Sunday, June 6, 2010
*Before you read this post I urge you first to watch the video above.
That video above is a video I found a while ago. It was also forwarded to me by my mother. Thanks mom! I found it humorous. It is incredibly true. I've been to a few mega churches like that, and the video hit the nail right on the head in it's representation of them. Then I found it a bit disturbing for multiple reasons.
For me there is the very obvious Fahrenheit 451 scenario. Fahrenheit 451 is a book by Ray Bradbary which is a book about burning books. It takes place in the future and books are banned because they promote independent thought and then cause people to actually think, and heaven forbid, actually feel REAL emotions. So instead people sit around and watch their TVs which nothing ever really happens. And when something dramatic happens the TV puts out random images and sounds to synthesize your emotions. You feel something. You feel sad, excited, happy, or mad, but you don't know why because nothing actually happened. It was an illusion. Think of modern Reality TV. Especially anything on MTV, VH1, E!, ect. They have reality TV shows were nothing of consequence is really happening, but they add all these special camera movements, and edit it with quick cuts, and add a lot of over the top dramatic music. Now, you have your self interesting trashy TV, with the viewers' emotions being manipulated to feel a certain way at certain points during the show.
It's frightening enough that cable networks are doing this. But now I am also seeing the church do this with the media they play. Contemporary churches seem to be using music to artificialize and evoke emotion that really isn't there. It sometime seems they are trying to move the spirit rather then the spirit moving them. I don't think the congregations of these churches, or even the leaders of those churches are realizing the are doing it. Why? The answer to that is simple.
They're too busy trying to be contemporary and relevant. But I wonder if they even knows what it means to be relevant? What does it mean to be contemporary? Are we suppose to even be contemporary? Should we strive for that? Should we strive for both? For either?
To be fair, by definition, the church is always contemporary. But for the sake of argument we'll say contemporary is a style. Which is true. It is a style. A style many churches are adopting in favor of the old way of a piano and hymns. People seemed to be drawn to this style. They like it, which is perfectly fine. But we seem to make the mistake that contemporary also means the be relevant. Which is sad because in the quest to be contemporary some mega churches have failed to be relevant.
What does it mean to be relevant? How are they not relevant? Well in my opinion for a church to be relevant it needs to be relevant to peoples needs, physically and spiritually. I am sure some of them are relevant. I don't doubt it. But the issue is the contemporary taking away from the relevance. The church isn't targeting all the needs. They're too focused sometimes on being liked rather then being real. Also the worship becomes something to artificialize emotions. The videos evoke a feeling, and for a brief moment you are affected but not changed. And just like the older generation has started to worship to the worship of their hymns, some of us are now worshiping the worship of being contemporary.
The solution? How to we ensure that contemporary worship keeps the focus on God, and not the worship itself? I would say it would require us to modify and create a theology of art and technology. We need to create a theology on video and performance. How watching a video created in burch can be used as art to bring us into the presence of God rather then manipulate our emotions. A theology in which watching a performance, and performing lead the performer and audience into the presence of God. I have my toughest in which i will share later. What are yours?
Monday, May 3, 2010
Back in high school I discovered what would be come one of my favorite bands ever. It wasn't a new band. They were by no means current. I'm pretty sure by the time I got around listening to them, most of their fan base were middle aged baby boomers that remembered listening to their records back when they were in high school. I am indeed talking about a band that had rockin' guitar rhythms, with long and powerful solos that at the end, the guitar would spontaneously catch fire in combination to the heat of the friction from the guitar player and the pure awesomeness of the solo itself. Though the guitar would be on fire, it did not burn, nor did it burn the player. It was the burning bush of guitar solos. And this was in every song.
Naturally I am talking about the band Styx. They were awesome. They still are awesome. I commandeered their greatest hits CD from my mother when I got my own licenses, and that CD has, at all times, always been accessible in my car. It's a rule, nay, it's the law, it should be the law, it must be the law, that every car must have that CD in it, at all times, ready to be played for spontaneous moments of rock. Rock so great, so powerful, that it melts the faces off those who listen to it, just from it's sheer power of awesomeness.
I may be over exaggerating here, just a little bit. But I truly do love that album. And I love every song on it. Which is rare to love every song on an album, at least for me. What's great isn't just the fact that they had awesome musical compositions. But their lyrics have always found a way to hit home with me. Some of them may be ridiculous, such as Mr. Roboto, but others have such heart and depth to them.
Such as Babe, which was written by Dennis De Young for his wife for when he would go on tour. It's about how much he loves her, misses her, and will be thinking about her while he's away. It's beautiful. Or Grand Illusion, which is about the absurdity of the American Dream, and once we get where we're going. Once we have that life we so desperately want with that new car, the big house, and all the material possessions to fill it, we're still left to our own thoughts of "who am I?" But my favorite song. A song that I readily connected to, is Show Me the Way. I just love it.
Every night I say a prayer
In the hopes that there's a Heaven
And everyday I'm more confused
As the saints turn into sinners
All the heroes and legends
I knew as a child have fallen to idols of clay
And I feel this empty place inside
So afraid that I've lost my faith
Show me the way, show me the way
Take me tonight to the river
And wash my illusions away
Please show me the way
And as I slowly drift to sleep
For a moment dreams are sacred
I close my eyes and know that there's peace
In a world so filled with hatred
That I wake up each morning and turn on the news
To find we've so far to go
And I keep on hoping for a sign
So afraid I just won't know
Show me the way, show me the way
Bring me tonight to the mountain
And take my confusion away
And show me the way
And if I see a light, should I believe
Tell me how will I know
Show me the way, show me the way
Take me tonight to the river
And wash my illusions away
Show me the way, show me the way
Give me the strength and the courage
To believe that I'll get there someday
And please show me the way
Every night I say a prayer
In the hopes that there's a Heaven
In short, this song pretty much says. This world sucks. It's full of vial, awful people, events, tragedies. The people you look up to. Your childhood heroes, or even your adult heroes, you find out that they too have their own skeletons in the closet. And when they're brought out into the light, our view of them is shattered and broken. Not only is our faith in them gone, but our faith in their cause is badly shaken. And we're left wondering, am I on the right path?
Back in college I watched as my home church back in Ohio went through a traumatic event as we watched our two youth pastors fall from grace just with in six months of each other. These two guys had been with the church a while. One of them for over 10 years. Pouring into the youth ministry, building it, sustaining it, and moving it forward. Needless to say their actions rocked that foundation, like a massive earth quake. I watched at was once a solid youth group crumble as youth leaders and church leaders scrambled trying to preserve whatever they could of. I even heard one story of a former member that I went to youth group with question her faith because of the ordeal.
The next two years were brutal, hard years for the youth group as I watched on the outside via stories from my mother and other leaders, as they began to rebuild what had been torn down. When I would hear accounts of what was going on, I could just see that the ministry was lost, confused, and begging for God to "Show them the way."
We all go through moments like that. We all go through hardships, were our very foundation of our world view is rocked drastically, and we have no choice but to put all we know aside, look to God and simply ask him to "show me the way." But it's hard. So hard in fact we sometimes would rather shut our eyes, go to our dreams and escape. Pretend it's not there. But then we open them, look out, and see we have so far to go.
Life is rough, and an over quoted, and highly misused in my opinion, verse that we Christians like to immediately spit out to each other is Jeremiah 29:11
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.
It's a great verse. I do like it. And boy is it the truth. But lets also take this into context. The heading of the chapter is "Letter to the Exiles." Why? Because Judah, at this point in time, was in exile. They were not living in the promise land. They were living in Babylon under the rule of King Nebuchadnezzar. And he was kind of an arrogant jerk.
So the letter was to give hope to the Jews as they lived in exile, right? Well correct, but read on aside from just God saying he knows the plans he has for them.
For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back from captivity. [b] I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you," declares the LORD, "and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile."
Did you read the part where God says "I will bring you back to the place form which I carried you into exile?" God put them there in the first place. God rocked their foundation. It was God who did the banishing. Why? Well they weren't really seeking Him.
"So Alex, what your saying is if I don't seek God, he will banish me?" No. Well...maybe. He's done it before. Truthfully, I don't know exactly what God will do, because I am not Him. But what I do know is that he is good, and that even though he did say to Judah "I put you there." He also said "I will bring you out." He had a plan. He knew what had to be done to reshape the people of Judah into men of God. It wasn't to hurt them. It wasn't to punish them. It was to discipline them.
And discipline is different from punishment. How so? Easy. Punishment is repayment of wrong. You're not meant to grow from your punishment, your meant to suffer. Discipline, on the other hand is a growing experience. A disciplined athlete eats right, exercises daily. Does work out routines that will improve strength and stamina to become a better athlete. A musician disciplines herself to practice her instrument everyday. It's not always pleasant. Sometimes it's torturous. But she gets better, and better. Like a good father, God disciplines us, so that we may grow, and become better men and women of God.
Sometimes that discipline can completely rock our world. We don't know up or down anymore. We're left speechless, and almost faithless. Reaching out one last time, pleading, asking, begging God to "Show us the way." And in that little passage in Jeremiah, God says "Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you."
Back to my story from earlier, I used the term "fallen from grace" to describe the situation of my old youth pastors. Truly I should have said "fallen into grace," because that is exactly what has happened. Their worlds were rocked by their actions, but they have fallen into the grace of God, and it has been amazing to hear how God has been working, shaping, healing, and revealing himself to them in their lives. It has been awesome to hear how God has been working.
And now finally with the youth group back at my home church. It has been two long hard years. They have been crying out to God, "Show us the way!" And God has answered, and he is healing, reshaping, and rebuilding that ministry. He had heard their prayers and has answered. He was sought by them, and found by them.
We all ask God at one time or another to show us the way. To restore our faith. As I have seen not only in the bible, and with my youth group, but also in my life, when I seek Him, I find him.
Thursday, April 29, 2010
My freshman year of college one of my favorite movies came out in theaters. V for Vendetta. It was one of those films that had a really awesome trailer that had me really excited to see it, and it was one of the very few movies that completely lived up to my expectations that I had from seeing the trailer. I was just enthralled with the entire movie. Up until it got to a certain point. Towards the end of the movie, the main character Evey is in a jail cell and finds a rolled up piece of toliet paper that a previous prisoner who was executed had written her memoir on. Why was this other prisoner executed? Simple, she was a homosexual.
The fictional government in the movie was a totalitarian government run by extreme religious zealots, though it doesn't outright say that's what they are, the new symbol for their party is in fact a form of the cross. And so one of the groups they target, arrest, beat, and kill are the homosexuals.
At first seeing this sequence in the theater I started to get upset. Here it is, Hollywood pushing the gay agenda on us again. I was not happy. I felt that this was an abominations, and how dare Hollywood say other wise and try to use this film to tell the American public that it's OK to be gay, when I knew the truth, that it firmly was not OK to be gay.
That's when God convicted me. Right there in the theater. He asked me, "would you rather kill them like the government is in this movie?" "Well, no." I replied. "Then why are you mad? Homosexuality is no different then sex outside of marriage. It's a sexual sin, and I do not like it. It's not how I designed it to be. But that doesn't change the fact that I love them, and I died for them as well."
Ouch. I've been put in my place.
That cartoon strip above is from a web-comic I periodically read called Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. It's not done by a Christian in any way since most of the comics take jabs at the Christian faith. But despite that, this comic I feel accurately depicts what Jesus may feel when he sees his "followers" taking his message of love, and turning it into a message of hate.
I recently read an article online about the Westboro Baptist Church protesting a marine's funeral back in 2006, because they believe dead soldiers is God punishing America for allowing homosexuality, and they are just tickled pink about it. And I just have to wonder, which Bible are these people reading?
I know that the Bible is very clear on it's stance on homosexuality. It's clearly written in Leviticus, 1 Corinthians, Romans, and is even referenced in Ezekiel 16 as part of the reason why God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. But that's not the only reason. Reading on in Ezekiel 16 we see another part of the reason of their destruction was because of their treatment of the poor, and inhospitality to people. Jesus even makes a reference to their inhospitality in Matthew 10:14. So Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction is more then just from homosexuality. They were just terrible sinful places in all aspects. So to argue that God destroyed them for either Homosexuality, or inhospitality, is a weak argument, since it's more then likely that the answer is all of the above.
But what does this mean for us? What should our stance be on homosexuals, and how should we treat them? I think the obvious wrong answer is to hold signs that says "God Hates Fags," or to beat them up, throw them in jail, and have them executed. Because the fact is, God doesn't hate homosexuals. He hates homosexuality, but he does not hate homosexuals. As a matter of fact quite the opposite. He loves them just as much as he loves us. Cause that is who God is. He is Love. 1 John 4 stresses that God is love by mentioning it twice with in the chapter as he talks about it. And he commands us to do the same.
Also in 1 John 4 not only says God is love, but commands us to love as he does. Tells us that we are to love our brother, and if we don't love our brother then we don't love God, and God's love does not dwell in us. Jesus, when asked by the Pharisees (as part of a trick) "what is the greatest commandment?" he doesn't bat an eye. He immidiately says "Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
And in Luke 10 when an Expert on the Law asked Jesus about who his neighbor is, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan. The story about the Samaritan, who was despised by the Jewish people, helps a Jewish man who was beat up, robbed, and left for dead, after two other Jewish men passed him by. At the end he asks the expert "Who do you think his neighbor was?" And the expert replies "The one who showed mercy on him." And Jesus simply says "Go and do likewise."
So who are our brothers, and our neighbors? Those who show mercy on us, and those we show mercy on. Mind you, not show mercy on in return, but show mercy on regardless. We as Christians are to be men and woman of love, peace, and mercy. And when it comes to homosexuals, regardless if it's choice, genetics, psycology, or any other reason that they live that life style, we are called to embrace them and love them. Not their life style mind you. We are not to say it's OK. But we're also not to judge. We are to love as God loves.
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
There are a few thing in life that I find are severely underrated. A clean colon and a relieved bladder are among those feelings. I apologize for any of you that find that to be a rather inappropriate and crude thing to share, but it sure is the truth for me. There are times I feel pounds lighter and truly refreshed. I walk out of the bathroom with a spring in my step and a smile on my face, thinking to myself, “Hey, I feel really good right now.”
Another feeling that I find quite underrated, that I feel more of you can readily identify and agree with me on this, is the feeling of eating a really good sandwich. Or for those of you who aren’t sandwich lovers, just a good meal in general. I don’t mean a meal that when you finish you look at your plate and say, “That was good.” I’m talking about a meal that surpasses just being a good meal. A meal that not only taste’s good, but feels good. As my dad would say after eating one of these meals, “That really hit the spot.”
There are times, they are few and far between, but there are times that you eat something that not only tasted good, but it was exactly what you wanted and needed. It truly fulfilled your hunger, and also satisfied your spirit. It was good on all fronts. The taste, the texture, the temperature. Everything about it was good. Your tummy is full, and you are satisfied in mind and body. Today I had one of those sandwiches.
Here at work there’s a deli down the street I frequent often to get lunch. They have some really good sandwiches, as well as specials that they come up with daily. And today's special really caught my eye. It was a cajun grilled chicken sandwich with bacon, avocado, lettuce, tomato and pinto mayo on a crispy toasted panini. Yum! Naturally I ordered it.
I brought it back to the edit studio where I work, to sit down in peace and eat. Most days I am in here all by myself. I work on my own, while my boss works from his home office. Today was no exception. I was by myself. And normally I would eat while watching something on Hulu or by reading up on the news.
Today though, I decided I should do something different. I decided I really should spend some much needed time in prayer while eating my sandwich. My personal time with God has been quite lacking in recent months. I haven’t really been attending church; I’ve barely cracked open my good ol’ B-I-B-L-E; and I’ve stopped praying during my car ride in to work. It’s not something I consciously decided to do. Just with personal circumstances and the busyness of life, it fell by the wayside. Not bringing my Bible with me I decided that sitting in prayer and welcoming the presence of God for just a few minutes while on my lunch was much needed. But not just praying to God, but praising him, thanking Him for the good things in life, and just sitting in silence in his presence.
So I chowed down on my sandwich and resisted the urge to crack open the laptop and watch an episode of the Simpsons on Hulu. And it was fabulous, for two reason.
The first being that the grilled cajun chicken panini, was absolutely fantastic. Not only did it taste good, and fill my hunger, but it “hit the spot.” The spice of the chicken, the crunch of the panini, the crispness of the tomato, the mayo, the avocado, All of it combined into a joyous, delectable experience with each bite being better then the last. It not only tasted good, but it felt good.
The second reason, was that I got to share this, spending a brief moment with God. Praying, listening, and praising him. Not only did the sandwich fill my hunger, and “hit the spot” but my spirit was edified by time with my Maker. It was a wonderful lunch with God.
Which is what gave me this idea, Sandwich Time With Jesus. Kind of humorous and maybe a little ridiculous I know, but I also believe that God is very personable, and wants to have a relationship with us. One in which he teaches us, guides us, as well as interacts with us, loves us, and spends time with us as we dwell in his presence. That is the purpose of this. To share devotions while encouraging others to spend time with God. I also believe that God must have a sense of humor, so not all thoughts will be super serious. I would hope that all posts will be edifying to you. Whether it be a conviction you feel that God laying on your heart, or may it be a laugh that bellows out from the deepest parts of your belly as you begin to feel joy on a gloomy day.
So turn off that TV. Put away your cellphone. Make your self a delicious sandwich and lets spend some time with Jesus. And I pray both the sandwich and Jesus “hit the spot.”