Saturday, June 30, 2012

RE: Brave and Matthew 18:15-35

Brave exceeded my expectations. I've seen warrior princesses, and I've seen fiery redheads defy their parents wishes, but I honestly believe Brave depicted something new, and even something counter cultural. Brave told a story of forgiveness and reconciliation. It championed community over individuality.

I'm not going to ruin it for you, but I want to say that the ideals of the film were utterly other than those ordinarily pushed in such movies. We're used to stories of independence, where strong willed heroes dodge the consequences of their actions and claim glory for themselves and their ragtag group of friends. Brave is not that story. Brave is better.

I think that the film will struggle with popularity, not because it features strong female characters, but because its message is decidedly not self-centred. There are parallels between Ariel and Merida, and between Mulan and Merida, but Brave's princess is entirely more realistic. She is whiny and rude, and her adolescent defiance hurts her family. Disney traditionally has challenged us to strike out on our own in spite of what anyone tells us. Brave challenges families to listen to one another, to forgive one another, and to believe in one another. This challenge is as much harder as it is better.

I advise you to go see it. Brave is funny and smart, and it was beautiful to see on the big screen. I'm certain I'd only enjoy it more if I had children, but you don't need kids to appreciate it. I saw it with my wife and two single friends, and it sparked great discussions, especially about our mothers.


If you do take your kids to see it, consider reading Matthew 18:15-35 before or after. Talk with them about forgiveness. Remind them how much you love them and will forgive them no matter what, and how Jesus loves them with even greater all-forgiving love.
Dunnottar Castle photo by: macieklew

God speed and happy watching.

P.S.   JW Wartick of Always Have A Reason has written this lovely, and more academic reflection on the film:  Pixar's "Brave" A Christian Perspective

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Earth's Mightiest Heroes

If you have ever had a hero, you have probably been disappointed by that hero.  History is full of admirable and brave people who sadly also committed abominable and embarrassing sins.  If you care to research them you can discover dark sins in the lives of history’s most noble figures that would make you cringe.  It has been popular, especially recently, to discuss and review these failings, which I think is excellent.  It is good to have an accurate picture of history because this gives us an accurate picture of ourselves, but it has also become popular to pass judgment on these figures and to discredit their good work because of their bad work.  This tendency needs to end.  When speaking of history, we speak of humans; all humans except one have sinned (Romans 3:23).
            As a child I was taught fanciful stories about Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Martin Luther, Teddy Roosevelt, and Dr. King.  Latter, one by one, I learned that each of these larger-than-life titans had committed crimes against their neighbors.  Each one embarrassed their country, their cause, or their God.  I was crushed.  We long for incorruptible role models, but the fact remains that there is only one incorruptible.
            In scripture too the wisest and bravest failed.  The greatest kings and the wisest prophets lied, lost hope, committed murder, and sinned sexually.  It turns out: God can use anybody, and he often uses the weak so that he will get credit for the victories he gives them.

Omigosh our grandpas are cool
Fantasy Team of WWI Heroes By: Frederick Humbert


            Usually when we talk about the failings of the patriarchs we are challenged to remember and believe that God can use us in spite of what we’ve done.  Of course he can; however, I want to shift the focus from ourselves to our neighbors.  Please take a moment to remember someone whose behavior you despise; they may be a gossip, a tyrant, or a home wrecker.  Whatever you think of them, God looks at them and loves them exactly as he loves you.  Your sins, my sins, and their sins are all equally damnable, and Jesus Christ is equally willing and able to forgive each of us. 
Pray The Lord’s Prayer today, and as you reach, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors." take the opportunity today to forgive your enemies just as Christ forgave us when we were still his enemies.  God can use them as easily as he can use us.  We are all in his hand: equally unworthy and yet equally loved.

Friday, June 15, 2012

RE: Acts 7 Expect Persecution. Love Unconditionally.

As a US citizen I enjoy remarkable privilege. The Bill of Rights is all absolutely stellar, and one of my favorite bits is the promise that my government will, at no level and under no circumstances make laws prohibiting or enforcing religious practices. This is an especially precious amendment for me as a protestant and a Lutheran. At one time in Europe a person could be banished, censored, or even executed if they contradicted their government's religion. A lot of people were killed, and it delights me that my government has promised not to do this.

This protection, however, comes at a cost. By baring our government from enforcing or prohibiting any religion, it may not enforce my religion either. In exchange for our freedom from government persecution we surrender all opportunities to spread Christianity through legislation, which is fine with me. I don't think Christianity spreads very well through legislation anyway. The law of God couldn't make men holy (Romans 3:20), so it stands to reason that US law would have hard time of it as well.

I love my religious freedom but it is important, for me and all Christians, to remember that our religious freedom is nice, but will not always be guaranteed. It is a right we're entitled to by the current constitution of our particular country. It is not something God has promised us. Jesus promised we'd endure hardship because of him (John 15:18-21).

I read Acts 7 today, in which Stephen was put on trial and stoned to death for being a Christian. What amazed me was that at no point did Stephen protest his treatment. He blithely accepted his impending murder and the violation of what we now consider to be natural human rights. It was as though he expected the whole thing and was not only unsurprised but amiable, even asking God to forgive his oppressors as Jesus did before him (Luke 23:34).

How do we apply a chapter like this? I've heard that a rather lot of Christians are miffed that their rights are not being protected aggressively enough (Fox News). I've heard Christians complain about not being accepted in the mainstream, the scientific community, or in education.  These complaints would be hilarious when juxtaposed with Jesus promise of persecution if the foul attitudes that produce them were not so harmful. Christians have ample instruction on how to handle persecution and oppression (Matthew 5:39), but in a nation where Christians seem more likely to harass than to experience harassment, I'm dumbfounded that we appear so unsatisfied with our luxurious rights, our enormous majority, and abundant ministerial resources. The Christian church in the world does experience real persecution, but here in the US many of my brothers and sisters don't know enough unbelievers to make persecution plausible.


Stephen, and countless others lay their lives down (Hebrews 11:37-38), loved their murderers, forgave them, and asked God to do the same. They turned the other cheek, and trusted in God instead of retaliating (Romans 12:19). You probably won't be asked to die heroically, but you can live heroically if you live with the unconditional love of Christ. When you are slighted, insulted, or treated rudely because of your faith, it is then that you have the opportunity to love your enemy and pray for them that persecute you (Matthew 5:44).  Do so. Remember how much and how freely you have been forgiven (Luke 7:47), so that you may love as you have been loved (1 John 4:19).  God speed.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

RE: Psalm 41 A Terminal Illness

What is sin like? Christianity has an abundance of symbolic words for sin: a wayward path, a stain, darkness. Most seem to explain why only Christ can remove our sin, and I think Psalm 41:3&4 can make a vital contribution to our medley of metaphor. The Psalmist called to God for merciful healing, because of his sin. His sin was referred to as an illness which needed healing.

Now some may argue that God punishes sin with disease, but personally I think it's foolhardy to blame an illness or calamity on God unless God has explicitly taken credit for the injury. Certain Christian figureheads like to talk about why God sends disease and disaster, and it embarrasses me every time. In scripture God did strike some people with punishing sickness, but others just got sick. Some were healed, and some were not. The only time we can tell which afflictions were punishments from God and which were not is when the Bible clearly delineates. Since the Bible does not say that God punishes such-and-such a sin with such-and-such an illness I'd just as soon take the Bible as is and not add anything to it. In any case the only illness of eternal importance is the illness of sin, and that is not a punishment; sin is self-inflicted.

Photo By: Beverly & Pack
Sin is our fault, and we are fully responsible for our own; at least, we were. Jesus, as you remember, did an awful lot of healing. He still heals, and most importantly he still heals that worst illness: sin. This is why the Psalmist called for mercy. We can call for mercy as well, with perfect confidence that Jesus Christ is the great physician who comes not to the healthy but to the sick. (Mark 2:17)

Monday, June 4, 2012

Haters Gonna Infiltrate: Four Recent Events That Likely Embarassed Jesus

One Of Those Christians

I am, as I may have previously mentioned, a Christian. I have occasionally been asked, “are you one of those Christians?” The question, delivered with a cringe, is a valid, if inarticulate, one. There are many sorts of people using the word “Christian” to define themselves, but wearing the name “Christian” doesn't make a person a follower of Christ any more than wearing a white coat makes a person a doctor. Sadly, some of these people are not serving as ambassadors of the Gospel, but as mongers of hate, war, and prejudice. Haters, as they say, are gonna hate, but I adamantly wish they would leave Christianity out of it.

In the past month four huge embarrassing stories have surfaces in the media. Oddly I didn't hear about them from Christian watchdog groups but from Princess Free Zone and George Takei. At the urging of my own conscience, and an article by Michelangelo Signorile, I'm weighing in here to add a Christian voice to their chorus of denouncement.  Their behaviour is not the behaviour of Christ.  I am not one of these Christians, my church is not one of these churches, and my pastor is not one of these pastors:

Photo By Eric Chan

Embarrassment The First: Pastor Sean Harris Tells Parents To Punch Their Effeminate Children

On May first the Huffington Post reported the violent and hateful remarks of Sean Harris, who actually told his congregation to punch their sons for acting effeminate, and to rebuff their daughters for acting “butch.” In the interest of fairness this Pastor did eventually apologise, but I'm afraid a lot of people aren't taking his apology seriously. As a Christian, although his hate-filled words break my heart, I am obliged to forgive him. Non-Christians are under no such obligation, and the injury this man has done to Christ's reputation cannot be overstated.

Embarrassment The Second: Pastor Charles Worthy Call For Homosexuals To Be Put In Camps

On May twenty-second U.S. News reported on the outrage that followed the bigoted remarks of another senior pastor. Charles Worthy called for homosexuals to rounded up and put behind gender specific fences so they could eventually die out. If the notion was not so horrible and disgusting it would be hilarious. The idea that homosexuality would cease to exist if homosexuals would just stop breeding seems to misunderstand the very nature of homosexuality. To the credit of this pastor's community, The Catawaba Valley Citizens Against Hate organised a massive peaceful protest, the sort of thing I wish Christians were more prone to do in these situations.

Embarrassment The Third: Church Gives Standing Ovations For Toddler's Hate Anthem

On May 30th reported a disturbing viral video. The video features a toddler singing the words, “Ain't no ain't no homo gonna make it to heaven” which would be sad, but not newsworthy if not for the enthusiastic standing ovation he received from Apostolic Truth Tabernacle Church of Greensburg, Indiana. The church and pastor have since received death threats and hate mail, which is shameful, though unsurprising. The fact that a church community is actively teaching it's children bigotry with such incredible enthusiasm turns the stomach.  To those who would join in threatening these people, please remember that violence perpetuates such hatred, and that the Christian faith does not allow for revenge (Romans 12:19).  These persons will be held accountable by God, “And if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck” (Mark 9:42)

Embarrassment The Fourth: Pastor Curtis Knapp Defends Remark: “Gay's Should Be Put To Death”

On May thirty-first Kansas Pastor Curtis Knapp went on CNN to defend previous remarks that the US government should execute homosexuals. You may have heard the phrase, “You may be the only Jesus someone ever meets.” This man brings that phrase home for me. I've no doubt that there are people who believe this man represents Christianity, and worse, there are people who believe this man represents Jesus Christ. He does not. Jesus spoke about men who masquerade as his servants when said, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15)

Judgemental Reactions Don't Heal Judgement Inflicted Wounds

I want to be crystal clear that neither I nor anyone else except God alone knows the state of these person's souls. They may be authentic faith-filled Christians. They may have serious mental or emotional disorders. They may have been indoctrinated from childhood. I cannot know that I would grow into a temperate and loving individual if I'd been given their life circumstance and mental faculties. 

Their words and actions are certainly abhorrent, but such persons, like all sinners ought to be loved patiently and forgiven readily. I ask that if you share my Christian faith, that you make every effort to actively distinguish yourself from such misrepresentations of Christ. Yet even as you dissent from them, please pray for these misguided perpetrators of evil. God speed your endeavours.

And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgement: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
-1 John 4:16-21

Sunday, June 3, 2012

RE: Psalm 40, A Rainy Day Love Song

A love song, sung in a time of trial is a beautiful thing. It shows the true nature of love and the power of faith. Love is fabulously resilient, it flourishes in good times, and sees us through our dark times. The Psalmist recalls God's goodness and mercy, and draws strength from God's previous goodness, even while standing in the midst of new trials and troubles.

Official U.S. Navy Imagery
Challenge: Reflect on what God has done for you in your life, remember when he has provided and rescued when things were at their worst. The God who saved us from our sins remains more faithful and loving than we can fathom. As you walk into the challenges of this new day and week, remember who goes with you.