I Kinda Risked My Life Hiking up a Mountain, but I’m Glad I Made it to the Top Without Wimping Out!

Mount Washington, seen from Bretton Woods, i.e...

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I live in the town of North Conway, New Hampshire.  This is in the middle of the White Mountains, which contain Mount Washington– the largest peak in New England at 6,288 feet.  This is obviously small compared to Everest and even some peaks in the Rockies, but to this Ohio Valley boy it’s big!

This past Monday I set out for a trek that I didn’t know if I could handle or not!  Some new friends of mine took me on a hike up Mount Washington on the Huntington trail, which is known as the toughest hike in New England.  I’m new to hiking so I figured, “Hey, hiking is just walking, right?  How bad/dangerous could it be?”

I didn’t realize I was really in for it man!  There’s a certain part of the Huntington trail that involves free climbing up ledges, where if one lost footing or slipped they’d fall and basically get killed.  Granted, not all of the mountain is this way, but there are a few spots that are seriously dangerous!  As we made our way up this part of the trail I was grateful to have Trevor behind me to give me a boost once and a while, as well as Joe in front of me to show me where to climb.  And we made it!  I’ll tell ya I’m in ok shape and two days after I’m still seriously sore!

There were a few moments on those ledges that I was earnestly praying for my life, as well as thinking if there was a way to get out of climbing the rest!  Fear at times took over and paralyzed me or made me want to give up.

But there was a strong analogy in those moments.  I’m a leader/pastor in the church, and there will be many times when fear will set in.  Like, “don’t try to love or reach out to that person!  They look like a criminal!”  Or, “don’t go to that country to do mission work, it’s too dangerous!” or “Don’t invite that person over for dinner!  You don’t want them to know your address!”  Or “don’t talk about Jesus in this situation, or people will think you’re a nutcase!”  Or “don’t stand up for what’s right now!  People will think you’re a freak!”

Paul addressed this when he wrote to his young protégé Timothy.  He wrote: For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.  So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.  He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

Why is cowardice all too common amongst the church?  I suppose we live in a situation, in America and potentially some parts of Europe and Australia, where it’s not required as a pastor to be courageous.  But there are people that are seriously hurting out there that need the love and truth of Jesus.  If we don’t step out and into their pain and struggles, we’ll never complete the work that Jesus sent us to do, the kind of work that people like Paul were beaten, imprisoned and eventually killed for.

So I probably won’t ever go back up that trail again!  There are other trails that are far less dangerous up the same mountain and many other mountains.  A little risk is fun sometimes with hiking, but I’d prefer to just get a killer leg burn and a great mountain view- you can forget the ledges!

But when it comes to ministry- I want to always ride the edge.  And I wish the same for all my friends who are pastors.  To many, I’m just preaching to the choir, but some of us need to step out in faith more.  One of the reasons why the church in America is dying may very well be that too many pastors are sitting inside their offices as the walking dead continue to die (and I write this from my church office!)  Instead, may we sense the urgency of our mission and live it.

Brian “Head” Welch from the band “Korn”: A Hardcore Hero

Cover of "Save Me From Myself"

Cover of Save Me From Myself

What do you think of when you look at this picture?  Maybe you think- “druggie, tattoo addict, crazy dude, metal head…”  In a sense you’d be right about all those!  For those of you that don’t know about him, this guy is “Brian Welch”.  He was formerly in a band named “Korn” where he was addicted to Meth-Amphetamines and basically living the wild life.  In the middle of having great success, which was a success laced with the miseries of addiction and broken relationships, a concerned friend invited him to a gathering of Jesus maniacs.  He went from being what many in evangelical middle America may think “unreachable” to being a complete radical follower of Jesus.  He’s now dedicated to raising his daughter Jennea as a single father.

Significantly, and perhaps most importantly, upon his resignation from Korn, Head made clear to the music world that he had not retired from the music and entertainment industry. With his newfound calling, Head is committed to changing the youth of this nation through his music and other entertainment ventures. In this regard, Head penned an autobiography of his life, picked up and released by Harper Collins Publishers in July 2007, entitled, “Save Me From Myself.” Head gained further acclaim as a successful author, when the book quickly hit the New York Times Best Seller List (non-fiction). In his memoir, Head talks for the first time about his shocking embrace of God, and the tumultuous decade of drug and alcohol addiction that led him to his faith, where he was completely healed of his addictions.

Heads debut album also entitled, “Save Me From Myself,” is a testimony of his life as he battled with drug and alcohol addiction, leaving KoRn, and finding spirituality. His debut album is a heavy metal epic, with a positive message. It will leave no doubt in everyones mind that Head, as a founding member of KoRn, has not lost his passion for the metal sound that originally helped make his former band famous. The Debut Album is set for release September 09, and features renown musicians such as Tony Levin (Peter Gabriel, Alice Cooper, David Bowie), Josh Freese (A Perfect Circle, Evanescence, Nine Inch Nails). The album was mixed by Bob Clearmountain, Ralph Patlan, and Head himself. (http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=71567529987)

In addition to using hardcore music as a vehicle to be a spiritual voice, Head has also adopted 215 kids in India who are orphans/refugees.  See video here for his ironic, independently filmed version of MTV’s “Cribs” (quite the anti-materialistic opposite!): http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=71567529987

So I want to say to all my musician/artist friends who feel that they’re at a dead end- that there is hope through the gospel and saving power of Jesus Christ.  And I love it even more as we see in Brian’s example that Jesus doesn’t wish to turn you into some religious pawn, but actually wants to take you as you are with all of your passions, personality and style and purify you.  What will be the result?  An actual fulfillment!  You won’t have to use your creative gifts anymore to feed your empty narcissism, but can actually use them to promote love and peace in a hurting world.  Real followers of Jesus don’t just merely try to proselytize everyone, but desire to do work that changes the world for the better (all of course pointing to the crucified Jesus as a substitute for our sin as the motivating reason).  Those that really know Jesus don’t just push conversion, but really wish that all would come to know Him and are willing to give all for that.

My hipster friends- who are creative artists, writers, bar-flies, French-press coffee junkies, philosophers and minstrels- don’t waste your life in a pool of self-pity and destruction.  Many of you are about to be faced with some tough decisions- will you completely sell out your ideals like many ex-hippies of the 60’s did and fall into greed and materialism?  Will you give it all up and become a junkie living on the streets?  Will you give into religious hypocrisy like some of your parents did?  Will you lead a double life- appearing like a responsible adult to those whom you can manipulate, while all the while secretly venturing into the dens of brokenness and misdirection while no one is looking? Read the Bible for yourself and tap into the most uncool non-conformist thing out there- a righteous life lived through Jesus Christ!  And if your heart is truly open- He will irresistibly draw you to Himself.

Entertainment Industry: The Venus Fly-Trap of Insecurity, (and a way to truly appreciate humans for their intrinsic value)

The bright leaves of the venus flytrap (Dionae...

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A pair of young dudes are good friends and play music together.  One of them is extremely talented and the other is mediocre.  When the talented one gets offered a record contract he’s asked to can the less talented one and he’ll get signed…

A high school has a janitor that’s been working there for 35 years- he’s now 75 years old and is getting slower and less capable of doing the work.  The school board pressures the principal, telling him that he must fire the janitor…

We all have ethical dilemmas that involve the philosophy of “utilitarianism”.  Here’s a wikipedia definition:

Utilitarianism (also: utilism) is the idea that the moral worth of an action is determined solely by its usefulness in maximizing utility as summed among all sentient beings.

There is certainly a principle of excellence that must be considered when people are put into certain positions.  Someone that is hired to fix plumbing in a house should be an experienced plumber, someone that sings in the professional opera must have great vocal training and a pleasing tone to their voice.

But there are also times when this principle can go too far.  When people are merely seen for their talents/abilities/looks/etc. and not their character, then we have problems.  This is why the entertainment industry is somewhat of a Venus Fly Trap for insecure human beings.  Many individuals get sucked into it and are sold for their talents or young good looks, etc.   Then time happens and trends change and the people are left empty and career-less, a mockery in the tabloids.

What we really need are timeless values that transcend the principles of utility.  Mainly- that we are all created in the image of God and should be viewed in light of that (Gen. 1:27).  This makes the playing field even, because everyone has different gifts to differing degrees- so we’re really all the same.  The only thing that mars the beauty of those gifts are flaws in character (i.e. “sin”)

Satan is a Drug Dealer… Reflections on Genesis 2:25-3:7

Illuminated parchment, Spain, circa AD 950-955...

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Sometimes I view the serpent in the narrative of Genesis 3 as a really good drug dealer.  This is just a metaphor from me so take it for what it’s worth.  Adam and Eve are the kids, and God is obviously the Father.  God really loves His kids and sets up a blissful perfect existence for them- a taste of utopian innocence in eternity with Him.  He just tells them one thing- “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat.” (Gen. 2:16-17a)  God doesn’t give a reason, just a general fact that there’s a boundary line.  It reminds me of when my Dad in all his well intentioned humanness used to tell me, “Don’t do dope, or it will ultimately kill you!”

And what’s the angle the serpent uses?  He’s smarmy and says, “C’mon man, did your pops really say ‘You can’t eat from any tree in the garden’”?  It’s a misquote of God because God gives Adam & Eve freedom for any tree except one.  The serpent piques their curiosity.

So Eve responds with the facts that she’s aware of.  It’s not that she’s misheard her Dad, she’s heard him loud and clear.

Now this is where the drug dealer metaphor comes in.  It’s like the serpent is selling a good buzz and defying the Father.  He makes it seem like the knowledge from the tree will make things better for Eve- more spiritual, and more enlightened.

So Eve gives in, and dill-worth Adam stands by just going with the flow.  Aren’t we all similar in our tendency to give into pressure?  So they get their little adrenaline buzz by going against the Father’s wishes, and then they realize they’re naked and make little fig leaf tighty-whiteys.

This is only stunning when we compare it with Genesis 2:25, the verse right before this story begins:

 

25 Adam and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.

Wow- what would it be like to have no guilt ever enter into our frame of consciousness?  This is what it felt like to be a kid- not aware of one’s own self image.  It’s even wilder that it’s the last image portrayed in Genesis 2 as a description of the perfection of Eden.  Maybe this is also a glimpse into what the Kingdom of heaven will be like when Jesus returns, where there will be no guilt, shame or pain.

So in the garden there was this freedom without guilt and shame.  It’s the kind of thing we’re really trying to recapture our entire lives as they move on into the drudgery of reality and adulthood.  It’s not a polemic to say that children have no original intention towards sin, but a view into perfection that’s beyond our realm of existence.

But let’s look at what God says after He gives directions to Adam & Eve in Genesis 2:17:

“For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

Whoah!  Hold up a minute!  Did God already know that Adam and Eve were going to blow this one?  This is why many folks look at this story and view God as some sort of sadist.  Did he just create these kids in order to watch them fail and derive some sort of pleasure from their failure?

This is where the difference between God’s ‘moral’ and ‘actual’ will is important to understand.  For He truly does wish that all people would come into true relationship with Him and reject their own self-destruction in the guise of satisfaction.  Yet He is also outside of time, and knows everything that will happen.  Yet He still loves us and wants what’s best for us.  Later on in Genesis Adam and Eve have to bear the consequences of their choice, but God still kept a relationship with them and loved them through it.  It’s like that for all of us too- we only feel separation from God because we desire that separation ourselves, and He grants it so as not to force us into blind obedience.  But His love and offer of a better life lived for the Kingdom through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ are always and ever ready available for us to take in.

Is it Because of us Christians that Outsiders are Down on God?

Anti-Christian sign at a gay rights protest at...

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If you’re brought up as a religious person, don’t assume that you can lean back in the arms of your religion and take it easy, feeling smug because you’re an insider to God‘s revelation, a connoisseur of the best things of God, informed on the latest doctrines! I have a special word of caution for you who are sure that you have it all together yourselves and, because you know God’s revealed Word inside and out, feel qualified to guide others through their blind alleys and dark nights and confused emotions to God. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you? I’m quite serious. While preaching “Don’t steal!” are you going to rob people blind? Who would suspect you? The same with adultery. The same with idolatry. You can get by with almost anything if you front it with eloquent talk about God and his law. The line from Scripture, “It’s because of you ‘Christians’ that the outsiders are down on God,” shows it’s an old problem that isn’t going to go away. (Romans 2:17-24, THE MESSAGE, words in italics modified)

Man, I love the apostle Paul.  Here was a guy who was raised in the strictest sect of the Jewish religion, and literally spent his career hunting down Jesus followers and approving their executions.  Yet here he is, a changed man who had a vision of Jesus and gave up his entire life to follow Him.

So here he is, a man full of the grace of God, who has spent many days in the dens of pagan revelry.  No doubt he never participated in the actions of these folks, but brought God’s message to them.  People of his religious lineage certainly type cast him as “one of those people”.  Yet in his letter to the Romans he’s calling people of his religious heritage out.  He’s telling them not to think that their religious affiliation, doctrine, or upbringing will save them.  If they’re hypocritical, God will judge them.  He even goes as far to say (in ESV translation) that “the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”, applying Isaiah 52:5 to his situation.

How often do we look at the words of Paul and say, “well, he was a super spiritual guy, and that was the “apostolic age” when people like that were around.”  But my friends, I think we can have the level of commitment that Paul did today, in this age.  Not many of us may compare to Paul himself- but he’s writing these words to us under the inspiration of God Himself so that we may imitate him, not theologize him.  And all who call upon Jesus ought to desire to be disciples of Jesus, not merely converts.

Is it because of us “Christians” that outsiders are down on God?  Do we tell people “don’t steal” while we try to get money out of people unjustly?  Do we tell people “don’t commit adultery” while we have an in closet porn addiction and uncontrollable wandering eye?  Do we tell people to “serve God only” when we are torn between our comfort, security, stocks and bonds and His will?  Paul’s words apply today.  They apply to all of us in every socio-economic status, race, religious background and age.  So if we’re wealthy and religious and God compels us to give away half of our income to third world nations, we should do it.  If God compels us to use our house to show hospitality to foreign exchange students who can’t afford housing, we should do it.  When we truly desire to serve Jesus the way that the scriptures prescribe, our lives are radically changed.  We need to take them at face value and not minimize or distort them.

So may we not be like the religious hypocrites that Paul speaks of, but may we be so above reproach that outsiders see the beauty of God because of us.  As Keith Green sang in reiteration of the ancient text, “We are His workmanship created for good works in Christ.”

Now That I’ve Got Your Attention, Let me Smack You in the Face With This Bible!

Compass

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what most American cynics view as the “ugly Christian“.  Maybe it’s safe to say that these are a fair, though not exhaustive, list of characteristics:

1.  Judgmental

2. Agenda-Driven

3. Politically motivated

4. Consumeristic

5. Impersonal

I couldn’t help but think how unlike the Bible these characteristics are, but I suppose we’re all guilty of them- me included.  But what would it look like if we acted more like Jesus?  These characteristics would show in our lives (in opposition to the ones mentioned above):

1. Inviting & Loving (Luke 2:52, Matt. 14:14)

2. Patient- not looking to quickly persuade people, but answering questions based on the person’s needs. (John 4:7-26)

3. Not stereotyping a group of people (Luke 10:25-37)

4. Abandoning comforts of this world in exchange for a simple life (Luke 9:58, Matt. 6:19)

5. Very involved and caring (Matt. 9:36)

 

It pains me to say that I’ve been guilty of the former “ugly 5” mentioned above.  But as I soak in the scriptures, hang with good Jesus lovin’ folk, pray and live out what is being gathered in my heart and mind, I think (I hope!) that the latter “lovely 5” characterize my life more and more.

 

But I understand why people act judgmental.  I can see why people are agenda-driven.  It’s because we think we’re supposed to be doing the work that God does- that is, working on people’s hearts.  The fact is, we only need to live out our faith, especially in the way the “lovely 5” above describes.  The rest is up to God, because He’s already working in people’s hearts, wooing who will accept Him to Himself.  We can act as a good compass in the midst of all- the good, the bad, the ugly and the pretty, those who seem wild and those who seem tame.

 

And yes, some people will be drawn to, and some people will reject this gospel of Jesus’ death on the cross.  But we are meant to love everyone.  The only folks Jesus was upset with were those who were, in the name of religion nonetheless, doing an awful job of loving people and loving God.  We, as reflections of Him, ought to be different; set apart, pure, truthful, loving, joyful, contagious, at peace, patient and kind.  This is even possible in America, where so many are religious in the name of Jesus and don’t actually reflect Him.  We can be different than that!