Monday, August 10, 2009

Kings (NBC): Highly Recommended

So I’ve made no secret of my enthusiasm for Kings, the NBC television series, that, alas, was cancelled… nay, slaughtered in infancy by the mouth-breathing Herodian troglodytes that pass for execs at the dear network. Their philistinism, however, takes nothing away from the brilliantly conceived and executed single season that is Kings.

Kings is a complete modernization of the story of David and Saul from the Old Testament. It’s written with a nuance and complexity and dignity that is almost completely absent from American culture. Leading the cast is the brilliant Ian McShane. McShane’s Silas is a deep ocean breathing regal gravitas; with fatherly affection, royal generosity, fatal pride and understated whimsy occasionally emerging from the depths.

It’s available to watch online for free at NBC and Hulu until September 20. The DVD Kings – the Complete Seasonwill be released September 29.

Or you can purchase the entire season for $20.70 at Amazon Video on Demand… which is what I did.

Go here to watch the FREE 7 minute season preview at Amazon Video On Demand:

Friday, July 03, 2009

My message at Super Summer

I got to speak on Tuesday night at Super Summer this year. I've gotten lots of encouraging feedback on the talk, so thanks to everyone for their kind words.

Just for fun, I wordled the sermon manuscript, and here's the result:

Monday, June 08, 2009

Questions from a Thinking Person

At my church we just had a “Hard Questions” Panel. A friend of mine got some questions from her son, who lives in another state and is not a Christian, but is at some level curious or interested. We did not have the opportunity to answer these questions during the forum.

I thought they were pretty good questions, though, so I’m posting them and my attempts at answers to them here. Here’s the first one.

Question: Why does it seem that religious people are the first people to judge other people when Jesus said "Let he who is without sin throw the first stone"? Why don't Christians lead by example instead of telling people when they are wrong? I believe actions speak louder than words and when you point your finger at some one you should look at the three other fingers pointing back at you. Why don't we focus on what we can do better as people? Take for example the person who killed the abortion doctor the other day. If he would have looked at himself and focused on his faults instead of worrying about others he could have changed the world for the good instead of giving Christianity another bad name.

This is a fantastic question. Let me begin with the part about judgment.

When Jesus taught, “Judge not, lest ye be judged,” the typical reading is if we judged other people, then we will be judged by God. I think this is a misreading. I think it means if we judge others, then others will judge us. And I think it’s absolutely true. The fact that this guy has asked this question means that he has seen judgmental Christians and is (quite fairly) judging them right back, and asking why they don’t live up to their own principles. He deserves an answer.

Christians ARE judgmental, often much more so than unreligious people. I think this is true for a few reasons:

First, the Christian faith is based on believing certain things to be true—and not just any things, but absolute, transcendent truths that, if true, affect all people in all places. Firm faith in these truths (existence of God, deity of Christ, authority of the Bible, etc.) begins as conviction—which is a good thing—but easily slips into pridefulness and arrogance.

If I’m completely convinced of these truths and I see everything through the lens of them, then other people’s failure to live up to those truths will stand out to me.

If I’m young in my faith, spiritually immature, or frightened and uncertain, then I will use my “certainty” defensively, and point out or even lash out at things I see as offensive to God. I’ll also decide that things that offend God should offend me, too, and I will seek to fight God’s battles for him by opposing the “infidels.” Most perniciously, I’ll see myself as superior for having seen and recognized the truth, and be patronizing, condescending or mean to those who don’t agree.

Here’s an example. A Christian friend of mine knows a fellow from his work who is gay and has a live-in boyfriend. The gay guy was moving to another city, and it was his last day at work. There were two Christian ladies at his workplace who decided to get him a gift. They bought him a Bible—a nice one—and as a service to him, highlighted all the verses in the Bible that condemned homosexuality. This was their going away present.

That these ladies did not see how utterly rude, patronizing, condescending and plain old mean this was, is as astonishing as it is common.

By contrast, a mature approach to this would be to hold those truths with no less conviction, but not be intimidated when I find people who don’t agree, and live as if they don’t agree. Further, I will hold those convictions with humility, meaning that I’ll be the first to recognize that I have fallen short of God’s standard and in many ways still do.

A mature approach will recognize that everyone has the right to make their own choices and decisions, and will give them perfect freedom to do so, like Jesus did, and will not attempt to coerce or manipulate or guilt people into agreeing. This does not mean that they will not share with them or even try to persuade them, but they’ll do so without the need to hold others who continue to disagree at a distance or in contempt.

In my experience, it takes Christians many years to achieve this kind of maturity. Consequently, that leaves lots of zealous, immature Christians running around the world, reinforcing the judgmental image that we have unfortunately given to our faith.

The other dynamic at work here, I think, is that people can be threatened by those who don’t share their worldview. If I’m firmly convinced, for instance, that abortion is wrong, then if I meet an abortion doctor at a cocktail party, there is going to be instant, awkward tension between us. The same would be true if I was an animal rights activist, and I met a guy who runs a factory chicken farm. The person’s very presence somehow incarnates a challenge to my beliefs… or at least it feels that way.

That no doubt is what was at work in these ladies, who had this guy at work who fell into a prohibited category according to their worldview, and probably didn’t know what to do, but felt like they had to do something.

As far as Scott Roeder, the man who murdered the abortion doctor, he violated the tenets of his own faith while seeking to defend it. I think I can understand it: if you believe that unborn babies are human lives, made in the image of God, then the reality that there are 1.3 million aborted in this country every year is going to seriously burden you. It certainly burdens me. I mourn and lament it.

All of the prolife community’s efforts to address this problem through legal channels have paid off very scantily. They’ve worked hard with legislatures to pass some restrictions, and they are almost always slapped down by the courts, and every day, more and more babies are killed as birth control. It’s easy to see how that leaves a person with his convictions in a very frustrating position.

In every constituency and ideological group, you’re going to find emotionally disturbed or unstable people. So I’m not surprised when occasionally something like this happens. The details and thought processes differ, but this guy has company: the Unabomber, the 9-11 terrorists, the kids who shot up Columbine High School… each of them was serving an ideology which, mixed with their instability, was a recipe for tragedy.

In fact, I would say that the problem for both the Bible-giving ladies and Mr. Roeder was that they did not believe their faith enough. The ladies didn’t have confidence in gospel’s ability to change a person, so they resorted to the law. They believed that what he needed was to understand that homosexuality is a sin, but what he really needed was the same thing the ladies need: the grace of God in Christ forgiving their sin and enabling them to be better people. Mr. Roeder didn’t believe his faith enough, because he conveniently ignored the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.” There is no clause in the Bible that permits killing in defense of the faith. Vengeance belongs to the Lord, not to us.

At the end of the day, people can recognize the inconsistency between the example of Jesus—the prophet who hung out with prostitutes—and the judgmentalism of Christians.

In fact, the conclusion of the guy’s question, in my opinion, is right on: “If he [Mr. Roeder] would have looked at himself and focused on his faults instead of worrying about others he could have changed the world for the good instead of giving Christianity another bad name.”

Amen.

Let me conclude my response, however, with a caution. It’s easy to dismiss the teachings of Christ because some of his followers get all screwy. In the same way that it’s unfair to judge a teacher by his worst students, it’s unfair to judge Christianity by its worst adherents. If the students do things the teacher would never have agreed with and even condemned, it’s not really right to hold that against the teacher.

Fair judgment of a teacher involves looking at the full range of his students… but mostly at the teacher himself. So I would encourage you to first and foremost evaluate Christ himself as the best barometer of the worth and value of Christianity. If you don’t find him compelling, then you need not bother with anything else.

I'll try to address his other two questions soon.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Great Diving in Panama City with Wreck Raider!



If you’re looking for a good dive operator in Panama City Beach, I’ve got a recommendation for you!

When I was planning my Panama City trip I knew I wanted to scuba dive while I was down there, but I knew nothing about the local dive charters. So I decided to do a test.

I sent emails to four of the dive operators I found online. My hunch was the way they handled my inquiry would tell me a lot about their character. I told them I was a novice diver, having just completed my open water certification in February. I got replies from three of them. One was a brush-off. The speediest reply, most helpful and honest, was from Captain Rod with Wreck Raider.net.

He set me up with a dive trip on Thursday. I wanted to do two days of diving, but wanted to see how Thursday went before I committed to another.

Rod has a fast and compact dive boat; six is about maximum occupancy, but that translates into having personal attention and not having to fight crowds. Other dive boats, I’m told, can be cattle calls, with up to 20 divers or more.

Thursday was awesome. Captain Rod is laid back and polite, a very likeable fellow. No bossy-ness or attitude, but still professional and confident. When I arrived, I found out there would only be three of us on the boat: me, Captain Rod, and the dive leader, Nick. Nick is 19 years old, but very experienced—he’s been diving since he was 12. He’s a scuba instructor and is attentive, observant and authoritative. He took fantastic care of me. I found out that he helps lead worship at his church, so we had that in common right away.

We dove two bridge spans on Thursday. When I first got in the water, my BC and weight belt needed adjustment, and I was trying to refresh myself on everything I had to remember. I got discombobulated a bit. Nick and Rod were very patient and helpful. They got me back aboard and properly adjusted. Once I got underwater, however, everything went really great, and I enjoyed myself immensely.

Highlight of Thursday was probably the 6-foot tiger shark that made an appearance at the end of our second dive.

So on the way back I asked about joining them on Friday. Rod had three spearfishermen to take out, but he said he’d accommodate me, and true to his word, he did.

I really enjoyed watching these guys spearfish. Nick served as my dive buddy (mainly to keep an eye on me), but I tagged along and watched his expertise at work.

On Friday, we dove hard bottom reefs in about 70-80 feet of water. On my first dive, Nick came upon a hole in the reef, laid aside his speargun and pulled two lobsters out of the hole. They were shovelnose lobsters, which are smallish—about the size of a big TV remote—and aren’t regulated: there’s no season or restrictions, except that you can’t take females with eggs. Nick hadn’t brought a stringer or a mesh bag or anything, so he stuffed them in his BC pockets. Then he reached back into the hole, and grabbed some more, and then more, and then more. When he ran out of room in his BC, I offered mine. He wound up getting eight lobsters out of one hole. And that was in the first five minutes of the dive!

So on the second dive, I borrowed a pair of reef gloves (I’ve since purchased my own), and once I knew what to look for, I went searching for them, and sure enough, scored one of my own. Lots of fun.

Captain Rod hooked me up with three lobster tails at the end of the dive, and also a nice filet from the 20 pound grouper that another diver had speared. We ate well that night!

All in all, I had a great experience, and I’m sure you will, too. Check out the website, www.wreckraider.net, or call Capt. Rod directly (850) 249-DIVE (3483).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Sunday's Sermon: Grace and the Prodigal

Here is my sermon from this past Sunday. I used the parable of the prodigal (Luke 15) to illustrate the idea of salvation by grace, not works.

You can stream it or download here:



You can also go to my church's sermon archive, which also has options for subscribing to our church's sermon podcast in iTunes.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easter Set-up Time Lapse

Following is a sweet time-lapse of set-up for the Easter service in the CMS gym. Thanks to Jason the tech guru for having the idea and executing it!