The Murderous, Hilarious Human

The human is a creature of contradictions, capable of murder, wit, wry observation, and great perseverance, not to mention many other things.  Consider:

After a Boko Haram attack [newyorker.com]

After a Boko Haram attack [newyorker.com]

“Slaughtered Him Like a Ram”

Details are sketchy, but by some reports Boko Haram, the Nigerian Islamist militant group, butchered 2,000 people last week in northeastern Nigeria.

A 12 year-old survivor of an earlier attack, now living as an orphan in a refugee camp, recalls the death of his father:

I saw them kill my father; they slaughtered him like a ram. And up until now I don’t know where my mother is.” -Suleiman Dauda

Jesus, have mercy.  This is what the human has made his particular speciality for thousands of years: murder.

Of all the earth’s creatures, none is capable of greater evil than the human.

So, Why Not Destroy the Creation?

In Genesis 6-9 we read of Noah and the Great Flood that the Lord sends to destroy the earth.  When I read of what’s happening in Nigeria or Syria or some other place, I think, “Why not wipe the whole thing away, Lord?  Why not stop all the killing?”

"Noah's Ark," Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe, c. 1100 AD

“Noah’s Ark,” Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe, c. 1100 AD

For people like me, living comfortable lives in comfortable places, it’s easy to be troubled by the Lord’s decision to kill everyone.  But if we were living in the midst of the kind of suffering and misery and murder that’s happening in Syria or the Borno state in Nigeria, would we be praying for God just to end it all?

When we honestly contemplate the violence of which the human creature is capable it seems that God was right: the slate needs to be wiped clean.

But the Creation’s Still Here

So, why didn’t the Lord finish the job and completely destroy our entire race?

The Deadly Mix

The human is a mix of the brutal and the beautiful, of violence and humor.  While murder was happening in Nigeria (and many other places), there was an NFL playoff game yesterday between Dallas and Gren Bay.  After Dez Bryant’s remarkable catch was controversially overruled by the officials, someone posted on Twitter:

The same creature that is capable of the murders in Nigeria is also capable of a wry, funny observation in 140 characters or less.  That tweet by Brandon McCarthy is just about perfect, isn’t it?

Plus a “Bro Country” Mashup

An aspiring country music songwriter named Greg Todd wanted to prove that there is a simple formula that the writers of the top “Bro Country” songs all follow.  So, he laid the songs over each other in an audio mashup, and made a video of it:

The same creature that is capable of murder and writing witty 140 character sentences is also capable of astute analysis of a pop cultural phenomenon.  And capable of putting his analysis together in a way that pokes good-natured fun at the industry in which he wants to succeed.

And Then We Have The “Ghost Boy”

Martin Pistorius lived a real-life nightmare: he was totally unable to move for 12 years, but everyone thought he was in a vegetative state.  For 12 years, he was a prisoner in his own body, able only to control his thoughts.

Martin Pistorius sometime between 1990 and 1994, when he was unable to communicate. [NPR]

Martin Pistorius sometime between 1990 and 1994, when he was unable to communicate. [NPR]

His story is one of the more remarkable (and blackly humorous) stories I’ve heard in years.  At one point, Mr. Pistorius talks about how much he hated the television show Barney that was always on the tv in front of him, day after day; his admission made me laugh out loud. (Listen to the 11 minute NPR story yourself.)

Maybe God Knew

I’m not saying that a funny Tweet, entertaining YouTube video, and the testimony of a man imprisoned in his own body somehow balance out the horrifying murders in Nigeria.  I’m merely pointing out how strange a creature is the human: all of the different examples above are the actions of the exact same species.

Maybe God knew what a bizarre mix the human was.  Maybe, while hating the sin in the human, the Lord also loved the humor, invention, perseverance, and love of which the human was capable.

Maybe God isn’t through with us yet.

 

Quick Thoughts on Genesis 1 (& the Best Visual Interpretation I’ve Seen)

How things begin matters.  We see God’s intention for creation from the beginning: an integrated whole, in which all the parts are good and all the parts fit together to give glory to God.  The Hebrew word for this is shalom: peace, wholeness, harmony.

I love this visual interpretation of Genesis 1 [www.minimumbible.com]

[www.minimumbible.com]

The Song of Creation

One other quick thought on Genesis 1.  The author talks of days and nights from the very beginning, but the sun and the moon aren’t created until the fourth day.  Ancient peoples were more connected to sun and moon than we are, now that we have electricity and night doesn’t mean dark.  Ancient peoples certainly knew that the sun and the moon are required for there to be “days” and “nights.”

Here’s the point: Genesis 1 is a beautiful theological treatise on creation, and for me, I don’t see it contradicting physics and cosmology; I see physics and cosmology providing the fine details and Genesis 1 the broad strokes.

 

P.S. The Best Visual Interpretation of the Bible I’ve Ever Seen

I’ve written previously about Darren Aronofsky’s Noah and shared some of my reservations about the final 15 disappointing minutes of the movie.  But this scene in which Noah retells the Genesis story of Creation and Fall is the best visual interpretation of scripture I’ve ever seen (although the image from The Minimum Bible project I included above is pretty good, too):

P.P.S. Join Us!

Folks in my church are reading through Genesis as part of our 2015 Bible reading plan.  We’d love to have you join us and make it a part of your #First15.

 

The Advent Conspiracy

After such a week, after such a year of violence, rape, murder, hate, falsehood, and war, J.D. Walt says what I want to say:

Come, Holy Spirit, and inaugurate Advent in our midst. Come and open up the book of a new year of our Lord. Lift our hearts to long for your coming and deepen our longing to imagine your kingdom.

We confess— Advent, the season of holy anticipation, has become for us a sign of anxiety. Like Martha, we busy ourselves with so many things, preparing for a celebration of our own design. We confess— our attention has become distraction. Our hearts, minds, and souls are divided as we literally surf the channels of our consumeristic culture. “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64: 8). Begin anew this Advent to shape us. Make us like Mary to sit at the feet of our Lord Jesus and discover the only necessary thing: your Presence. Restore us, O God; let your face shine, that we may be saved. Shape these days of Advent into a season of undivided attention, of holy anticipation.

As we sing of peace on Earth and goodwill to all people, open our ears to hear the mournful songs of a war-torn world: the unquenchable cries of ordinary families like our own whose losses are beyond our ability to comprehend. As we prepare to wrap the countless gifts our children will open on Christmas morning, open our hearts to the countless children for whom Christmas morning will be yet another day to survive. Lead us to respond to you in remembering those who will otherwise receive nothing, who are orphaned, whose parents are dead, distant, or imprisoned. Open our eyes to see those neighbors nearest to us who are lonely, afraid, sick, and suffering. We confess— our lifestyles have become enclaves of escape from the pain and suffering that surrounds us. “Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa . 64: 8). Let this year be different, Lord. Shape our attention in these days of Advent into a lifestyle of love for neighbor and the needy.

“Give ear, O Shepherd of Israel, you who lead [your people] like a flock! You who are enthroned upon the cherubim, shine forth” (Ps. 80: 1). “O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence” (Isa. 64: 1). As we remember and celebrate the birth of the baby in Bethlehem, let us not forget that the King is returning. We confess— we have made ourselves at home in a world that is not our home. We know a time is coming when the sun will be darkened and the moon will not give us light, when the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. We know the Son of Man will come on the clouds with great power and glory and he will send out his angels to gather his elect from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven (see Mark 13: 24– 27). Stir in our hearts a holy anticipation for the world to come, and an undying urgency for the world that is passing away. By your Spirit, make us watchful and wakeful. For, “O L ORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand” (Isa. 64: 8).

Come, Holy Spirit, and inaugurate Advent in our midst. Come and open up the book of a new year of our Lord. Hear us as we pray:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.
(
Matthew 6:9-13)”

A prayer from from Not Yet Christmas: It’s Time for Advent, by J.D. Walt

Come, Lord Jesus

Here’s what I want to say about Ferguson: Come, Lord Jesus.

Here’s what I want to say about Eric Garner: Come, Lord Jesus.

Here’s what I want to say about Syria: Come, Lord Jesus.

Here’s what I want to say about Ebola orphans: Come, Lord Jesus.

Here’s what I want to say about rape, about divorce, about broken families, about our epidemic of fatherlessness, about all the terrible, ugly things that are a part of our daily world: Come, Lord Jesus.

This Is Why Advent Matters

It’s more important than buying the presents, attending the Christmas parties, sending out the Christmas cards, or decorating the Christmas tree.  It’s the only way to avoid getting caught up in the soul-destroying getting and spending of the season.  And, if you have kids at home, it’s a way you can be deliberately counter-cultural and push back against the messages of materialism to which our kids are incessantly subjected.

What’s more important than all those things is to prepare spiritually for Christmas by observing Advent.  Advent is the time of the church year that leads up to Christmas.  It’s the way we remind ourselves of why we celebrate and what we truly need.

And, in the midst of the heavy headlines these past few weeks, Advent gives voice to the deepest need we have: for a Savior.  Liberals and conservatives; black and white; rich and poor–we may not agree on many things, but we can all agree on this: our world is a broken, hurting world.  Come, Lord Jesus.

One Simple Way to Let Advent Shape Your Soul

At my church, we’ve selected a series of Advent readings to help you prepare for Christmas; one chapter of scripture a day, leading up to Christmas Eve, that tells the grand story of salvation, Genesis to Jesus.  You can find the list of readings here and a family plan here.

Read a chapter a day.  If you have kids, you might want to read the chapter before opening that day’s box on your Advent calendar.

It’s Not Too Late to Catch Up

The reading plan started Monday, December 1, but you can catch up easily this weekend.

I’ll Be Blogging About Each Day’s Reading

I’ll offer a short blog post each day to put the reading in context.  Because I’ve already missed a few days, I’ve added them below.

 

Genesis 1: Creation’s Song

How things begin matters.  We see God’s intention for creation from the beginning: an integrated whole, in which all the parts are good and all the parts fit together to give glory to God.  The Hebrew word for this is shalom: peace, wholeness, harmony.

One other quick thought on Genesis 1.  The author talks of days and nights from the very beginning, but the sun and the moon aren’t created until the fourth day.  Ancient peoples were more connected to sun and moon than we are, now that we have electricity and night doesn’t mean dark.  Ancient peoples certainly knew that the sun and the moon are required for their to be “days” and “nights.”  Here’s the point: Genesis 1 is a beautiful theological treatise on creation, and for me, I don’t see it contradicting physics and cosmology; I see physics and cosmology providing the fine details and Genesis 1 the broad strokes.

The connection with Advent: God’s purpose for creation is shalom.  That’s what we’re waiting for.

 

Genesis 3: The Problem Starts Here

Why does sin enter God’s good creation?

I don’t know, and neither does anyone else.  What we do know is that this creation that God created good is marred, every part of it. There are no problem-free situations.  Sin has ruined everything.  Because of sin there is racism, rape, war, divorce, cancer, etc.

Note that sin means that deceit and blame are now a part of human relationships.

The connection with Advent: This is why we need a savior.  This explains why the world is the way it is.

 

Genesis 12: The Conspiracy Begins

It’s the strangest plan in the world: the Lord’s plan to redeem and heal all of creation begins with one lonely Mesopotamian nomad named Abraham.  Through Abraham, the Lord will do something amazing: “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3b).

One of the things I love about the Advent Conspiracy is how it begins so small: one man; one family; one manger.

The connection with Advent: This is where the conspiracy begins.

 

Genesis 24: The Next Step

The plan won’t work if the family line dies out.  Abraham is miraculously blessed with a son named Isaac, and now Isaac meets his wife, Rebekah.

The connection with Advent: The conspiracy continues.

 

Genesis 25: The Strangeness of the Conspiracy

Rebekah is pregnant with twins, and she receives a puzzling word from the Lord:

“Two nations are in your womb,
and two peoples born of you shall be divided;
the one shall be stronger than the other,
the elder shall serve the younger.” 
(Genesis 25:23)

This strange conspiracy is overturning the way things work.  Everyone knows that older brothers are more important than younger: this is how society works.  And yet in this conspiracy, the elder shall serve the younger.

The connection with Advent: don’t expect things to work the way you think they should.  The Lord’s ways are not our ways.  Thank God.

 

Genesis 37: The Conspiracy Begins to Unravel

That younger brother mentioned above is Jacob.  Jacob fathers a whole bunch of kids (12 sons; 1 daughter) with four different women.  You don’t have to know much about human nature to know that this is going to be messy.  The 2nd youngest son, and Jacob’s favorite, is named Joseph.  The family drama is so modern:

This is the account of Jacob’s family line.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad reportabout them.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him.When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”

Genesis 37:2-4

Jacob’s sons fake the death of Joseph and sell the boy into slavery.  (You really should read the Bible–very interesting.)

The connection with Advent: Just because we can’t see how the conspiracy is going to work, doesn’t mean the Lord isn’t working….

One Word That Will Change Your Life

What if there were one word that had the power to change every aspect of your life?  What if one word could affect your health, your finances, your marriage, your career?  What if applying one word to your everyday life could really have that much of an effect?

Polish nun wearing a habit in 1939.  wikipedia.com

Polish nun wearing a habit in 1939. [wikipedia.com]

The Power of Habit (which isn’t our “one word”)

Charles Duhigg wrote about habits in his 2012 book The Power of Habit, which I briefly reviewed here.  As Mr. Duhigg explains, your brain develops habits so you don’t have to spend energy thinking through decisions–you just act without thinking.  An important part of that process is the “habit loop,” which works like this:

First, there is the cue that triggers the habit;

Second, there is the routine itself;

Third, there is the reward from the routine.

http://charlesduhigg.com

The habit loop (http://charlesduhigg.com).

This Is Why You Are Addicted to Your Phone

In practice, the habit loop might work like this:

1.  Your phone buzzes.  That’s the cue.

2.  You take your phone out and look at it.  That’s the routine.

3.  You get a dopamine hit from the new email.  That’s the reward.  Note that sometimes the email or notification you get isn’t meaningful to you.  But, because sometimes the notification might mean something, your brain still perceives it as a potential reward.

www.cnet.com

What important conversation have you interrupted so you could look at your phone?  Why?  (www.cnet.com)

The power of the habit loop is evident in the way many of us will interrupt virtually anything else going on in our lives to look at our phones when they buzz.  And it’s all because of the simple habit loop of cue, routine, and reward.

 

Change Your Habits, Change Your Life

Knowing this about habits, we are able to manipulate them to get the results we want.  In some ways, for example, Alcoholics Anonymous is all about replacing destructive habits with healthy ones.  (This is why coffee is an important part of so many AA meetings.  Coffee becomes part of a replacement habit loop.)

Here’s the truth: if you are intentional about your habits, you can change your life.

 

The Power of a Keystone Habit

When the first one falls, so do all the rest.... [

When the first one falls, so do all the rest….

The really interesting part of The Power of Habit is the discussion about so-called “Keystone Habits.”  A keystone habit is a simple habit that has effects that cascade into other aspects of an individual’s or a group’s life.

So, a keystone habits might be:

To think of it another way, a keystone habit is the first domino that falls and knocks down all the others with it.

So, a keystone habit in healthy families is having dinner together at home every evening.  That simple practice affects the relationship between the mom and the dad and the kids’ behavior in school and even their reading level.  It’s one domino that falls, knocking over a bunch of others.

A One Word Keystone Habit Guaranteed to Change Your Life

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.”  (Mark 1:35).  [My emphasis.]

[wikipedia.com]

The dawn is my favorite time of day.  Everything seems possible with each new day.  [wikipedia.com]

“Early” is a word that can change your life.

Early is about intentionally spending the first 15 minutes of your daybefore doing anything else–in silent prayer and scripture reading.

Early is shorthand for a keystone habit that will affect every other part of your life.  Guaranteed.

 

Don’t Start Your Day Being Reactive

Most of us start our day in this way:

1.  The alarm goes off.  (The cue.)

2.  We pick up our phone and check our email, or our Facebook or Twitter accounts, or turn on our preferred news channel, or check on an overnight sports score.  (The routine.)

3.  We get a hit of dopamine as we feel more connected and assure ourselves we haven’t missed out on anything.  (The reward.)

What’s so problematic about this habit is that it means that we are spending the first minutes of our day in a reactive rather than an active pose.

[http://larrycuban.wordpress.com]

[http://larrycuban.wordpress.com]

No Wonder We Are Such Anxious People

Do you really want to spend the first minutes you have every day seeing what someone else had for dinner or hearing another depressing headline about the world or worrying about your boss’s latest request?  Rather than being in control of your day, starting your day by checking headlines or email or social media accounts means you are immediately ceding control to someone or something else.

The Power of the First 15

Now, imagine the alternative.

1.  The alarm goes off.

2.  You get up and settle into your favorite chair or sit at the kitchen table or go on your front porch.  You deliberately cultivate a sense of gratitude at another day of life.  You think over the coming day’s appointments and pray for each of them.  You read a psalm or a portion of a scripture reading plan.  You pray for your family, your colleagues, your city.

3.  You shut your Bible, close your journal, take a deep breath, and start your day.

Can you imagine what could happen if you intentionally started every day like this?

Can you imagine how much more control and how much less anxiety you’d have throughout the day?

Don’t Worry If You’re Not a Morning Person

Everyone has to get up sometime.  Even if you aren’t a morning person, you can still wake up 15 minutes earlier than you would normally.  “Early” means to be deliberate about your first 15 minutes.  It doesn’t really matter when that 15 is.  If you work the night shift, your first 15 could be 4:00 PM.  What matters is that you spend your first 15 minutes in silence and scripture.

Don’t Worry If You’re Not a Religious Person

Even if you don’t believe in prayer or scripture, you can still do this.  Spend the first 15 minutes of your day thinking of all you have to be grateful for.

5 Steps to Life Change

  1. Create a morning routine.  Think deliberately through your cue, your routine, and your reward.  Maybe you need to set the coffee machine to be a part of your First 15.  For me, marking a big fat “X” on a paper calendar is surprisingly satisfying.
  2. Create an evening routine.  You need to prepare the night before for how you’ll spend your First 15 every day.  Lay out your Bible; set out your cereal bowl.  Whatever it is, your morning routine begins with an evening routine.
  3. Plan your time.  Don’t just get up and see what you want to do.  Rather, make a plan to follow a certain reading plan or to pray over a certain list of names or read an online devotional or to deliberately list all the gifts for which you are grateful that day, etc.
  4. Commit for 21 days.  Anyone can commit to the First 15 one day, but that’s not enough for the habit loop to affect your behavior.  Commit for three week no matter what and see what happens.
  5. Evaluate.  What’s working?  What’s not working?  If you are struggling to make the First 15 a habit, then you should reexamine your habit loop.  Is the cue not clear enough?  Is the routine not smooth enough?  Do you need a better reward?

Pushups Over Time

Following a habit once doesn’t make any difference; following a habit for weeks and months and years will change your life.  Doing 20 pushups today is irrelevant; doing 10 pushups a day for 100 days will radically alter your health.

Being deliberate with your First 15 once might not make a big difference, but even 3 weeks of practicing the “early” habit will make you into a different person.

What do you have to lose?

P.S.  Folks in my church are currently following a scripture reading plan called “Eat This Book.”  Today is the first day of a new book–we’re beginning Luke’s Gospel today.  Why not make a chapter of Luke’s Gospel part of your First 15 for the next 3 weeks?

What Trade-Off Do You Need to Make This Month?

As I’ve blogged about before, I use a paper calendar and a Sharpie marker to keep myself getting up early every morning and getting a workout in.  But since the end of August, I now use two calendars(!): one’s still my workout calendar, while the other is a scripture-reading calendar that’s part of the “Eat This Book” campaign in my church.  Here’s my scripture calendar for September:

photo 1

Pretty good, right?  (It doesn’t hurt that I’m trying to blog about the Eat This Book reading every day.  I did end up missing a few days last week; maybe I need a blogging calendar, too….)

September Is the Cruelest Month

Unfortunately, I’ve not been as consistent in working out.  In fact, September was my worst month so far this year.  Here’s my workout calendar for September:

FullSizeRender

What happened?  You could say that I became a lazy slob (and you wouldn’t be far wrong), but more specifically, here’s the truth: I didn’t make the trade-offs necessary to get a workout in every morning.

There Are Always Trade-offs

I read a book this summer that reminded me of a principle that I already knew but often choose to ignore: everything in life comes with a cost; everything requires a trade-off.  If you say “Yes” here, it means saying “No” there.  This principle obviously applies to time management, but it also applies to much bigger life choices.  And it’s a principle that the Israelites learned at the foot of Mount Sinai and that we can read about in Exodus 33.

What’s the Problem With A Little Jewelry?

While Moses is on Mount Sinai receiving the Ten Commandments, the Israelites are having an idolatrous revel [Exodus 32].  They even make a golden calf and begin to worship it.  On returning, Moses is furious, has the golden calf  melted down and ground into dust, and then collects all the jewelry that the Israelites possess and forbids jewelry among the Israelites from that point forward [Exodus 33:4-6].  Why?  What’s the problem with Israelite jewelry?

Every “Yes” Requires a “No”

The Lord knew that if the Israelites kept their pagan gold and other jewelry, they would be tempted over and over again to idolatry, because the original golden calf was made out of the jewelry and ornaments the Israelites were wearing [cf. Exodus 32:1-3].  If the Israelites were going to turn from idolatry, they needed to make a clean break, and apparently even their jewelry might have been an occasion for sin and idolatry.

No Exceptions

There are always trade-offs, without exception.

  • Saying yes to your spouse means saying no to everyone else.  Marriage requires exclusivity and priority, or else it doesn’t work.
  • Saying yes to financial freedom at age 60 means saying no to the kind of expenses your friends are racking up in their 30s.
  • Saying yes to sobriety means saying no to hanging out with your bar-hopping friends.

There is no exception to the trade-off principle.  There are no short-cuts.

It’s a New Month

Today is October 1.  What new beginning can you make this month?  What trade-off can you intentionally make?  What are you going to have to give up in order to get something better?  Maybe it’s time to take off your pagan jewelry and throw it in the fire.  (You do understand that’s a metaphor, right?)

P.S.

I got to bed really late last night and really didn’t want to get up at 5:00 AM this morning.  But more than I wanted to stay in bed, I wanted to have a series of black “X’s” in my calendar, and I wanted the first day of the month to be a good one.  So I traded a bit more sleep for something better this morning.  And here is what I have to show for it:

photo 2

 

So far so good.

Quiz! What’s Your Favorite Idol?

Are we modern, Western people really more advanced than the ancients?  We certainly believe we are.  This arrogance is one of the reasons modern Americans have such difficulty with the Bible; after all, we are advanced and advancing, and the Bible–particularly the Old Testament–is backwards and primitive.

It is true that we are an advanced people technologically–think of all the ways we can kill or display pornography!–but when it comes to idolatry, we are as prone to idol worship as the ancients.  Or more so.

(Credit: http://kishanpurohitleytonmedia.blogspot.com/2013/01/5-magazine-newsstand-task.html)

(Credit: http://kishanpurohitleytonmedia.blogspot.com/2013/01/5-magazine-newsstand-task.html)

Israel and the Golden Calf

We read in Exodus 32 of the golden calf that the Israelites made and worshipped while waiting for Moses to return from Mount Sinai.  Like so many of the stories in the Bible, the account of the golden calf seems remote and distant.  But that’s because we don’t understand what an idol is.

The Definition of an Idol

In his book Counterfeit Gods, Tim Keller describes idolatry in this way:

What is an idol?  It is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give.

A counterfeit god is anything so central and essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.  An idol has such controlling position in your heart that you can spend most of your passion and energy, your emotional and financial resources, on it without a second thought.  It can be family and children, or career and making money, or achievement and critical acclaim, or saving ‘face’ and social standing  It can be a romantic relationship, peer approval, competence and skill, secure and comfortable circumstances, your beauty or your brains, a great political or social cause, your morality and virtue, or even success in the Christian ministry.  When your meaning in life is to fix someone else’s life, we may call it ‘co-dependency’ but it is really idolatry.  An idol is whatever you look at and say, in your heart of hearts, ‘If I have that, then I’ll feel my life has meaning, then I’ll know I have value, then I’ll feel significant and secure.’  There are many ways to describe that kind of relationship to something, but perhaps the best one is worship.”  [Emphasis mine.]

Be Proud, O Modern

Idolatry isn’t something that we’ve grown out of; idolatry is something modern Western culture is perfecting.  The ancients would be astounded at the brazen boldness of our idolatry: we are worshipping idols of which they never dreamed.

Which Idol Did You Get?

J.A. Medders has a nice summary of Keller’s material on his blog, which I’ve excepted below.

Life Only Has Meaning/I Only Have Worth If….

  1. I have power and influence over others. (Power Idolatry)
  2. I am loved and respected by _____. (Approval Idolatry)
  3. I have this kind of pleasure experience, a particular quality of life. (Comfort idolatry)
  4. I am able to get mastery over my life in the area of _____. (Control idolatry)
  5. People are dependent on me and need me. (Helping Idolatry)
  6. Someone is there to protect me and keep me safe. (Dependence idolatry)
  7. I am completely free from obligations or responsibilities to take care of someone. (Independence idolatry)
  8. I am highly productive and getting a lot done. (Work idolatry)
  9. I am being recognized for my accomplishments, and I am excelling in my work. (Achievement idolatry)
  10. I have a certain level of wealth, financial freedom, and very nice possessions. (Materialism idolatry)
  11. I am adhering to my religion’s moral codes and accomplished in its activities. (Religion idolatry)
  12. This one person is in my life and happy to be there, and/or happy with me. (Individual person idolatry)
  13. I feel I am totally independent of organized religion and am living by a self-made morality. (Irreligion idolatry)
  14. My race and culture is ascendant and recognized as superior. (Racial/cultural idolatry)
  15. A particular social grouping or professional grouping or other group lets me in. (Inner ring idolatry)
  16. My children and/or my parents are happy and happy with me. (Family idolatry)
  17. Mr. or Ms. “Right” is in love with me. (Relationship Idolatry)
  18. I am hurting, in a problem; only then do I feel worthy of love or able to deal with guilt. (Suffering idolatry)
  19. My political or social cause is making progress and ascending in influence or power. (Ideology idolatry)
  20. I have a particular kind of look or body image. (Image idolatry)

The Only Known Cure

The only known cure for idolatry: faith, hope, and love.

 

Is God Nice?

The conventional wisdom is that God is just like a religious Santa Claus: nice, gentle, and tame.  In other words, a God totally unknown to the Israelites.

Descent from Mount Sinai (Sistine Chapel), by Cosimo Rosselli (1481).  (Credit: wikipedia.)

Descent from Mount Sinai (Sistine Chapel), by Cosimo Rosselli (1481). [Credit: wikipedia.]

The Israelites Were Afraid at Sinai

In Exodus 19 we read of the intense preparations the Israelites take before the theophany on Mt. Sinai.  This is the first contact the ordinary Israelites have ever had with the Lord, and they are terrified.

And So Is Everyone Else

Terror is actually the universal sentiment in scripture when ever anyone meets with God or his angels.  Even in the New Testament, the human response to a theophany (a divine appearance) is always fear:

  • Remember the shepherds in Luke’s account of Christmas, keeping watch over their flocks by night?  The first thing the angel of the Lord says to them is “Fear not!” [Luke 2:10].
  • On the Mount of Transfiguration, even Peter is terrified at the temporary vision he, James, and John are given of the true nature of Jesus.  When they hear the voice of God, they fall to the ground in terror [Matthew 17:6].
  • On the road to Damascus, Paul also falls to the ground in fear after hearing the voice of the risen Christ [Acts 9:4].

Scripture is clear: the majesty of God is terrible to behold.

Her Majesty is Not Amused

[Credit: thestar.com]

[Credit: thestar.com]

We should not be surprised that divine majesty is as serious as something can be.  Even 21st century interactions with human majesty require clear protocol and produce respect and solemnity.  Consider the rules that even the American President has to observe when he meets with Her Majesty.  For example, it is considered reprehensible to ever turn your back on the queen.  Why?  Because majesty provokes respect.

 

“All Rise”

The Supreme Court of the United States of America [credit: Wikipedia]

The Supreme Court of the United States of America [credit: Wikipedia]

We don’t have a king or queen in this country, but we do have the law, and the law is majestic and terrible.  The law has the power of life and death over the people.  When the judge enters the courtroom, everyone stands out of respect, not of the person of the judge, but of the law which the judge represents.  Only God is greater than the law.

God is Not Tame

It shouldn’t be surprising that a divine appearance is terrible.  Moses was right to prepare the people.  Any God worth the title is by definition greater than anyone of whom we can conceive.  Our pop culture versions of the Santa Claus God betray our lack of honest imagination.

To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, God is good, but he is not tame.

No, it’s not surprising that God is terrible and majestic.  But do you know what is surprising?

[Credit: endhairloss.eu.  (I know--weird place for a baby pic.)]

That the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, full of grace and truth [John 1:14].

The Incarnation?  That’s surprising in the best possible way.

How I Get Things Done

Moses gets productive in Exodus 18.  (I know I was supposed to write about Exodus 18 yesterday, but I have a big presentation to make every Sunday morning in front of hundreds of people; dear reader, please forgive.)  Since I don’t have anything interesting to say about Exodus 18, let’s talk about productivity.  Almost ten years ago, a friend of mine gave me a book that has been more influential in how I do my work then anything else I’ve ever read or learned in school.  The book was David Allen’s 2001 bestseller Getting Things Done.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Getting_Things_Done

GTD, Baby

Here’s the idea behind the Getting Things Done methodology (GTD for folks in the know):

  • you have lots of inputs coming at you all day every day, and you need a way to capture, process, and act on all that data;
  • GTD gives you a process to do that.

Capture Everything

One of David Allen’s tips is to learn never to keep anything in your head, but to write everything down.  I follow this advice obsessively: as soon as I think of anything, I write it down.  I use Omnifocus on the Mac and iOS devices, keep small notepads everywhere, and even carry a small pocket notebook a pocket spacepen with me everywhere.

My trusty pocket notebook and space pen.

My trusty pocket notebook and space pen.

The Weekly Review

Around every seven days or so, David Allen recommends a “weekly review,” i.e., a time when you sit quietly and look over your calendar and review all incomplete projects and next action lists.  I try to keep a weekly review on Monday mornings (I’m off on Mondays) and when I do that, my week seems much more manageable and less stressful.

Go For It

If Moses needed a system for productivity, so do you.  If you are having trouble keeping your commitments, answering all your email (you know who you are), or sleeping soundly at night, GTD might be for you.

When Folks Aren’t Strong Enough

Moses needed to rely on the support of other people.  And so does everyone else.

"Joshua fights Amalek (1625) [http://www.artbible.info/bible/exodus/17.html]

“Joshua fights Amalek” (1625) [http://www.artbible.info/bible/exodus/17.html]

In Exodus 17 we read of a battle between the Israelites and the Amalekites:

10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” [Exodus 17:10-12].

I love that image: Moses, too weak to stand on his own power, supported by Aaron and Hur.

Lifting Up Those Who Can’t Stand Alone

Several weeks ago in my church, our music director Kate Miner referenced this passage.  We were talking in church about the persecuted church in Mosul and elsewhere in the Middle East, and Kate said, “Just as in the scriptures when Moses needed other people to lift him up, it’s our job today to lift up our brothers and sisters in Iraq who are facing persecution because of their faith.”

That thought really struck me: it is my job to intercede and lift up others who may be too weak to do it for themselves.  Certainly that applies to the persecuted church in the Middle East and worldwide, but also to folks who are struggling in my community.

Who can you lift up in prayer today?

You Can’t Understand Jesus Without Exodus

Once you have the eyes to see, you realize that virtually everything Jesus said and did came out of the religious heritage of Israel.  Even the things that seem to be farthest from Judaism and most central to Christianity often are a recasting or an allusion to what we call the Old Testament.  The Lord’s Prayer, for example, is drawing upon Exodus 16.

Manna from Heaven; Maciejowski Bible, 13th century. (credit: http://dailyoffice.org/2012/04/19/morning-prayer-4-19-12-alphege-archbishop-of-canterbury-martyr-1012/)

Manna from Heaven; Maciejowski Bible, 13th century. (credit: http://dailyoffice.org/2012/04/19/morning-prayer-4-19-12-alphege-archbishop-of-canterbury-martyr-1012/)

After coming out of slavery in Egypt, the Israelites faced forty years of wandering in the desert.  But, the Lord provided.  Each day (excluding the seventh day, the Sabbath),  the Lord made provision for “thin flakes like frost on the ground…It was white like coriander seed and tasted like wafers made with honey” (16:14,31).  The Israelites called this strange food manna.

God provided manna every day, but if the people gathered more than they needed for the day, it rotted.  The Israelites learned, therefore, to trust God for each day’s provision.

When Jesus taught his disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread,” he was reminding them of the manna God provided in the wilderness.

When we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we pray for God to give us what we need to make it through the day: nothing more, nothing less.