A petrol station, some Sadducees, and the Story.

“Your name is Daniel? Are you a Christian?” That’s what the petrol station cashier asked me today as she looked at my FlyBuys card. 

“You tell me what a Christian is and I’ll tell you if I’m that…” I teased back.

“A person who believes Jesus died for their sins?” she replied.

“…and?” I queried.

“That’s it isn’t it?” She finalised.

Depressingly, I can see why she said that. That’s the story most people know when it comes to this whole “Christian” thing. Let me explain.

In Mark 12:18-27 we find a terrific discussion to be able to eavesdrop on. Jesus is talking with a group called the Sadducees, and they are talking to him about the resurrection. This is interesting because the Sadducees don’t believe in the resurrection. (If you aren’t seeing how big of a deal this all is, it’s like a chef saying he doesn’t believe in onions.)

Jesus issues them a warning: “Your mistake is that you don’t know the Scriptures, and you don’t know the power of God.” and after explaining a bit further, he issues this stern sign off: “He is the God of the living, not the dead. You have made a serious error.”

One: you don’t know the Story.

Two: you haven’t experienced the power of the God of this Story.

Three: you’re being muppets by not investigating this all further. Seriously.

And so, as I write this I am wondering something: are we modern day Sadducees? Have we really explored the Scriptures well enough to know the real Story – that our God is making all things new, and that the cross is a jaw-droppingly wonderful part of the story but not the climactic ending.

Why do we so often put a full stop at a “personal Saviour who died for me, me, me…” and not continue to the Cosmic Redeemer, busy restoring all of His creation and putting all things back to rights again? His power is such that He takes something that is dead, and raises it to life again.

The first century Church preached a Good News message of “Jesus, who rose from the dead.”* We modern day Westerners preach a message of “Jesus, who will forgive you.” We have let the big, bold Story become a bit smaller than our first-Century pioneers, a story which is quite a bit stingier to the original. 

Rant concluded. My last word to the petrol cashier was this, and may you understand why: “I don’t believe the story ended on Friday, I believe it started on Sunday.”

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*Read all of Acts, cover to cover, and you’ll see.

One hand forward, another back.

I’m an assistant pastor (insert my friend Sam’s joke that this actually means “assistant to the pastor”) which means I sit in a pretty privileged position of church leadership. I get to sit in the wonderful tension of being led by a great man of character, integrity and humility and hopefulIy I also get to be a leader of hopefully the same stuff.

It’s got me thinking this New Year: we all want a “good year” ahead. One of blessing, and good times. One of surviving it well and coming out on top. As a contrast, my list of New Year’s resolutions didn’t look like this:

  1. To become as shallow as possible
  2. To just scrape by
  3. To enjoy being isolated and alone

Yet, if we were to look at our list of goals and hopes for 2013, and then look at how we are going to outwork them, I wonder if this list I have jotted down is maybe more the reality? 

The Bible speaks of doing life well. It speaks of being in a community of people who are wise and championing you on. It speaks of a group of people brought together to live the resurrected life now. It begs of you: will you do this life alone and accept mediocrity, or will you bring all that you are to the table and submit it for a real life.

Will you put a hand forward and be led by wisdom, and put a hand back and serve that same thing?

My New Year pondering is this: I am blessed to follow a great man as we both follow after Jesus together. My best learnings of 2012 happened under his wing, as he sharpened me up with his wisdom and insights. I would have had a year of shallowness, scraping by and being a little more alone if I hadn’t of been following him.

Who are you teaming up with and submitting yourself to this year, to both walk the journey of seeking first God’s Kingdom and seeing what happens? Because if you want that New Year’s list to become a bit of a reality, you can’t do it alone.

The fully alive human rejects isolation, so put a hand forward to be led, and one back to serve.

An end to noisy ego music.

Today I have reconnected with one of the greatest warnings in the Scriptures to today’s worship leaders. This might feel a little “ranty”, so don’t say I haven’t warned you, but it is my honest response to a warning I urge us all to take seriously.

Deep breath. Here we go…

Oh how easy it is for our church worship music to just become, in the words of Eugene Peterson, “noisy ego music”*.

Jesus tells of a situation where two people can’t get along and they have wronged one another. One of these people goes to the Temple to give an offering of worship and sacrifice. Jesus says that this person is to drop the religious offering, turn around and go make amends with the person who they are butting heads with.**

Jesus’ commentary on what God is saying to this person as they stand there about to religiously give is essentially: forget it. I don’t want this, what I want for you to do is go and sort out that relationship with your friend that isn’t in shape right now. Until you do, your sacrifice is useless to me.

This isn’t anything new. The message of the prophets over and over again is that God is after a group of people who live the story of God’s restoration out. He wants a people group who do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.***

John, in his first letter, echoes this and warns that if a person says he loves God, but can’t love his brother, that person is a murdering liar.****

Ouch.

Which brings us back to our noisy-ego music. Our church music is a wonderful show at times isn’t it? It sounds great, feels great and even looks great. But I fear I have spent many years judging it’s effect by the wrong criteria. (Shout out here to my friend, boss, mentor and pastor, Vic Francis, for his leadership lesson on redefining success…)

“God must be moving, a lot of people’s hands went up in the air for a long time” or “People weren’t really connecting with that free praise today, all I could hear was a few awkward mumbles!” were often my criteria for a good worship time together, or a bad one.

Never once did I ever judge a good worship time by how many people left to go sort out relationships that have gone sour.

I have played with musicians who would stop mid-set to get on their knees in simple admiration of Jesus. For some reason I have never, ever, been a fan of telling that person to get back to their musical post, and perhaps I see why now.

Worship music must never get in the way of authentic connection with the risen Jesus, the kind that causes us to abandon all, even our post of playing it.

Worship music must never be just a veneer of “serving” your community by playing great contemporary music at an acceptable-volume-level, when actually what they really need is to be invited to once again be laid bare in total surrender of their God and His story – one of embracing your cross, and making old things new.

Worship must never come at the cost of relationships, friendships and families. Worship should cause us to have richer relationships, friendships and families.

Worship is not noisy ego music – noisy ego music is just noisy ego music. Worship is your story unashamedly laid within God’s big story, with all your fears and foibles, tricks and temptations. This gets loud sometimes. It’s quiet other times. But it’s always making some kind of internal-noise, some sort of activity connecting you with the Divine.

Worship. Is. Love.

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* Amos 5:21-24 The Message
** Matthew 5:23-24
*** Micah 6:8
**** 1 John 3:14-15

A light Michael Gungor book review: The Crowd, the Critic and the Muse.

You know how ages ago I blindly mentioned that Michael Gungor’s new book should probably be one of the “top five” must have books?

Turns out I was right. I am cementing that comment and as such will have to loosely change my “top five” to a “top six” and come up with another blind choice book to end that post with in a non-commital fashion. But that’s a problem for later.

Firstly this, a disclaimer of biased-ness: This book resonated with me like an explosion in an aircraft hangar. This book is words to pages of feelings I have wrestled with for years. There were even moments when I said out loud: “Have you stolen this from me, Mr Gungor?” So in reading this I already liked it because I have already been internally journeying through several of the themes he writes about.

“What are those said themes, Dan?” I hear you ask.

Critique, creativity, Christians, Conservatives, crowds and consuming.

Burn-out, big-thinking, back-to-basics. All told with wonderful behnd-the-scenes back-story.

Michael writes well, though my Dad will say that this is one of those books “He can’t read because of the writing style being too conversational” at times.

He prefers things to be written the old-skool way.

He hates it when people hit the return key too often.

I like it.

But in saying that, Michael doesn’t do that too often and he mixes in some wonderful photos too for comic relief. There’s wonderful art work on chapter transitions too. This isn’t a text book of how to be the next big thing. It’s a story of the journey been and hopes for the journey ahead, it’s smattered with truths that took years and tears to find words for, and it’s loaded with ideas that will send your creative pulse racing. This book itself oozes what it’s main point is: good creative art communicating an even greater message.

That’s all I shall say because this, as the title said, is a light review. Light I shall keep it, but it’s depth you will find in this book.

From a waster, to a giver.

On my “walk to Emmaus” recently, I have had a pretty eye opening moment. So eye opening, it has taken me a good couple of days to begin to come to grips with it, to find language for it, but thanks to the guidance of the Holy Spirit I think I am there.

You see, a few days ago while visiting Paris, we got robbed. Pick pocketed by gypsy children to be exact. I know that sounds like a joke, but it’s not. They took a lot of cash, but thankfully returned our passports by hiffing the passport wallet on the ground as they left the train. (To the gypsy kids: thanks for that by the way, seriously, thanks. I know when to count a blessing.)

Here’s what I have noticed though: Immediately I didn’t care, and deep down inside of me a funny thing happened. I felt sorry for them. I connected with them and sympathised for them. I imagined the community they are in that means this is what they need to do to get by. I even found myself blurting to my mother-in-law later that night, “That could have been us. We easily could have been those gypsy kids – but we aren’t – today we are the travellers.”

I’m the traveller. The blessed traveller who has insurance.

On the train home yesterday I felt led to read 1 John. It just kept gnawing at me. Read. 1. John.

So I did. And I found this gem in 3:17, underlined in my Bible, but clearly not underlined in me yet. “If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion – how can God’s love be in that person?”

A good question, and a response dawned in me: I had walked past hundreds of homeless people over the last two weeks, and I hadn’t given them a thing. I had justified it in my mind by saying “They will spend it on drugs or drink…” You know, the usual justification we make for not giving our change. But reading those words made me pull my wallet out and put my change in my pocket ready for the next beggar I come across.

My answer to this question was to put my money where my heart longs to be: in a place of being generous. Here’s why.

Jesus tells us to give to the poor, and John echoes it here too. But he doesn’t say to check in with them an hour later and see if they spent it well, or if they wasted it. No. They just say that the thing we are to do is give. Love gives.

“But they will waste it!” I hear you saying. Yeah, and I bet you – like me – have wasted a lot of things you have been given too.

The Kingdom life beckons us to live with hands open, not closed. Pockets emptied, not tightly shut. Forgiveness plentiful, not stingy. To turn moments of waste into moments of radical generosity. This is my Emmaus moment, and I am glad I have discovered it.

So, to the gypsy kids – what you did isn’t right. But I forgive you and I hope you ate well the last couple of days. I hope you spend it well, and I pray you may find a way out of the hopeless life you are in at the moment, and experience some day the joy of living the radical agenda of faith, hope and love…

…I am glad I have.

Inexcusable forgiveness.

“Yeah, but he always does that when he’s tired…”

“What you need to know is she does that because of her condition…”

“You just need to understand that he has had a hard year…”

Excuses. All asking for me or you to overlook what’s happened. For too long I have mistaken living in forgiveness with this satisfaction of excuses.

There’s a large difference between forgiving someone and being satisfied with their excuse. A large difference being that forgiving isn’t accepting their excuse, it’s overlooking it. It’s overlooking even the inexcusable.

C.S. Lewis writes of this in one of his essays on forgiveness in The Weight of Glory collection, where he also states “We must forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in us.”

Here’s the truth in all of this train-riding rambling: The power to forgive is in our hands, so you can leave the power to make excuses in theirs. Jesus tells us very clearly that forgiveness is in our hands, especially in his teaching on prayer. So live forgiving quickly and in awareness of the smorgasbord of people’s various short-comings – and your own.

A second truth is this: forgiving brings the God-promise of making all things new to earth. It lays it over the inexcusable, and its says, “It doesn’t have to stay this way.” After all, the grand crescendo of the story is that He did that for you and me, and we must do that for others.

So, stop being satisfied with excuses and be on the alert for the next moment of needing to show inexcusable forgiveness. May you forgive, as you have been forgiven.

NOTE:

Today, about an hour after writing this, my family was pick-pocketed leaving the train station in Paris and had over €700 stolen by a small group of gypsy children working the Metro. I had to immediately put into practice the words I had written an hour earlier. Funny that.

A long walk.

Every road I turn down turns out to be to Emmaus. I keep discovering I thought I knew this master Jesus, and then he blows his cover. I had missed it all, yet again.

Got it wrong.

Missed the point.

Underestimated.

I thought I was close, but it turns out there’s many more miles to walk. Many more miles to engage and converse.

Plenty more miles to be reminded I’m not the leader, but a fellow follower.

A long walk to be shown I’m not the point of the Story.

A long walk to be reprogrammed to what it looks like to be fully alive.

A long walk to let Jesus slap his hand on his forehead yet again and show me what he really meant.

It will take a very long walk…

…but at least I’m a few steps further down the path today than I was yesterday.