Category Archives: Theological Reflections

Seeking a beautifully Broken saviour.

Amplified Hymns (2)


Continuing my Amplified Hymns (amplified as in expanded and made bigger, not as in plugged in and made louder), I’m digging in to an 18th century exploration of the awe that we hold for the process of God’s work for our redemption. If you missed the first one, it’s here.

Here goes:

1. Is it possible that I can have a part in blood payment my Saviour made?
Did he really chase after me, the one who caused his suffering, to the point of death?
What incredible love! How does it make sense that my God would give his life for me?

2. The greatest mystery of all is how someone immortal can die.
Can anyone fathom how God’s plan works?
Even the oldest of angels try and fail to understand how deep God’s divine love goes.
We’ve just got to accept that it’s pure mercy, everyone, adore him for it!
The angels will just have to watch how it unfolds.

3. Jesus walked away from power in heaven, freely and uncoerced.
His grace knows no limits.
He gave everything, retaining only his great divine love,
And let his blood flow out for a race of people that could never help themselves.
This ultimate mercy is both mind-blowingly huge, and available to all of us…
It must be, because, my God, it was offered to me.

4. It seemed like my soul was stuck in a prison,
It couldn’t get free of the darkness of all the things that break my relationship with You.
Then, a ray of light came from Your own eye and it was like I woke up,
the dungeon I was in lit blazingly bright!
All that held me down fell away, and my heart rejoiced,
I got up, came out, and followed You.

5. Even now, I have a small voice inside of me,
That whispers that my sins are truly taken away;
Even now, that blood price is still effective,
That took away the anger of a God who hates sin.
I feel the life that Jesus’ wounds give to me;
I feel him alive inside me.

6. Now I don’t have to fear being punished for my sin;
Everything that Jesus is has become my nature;
I live in Him, and he is my living guide,
Clothing me in his divine righteousness.
So, I approach the throne of God without hesitation,
And claim an eternal reward, through my Christ.

This one might be harder… I’m not sure. Can you name that tune?

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Amplified Hymns (1)


Right now I’m in class (Shhh). I graduated a while back, but as part of joining the “Wesleyan” church, I need to be instructed in the Wesleyan “Doctrine of Holiness”. That really has nothing to do with this post, but for some reason I feel the need to provide context. It’s given me the chance to get together with other people “in the ministry” and talk about things that matter, from the things we face in our chosen ministries, to the questions we have but can’t ask because we’re the people who are supposed to have the answers.

I had the chance to talk to other worship leaders and youth leaders, and we got to talking about hymns. We talked about updating hymns. We talked about changing lyrics to fit theology or to make them more singable, or to make them more understandable to contemporary listeners. We talked about how a lot of the people today didn’t understand what the poets were really saying when they wrote. The meaning is lost in archaic language, and sometimes trying to update it doesn’t help that much because it still has to fit the tune, rhyme scheme and meter (limiting our ability to be precise in adaptation). We also talked about how most of the best of the hymns were musical prayers.

I thought I’d take a crack at rewriting them, or translating them, as modern prayers. I’m throwing out the music, I’m throwing out the meter. Maybe then we can come back and sing the lyrics as the writers intended. I hope I’ll do more than just one.

Here’s the first:

1. Dear God, the source and provider of every good thing,
work in me so that the first inclination of my heart is to honour you for your grace;
You never stop forgiving, never stop offering mercy…
How can I not be constantly praising you at the top of my lungs?
I need a better song, God! Teach me to praise as the angels do!
Your love is like a mountain, Lord, rising above everything in my sight,
and I want to spend my life travelling towards it.

2. With your help, God, I’ve come a long way;
I can look back at my life and say that it’s only by your grace I’ve gotten here.
In fact, I’m raising a monument to testify to that.
By that same strength, I pray you keep me going the rest of the way,
to arrive at the destination you’ve laid before me.
Even when I was a complete stranger from Jesus,
living a life far outside of the life you made me for,
close to falling away from you completely, forever,
Jesus offered his holy blood to save me. 

3. Every day I find myself in debt to your grace,
I’m constantly being made more and more aware of how dependant I am on it!
I’m sick of being in such need of it, though… Focus me on you.
Let me love your goodness so much that it keeps me from straying.
God, I love you, but I’m tempted away.
I feel my tendency to let my focus wander onto the things of this world.
I keep drifting away from where I wish I was staying.
I’ve had enough, God. Take my heart. Keep it.
Make my heart’s residence in heaven, make my heart ready for eternity now.

Can you name that tune?

The Church’s Back Door


As a pastor, I sometimes have trouble in “the ministry” because I don’t look like a pastor. There’s something in my demeanour that doesn’t scream “pastoral”. Despite being 32, people often place me at 24 and treat me younger. I blame my complete inability to grow decent facial hair. Also, my hair is kind of green right now, but that doesn’t count because it was dyed for a youth retreat last weekend. I lack a certain gravitas and probably always will. Such is my lot in life. I get some cred as a youth pastor though, and have been told that I’d fit in well leading one of those young churches… maybe a university church. I might be able to play it off in a specialized role at a mega-church. Young people would like me.

As a youth pastor, I’ve been concerned with young people. I work with them, I love them, and to some extent, I love their culture. I spend time focusing on how to relate to them, how to relate God to them, and how to get them to relate to God. As someone who’s still pretty young myself, I also have my own young person preferences and desires for worship. Sometimes that means I look at the way things are being done on Sunday morning and say “that’s not cool,” with the assumption that we need to make things cool, so that young people will come. Maybe that’s the music. Maybe it’s the volume. Maybe it’s the appearance of the stage (sorry, “platform,” I was recently crapped on by a church member for calling it a “stage.” [Also, I just said “crapped on,” which isn’t very pastoral]). Maybe it’s how the message is communicated. It’s been drilled into me, and into most of the evangelical church world, that “young people are the future of the church,” and if we don’t get them, the church is going to die. So now, many churches are doing their best to make our sanctuaries look like this:

I like that. It’s cool. It inspires me. I want to be on that stage. I want to be in that crowd. I can also pretty much guarantee that there is more green hair in that crowd than grey. This is what church looks like to this generation, and you’d better get on board, because this generation has to be reached for the Lord. We look at most of the “big” churches that show up in church media circles, and we see this as a functional model, because they’re growing. Younger people are flooding through the front doors and experiencing God in new and fresh ways.

Unfortunately, it seems that older people are quietly finding the back door.

There are times when I love watching YouTube videos of Hillsong live recordings, or Elevation Worship, or a giant event that Chris Tomlin is leading. But once I get past how awesome it looks to have so many hands raised to the sky, and so many people moved to tears by God’s grace and glory, it starts to bother me that the camera tends to linger on the same few middle aged people. Maybe it keeps returning to the one grandparent in the crowd. It pans over a thousand 20-somethings and rests on the exception to give the impression that this is for everyone – or at least everyone who can “get with what God is doing now.”

I’ve heard people (to be honest, I’ve been people) who have almost rejoiced at older people leaving the church, because it gave more freedom to do something new. We’ve embraced the immortal words of Barney Stinson: “New is ALWAYS better.” We feel the need to leave behind the old so that we can reach out to the new. It’s more important for us to reach the new than minister to the old because… because. Because new is always better. Maybe because the old are “already saved” and getting people “saved” is the end all and be all of our purpose, so once they’re “saved” we can forget about them and go save someone else. Why aren’t we worried about “saving” anyone over 50? And is anyone other than me concerned that in 20 years, we’ll be the ones shown the back door?

Yeah, I’m a young looking 32, but I’m ageing. The things that I like and the things that I liked when growing up aren’t the things that capture the imagination of the newest breed. My pop-culture references are taking work to stay relevant. Quoting Friends is met with blank stares. Some of the kids I work with have never even heard of Friends! So observe, and tremble. We have our vision of what church should look like, and in the future we cool ones are going to be fighting just as hard for our archaic modes of worship as those we mock today. Culture is changing so fast that we can’t even conceive of what that’s going to look like.

In the mean-time, we’re losing the idea that church is for everyone. We’re losing the idea that the family of God and the Body of Christ includes people that don’t like what we like. Maybe we’ve already lost it… hey, I’ve been on the other side of the equation (and reacted against it) at a church that refused to make any accommodation at all for the preferences of a new generation. It’s like churches are being forced to make a decision about which generation they are going to minister to (or to be so bland and middle-of-the-road that people will just head off to one of their preference-specific congregations anyway), and so one church loses the vigour, passion, and energy of the young, and another misses out on the wisdom and experience of the old.

I’ve become more and more convinced that the root of this evil is the idea that Sunday morning is for saving people, and that the attraction of the church should be the attraction of worshipping God. We’ve come to expect Sunday morning to be the primary point of contact between people and God. We want a place that people will be drawn to with excitement. We want a place where people will want to be because what is offered there is what they want to see. We want it to say “see, God is for you.”

And God is for you. But God’s also for him. And her. And the crying infant in the back. And the toddler rolling out into the aisle to chase their Hot Wheels car. And the embarrassed mother reigning them in, who should’t be embarrassed because God loves the fact that her kid is growing up in church surrounded by people that he is for. Like the 40-something woman in the other row that’s having trouble worshipping because she secretly envies the embarrassed mother because she can have children. Or the guy in his 50s that is completely tone-deaf and can’t keep rhythm to save his life. And his mother and father who taught him to love God with his whole mind and not his voice. And the elder with the walker that can’t decide whether to turn up his hearing aid to hear the music or turn it off so he can’t.

Sunday morning is about coming together as the family of God and the body of Christ, and joining together to worship and grow. And that’s hard. It’s so much harder than breaking off into little (or large) homogeneous groups worshipping in our own superior ways. And we panic, because coming together as the whole messy old and young body probably isn’t overly attractive to the world.

Man, I’ve gone on for a while here… I’m going to wrap it up soon, I promise. I don’t want to end it on this complaint, though, I want to talk about the solution. If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wanting to hear it. By now you’ve forgotten that I’ve got weird hair, and my baby-face doesn’t matter on the other side of a wall of text. TL;DR has no meaning for you. Well done.

So here’s my solution: Forget about saving people. Churches should not be in the business of saving people. I’m not saying that people shouldn’t be saved at church. I’m not saying that the Gospel shouldn’t be preached. I’m saying that that’s not the primary purpose of Sunday morning. The primary purpose of Sunday morning should be to equip us to be like Jesus. You know why people flocked to Jesus? Because he was like Jesus. You know who else can be like Jesus? Us. The Bible says so. Do you think a church with a congregation full of people like Jesus would do anything but grow? Who cares what the stage looks like. Who cares what the music is or what volume it’s played at. People would come.

People would come because we would be living lives of love that reached out to the people around us rather than insulating ourselves from them. People would come because we’re living holy lives – a holiness not focused merely on preserving ourselves from corruption but instead focused on setting ourselves apart for God – living as the people God made us to be, for the purpose he made us to have. People would come because they’d want what we have. People would come because they want to be like Jesus too.

We wouldn’t have to worry about front doors or back doors on our churches, because doors wouldn’t hold us.

I know… easier said than done. I know I’m not nearly as good at doing it as I am writing it.

What do you think?

The Reason


I work at a church.  This means that I know a lot of Christians.  In fact, despite my best intentions, it seems that most of the people I’m facebook friends with profess the Christian faith.  Some of them are youth that I’ve worked with.  Some of them are people I’ve gone to church with.  Some of them are friends/acquaintances from school.  You get the idea.  The upshot is this: I get more trite, Christiany pictures and statuses popping up in my feed before 9 am than most people get in a week.  Honestly, some of them I appreciate.  Some are inspiring.  Some are insipid.  Some are just wrong, and make us all look really, really dumb.  If that offends my Christian friends, I’ll borrow a page from a mom that I know and say this, just as she does when talking to all her kids at the same time:  I’m telling this to all of you.  If you feel that it applies to you, then take it to heart.  If you feel that it doesn’t, then assume that I’m not talking to you.

reason for the season

Just so we’re perfectly clear, this is not on the good side of Christiany posts.

I’m going to come at this from a couple of angles:  First, why you really shouldn’t ever say this or post it.  Second, how it came to be, and why it’s less stupid than I make it out to be in the first part.  Confused yet?  Read on.

Jesus is not the reason for the season.  He’s not.  Take a deep breath.  The athiests are right.  The festive season around this time of year was around long before Jesus.  It spans cultures, not in terms of people trying to steal the Christ from your Christmas, but in terms of completely unrelated religious beliefs.  Why would all these other religions–the pagans, the mystics, the tribal spiritists, whatever–want to celebrate Jesus’ birthday, you ask?  Because it’s not.  And most of you know that.  It’s one of the worst kept secrets in Christendom, and one of the dumbest myths that we perpetuate to our children.  Best guess, Jesus was born in September.  Beyond that, even if he was born on December 25th, why would people have been celebrating that before the nativity came to pass?

I know people that have had a “house of cards” faith (refer to the earlier “mom phrase”).  They’re not Christians any more.  What I mean by “house of cards,” is that as they came up in the church, people fed them certainties.  They were taught things, perpetuated in the church, that sounded good but had little theological or historical basis.  Like Jesus’ birthday.  They then went out into the “real world,” and cards started getting flicked.  Things like the Christmas story were called into question as people said to them, “did you know that Christmas is actually the pagan festival of Saturnalia?” and they responded “NO!  JESUS IS THE REASON FOR THE SEASON!”

They had two choices: bury their head in the sand or find out the truth – that people celebrated this time of year because in agrarian cultures, this was downtime.  We approach the winter solstice.  The shortest day of the year.  December 21st.  Lacking a good and accurate calendar, the way people knew it had come and gone was that the day started to get longer.  YAY!!  THE RETURN OF THE SUN!  We’ve turned the corner!  Spring is coming!  And how easy it is to ascribe religious significance to it when you believe the seasons and all aspects of nature are governed by gods.  The god of warmth and sun has triumphed again over the god of cold and night!

And what happens to those rational Christians when that card gets removed from the house?  What else might be wrong?  … How can I give the benefit of the doubt to the unproven, when the things I was taught were certain are OBVIOUSLY wrong?  … How can a rational faith teach this?? …  We would have been celebrating this season if Jesus had never been born.

And they walk away.

And I have a hard time blaming them.

I blame the sand-head-repeaters, because there is a good reason for it. Just because a teaching has gotten twisted, doesn’t mean that it didn’t start as rational.

You see, the early Christians didn’t have any illusions about this season being their idea.  If they were Jewish, they grew up with Hanukkah (what Jesus would have celebrated, by the way); if they were Hellenistic gentiles, they would most likely have been lighting up bonfires against the dark, bringing in evergreen boughs against the winter, giving each other gifts (yeah. Long before St. Nick.  Once again, get over it), upsetting social norms, having all sorts of sex, and watching for the victory of the Sun.

Then they decided not to celebrate those things.  They thought, hey, what a perfect metaphor for the the coming of the messiah!  They figured that the coming of the small new light when everything seemed the darkest was a brilliant parallel for the Light of the World coming as a baby into a spiritually dark world.  They said that the rest of the world could celebrate what they wanted to, but they were going to take that time and remember that when all seems the darkest and the quietest, and it seems like the winter will never end, God is moving and is coming to save.

The season was the reason that they celebrated Jesus.

I feel that I need to be clear again: I believe that the nativity is a historical event, just not as it tends to be portrayed by Christians today.  We ignore the Bible for a more picturesque, easy to tell story.  Sometimes I’m kind of okay with that… there are Wise Men in our nativity creche at the same time as the shepherds*.  But let’s talk about it.

Let’s talk about why the story of Jesus’ birth and the events of the years surrounding it are celebrated at the Christ Mass just past winter solstice–the way the story comes together is too powerful to ignore.  Let’s talk about what an awesome point of dialogue this metaphor is for relating our faith to the world!  Let’s not dumb stuff down for our kids in such a way that, when they become old enough to process the metaphor, it sounds like a lie.  Let’s not attack the people around us, directly or with passive-aggressive Facebook posts, for celebrating a season that we’ve co-opted for our own.  They can take the Christ out of Christmas… we put it in.  Without Christ, it’s just a “mass” – a feast, and they were doing that long before us.

Above all, let’s not let the trite overcome the profound.   Let’s not build straw men that make our faith look ridiculous.  As the world looks toward the hope of the new year, let’s be able to offer the reason for the hope we have in Christ Jesus.

 

 

*They weren’t.  GASP! *house of cards falling*

Anatomy of a Calvinist Argument


Sometimes I like to think of myself as “mechanically inclined”.  I love to take things apart.  When I was a kid, if it had screws and I had a screwdriver, it had a good chance of being disassembled as far as I could make it go.  Sometimes if it didn’t have screws, but looked like it should come apart, I’d make a yeoman’s effort at it anyway.  I always wanted to get down to the nuts and bolts of things.  Knowing that something worked, what it was for, how to make it work, those things weren’t enough.  I wanted to know why it worked.

Of course, most of the time when I opened things up, the workings were more electronic than mechanical.  I’d get as far as “the buttons push this lever, which presses on a doohicky, and that awakens the magical microscopic leprechauns.” The same leprechauns that keep airplanes aloft [You may think that you know why airplanes can fly, but look it up… the truth is that the physics don’t actually add up.  Weird, eh?].  Unfortunately, I found that once it was apart, getting things back together in working condition proved much more challenging.  I called it “learning”.  Other people called it “breaking”.  Whatever.  In case you were wondering, that’s why I didn’t become a doctor.

AAAAnnnnyyyyway… let’s add that little tidbit in with the well established fact that I have a strong penchant for healthy debate [virulent rhetorical argument], and a basic theological education.  The end result is that I wind up having pleasant online chats with other armchair theologians who hold different points of view, that occasionally only stop short of blows because they can’t feel it when I hit my monitor.

A lot of you won’t care about most of this post.  It’s not an issue that a lot of people think or care about.  Some people will love it.  Some people will hate it.  Such is life.  Just so we’re on the same page, here’s a little Theology (study of God) 101: Outside of the Catholic/Protestant debates, the biggest split in Christian theology is between Calvinists and Arminians.  If you’re a Christian, and don’t know which you are, I’ll tell you how to figure it out at the end of this post.

I’m an Arminian.  My arguments with Calvinists often end with me repeatedly placing my head against my keyboard violently.  I’ve actually (for the most part) stopped engaging in them.  Why?  I took the argument apart.  From an Arminian point of view, an argument looks like a frank exchange of ideas; open and reasoned.  I love that.  From a Calvinist point of view, an argument looks like this:

And that’s stupid.

Some of you are laughing.  Some of you are confused.  This may help:  The Calvinist world-view revolves around God’s sovereignty (ruling authority) and active, wilful control of everything.  When I debate, after we burn through the stock arguments that each side comes equipped with, I try to sit back and process based on the premise their holding – give it a test drive, if you will.  This is what I got from putting myself in the place of a Calvinist arguing with me:

God, in his sovereignty, has decided that we will meet this day.  Leading up to this day, he has arranged our lives and controlled our beliefs that we might have a different view of him.  He has brought us together at this point, so that he might force you to speak words that are untrue about him, and have me speak words that are true about him.  He will make me very emphatic about this, and cause me to insinuate that he created you to be less than intelligent, although since the ability to process information is irrelevant when he decides everything we think or say, it has no bearing on the discussion.  He will have me point out to you how wrong you are to believe the untrue things that he caused you to believe.  Then he’s going to make you disbelieve the things that he’s made me say, and cause you to say things that might make me doubt my position, except that he ordained that I hold to these beliefs, and so I have no choice but to continue to do so.  He will keep us arguing for a while, dictating the debate, and compelling us to hold our original positions because it serves his greater glory to be seen making two people contend over the issue before other people that he has willed either to agree, disagree, or not care at all, and as a witness to the people he has caused not to believe in him.

And then my head exploded.

I honestly can’t wrap my head around holding this position.  It doesn’t make any sense to me [but that’s okay, because God willed it not to],  and seems internally inconsistent [but it’s not.  It only seems that way because God decided to make me not understand its consistency].  What gets me is how worked up Calvinists get about it.  They’re pulling out scripture, they’re trying to make logical arguments, they’re giving experiential anecdotes.  Some of them seem very proud of their ability to work through this all and present it to people.  It’s as if they think that their ability is their own, or their effort their own, or even their words their own.  Then they get angry if someone continues to disagree with them as if it’s not God causing the people they’re arguing with to say the things they’re saying and their emotions are controlled by something other than the direct will of God.  It’s like they believe that either party has a choice in the matter.  It’s like they’re Arminian.

So you can argue with me about this, but don’t get mad.  God wills everything, ipso facto, It’s God’s will that I post this.   In fact, he dictated it, so get mad at him – they’re his words.

I promised at the beginning of this post that I’d help the Christians reading this to figure out if they’re Calvinist Christians or Arminian Christians.  Here’s the test:  If God brought you to this page and caused you to get angry at the crap he just caused me to write, they’re a Calvinist.  If you came to this page and got mad because I wrote stuff that was clearly both wrong and offensive to God and right-thinking Christians, you’re an Arminian that thinks you’re a Calvinist.  If you either found this amusing and agreed with it, or thought it was boring and pointless, you’re an Arminian.  Hope that helps.

From now on, instead of getting into the debate, I’ll just link them here.

Jesus Vs. Religion


Hi!

It’s been a long time.  Lots of stuff going on.  Seems like the kind of stuff people would blog about.  I’m not a good blogger, though… I don’t have deep roots in liveJournal.  This isn’t a chronicle of my life, but a place to ponder the questions and formulate answers.  Oh, one thing that should be mentioned (while I’m talking about me, and before I get to the point), is that a few months ago I started a new job as the Assistant Pastor (focusing on Worship and Youth Ministry) at Cornerstone Wesleyan Church.  Therefore, it should be said that nothing I write here, have written in the past, or will write in the future necessarily represents the views of that or any other church.  So don’t get mad at them.

But here it is… there’s this thing that’s been floating the net.  It’s VIRAL (that’s a good thing, now).  This guy named Jefferson Bethke posted a poetry slam about why Jesus and Religion are opposed… why he likes one and hates the other.  Some people love it.  Some people hate it.  Some people are facepalming because they don’t see him ACTUALLY drawing a dichotomy between Jesus and Religion.  The vast majority of people are completely indifferent, but no one on either pole believes that.

If you haven’t seen it yet, this is it:

Because of the people I have relationships with, I can’t get away from it.  Or the responses to it.  My various feeds are inundated with links to that video, or blogs supporting the video, or blogs disputing the video, or blogs and videos deriding the video.  Lots of opinions; many of them insightful, many of them insipid.  Some of them get hot at Bethke for bashing the church.  Some of them get hot at Bethke for pushing Jesus.  A couple of responses caught my eye and got passed along on my profile.  One was from the Gospel Coalition [a gang of Biblical superheroes that seek to save the world in the name of orthodoxy as they know it… as you might guess, I find myself on opposite sides of many lines from them, but they had this one pretty together], and a video that a friend of mine found and posted showing a Roman Catholic (not catholic; that means everybody, but that’s not a rant for right now).

This is that video:

Sooooooo…. if you’re still with me, that probably means you haven’t watched the stuff here or read the link.  That takes too long.  Anyway, the surprise is that everything above was just preamble anyway; getting you up to speed for this post.

I’ve got a friend that messaged me shortly after I posted the “Catholic Response,” asking me: “Aaron – you agree with the Catholic video? “without the catholic church”? You are wiser than me (seriously) so what’s with the catholic bragging? YOur thoughts?”

That’s humbling.  Thanks, man.  You’re a more humble, gifted, motivated, and determined person than I am.

I’ve got my share of beefs with the Romans, but most of the really bang-your-head-against-the-wall stuff – the history that gets the church slammed – has been addressed in the last half century or so.  Most people that bash it are more fashionable than in the know.  I think that video response had a lot of good points, and the GC one posted above as well.  Within the Church, so much of what we argue about comes down to semantics.  Don’t get me wrong, semantics are important.  It’s about saying what we actually mean to say, and providing sharp clarity to our positions.  We need to be careful about the words we use, because words are heavy, and putting them in the wrong place can crush an argument.  In this case, the argument is framed as being Jesus vs. Religion.  The problem is that what Bethke calls religion isn’t the definition of religion.  Now people coming to the defence of religion as they understand it are actually talking about something different than he was.  A lot of people are just saying the same thing with different words.  That annoys me.

Here’s a couple of Bible nuggets for you:
“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices–mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law–justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” (Matthew 23:23)
“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

In the first, Jesus clearly tells the “religious people” [that Bethke said Jesus hated, he might be right about that] that they should be continuing their religious practices while ALSO acting out the prescriptions of their faith in their relationships.  Micah 6:8 says that what God required of his people was to act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with Him.  That humble walk is the spiritual discipline that some call “religion”.  I’m bad at it, but that’s not the point.  The point is that it’s really easy to elevate one over the other, the religion and the relationship, because different people connect to it in different ways – finding one easier than the other – but Jesus held them both in high esteem.  The problem he had was when people thought that putting on a façade of obedience to God, while ignoring so many of the ways that he commanded [read: made rules about] his people to relate to the rest of the world, was somehow okay.  In the second quote, an early leader in the church clarifies a definition of religion for Christians.  He points out that caring for people IS religion.

So in response to Bethke’s initial question, “I’d say you’re wrong.  He specifically said that he didn’t come to abolish the law.  Jesus didn’t come to abolish religion, but to perfect it.”

I think my friend’s question had more to do with the laundry list of accomplishments that the video guy [he’s not famous enough to go find his name] credits to the Roman Catholic church, though.  In a nutshell, some of it is right on.  Some of it he’s crediting to the Roman Catholic church, but really should be “Christianity in general.” Some of it is pure ass-smoke.  Without Catholics say goodbye to hospitals?  That’s just dumb.  Public education?  Hardly an invention of the Catholic church.  I think that what he’s trying to say, is that in the Western world, the Church has funded and supported these things to some extent throughout it’s history.

The flipside is that to some extent throughout it’s history, it hasn’t.

It’s really easy to get negative about the Church, about religion in general.  We get known for our failures more than our successes; that’s a well-established fact.  Another way of putting it was credited to an FBI official: “Our failures are public, but our successes are private.”

We feel bad about the crusades, about the inquisition, about the arguing, hypocrisy, financial and sexual abuse that the Church has rightly been charged with through it’s history.  It’s worth noting, though, that the corrections to these things tend to come from the passionate religious within the Church, not from without.  Still, ask an avowed athiest what he thinks of Christianity, this is what comes to mind.  Catholic Dude’s right, though.  The Church is the greatest force for Good in human history.  It’s done more to feed the hungry, shelter the poor, and embrace the wounded, than any organization that anyone can name.  Period.  Yeah, there’s been bad, but to say that the bad has outweighed the good is to be ignorant of history, as well as what the Church is doing around the world right now.

The Church was called the Bride of Christ.  How do you think Jesus feels when people talk smack about her?  They’re gonna have some ‘splainin’ to do, bro.

Here’s the thing, though: Bethke never insults the Church intentionally.  In fact, he says he believes in sin, loves the Church, and loves the Bible.  What are people getting upset about, then?  That’s religion.

Bent and Broken and Light


I’m not dead.  I just thought I should lead with that, because people who see that I haven’t posted in ages might have assumed that I was.  I’m not.  I’d love to say that I had a good and wonderful reason for not posting, but I don’t.  I just haven’t done it.  I’d like to say that it’s because I’ve been working on my book, but that’s not really true either, because the book is coming really slowly.  It’s coming though.  I thought that I’d share a little excerpt from the chapter I’m working on, tentatively called Bent and Broken and Light.

….

When I was little, my parents took me to the Ice Capades.  It was cool.  Don’t laugh.  The Ice Capades were very cool back then.  It wasn’t so much figure skating as cartoon characters coming to life and trying to avoid skating over their own costumes.  I honestly can’t remember what sort of Ice Capades they were… Disney or Hanna-Barbara or some sort of generic off-brand, but I remember that there was a big dog, and I enjoyed it.

It was interesting to see what figure skaters do when they don’t want to try to be in the Olympics anymore.  I had always wondered about it, and now I knew.  They dressed up like giant dogs and slid around the ice for the amusement of 5-year olds, wondering where their lives went, and wondering if it’s too late to learn math.  I now assume that was followed by heavy drinking, but I’ve never really looked further into it.

I think I have trouble remembering the details about it, because the whole experience was overshadowed by my father coming back from the concession stand with the BEST TOY EVER.  It was a tube.  A glorious tube.  This little tube was special, because out of one end sprung a myriad of tiny little things.  They were like tiny pieces of fishing line, only stiffer.  And when you turned it on, the tips of these filaments glowed with all the colours of the rainbow.  It was strange and beautiful.  The length of them seemed a semi-opaque white, but where they stopped was a prismatic explosion.  You could wave it around and the things would bend and waft and the colours would shift and change like magic.  My parents likely regretted the decision, since I spent far more of the rest of the evening waving around this $5 toy than watching the ice show they’d paid so much for.

As cool as it was to wave this toy around in the dimly lit recesses of the arena, it was equally disappointing when I pulled it out the next day in our living room.  The colours that had seemed so vibrant the night before were muted and dull.  There barely seemed to be a difference between on and off, between the line and the light.  In the middle of that brightly lit area, my glorious toy became mundane.  I trailed it around with me for most of the day, holding on to those moments of remembered amazement.  It was when I went down to the basement to watch some cartoons that it started to come to life again.  In that darker environment, it began to shine.  I had it figured out!  For the next couple of days, the downstairs bathroom became one of my favourite places, because it was one of the very few places in our home that, not having a window, could become pitch black.  In that absolute darkness, this little toy became one of the most beautiful things I could imagine.

As all toys do, it got used less and less as time went on, moving slowly down through the strata of my toy chest.  Newer, fresher toys came.  Birthdays and Christmases and visits from family gave me new pieces of shiny to focus my attention on.  When it came time to do a clean-out, and take stock of the old toys, the wand was near the bottom.  We pulled it out, and many of the filaments had broken off, or become bent, twisted, and kinked.  Amazingly enough, the batteries still worked.  When I switched it on, there in the depths of my shadowed closet, I was awed again.  Every break, every bend, every kink was a new point of rainbow light, sometimes two or three in one strand.  It was only at those places, where the line was cut or damaged, that the light that flowed through it became visible, even beautiful.

….

There’s two things that I’m getting at here.  The first is that light is only relevant in relation to darkness.  It’s the contrast that makes the light needful and magnificent.  A light turned on while there is sun streaming through the windows is irrelevant.  A light turned on in the middle of a dark night is blinding, and then a blessing.  So it is with us.

The second is that the light that’s inside us shows most beautifully in the areas our lives that are open to the air, that we allow what’s in us to escape freely.  The areas that we’re weak, or messed up, or hurting, those are the things that are most radiant.

Anyway, I’m done for now.  I just wanted to let everyone know that I’m not dead, just lazy.

The Art of Having a Guest Post


Hey!  Remember Mikey?  The guy who rocks the rocker look and rocks out on a Jim Adkins Telecaster? The guy who’s kicking Cancer’s ass?  You know him?  I thought I did.  I asked him to put together a guest post for me as I bang my head against a writer’s block and he comes back to me with this…  This piece of… gold.  Somewhere along the line, Mikey became wise.  This post blessed my heart.  I hope it does the same for you.  Here it is. mikey So, as many of you may have concluded [from Aaron’s introduction], I am not Aaron.  My name is Mikey Fisher and I am a friend of Aaron’s and have been for over 10 years now.  Aaron and I met in Bible College back in 2000, I was a groomsman at his wedding and if it weren’t for the current distance between our families we would certainly be hanging out on a far more regular basis.  Aaron asked me a few days ago if I would be interested in submitting a guest blog on TAOBB and to give my thoughts on the theme verse (Psalm 51:17).  Naturally, I was excited and more than willing to share my thoughts with the masses that frequent Aaron’s blog.  I set about to work, and approached this writing in the same way I always do.  I first looked up the verse in my bible, it reads,

“My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; A broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise”

I immediately began to conjure ideas of how to communicate what I wanted to say about sacrificing a broken spirit to God, but when I decided to read the passage in a few parallel translations of the bible I have found that a more accurate translation of the passage reads,

“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, A heart broken and bruised, O God, Thou dost not despise.”

 In reading and rereading this passage in numerous translations and reading what different commentaries had to offer on the subject I have actually learned something.  That’s not to imply that I typically don’t learn anything from scripture reading, not at all.  It is meant to say that when one dives into a topic with reckless abandon and without preconceptions of what they want a passage to say, that person can find something far greater than their own notions.  In this case there is not a huge difference between the first translation and the more accurate one.  Excluding the ‘Thou dost’ issue, there is, I think, a key difference between the sacrifice that I offer, and the sacrifice that God is asking for.  And that is the difference that I would like to focus on.

King David wrote this passage after being convicted of his adulterous affair with Bathsheba by the prophet Nathan.  David was deeply moved in his own guilt and anguish when his sins of adultery and murder were laid out before him.  This passage is the very moment when it finally clicks with David.  He cannot simply light up an offering and put it on the altar and let that be good enough to appease God.  What God desires from him is a broken spirit, a humble attitude that admits wrong and at the same time is repentant of that sin.

How often do we commit a sin and think to ourselves, “It’s okay, I’ll pray and ask for forgiveness on this one and then I’m good.” How often do we continue in this sinful behavior pretending to be repentant but actually being unremorseful of our own actions?

David did some pretty serious and horrible stuff in the story leading up to the writing of Psalm 51.  He hurt many people, had a man killed and committed adultery.  David understands when writing Psalm 51 that it’s not about the lip-service prayers we love to offer, God wants a broken heart, and broken spirit.  Being remorseful and repenting of his sins is what grants him forgiveness.  It’s not about admitting what he did was wrong, it’s obvious to everyone and especially to God that what he did was wrong. Its taking the next step, being truly sorrowful about the bad that he had done and taking that emotion to God and repenting, reaching deep into his soul and really meaning it.  That is what it means to offer a broken spirit.  To be humble enough to admit when you are wrong.

There are so many things that we do from day to day to try to score favor with God.  We read our bible, we go to church, we play worship songs, but what we fail to see is that God is far more interested in what’s going on in our hearts, and far less interested about what we are doing externally.  We can’t fool God.  God knows us more intimately than we can ever imagine, so there is no use in pretending to be a changed person when we know in our heart that the sin we are committing is a sin we don’t plan on giving up.

What we need to do is follow the example of people like David.  We need to reach deep inside and understand what we have done is wrong.  We need to understand the sin we are committing, no matter how private it is, is not hidden from God’s eyes, and it is, despite what we sometimes want to believe, affecting our relationship with Him.  We need to ask for God’s mercy and His conviction.  We need to want to stop doing what we are doing and accept Christ’s sacrifice on the cross as the forgiveness for that sin.  We need to let Jesus mend the relationship between God and us.  Most importantly, we need to be humble enough to admit we do wrong, that we aren’t strong enough to stop sinning on our own and that we need God’s help.  We need to be repentant, not just in our words, but also in our hearts.  This is where the forgiveness of sins becomes not just possible but real.

Jesus will free us of sin’s hold on us, and its power over us.  God will send the conviction of the Holy Spirit reminding us that we don’t want to slip when we get into a dangerous place, and because of God’s love for us and our broken spirit, we can be free from the sin that has been holding us back.

God wants our broken spirit.

……..

If you haven’t checked out Mikey’s blog, chronicling his journey with cancer, check it out at thisisawareness.wordpress.com.  If you have, keep checking it!  He told me that the third installment is coming up in a very short time! The third installment of his story is up now! Thanks, Mikey.

Summer Loving


I have a confession to make:  I was in my high-school production of Grease.

Whew. That feels better.

I might not feel so lame about it if I actually had a real role, but I played Johnny Casino: a bit player in the stage show who didn’t even make it into the movie.  Danny got Sandy.  Kinickie got Rizzo.  Johnny Casino sang a song at the high-school dance.  No love for Johnny.  The way I see it, in a show about teen love, any character who isn’t either in love, or helping the ones that are in love get together is an extra.  You might as well be a talking prop.

Such is life.

I got an email last week from a youth pastor that was concerned with a post that one of his Grade 9 girls had put up as her facebook status.  It was essentially a set of instructions for how a boy should treat his girl, with things like ” Tell her why you think shes so cool . . . Pick flowers from other peoples gardens and give them to her . . . Throw pebbles at her window at night. When she starts swearing at you, tell her you love her . . .  Lend her your cds . . . Write on her . . . Kiss her in the rain. When you fall in love with her, tell her.”

He was concerned with the passion that was in this; the yearning to fall in love and be loved in return.  He lamented her failure to grasp God’s love for her, and the ideology that seemed to say that she NEEDED to be in a relationship.  He was asking for help getting through to her.

Of course, she didn’t actually write this.  It’s a lesser known meme that’s been cycling around the net since about 2004.  It’s viral.  That means she saw it somewhere and grabbed it.  Something about it pulled at her.  Maybe the words settled into her mind like they were moving into a comfortably decorated room, all made up and waiting for them.  Maybe she just recognized a glimmer of truth in them that tickled her fancy.  Maybe she wanted to look wise.  Whatever the reason, she decided share it with her online family.

The fact that it’s stayed alive this long, moving from host to host, though, shows that the sentiment is more symptomatic of our culture rather than the heart’s cry of one girl.

So then.  Is he right to be concerned?

God’s love has never been a substitute for earthly physical love, but in collaboration with it.  We aren’t just meant to be in community with God, but with each other.  I am fully cognizant of the love God has for me.  I know personally his covenant love and how he pursued me to the grave because of his great desire for relationship with me.  I also need my wife.  I was made to love her and she was made for me.  God designed us so that in romantic relationship, his love would be reflected, and we would have a sense of completion; we would have someone on earth to represent his love to us.  Is it wrong for a girl to desire that?  Absolutely not.

The depth of that desire, though, and what she’s willing to trade for it is a very legitimate concern, because it stems from a warped perspective of love.  It’s often used to fill a gap larger than it’s meant to.  It fills the gap of absent or uncaring fathers, of abuse, of being left with feelings of inferiority and insignificance by the people that should love her most.  It fills the gaping wound in her soul surgically inflicted by a media that pries us open with messages of incompetence and incompleteness and leaves us with a desperate desire to fill the artificial emptiness they create.   She needs to hear early and often how wonderful she is, or she spends the rest of her life trying to get people to say it.  We all do.  This isn’t by any means just a “girl problem,” or even a teen problem.  This is us.  This is our life.  The things that should be good enough aren’t.  The things that should be sufficient aren’t.  We aren’t enough.  So we spend our lives looking for the things we’ve been told will make us better.

So many of the kids I work with have, by grade 7 or 8, reached a place where they’ve been taught that rather than having a committed and/or passionate relationship being a part of being loved, part of being a person, it’s the end all and be all.  Being told of God’s amazing love doesn’t negate all that we’ve been conditioned with.  More than that, a head knowledge of God’s love and all he’s done for us doesn’t necessarily translate into heart knowledge of it’s sufficiency.  That takes time.  It takes an act of God. We’ve got to keep telling them – we’ve got to keep telling each other;  Not saying that we’re wrong to feel the way we do, because our self-esteem is damaged enough already, but to be there as God is, to continually and gently present the truth of his love, to water the seed and pray for it to take root.

Honestly, it drives me nuts when I see a facebook status go from “in a relationship” to “single” then back to “in a relationship” in less than 24 hours.  It makes me want to take my head off and put it in the freezer when 2 hours after being asked out the kids are talking about how in love they are.  If they’d ever actually been in love, they wouldn’t throw the word around so easily.

It makes me want to cry when a week later their world ends because they broke up.

Is it a problem?  Yes.  But it’s not THE problem.  It’s a symptom of a culture that says our identities are found in others.  That we’re only as good as other people think we are.  As the things we have.  As the money we make.  As our status in our communities.  It’s not going to stop because we say that’s wrong.  It’s only when we understand the sufficiency of ourselves in who God made us to be that we can put that behind us.  Then we can be the whole half of a healthy relationship here on Earth.  Then we can see all that he intended earthly love to be.

Push-Button Jesus


Some of you remember my friend Mikey.  Like 2 years ago he was given 3 months to live.  Today he found out his cancer is in remission!  FTMFW!! [For The Many Faceted Win, you dirty minded people that are scouring for something to judge… don’t worry, I’m sure by the end of this post you’ll have at least 5 other things].  I’m so stoked! It’s awesome.  But his FB profile has been flooded with people talking about answers to prayer, and praise for Our Powerful God.  He’s talked about how hard he’s prayed for this.  One of my other good friends wrote about feeling guilty for not believing, deep down, that God would actually save Mikey.  Don’t get me wrong, I wept huge, real, tears of authentic and ecstatic joy when I read the news, but the follow-up has left me hurting.  It seems other people have this amazing push-button Saviour that they use.  If they just push hard enough, everything will get better.

Can I have your Jesus?  Mine’s broken…

I can remember when my Jesus Button broke.  It was when I lost my cat.

 Shut up.

My wife and I had to leave the country for several weeks. It was the dead of winter, and it got away from us as we were bringing it from the car to the friend’s house where it was going to be watched.  We chased it for hours until it disappeared and we had to get to the airport or miss our flight.  We prayed.  We sought God.  We read scripture.  We prayed more.  We prayed hard.  We prayed with faith.  We believed that God could, and would, return our cat to us when we got back.  The cat did not come back.  WTF? [Yes, that F means what you think it means].

Since then, the button’s been dropped, kicked around, sat on, run over, and fallen in the toilet over the course of five miscarriages.  We believe that life begins at conception.  Alongside our beautiful son, we’ve had five babies that died.  Five.  Figurative hands up if you believe that we didn’t pray our metaphorical asses off.  One of them died at 9 weeks.  We didn’t find out until 12 weeks when we had an ultrasound that showed a very still baby with no heartbeat.  The pregnancy was at 17 weeks before the miscarriage was completed and I held my tiny, inch-and-a-half long Sayuri in the palm of my hand.  In those intervening weeks we PRAYED.  We believed that God would work a miracle and we’d go for a confirmation ultrasound and they’d be like “hey, a heartbeat… our bad”.

Seriously.  I’m pretty sure I learned in Sunday School that if you pray for something and really believe that God will do it, he will.  Unless it’s important for our discipline.  If God wants to teach us a lesson, then he’ll say no.  Because it’s not In His Will.  Real people say that.  Well meaning Christians will stand next to someone wracked with grief and tell them not to worry, because it’s Part Of God’s Plan.

To which I now respond: “Bite Me.”

Don’t tell me it was God’s plan to kill my baby.  Don’t tell the mother left paraplegic after being hit by a drunk driver that it’s her fault she can’t walk because she just doesn’t have enough faith in God.  Don’t tell the 5 year old with the dead father that if he had only prayed and believed, his dad would still be around.  That’s bullshit.  That’s exactly what you’re saying every time you credit fervent prayer to God as the reason for a person’s recovery.  It mocks and belittles the prayers of all those who have gone before, who have died or been left bereaved waiting for a God who never came.  God doesn’t work that way.  He’s not sitting up there waiting with his Grovel-ometer to see if we’ve reached a sufficient level of begging to warrant his attention.

How can I even be a Christian then?  How can I be a pastor who doesn’t believe that God answers prayer?  Well, for one thing I never said I don’t believe that God answers prayer, and shame on you for drawing that conclusion.  Nor did I deny the healing power of Christ or the reality of miraculous intervention.  I just don’t believe that they have anything to do with the force of your conviction or the number of times you say “Lord God” in a three-minute interval.

Scripture tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” [Romans 8:28].  It doesn’t say that all things are good.  It doesn’t say that God causes those things for our good.  It says that in them, in our time of bitter grief, God is with us, caring for us, and working in the background for our Good.  That’s what lets me be a Christian.  It’s not having some vending machine god that I can put a prayer coin in and pop out a happy day; It’s belief in a Christ who was known as the “man of sorrows”.  It’s having a God who has suffered ultimate loss, betrayal, and pain walking beside me through mine.

For anyone out there reading this who has felt abandoned by God, because you sought him in your hour of need and he was nowhere to be found, when you were battered and beaten, when you had a loved one on their death bed, when you were waiting for a miracle that never came, I’m sorry.  My heart goes out to you.  Here’s the hope I offer you, and while sometimes it may feel empty, it isn’t:  God’s heart goes out to you too.  He has compassion.  For anyone that needs a vocabulary lesson, that means “With/Alongside Suffering”.  God suffers with us.  He is the friend who sits with us in the dark when all we can do is cry.  He’s the hand that holds our hair while we’re puking.  He’s the strength in our legs that lets us crawl and the force in our lungs that keeps us breathing when we can’t even do that anymore.  He is the reminder that there is more.  There is light.  There is hope.  We are not alone.  We are loved.  Having that is more important to me than having a button to push.  That’s my Jesus.

Hopefully more Funny next time.  I’m just not feeling it right now.  Mikey, I really hope that when you read this it doesn’t bring you down.  Be happy.  Praise the God who’s carrying you through this.  I definitely am!