanation of my reasoning behind that before people started writing me off as a mentally ill slacker.

One of those early posts came from the introduction of the book and talked about how my relationship with God paralleled my membership in the Rachel Leigh Cook Fan Club. I read all the material, knew all the work, went to fan club chats, wrote her fan mail, but I didn't really know her. We didn't have a relationship, even though I did all the stuff and knew all about her.

Yesterday, MorsIndutus (whom I may or may not know in real life) left a comment which reminded me of another fan club analogy. I joined the RLC fan club at the age of 19 because I got a celebrity crush after watching Josie and the Pussycats. That same year, I joined the Kiss Army because I watched Detroit Rock City with a few friends one night. At first, I think I did it because I wanted to be outrageous and make people think I was interesting. But then, at some point, I thought it might be cool to legitimately get involved in the Army. 

If you're not in the Kiss Army, you're probably not aware that they do indeed promote you through the ranks based on a point system. I won't go into detail of what activities earned you how many points, but I will say that I worked on it for while. They start you out as a Kiss Army Recruit. After a few days of mild activity, you can reach the level of Kiss Army Private. I got there easily enough, but no one likes to walk away as anybody's private, so I felt determined to become a Corporal. I wanted to be able to tell people I was in the Kiss Army without sounding like a weekend warrior, so to speak. It sounded more genuine to say I'd been promoted twice.

But after I got that Corporal status, I didn't do anything, and I mean anything, with the Kiss Army. I did just enough to feel like I'd really been a part of things and then I let it go.

Again, like I said yesterday, I don't want to veer toward legalism. But I have paused to think about this.

Is the idea of "membership" so focused on me and what I get out of Christianity that I'm actually a follower of America's Biggest Religion instead of a Christian?

Or is it better to look at Christianity like ownership? Am I serving, contributing, giving, and sacrificing because Jesus has changed me? Does accepting Jesus include a responsibility for demonstrating my faith in Him?

If were to call myself a Christian because I've attended something, is that like telling people I'm a Corporal in the Kiss Army? Would I be fooling myself to say I'm a part of something when I've been inactive for nearly a decade? Is saving faith simply the recitation of a few certain words?

What do you think?

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

America's Biggest Religion - Part three of Questions From the Lifehouse Youth Group

It wasn't long ago I used to work at an old folk's home. I had some co-workers who found out about my faith and began to ask me questions. Some of them were simple, like, "Did God really flood the earth?" Some were sort of funny because I didn't expect them, like, "Do you think God could be a woman?" Once in a while, maybe most of the time, I got a serious question that turned into a lunch break-long discussion.

During one dinner shift, a cook went into some fit about churches getting tax breaks and said America's biggest religion didn't need it. "Christianity isn't America's biggest religion," I said.

He stopped and looked at me. "Really? What do you think it is?"

"Sex. More people worship that than Jesus." I think I said it because I knew he was a sex addict and I wanted to shake him up.

Fast forward to a youth group meeting where we got into a discussion about worship and idolatry. One of the girls asked, "What idol do you think people worship most?"

And because half of what I say is rehearsed to death, the word "Sex" began to form in my mouth when two things happened. First, I saw the look on my wife's face because she knew what I wanted to say. Second, I realized it wasn't the right answer. So instead, I told the girl, "Ourselves."

Of all the idols we worship instead of Jesus, I think we worship ourselves. Yeah, sex plays into that. But so does food, relationships, entertainment, and even religious activities like going to church. We do whatever we want to make ourselves feel good.

I wonder if some people hate themselves because something about their looks or personality doesn't please the idol of Self. Does that make sense? Can people hate themselves because they actually love themselves too much? Could it be such a person unconsciously knows they make for a poor god, unworthy of the worship it demands?

After all that, I don't want you to read this and think I'm promoting a new asceticism. Jesus told his disciples not to worry about themselves, but instead to seek God's kingdom first and He would give them everything they needed for their joy and happiness. I don't think Jesus meant, "Don't eat or wear clothes, but worship God," but rather, "Worship God, and you find your contentment and joy in Him."

What do you think is America's biggest religion?

Friday, September 9, 2011

How I discovered the Press is sort of like Judas Priest - the Flashback Episode

Three and a half years? I can't think of another weblog I've consistently maintained for that long. Xanga, maybe, when I was a younger man.

I first used the Press to keep my writing skills sharp while between other projects. When I realized a few people besides my parents payed attention, I attempted to address questions from readers and friends. That was fun as long as people asked questions. I did some expository stuff, a series or two, and the occasional apology.

Then something happened. My house collapsed and my routine with it. Within a month, my whole life changed. Last week, as I drove from my fancy office job to my beautiful wife, I thought about how badly I'd neglected the Press. I've written enough ideas down for essays. Why hadn't I taken the half hour or so to type it into Blogger?

As I thought about it and prayed, a question popped into my head. "What is it for?"

Yeah. What is it for?

For all of the forms and topics, what purpose did I have for the Press? Wasn't it to tell people what God had put on my heart? Had my pride really made such a simple thing so complicated? Who cares if it's not a running list of theological essays? I've seen the numbers, and I don't have much to lose if I reinvent the Press again.

So, as they say in the PG-13 movies, Eff it. I'm going to post whatever is on my heart, as always, and not worry about dressing it up for Sunday morning. Who says you can't change things up a few years in?

These guys went from this:

To this:

So maybe it's never too late to try something new. However, I promise the Press will not wear studded leather vests or carry a whip. We'll leave that to Mr. Halford.