Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Now I can die. . . .

It's usually the content of humorous reflections on previously unfinished business that when finally done, leads us to act like our lives are complete. . . even though we know deep down inside that isn't even close to the truth. Since this illustration is fresh on my mind, I'll use it: The Phillies win the World Series. Frustrated fans who have waited a long, long time look at each other as they jump up and down in jubilation, screaming, "Now I can die!" Not really.

This morning I was reminded of the amazing "Now I can die!" uttered by that righteous and devout old man of Jerusalem named Simeon. He was waiting for "the consolation of Israel," that sweet comfort of seeing and knowing the Messiah.

Mary and Joseph bring the infant Jesus into the temple to be circumcised. Simeon takes the baby that came as part of this ridiculously unbelievable - yet amazingly true (yes Bill Maher, it's ridiculous and true!) - unfolding drama of redemption that could only be conceived by the Creator of the universe who so-loved His fallen creation that He would come to undo what had been done. As he's holding Him in his arms Simeon says these words: "Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel."

Amazing. What's flawed has been fixed. Messed up beyond self-repair, now we can be made over. Don't you love Christmas? Now I can die!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Spine-Tingling Reality. . . . .

There's a tradition at our church that I absolutely love. On the Sunday before Christmas, our service ends with the singing of the Hallelujah Chorus, that thrilling piece from Handel's "Messiah." Members of the congregation who can sing - and a smattering of those who can't - join the choir and some musicians up in the balcony for some three-plus minutes that are absolutely unbelievable.

Now I'm not the kind of guy who sits around and listens to classical music. But this is one piece that I could listen to every day of the year. I remember as a kid watching my dad take the vinyl discs from his boxed "Messiah" LP set, then placing them carefully on the metal rod on our record player. The music, which was not exactly my type, filled the house from time to time during the days before Christmas. Hearing the now familiar music takes me back to those early Advent seasons. All of that is rather nice in and of itself, but it's my growing understanding of the amazing, liberating, and life-giving message Handel penned and embedded in such a beautiful piece that makes my hair stand on end. In fact, it's a hopeful message that we should hear and heed every minute of every day.

I listened yesterday and was reminded of who I am - a sinner deserving of nothing but death. In his mercy and grace, God has come in the flesh to undo what's been done in every nook and cranny of creation and life, to usher in His everlasting Kingdom, and to breath new life into me. Consider the simple, straightforward, and earth-shattering text of the "Hallelujah Chorus":

Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
For the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

For the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings! and Lord of lords!
Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

I recently read a story regarding how transcendent Handel's music and message really are. An orchestra performed "The Messiah" in China to an audience unfamiliar with Handel, his music, and the God of the Bible. In the audience were all sorts of people, including communist military and government officials. When the time came for the conclusion of Handel's work and the playing/singing of "The Hallelujah Chorus," the audience rose to it's feet, with the exception of the straight-faced and still-seated officials. Nobody knew this tradition existed. They were simply moved to doing it. Afterwards, one attendee said something like this: "I don't know who God is, but I jumped to my feet because at that moment He was here."

This week we celebrate the fact that God is, and He is here. He has revealed Himself in His Son. I invite you to take a few moments, to turn up your speakers, to watch and listen, and to ponder the amazing reality that Mr. Handel's work continues to communicate with timeless clarity. And if you so desire, stand up.

Hallelujah. Praise Jehovah! The Kingdom of this world is become the Kingdom of our Lord!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Should I laugh, cry, or what. . . .?

Got a great YouTube link from my buddy Mike Flavin this morning. It features Alec Greven, our culture's new relationship guru. It seems that Alec's struck gold - most likely literally - by writing and speaking about how a man should conduct himself in relationships with women. I'm sure that the recent media frenzy over this guy along with the success of his best-selling book, How to Talk to Girls, will result in fame, fortune, and some kind of match-making website.

Mike offered some great advice on how to use the video. He played it for his middle school youth group guys and then had a great discussion about love, dating, and relationships. I like that idea.

Here's the clincher. . . Alec is only 9-years-old! Which begs the question, how old was he when he dated that girl way back when he lived in Seattle?!?

Got to run so that I can watch this video and listen to Alec's advice a second time. There's so much in there that you've either got to scribble fast or keep rewinding. The first time around I realized that my wife would probably appreciate it if I showered everyday and washed my clothes more regularly. Thanks Alec! I'll let you know how it goes.

Now, back to watching. . . .

Monday, December 15, 2008

Colonic Christmas. . . .

I finally did it. Based on the fact that everyone reading this has either had it done already or will experience the joy of doing it sometime in the future, I think it's okay to talk about it. Katie Couric will be very, very happy with me. Yep. . . . I had my first colonoscopy this morning. Merry Christmas to me!

For those not familiar with the process that I went through over the weekend, let me tell you about it. The weekend was spent preparing for my trip to the Gastroenterologist, a trip which began at 6:15am this morning. Normally when you use the word "prepare" before the word "trip" it's a time filled with excitement. Hmmmm. This was a little bit different. Here's how it works. You must stay at home. Traveling is risky. Why? Because your preparation involves three things. 1) Eating nothing for a long, long time. 2) Drinking lots of everything named "water" (with a variety of special additives that all include the three letters L, A, and X somewhere in their name) for a long, long time. And 3). . . . You must stay at home. . . . because. . . . traveling is risky. Of course, taking these three preparatory steps lead to a level of excitment that keeps you awake for the entire night before the procedure. However, it's not the excitement of anticipation, like, let's say on the night before Christmas or before going to DisneyWorld as a kids for the very first time. Rather, it's the opposite of another type of ". . .ipation" that keeps you moving all night. . . . moving from the bedroom to another room that starts with the letter "B." This movement from room to room takes place because of another type of constant movement.

I'll spare you the details of what happens when you arrive at the Doctor's office at 6:45am. Suffice it to say that the procedure itself. . . . from the time you arrive until the time you leave. . . . is somewhat humiliating. I looked up the word "colonoscopy" in the dictionary. Webster's got it all wrong. In my humble and now experienced opinion, the prefix "colon" is from the same Latin root word meaning "complete." "Oscopy" is the Latin word for "loss of dignity." Put them together and what do you got? It seems strange that we pay (thousands of dollars I might add) for this to be done to us. It's even stranger that insurance companies finance such humiliation. And, while most medical instruments have names that don't reveal where they are placed (stethoscope, laparoscope, duodenoscope, etc.), the instrument these folks use is named in a way that leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. . . the ENDOscope! I have no idea what my stetho is. I have no idea where my laparo is. Where is the world is my duodeno??? But then there's the endo.

Let me get serious for a minute. I try to process all of life theologically because, after all, all of life is so flawed that the rocks, trees, hills, and yes. . . even one's colon. . . cry out for redemption. When I got to the Doctor's office this morning I happened to show Lisa the reading that I had brought with some other items in a little white plastic bag. On Friday night I had picked up a brand new copy of Cornelius Plantinga's Not the Way It's Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin. Ironically, the book's title echoes a thought I was having during every waking moment of the preparation and procedure. Sure, I found that to be some humorous irony. But it's actually quite true. In the book's Intro Plantinga writes: "The whole range of human miseries, from restlessness and estrangement through shame and guilt to the agonies of daytime television - all of them tell us that things in human life are not as they ought to be." Plantinga goes on to remind us that the shalom of God's good creation has been vandalized by sin. Shalom is the way things ought to be. . . . universal flourishing, wholeness, and delight. Shalom is a colon without cancer, blockages, polyps, etc. It is a colon experiencing the joy and wonder of "colonhood" in God's perfect created order. It is a colon without need of a colonoscopy. . . . ever!

While my morning was spent in a way that it was not supposed to be, I look forward to a world where my colon's health will be perfected along with everything else in our sin-soaked creation that groans. In a very real way, what I experienced this morning is a wonderful reminder of why we should go out of our way to celebrate the coming of the Redeemer who not only gives us the hope of new life, but will eventually usher in a Kingdom so complete in its perfection that all colons will be unquestionably fine and fully without need of photographic investigation. Yes, things will be the way they are supposed to be.

Until then, I thank God for the Doctors, nurses, technicians, and other people in that room who do what they do. Before we got things going this morning I looked over my shoulder to one of the nurses who was standing strategically behind me and asked her, "What ever possessed you to take this up as a vocation?" She told me that she liked the hours and the routine. Okay. Whether she knew it or not, there's more to what she does than that. Along with the rest of the crew, there was something happening at a deeper spiritual level. The head of the practice is a fellow believer. I know him, although he wasn't in the room today. I know that for him his work is about bringing honor and glory to God by bringing the Kingdom order of God in some little way to be realized on this fallen sphere in people's physical insides. That's really what happened to me in there. Because what shouldn't be is, an entire medical practice exists to prevent what shouldn't be and provide for what should.

Could it be that Christmas is also about. . . . colons????

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Wisdom. . . .

The older I've gotten the more I've become convinced of the value and absolute need to ask ourselves the right questions. Sadly, I think most people are like me. We learn to ask the questions about thirty years too late. I think that is by and large a typical habit among people in youth ministry.

We are young. We are idealistic. We know what we're doing. . . or at least we think we do. And so we start to do. . . . usually without stopping to assess the world around us, seek the will of God in His Word, and then and only then engage in ministry that is marked by faithfulness and obedience as opposed to "what works." I realize this may sound like an overstatement or some kind of generalization, but I'm trying to capture and communicate a corrective approach to so much of what we've been doing for so long. . . . usually without evaluation.

This is why I asked some pretty specific questions of theologian David Wells. Wells has earned a well-deserved reputation as a critic of the contemporary church, particularly the market-driven consumer-oriented seeker-sensitive variation along with the emergent types that have been popping up in reaction against the aforementioned seeker-sensitive congregations. I firmly believe that no matter who we are or what we are doing in our efforts to worship and serve Christ, we must always be asking questions that force us to evaluate everything we are and do in light of the Scriptures. No one and no one way is beyond scrutiny.

That's where David Wells comes in. If you've ever read any of his books you might conclude that he's a critical, angry, unsettled man. And then you meet the man or sit under his teaching. He's one of us. A brother in the Lord. A member of the Church. And it is that Church that he loves so very much that he can't help but speak in response to what's happening from the perspective of a deep and discerning knowledge of and love for God's Word. I've grown to appreciate this man and what he says. However, I don't think his work will be fully appreciated until history has a chance to look back on it and we say, "Wow. . . that guy really had his finger on the times."

If left to ourselves, few of us would ever pick up any of David Wells' books. That's why I want to challenge you to get brave, open yourself up to some self-evaluation, and start working through his latest book, "The Courage To Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World." We posted a review of the book on our CPYU Bookshelf blog back on October 13. Last week we posted a short interview I conducted with Wells about the book. You can read the full text here.

Here's the last question I asked Wells along with his answer. . . . I think you'll see that this guy is passionate about Christ, the Kingdom, and kids. . . .

CPYU: If you were to address a room full of youth workers and you had the opportunity to communicate one message to them, what one message would you communicate?

DW: It is time to get brave. Let’s stop the pandering. Kids see right through it. Let’s give them the real thing. They are looking for it. No one has demanded anything of them; let us tell them that if they come to Christ, he bids them die. No one has told them that they can know truth as something other than their own private perspectives; let us tell them there is Truth and those who know it, lose their lives. No one has told them that there is a different way of life. What many churches have done has been to run after the kids fearing that they will be lost irretrievably to MTV, rock, sex, and drugs. So, better to give them small, undemanding doses of Christianity that won’t interfere too much with their lives and which they will be willing to accept, than none at all, we think to ourselves. Wrong! If we tell them that they can have Christ on their own terms, we are selling them down the river. They instinctively know that. So, let us not make fools of ourselves anymore.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Wow. . . . worth pondering. . . .

My friend Troy sent me a link to a news story from the UK this morning. The story is about The Immersion Project and a thought-provoking little video from Robbie Cooper that looks at the role digital media is playing in the lives of our kids. More specifically, the film (below), gives us a straight-on view of the faces of kids as they lock-in with full attention to the TV screen as they play violent video games.

If youth culture is like a snowball tumbling on its own down the face of a steep mountain, rapidly picking up mass, volume, and speed, then our fast-evolving digital media culture makes up a good amount of the white stuff that the culture's picking up as it tumbles down the hill. In recent youth culture seminars I've found myself reminding people that seven years ago we wouldn't be talking about things like Facebook, social networking, Twitter, micro-blogging, etc. Indeed, the world is changing and changing fast. Now, all this stuff is pervasive. We have to figure out where it's come from, what needs it's feeding, and what it's doing to us and how we are choosing to live in the world. It's effect is not nuetral, and our faith must inform both our response to its existence and the manner in which we choose to employ it in our everyday lives. These are serious matters that are just starting to be discussed with any sort of seriousness.

I don't know about you, but looking into the faces of these kids and hearing their comments. . . . well. . . . it's somewhat sobering. This isn't research. It's real life. Take a look and tell me what you see.