Friday, June 10, 2011

How Not to Be Creative...and Why You Should Be

Filmmaker Geoff Talbot recently posted on How to Improve Your Imagination, where he made this interesting suggestion:
One simple way of increasing your creativity is to use the law of opposites...When you come up with an idea of what to write, of how to play a character, or of what to paint on that canvas… STOP… and ask yourself what is the opposite of that idea, now create something about that.
In the spirit of Geoff's blog, in which all posts are seven sentences long, and his suggestion on how to be creative, here are seven guaranteed ways toward not being creative:
  • Tell yourself, "It's never been done that way before."
  • Tell yourself, "It can't be done."
  • Never plan.
  • Never ask questions.
  • Never talk with people who are smarter or wiser than you.
  • Never ask for help.
  • Never pray.
If this seems like a good plan of action to you, seek immediate medical help. You may have died and not been informed.

You were created in the image of God and God is the Creator. We're all meant to create things, whatever our jobs or stations in life. Be human...create!

Thursday, June 09, 2011

God's Sledgehammer is Starting to Help Me See

Tonight, during my fast walk workout, I read chapter 6 of David Platt's extraordinary, Radical. There, Platt challenges American Christians to consider what God might be asking us to give up in order to provide for the needs of "the least of these," including the 26,000 children who die of starvation in the world each day. I find what Platt writes disturbing and exhilarating!

After reading that, I opened my laptop for a look-see at some of my favorite blogs and other web sites before hitting the sack. I came to this post on obedience to God by my bud, Steve Sjogren.

First Platt. Then Sjogren. God is clearly using His subtle sledgehammer to get a message through to me: His grace comes to those who trust in Jesus Christ. But if we trust in Christ, we will obey God, even when the things God seems to tell us to do don't make sense. 

It's scary. But I really want to learn this lesson!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Grilling One Sacred Cow

I hate nostalgia. That's because nostalgia pines for "good old days" that exist only in people's imaginations. This punctures one object of nostalgia.

Great Thought!


If You're Not Famous...Be Thankful

Rare is the person who can handle success, prominence, or fame. Fame often leads to a sense of entitlement and invincibility. Fame isn't good for a person's soul.

These lessons have been made clear as I, along with the folks of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church, as part of our Read the Bible in a Year project, have been recently reading about Israel's first king, Saul, in 1 Samuel.

Saul was, by turns, diligent in his duties one moment and arrogant in the abuse of power the next.

Saul never seemed to fully understand that, through his anointing as king, he had been made a servant of God and of Israel, not just of himself.

This lack of understanding once led him to quake among the baggage when his people needed him to command them in war. It also led him to disobey God, employing his own faulty judgment instead of depending on God, all in a gambit to win the favor of those he led.

In time, Saul came to view his fame not only as an entitlement, but as an extension of himself and his personal identity. That, in turn, fed a paranoia that--among other things--caused him to seek the murder of his best and most loyal military leader, David, and to treat the members of his own family as chess pieces to be moved around for his purposes.

As I watched an excerpt of the tearful press conference of Representative Anthony Weiner yesterday, I thought of Saul. Maybe if Weiner weren't a six term congressperson from New York, he wouldn't have done the things to which he admitted yesterday. But fame and prominence, even the smallest whiffs of it, can make the most stable and sober of us think that we're "all that."

A sense of entitlement--an idea that whatever might be vices in others really aren't vices in us--can actually come to any of us at any time, even if our name is known to only a handful of people.

Narcissism, total self-interested self-regard,  is something with which we are all born and which it's the job of every parent to wean out of their children.

This inborn trait is what the Bible is talking about when it teaches that we are all born in sin, sin being a condition of self-will over against loving consideration of God or others. (By the way, that's why Jesus says the Great Commandment is to love God and love others. And it's because we can't conquer the condition of sin that leads us to do all manner of stupid, hurtful things, that Jesus calls all people to turn from sin--or repent--and believe in, entrust their lives to, Him. Jesus can erase the power of sin over our lives and help us, in this lifetime, to be recovering narcissists, and in eternity, be utterly free to be the people God originally willed us to be.)

So, if you're not famous, be thankful. It can create such false notions of invincibility, power, and entitlement that it can close your conscience to heeding what's right or correctly identifying what's wrong at any moment in your life.

And if, like me, you're just another ordinary member of the human race, I hope that you can be honest enough to say that, even without fame, you've acted like a person of entitlement who treated God and others with contempt, as though they were bit players in the more important production of your life. If you can muster that level of honesty with God and with yourself, you'll be onto something. You'll be close to surrendering to Christ and His better will for your life.

Finally, if you're prone to join the late night talk show comics in laughing at Anthony Weiner, please don't. His actions are admittedly wrong, even childishly so. But what he needs more than our derision is prayer.

So do we all.

That, of course, doesn't mean that the people for whom we pray shouldn't be held accountable, if their actions are illegal or violate the ethics rules of their professions.

But we can pray for Anthony Weiner or any political leader of either party facing similar humiliation in the face of their own revealed bad judgments and hubris. In 1 Timothy, the first century evangelist Paul writes to a young pastor named Timothy:
First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions...
That's what I try to do for all political leaders on a regular bases. If you're skeptical about including leaders in government in your prayers, consider this: It can't hurt!

And while you're praying for them, you can also thank God that you're not famous.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Aiming Toward, "MIssion Accomplished!"

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, earlier today.]

John 17:1-11
Please pull out the Celebrate insert from your bulletin and look at today’s Gospel lesson, John 17:1-11. Keep it handy.

In this lesson, Jesus does an extraordinary thing: He lets us listen in on His personal prayer to God the Father.

Now, I don't know about you, but there are things in my personal prayer time that I want to keep strictly between God and me. I don't want anybody listening in.

But Jesus has no secrets. The Word made flesh, is an open book.

The entire Bible, in fact, reveals that God has always been an open book. The New Testament book of Romans reminds us that, “…what can be known about God is plain…, because God has shown it…

We see God's openness in other ways. The Bible affirms, for example, that God’s law—His will and His commands for humanity—has always been written on our hearts, giving all of us a strong hint, long before we even hear the Name of Jesus, that there is a God Who made and cares about us.

But more than that, God has taken the time and effort and sacrifice to live out His love for us and make it possible for all who turn from sin and believe in Him to live with Him eternally. God has lived His love for us out loud for everyone to see!

In the prologue to his account of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, John the Evangelist says, “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”

John goes on to say of Jesus, “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, Who is close to the Father’s heart, Who has made Him known.”

Jesus has no secrets. Jesus is in the disclosing business.

So, what exactly does He disclose to us in today’s Gospel lesson?

First: He discloses a heart filled with celebration.

One of my nephews, Andrew, is graduating from high school. There’s going to be a celebration later today. The unspoken theme will be: mission accomplished. That's the theme of all graduation parties!

(And sometimes, their theme is "Shwew!")

In His prayer in today's Gospel lesson, Jesus takes a victory lap. He exults in His accomplishment on earth even before He goes to the cross or is raised from the dead.

Jesus knows that He already is what He was sent into the world to be: “the way, and the truth, and the life,” the only way for human beings to know God and the only way to the life that the life-giving God of the universe gives to those who repent and trust in Christ.

Look at what Jesus says He has already accomplished at the moment He utters His prayer.
  • In verse 6: “I have made Your Name known to those whom You gave me…” 
  • In verse 7: “Now they know that everything You have given me is from You…” 
  • In verse 8: “for the words that You gave to me I have given to them, and [they] know in truth that I came from you…”
Jesus’ earthly life had a mission. He came to make God known. All that he said and did was bent to that purpose.

In this prayer, Jesus rejoices in the strength that God the Father and God the Holy Spirit had given Him to accomplish it all and He prays, in essence, “Father, mission accomplished!”

As He prays, Jesus knows, of course, that He has one thing left to do on this earth, one more definitive act disclosing Who He is and Who God is.

He must die.

He must give His life for those given to Him by the Father.

This is the ultimate thing that Jesus discloses to all who are open to the truth. Martin Luther said that if we want to know what God is like, we only need to look to Jesus on the cross.

And that’s why with jubilation, Jesus, God on earth, intent on doing God’s would, on the Friday we call Good, having fully disclosed the heart, mind, and will of God, decide on the cross the moment at which He would breathe His last, call out to the Father, “It is finished,” (“My mission is accomplished.”)  and then give His life to God.

The Father wouldn’t let this be the end for Jesus, though. The sinless Savior Who offered His perfect life as the perfect sacrifice for our sin could not remain dead. He had to be raised up so that all people would know about their chance to turn to Him (turning away from their sin), entrust their lives to Him, and live with God eternally.

So, in this prayer, Jesus celebrates what He accomplishes for the glory of the Father and for our eternal good.

And then: Jesus discloses a request to the Father.

In verse 5, Jesus asks, “Father, glorify Me in Your own presence with the glory that I had in Your presence before the world existed…”

The glory of God was displayed in Jesus in many ways. It was seen when...
The glory of God was seen in Jesus too, when at the waters of the Jordan River, where He was baptized, and on the Mount of Transfiguration, the Voice from heaven said, "This is My Son; listen to Him!"

And yet the glory of God disclosed in Jesus on all those occasions and others we might name, were mere hints, dim reflections, brief tastes of the glory Jesus once enjoyed as God the Son in the halls of heaven before the creation of this world!

Now, in this prayer, having accomplished all that He had set out to do in taking on human flesh, Jesus asks the Father to give that glory back to Him again.

The Father will do just that when He raises Jesus from the dead on the first Easter Sunday and so, makes the Name of Jesus the Name to which eventually, every knee will bow and every tongue confess, “that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father.” 

(It turns out that even those who reject Jesus and will tragically, live with the consequence of their rejection of “the only Son of God” will also, in the end, acknowledge the glory of God seen in Jesus.)

If there is one thing more than any other that Christ’s Church needs today, it’s a renewed sense of the glory of God! 

I’ve mentioned before the woman who approached me after worship one Sunday in a former congregation. She was upset with the words of Psalm 111:10: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom...” (The same words appear also in Proverbs 1:7 and 9:10.)

She affected that voice that some people use when trying to show their piety and said, “I don’t think that we should be afraid of God.” Look, Jesus says that we are His friends when we keep or strive to honor His commandments. He promises to stick closer to us than a brother.

But Jesus, God in the flesh, is not our buddy, not our rabbit’s foot, nor our ATM, nor our good luck charm.

He will be there to judge us at the end of history.

Paraphrasing Bill Cosby’s Cliff Huxtable, Jesus brought us into this world and He can take us out.

He is God almighty.

He alone deserves all our allegiance, honor, loyalty, and thankfulness because, through His “amazing grace,” He saves all who trust in Him from sin and its consequence, death.

We must understand that the God disclosed in Jesus Christ is not a salesperson with whom we can negotiate a price, but the Lord of the universe and that to have Him and the eternity only He can give, we must bow, we must surrender to Him.

It's when we understand this that we’ll be on the road to the wisdom that leads to life.

In this prayer in today's Gospel lesson, Jesus, Who laid His glory by for His time on earth, is reclaiming that glory.

But here’s the really astounding thing.

It’s a theme of the New Testament that the life of Jesus is replicated, reenacted, in baptized believers in Him. All who are baptized and live in daily repentance and renewal can say with the New Testament, “I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ Who lives in me.” 

This is what Luther was getting at when he said that whenever the devil came knocking at his heart's door with temptations, announcing that he was looking for Martin Luther, Jesus went to the door in his place and said, "Martin Luther used to live here. But now I live here. Now, go away and don't come back any more!"

It was because of Christ living in him, that the first century preacher Paul, before his death, could write to the young pastor Timothy with the same sense of fulfillment and jubilation we see in Jesus’ prayer in our Gospel lesson on the brink of His death.

Listen closely to Paul's words (this is from The Message translation):
I’m about to die, my life an offering on God’s altar. This is the only race worth running. I’ve run hard right to the finish, believed all the way. All that’s left now is the shouting—God’s applause! Depend on it, [God is] an honest judge. He’ll do right not only by me, but by everyone eager for His coming.
In his wonderful book, Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream, Pastor David Platt talks about how many American Christians think that Jesus’ call and command for radical discipleship, including the call to love all the world and to carry the good news of Jesus to all the nations applies to other people, not us.

In taking this attitude, millions of Christians turn a deaf ear to the needs of 4.5 billion people who may die today without ever hearing the Good News of new life through faith in Jesus Christ.

And in thinking that Jesus’ call only applies to some spiritual elites, we also deny ourselves the very sense of fulfillment and the enjoyment of God’s glory that Jesus exults in in today’s Gospel lesson and that He wants us to have!

We, each of us, need to consider how we can restructure our personal lives to fulfill the mission Christ has given to each of us, so that we too can exult in the sense of fulfillment from a life spent in giving God glory.

We may not be able to go to foreign countries in pursuing God’s intentions for our lives.

But each of us is called to fulfill the whole mission of Christ’s Church in our own individual lives. Our sponsorship, through World Vision of three year old Toiba in Kenya, involvement with CHAP, the 30 Hour Famine, the PPSST Food Drive, the upcoming local mission trip, Friend Day in November, upcoming servanthood evangelism events, and above all, our personal willingness to share Christ with the spiritually disconnected, are all ways in which we can lead the life of purpose that gives God glory that Jesus Christ wants each of us to experience.

We need to encourage one another in living out our Christ-given mission to the whole world. It’s to help us fulfill this single mission that Jesus prays in verse 11: “Holy Father, protect them in Your Name that You have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.”

When I come to the end of this life, I want to be able to pray with the same sense of jubilation and fulfillment we see in Jesus in our Gospel lesson.

I want to be able to look back on a life in which I loved God, loved the world, and took my part in making some disciples of the world’s 4.5-billion unreached people.

I want to be able to say, “Mission accomplished.”

How about you?

If it’s your desire to fulfill God’s purposes for your life, ask Christ to live fully in you…and then go wherever He leads you. Amen