A Culture of Giving

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

My father played basketball at his high school in Indiana, during his time there he was on a team that won the mid-state championship. It was a small school and so the experience wasn’t all that unlike the plot of the movie Hoosiers. This is perhaps why that movie is one of my family’s favorites.

When my Dad’s team returned from the championship game the entire school had shown up to congratulate them. Several of the players spoke to the student body on behalf of the team. When my dad spoke up he told this story:

A certain saint asked God to show him the difference between heaven and hell. So God sent an angel to take him, first to hell. There he saw men and women seated around a large table with all kinds of delicious food. But none of them was eating. They were all sad and yawning. The saint asked one of them, “Why are you not eating?” And he showed the saint his hand. A long fork about 4ft long was strapped to their hands such that each time they tried to eat they only threw the food on the ground. “What a pity” said the saint. Then the angel took him to heaven. There he was surprised to find an almost identical setting as in hell: men and women sitting round a large table with all sorts of delicious food, and with a four-foot fork strapped to their arms. But unlike in hell, the people here were happy and laughing. “What!” said the saint to one of them, “How come you are happy in this condition?” “You see,” said the man in heaven, “Here we feed one another.”

My dad told this story and then explained that the team wasn’t selfish; they fed one another and that’s why they won the championship. The funny thing is that at this point in his life my dad didn’t know Jesus from Buddha, yet he grasped a simple truth about human nature and Christianity; selfishness is common but generosity is the key to success in community.

I’ve had the honor these past four years of being the class sponsor of Asbury University’s class of 2011 and I don’t use the word ‘honor’ lightly. I really consider it to be one of the greatest outpourings of God’s grace on my life. The responsibility included being involved with the class’s activities during their freshman year at school and later returning for their major events over the next three years. This past weekend they had their senior retreat and commencement. I and my partner, Tiff Hassler, were in attendance and I had one of the best weekends in recent memory.

I’m not sure how to describe why I enjoy the culture at Asbury so much, but I think that the closest phrase I can use to explain it is ‘a Culture of Giving.’ And when I say giving, I don’t mean money or anything material, though those things aren’t excluded. I mean a whole attitude of giving to the other people – in conversation, in competition, in creativity and in every other kind of interaction. This is what I think Jesus meant when he told us to love one another.

Late one evening on the retreat I just sat watching groups playing cards and boardgames and time and time again I saw this form of social grace extended in the way people just showed love to each other in common interaction.

I know that I often feel like the most selfish person in the world, so don’t think that I’m trying to claim any sort of perfection in this realm, but I do know this: when everyone decides that the other person is more important than themselves, something amazing happens in a community. So often even in the churches and in Christian families people are looking out for what they want, looking out for their own needs and desires, but we claim to love our neighbors as ourselves. Have you ever considered what that means? What it really looks like to care as much about the people around you as you do for your own good? We say that all the time, even secular humanists call it ‘the golden rule,’ but what does it really look like in practice?

It looks like a whole culture of giving. It looks like Acts 2:44 where all the believers were together and they had everything in common. It starts in conversations where everyone is genuinely engaged in listening as much as they are in talking. It starts in misunderstandings and moments of frustration and says ‘I will show them the same grace that Christ has shown me.’ It starts in times where I don’t get my way and it says ‘that’s ok, it wasn’t about me anyway.’

What if we turned John 13:35 into a question: “Will everyone know that you are my disciples by this?” And we asked it about our behavior when we’re interacting with a friend or colleague, meeting a brother-in-Christ for that first time or dealing with a fellow church member who really gets on your nerves – “Will everyone know that I am your disciple by this?” Or when you’re talking to your siblings, parents, children or spouse. “…by this?” Jesus says that it is by our treatment of other Christians that the world will know that we are His. That’s because the pull of heaven is irresistible: when people see it in others they have a longing in their heart to live in a culture of that kind of generosity. It is something that both convicted and encouraged me. As long as we choose to sit and complain about our forks while we starve to death – that’s Hell. But when we feed each other – that’s real Christian community. That’s Heaven.

So my fellow Christ followers, are we feeding each other? By this does everyone know that we are His disciples?

The Core of Christianity.

Whenever I read blog posts or status updates by my non-believer friends its clear to me that most atheists are under the false impression that the belief in God is at the core of Christianity. Maybe you’re a believer and you think the same. I’d like to offer you a challenge.

I’d suggest that perhaps the core of Christianity isn’t belief in God at all. Now, the foundation of christian belief starts with the fear of God.

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” Prov. 1:7

So yes the belief in and fear of God is foundational, but I’d suggest that it’s not at Christianity’s Core. While belief, faith in the unseen God is the foundation of Christianity, Its center column (to continue with the building analogy) is far more visceral than the simple belief in God. This core element is pivotal, because while the existence of God cannot be irrefutably proven or disproven, this core piece is so innate and so key in all of humanity that it is Christianity’s greatest proof when present and also its most difficult apologetic question when it is absent.

The existence or God is not at the Core of Christianity; Love is. If it were not so wouldn’t the Bible be filled with philosophy; arguing for the existence of the diety around which it is centered? No, His existence is presupposed throughout all of its pages; instead, it tells the story of our need for an unstoppable love, created by a relentlessly loving God.

“Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4:8

Theologically, 1st john is one of my favorite letters. It gets right down to it: God is love. Why was it that God sent his only begotten son? Was it for Anger at our disobedience? Was it for a desire for the world to be morally righted according to his law? No – For God so LOVED… Why is there a whole chapter dedicated in 1st Corinthians to explaining one word? Is there any other word that is so extensively defined anywhere else the Bible? And could it be any more clear when that chapter ends with these words:

“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” 1 Cor 13:13

Better than Faith: mere faith is important – even foundational to Christianity. Better than hope; we have hope for eternal life and yet we’re told that something is better than that hope. Love is the greatest of these.

So, go ahead tell me I can’t prove the existence of God. I wasn’t supposed to prove it anyway; that’s what faith is for. Go ahead tell me that the world is a terrible place and that its getting worse; I know that man is fallen and I have hope anyway. But I’d like to see you try – I’d love to see you try to disprove Love – true, relentless, fierce undying, sacrificial, love. Love wins.

3 Things My Grandfather Taught Me


My Granddad Billy “Poppy” Key

I get my first name from my maternal granddad, Billy Key. He’s a retired Methodist pastor who is still very well known in south Georgia Methodism. At age 87 my grandfather is still a great blessing to my whole family. This morning I woke up thinking of what a great life he’s lead and all the things I’ve learned from him. There have been many, many great stories that I hope to tell and retell, and many more simple scripture lessons and poems that he’s shared over the years through his many sermons.

 

I think I can narrow it down to three things that summarize what I’ve learned from him.

1) Always be ready to share the gospel, anytime anywhere.

Long before I even knew it was scripture I would hear my granddad quote 2nd Timothy 4:2

“Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine”

For many of my growing up years, I actually thought that he was the first one to say that. I didn’t realize it was in the Bible – he says it like he owns it. (would that we may all take such ownership over the Word, that it comes out of such conviction)

My Grand Father has never met a stranger and is never afraid to speak the name of Jesus to anyone he meets throughout his day. In today’s world the word ‘preach’ isn’t very cool. We think it sounds dictatorial, dogmatic, long-winded or boring, but we’re told in scripture to preach – and Billy Key is never afraid to ‘preach’ even if its just a few words of truth to the clerk at the grocery store.

2) Always be grateful for what you have and what you are given.

He has always displayed an attitude of thankfulness. Still today, he’s very thankful for any small everyday blessing that friends and family offer him – the kind of things that many of us would take for granted. Many times at thanksgiving he reminds us of an story of a woman who would say before every meal ‘Much obliged for the vittles, Lord.’

When he was a young boy in Adrian, Georgia, he was walking out of Church with his family one day and it was particularly beautiful outside. He turned to his mother and he said “Isn’t this a great world we live in?” and that sense of wonder and joy at the simple blessings has never left him throughout his life.

To this day he begins prayers with “Thank ya, Thank ya, Thank ya, Lord” as a simple expression of how grateful he is for God’s hand on his life.

3) And finally, bless the socks off of everyone around you.

My granddad is a blesser. He blesses people. We throw the world ‘blessing’ around a lot in churchianity and I think it looses its meaning, but what I mean by this is literal and intentional spiritual blessing passed from one person to another.

I hope that every one of you is fortunate enough to receive a Billy Key-style blessing in your life, if not from him, then maybe from someone else. He often grabs hold of you – by the arm or the shoulder. Then he stares at you right in the face and he addresses you. “Will” he’ll say, “You have been blessed with a great many gifts and the Lord is with you. You’re a capable young man. We’re proud of you and what you’re doing and we’re excited to see where the Lord is leading you!” Then he’d give me a big slap on the back and smile. Other times he’ll just grab you and quote from Numbers Six

“The LORD bless you
and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine on you
and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you
and give you peace.”

Again, much of my growing up years I didn’t know this was scripture – he said it so sincerely I could’ve believed they were his words.

At the very least, he’ll walk up to you and grab your arm, pat you hard on the back and shout “Bless ya, Bless ya, Bless ya!” It makes me think of Genesis 32 when Jacob wrestles with God and says “I will not let you go unless you bless me!” If it had been Billy Key, he would’ve said “I will not let you go unless I bless you!” He does it so easily, its as if he doesn’t even have to try.

Furthermore…

Over the past several years, my Granddad, who I call “Poppy” has preached fewer and fewer sermons. And when we get together as a family he doesn’t speak the same homily that he used to, but he still says one thing. After the Thanksgiving, Christmas or Independence Day celebration has ended, and all the grandchildren and great grandchildren are sitting in wake of a big family meal, Poppy stops and says this simple poem. Written by the Georgia poet, Sidney Lanier (who lived in Montgomery, AL for a few years), this little poem has become a treasure of my family’s. I think it sums up the kind of faith that Billy Key Has.

I know not how such things may be
I only know He speaks to me.
Not through the grass nor through the sod
but in my heart the voice of God
Speaking spirit unto spirit,
and if I listen I can hear it.
Voice of God that speaks to me
out of His infinity.

I called my grandad and asked him to recite it to me so I could copy it down and he was over joyed – upon finishing it he paused and said “There it is, its yours for the rest of your life now.” I couln’t’ve have ask for a richer inheritance.

These things have been a blessing to me, may they be a blessing to you.

I got my Confidence at Wal-mart!

I did a search on Amazon.com and there are around 8,000 books available for purchase that are on the subject of confidence. The listed categories of books range from business to Arts & Photography (“Drawing with confidence”) – it appears the everyone wants confidence in what they do. One of the popular statistics that’s been thrown around lately involves this subject. In an international study of teenagers it was found that (no surprise) American teens are bad at Math – some of the worst in the world apparently. What makes this statistic interesting is that American teenagers scored the highest in another area: Confidence. The same group of people that scored lowest in math scored highest in confidence.

The reason is clear – when my generation started arriving on the scene back in 1984 many of our parents and teachers decided that it was important that we be confident so they worked hard to make us feel good about ourselves regardless of what we were actually capable of. They gave us ribbons for participating even if we did a terrible job. They had people come to our schools who did magic tricks, gymnastics and motivational talks all of whom told us to be confident. They told us if we believe in ourselves that we can achieve our dreams as long as we just be ourselves because we’re unique and wonderful. This, of course, is total crap, but it actually accomplished something: many of us believed it and we developed disproportionate and totally unfounded confidence.

I’ve worked with some very talented people over the years, but the most impressive human trait I’ve seen is humility when coupled with skill. That’s because to be humble while possessing great ability is to be Christ-like.

“In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!”

Philippians 2:1-8

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having confidence, in fact I think that its safe to say that anyone who really succeeds has a healthy measure of it. I think that the real issue with confidence isn’t as much about having the right amount as much as it is getting it from the right place and putting it in the right person. You can put confidence in yourself, your parents, your pastor, your boss, your job, your spouse, your spouse’s job, your children, the government, your school, your sports team, your car, technology, your favorite author, a diet, your favorite news station… and the list goes on and on. As I said there’s nothing wrong with confidence. Look at these two verses from first Corinthians:

“Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.” 1 Cor 1:31

“Such confidence we have through Christ before God. Not that we are competent in ourselves to claim anything for ourselves, but our competence comes from God.” 1 Cor 3:4-5

I’m going to say something that might sound crazy to us americans. I believe that God basically doesn’t want us to have confidence in ourselves. I know that sounds crazy to some of us. He doesn’t want us to hate ourselves either – he wants us to have self respect; to believe that we’re vessels capable of containing the holy spirit. But he wants our confidence to be in him and him alone so that he can do through us things that we never thought were possible. Its like Oswald Chambers says:

‎”We can only be used by God after we allow Him to show us the deep, hidden areas of our own character. It is astounding how ignorant we are about ourselves!” – O.Chambers

Our ability to accomplish the work of God is directly corollary to our surrender to him; until we submit to him we have no way of knowing what we’re truly capable of. To reach that place of surrender our confidence needs to come from God and it needs to be placed back in God alone. But we have to believe we’re capable of being use by God – that his power can work in us and that it can overcome the challenges around us. Look at Peter when when Jesus calls to him to walk on water:

And He said, “Come!” And Peter got out of the boat, and walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Matthew 14:29-30

Based on this, I’d propose that confidence is a cycle. We submit to God and he gives us confidence saying “I’m giving you this task because I made you capable of doing this and I will strengthen you” we then say “I can only do this because God is strengthening me.” therefore we submit to God and he continues to strengthen us.

Just the other day I was talking to a friend who’s had an exciting, but daunting opportunity put before him. He admitted as the time drew nearer that he was getting nervous. He said he wasn’t sure he could do it. I told him that I didn’t think that he could either. That might sound like I was being a bad friend or just hurtfully honest, but I also said that I believed that God could do it through him. I told him that he’s having those nervous feelings is God’s way of drawing him closer. If you feel like you can’t do something that you’ve been called to do, maybe that’s because you can’t – and you need to realize that before you can let God do it through you.

False confidence can come from lots of places. And whether I buy the fitness magazine “Get in shape and everything will fall in place” myth or the Wizard of Oz “you had it all along” myth or the motivational speaker “you can do anything if you follow your dream” myth, I’ll never reach my full potential until I put my confidence in Christ.

“For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

All In

I’m not a big poker player but on occasion I have caught clips of professional poker being played on ESPN7. I remember seeing part of a championship game of Texas Hold ‘em that had one particular player who was known for going ‘All In’ in almost every game he played. Apparently it worked – he made it all the way to the championship game using this method. In poker, when you go all in it forces everyone else in the game to do one of two things: they have to go all in or they have to get out of the game.

Today, the senior pastor at Frazer issued a challenge to the members of the Frazer Family; he asked that in 2011, all of our members choose to go all in for Jesus. Much in the same way that poker player did in every game, we have to decide if we’re going to take the plunge – take the risk and invest all we have in Christ.

The average American church-goer would probably tell you that the Christian life isn’t terribly difficult because we generally still get to have our comfortable, safe lives. That’s not the picture that Paul gives us in 1st Corinthians:

“If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men.” 1 Corinthians 15:19

The early Christians were so invested in Christ that if it were all a hoax, they would have been men to be pitied. They knew that to be all in, they would have to give of themselves such that everyone around them saw the sacrifice in their life. It reminds me of something a friend of mine posted on his facebook page, I don’t know where he first heard it, but he said

“The kingdom isn’t advanced by technological progress, military tactics, or economic growth. The kingdom is advanced by sacrifice”

To be all in means to sacrifice. Many people have asked Jesus to be their Savior, but have they decided to be all in for him? I’ll leave you with the words of “I have decided to follow Jesus.” You may not know that this song is attributed to Sadhu Sundar Singh, a man who was born in India. He grew up in an entirely different religion until he had a vision of Jesus one night. When he converted to Christianity, his family forced him out of the house, only after his father tried to poison him. He witnessed for Christ for the rest of his life. Think about the sacrifice that he made – how he went all in, as you read these words.

I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;
I have decided to follow Jesus;

No turning back, no turning back.
Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
Though I may wonder, I still will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
The world behind me, the cross before me;
No turning back, no turning back.
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
Though none go with me, still I will follow;
No turning back, no turning back.

Postvenient Grace

John Wesley talked a lot about the idea of “Prevenient Grace” which is a basic belief that even before you are born, God is at work in your life – already drawing you towards a relationship with Him. This idea appears throughout scripture. Perhaps most clearly in this verse in Jeremiah:

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you…” Jeremiah 1:5 (ESV)

I’ve heard lots of great sermons and many great stories that illustrate the truth in this principle. I absolutely love examining prevenient grace, because when we look back at our lives we so often see where God was working long before we knew it. It is a great reminder of His faithfulness to us, but that’s not what I’m posting about. I just wanted to write a brief post to introduce a thought to you.
On Christmas Eve this year my dad preached a sermon in which he mentioned that the word ‘prevenient’ comes from the latin roots “pre” and “veni” and literally means to ‘come before’ – this got me thinking about other words that have the same root: “intervene” – to come between, “convene” – to come together. Then I thought about the opposite prefix and I asked “Is there such a thing as postvenient grace?” If you’re curious, the word ‘postvenient’ does not exist, but this non-word suddenly took on a great deal of meaning to me.
If God is faithful to us before we’re even born, it stands to reason that he’s faithful to us after we’ve left this earth. God carries out the works that he begins in us.

“…being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6 (NIV)

God is big on promises and covenants to families. Scripture is clear that God blesses those who bless him – and his people.

“I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” Genesis 12:3 (NLT)

So the only difference in prevenient grace and ‘postvenient grace’ is that we get to participate in our postvenient grace by honoring God and blessing his people in and through our lives. So, how are you being a blessing to God and his people right now?

Ignition; What is this Fire?

3 – 2 – 1 . . . Ignition!

I’m a big fan of metaphors. My church just finished a teaching series today. ‘Ignite’ was its title and I’m pausing today to meditate on the image of ignition because I think that it’s a powerful metaphor. References to fire are very common in the Bible; there are over 500 times where fire is referred to in some way. Here’s one Patrick has used a few times for his messages.

I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

Luke 12:49 NIV

Though 1/5 of the fire mentions in the Bible refer to God, In this particular metaphor Jesus isn’t the fire. As Jesus is a member of the trinity, to me it seems that he’s not referring to God the Father or to the Holy Spirit. I think the fire refers to something else. More on this in a moment.

About a month ago we finished a series called “Breathe” Another powerful image. Let’s take a look at another verse of scripture:

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

John 20:22 NIV

The Holy Spirit is often referred to in scripture in terms of Air.

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

John 3:8 NIV

The Holy Spirit – breath, wind, air, oxygen

___________ – Fire, ignition, kindling

So what is this fire?

I looked up a scientific description of what take place when fire is created. Here’s a paraphrasing of what I found on citizendium.org:

The flames of a fire are the result, or side-effect, of a chemical reaction between oxygen and a fuel source (wood, or gasoline, for example). The steps for fire creation are as follows:

  • a fuel source is touched by heat until it reaches its ignition temperature
  • oxygen breaks down larger molecules into carbon dioxide and water vapour
  • this reaction produces visible, glowing heated gas

If you’re like me this gets your mind going. And going. I think that metaphors are often weakened by over-explaination, so if you want to stop there and just consider this for yourself, I don’t blame you.

So, really what is this fire?

If the Oxygen in this equation is the Holy Spirit then we are the fuel. We are what gets set on fire. So what is this fire? Craig Groeschel, pastor of LifeChurch.TV calls it … “It.” He wrote a whole book entitled “It.” Upon first reading, I thought that “It” was just the Holy Spirit, but after discussing the book, I realized that “It” had to be a special interaction of the Holy Spirit with the people of the church. So what is this fire? Well if it isn’t God – and it isn’t us I think the only thing that it could be is… Fire. Sorry if that’s anti-climactic.

When people are excited don’t we say that they are ‘fired up?’ When a sports star scores a streak of points don’t the commentators say “He’s on fire!” I don’t think there’s a better word for fire than “fire.” If you need to get specific, it’s the ‘fire of the spirit’ described in 1st Thessalonians

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire.”

1st Thessalonians 5:19 ISV

Step by Step

I think there is a TON you can draw out of this metaphor. Assuming the Holy spirit is Oxygen and we’re the fuel – consider…

  • Heat is applied to ignite something
  • Different fuels have different Ignition Temperatures
  • Oxygen breaks down the molecules within the fuel
  • The reaction produces a visible, glow.

Here’s the part  where I over-explain.

To ignite, you need Oxygen and Fuel you need people to be interacting with the Holy Spirit.

You also need the heat to be turned up. Similar to the way that a sick person’s fever burns away the flu, heat turned up on people burns away the junk in their lives. As much as no one wants to be in crisis – don’t our priorities fall in line when the heat gets turned up? Mark Batterson said “Everyone wants a miracle but no one wants to be in a situation that necessitates one.” You still need oxygen though, so be sure to allow the Holy Spirit in.

You have to reach the ignition temperature. You know, striking a match is easy – getting a large bonfire going isn’t quite as easy, but once you get it going, it’s even harder to put out.

Once the fire starts, the Oxygen has to break some things down. The person or people who are on fire will experience life-change and some of it may seem destructive or even be painful. Some relationships may change or break down – some habits and may have to come to an end while new disciplines have to replace them.

The reaction is always evident to anyone watching; it produces a glow. You cannot hide fire. It produces more heat (yes, more heat) to all those around and it creates light, chasing away darkness. The funny thing about fire is that it tends to spread the more it touches things and you can’t really control it. But keep in mind, without oxygen the fire goes out.

I could go on – there are so many good images that come out of this metaphor – pulling a coal away from the rest of the fire will cause it to burn out more quickly, putting it back in the fire reignites it. But you get the picture.

In Summary…

So when you feel like the heat is getting turned up and you can’t take it any more, try not to worry, you’re just that much closer to being ignited. So make sure you’re getting plenty of fresh air.

Toward a Theology of Humor

Salt: from bland to overbearing

Humor permeates through every part of our culture and this wasn’t always the case. It used to be that there were lots of places that you would never find humor and lots of subjects that were off limits for joking. That seems to be no longer true. From church worship services to funeral homes you can expect to find humor everywhere. And from death to religion no topic is too sacred.

To be clear I’m a student of humor. I don’t fault humor for its abuse. I love a good laugh and apparently I’m not the only one. According to eHarmony.com, the most desired trait by both men and women is humor. More than anything physical, more than any skill, it seems that people want to have someone with whom they can laugh.

Now while it hasn’t always been as expansive as it is now, it has been around for a long time. Humor was invented in 500 BC by a Greek philosopher named Slapamines. Slapamines was studying chickens on his farm and watching as they crossed the path between his stables and his coupe. When he began to wonder about their intentions and he became the first to ask why they were crossing the road. Okay that’s not true, but humor can be traced back hundreds of years before the birth of Christ. The Greek comedies, many of which were written between 500 and 400 years BC, have a surprising number of ‘modern’ comedic devices – including some rather risqué humor.

So humor is everywhere, its vital to relationships and humor is ancient, but as a student of humor I just want to take a look at what the Biblical view of humor is. Many Christians (myself included) make an unintentional assessment regarding what kind of humor is acceptable for Christians: the kind that makes me laugh. This isn’t a good litmus test and with as common as it is in our culture, I think its time we move toward a theology of humor. Upon researching this topic I turned up an interesting passage of scripture that I never would’ve thought much of before.

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

Colossians 4:6 emphasis added

This is interesting for two reasons. First, the word picture of “seasoning” conversation with “salt” was a phrase in Greek literature. The commonly understood meaning of ‘salt’ in this context was ‘wit.’ Second, in the Greek, the word for seasoned is artuō. It means to fit or arrange – so its connotation isn’t what we think of as randomly putting salt on something, but rather meticulously allowing just the right amount.

So, it seems here that we’re actually told to include wit in our conversations, but also grace. Equally important to note, however is that we’re told to be ‘seasoned’ with wit in a measured amount – not too little, not to much.

So what is too much salt?

Here are a couple of passages that I turn to that outline what ‘too salty’ might look like.

Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.

Ephesians 5:4

Honestly this is a tough scripture for me, because I don’t like to put limits on joking. Let’s take a look at it. First off, none of the words used here for ‘obscenity’, ‘foolish talk’, or ‘course joking’ appear anywhere else in the new testament so we have nothing to compare it to. Studying the words you’ll find that ‘obscenity’ in this case could be defined as ‘that which offends Christian purity.’ ‘Foolish talk’ – means just that; don’t be an idiot when you open your mouth. Course joking  – well it means course joking, but it can also mean dishonesty. Okay let’s look at another scripture.

“Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces.” Matthew 7:6

I hope this one is obvious; certain things in life are sacred – if you give them up to be treated as fodder for animals, they’ll do exactly what you’d expect an animal to do.

Okay so when is there too little salt?

I think part of the answer is in that verse in Colossians. Before we’re told that our conversation is to be seasoned with salt, we’re told that it should be full of grace. Social grace is a loving act that extends a willingness to seek to understand the other person. I believe a key element in this is a willingness to joke about yourself. I also think you have to let scripture and the Holy Spirit guide you

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Romans 12:15

Don’t be a stick in the mud! Don’t laugh in the face of tragedy! Be willing to laugh at yourself when other laugh at you, be willing to cry when others are crying. God wants us to have a balanced, healthy temper. Jesus tells us that even while fasting we’re not supposed to be somber, tortured souls

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:16-18

I refer to this scripture for two reasons: It shows us that Jesus doesn’t want his followers to be gloomy people. But it also shows that Jesus doesn’t mind using a little sarcasm to make a point. “I tell you they have received their reward in full.” That’s sarcasm! That’s comedy! Dr. Elton Trueblood has written a book on the Humor of Christ (the only remaining ‘new’ copy on Amazon.com can be yours for only $351.39!) In this book he outlines 30 different places where Jesus uses humor such as sarcasm, irony and hyperbole to teach. For a good article on Jesus’ use of Humor check out this one from biblestudy.org.

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.  Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

First we’re told to rejoice (twice) in the Lord! Second we’re told not to worry – that means cynicism is not a God-condoned form of humor. And finally we’re told the kind of things about which God wants us to think. This to me is the ultimate test for anything that you’re struggling with: Is it God’s will for me to dwell on this? “…whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy..” Can you say that about your sense of humor?

What the Bible says about humor:

  1. Harsh humor at anyone’s expense is not Christ-like. Harsh joking is clearly outlined in Eph. 5 as the opposite of being an ‘imitator of Christ.’ You cannot use “but, its the truth!” as an excuse. Harsh is harsh and as Christians we’re called to be Loving. – That being said, Jesus himself used some sarcastic humor towards others (see his introduction to Nathaniel) in John 1:47. I don’t think we’re supposed to take ourselves so seriously that we can’t have a light jab thrown our way.
  2. Humor that is not pure, is not God honoring. Let me step back and say that ‘purity’ does not mean ‘free from sex.’ If that were the case then the Shakers were the only pure people among us. “Purity” means free from sexual sin – sin like lust and sex outside of marriage. Jokes that endorse, romanticize, trivialize or promote sexual sin are not a part of a holy life. Jokes that endorse holy matrimony while upholding its sanctity are pure.
  3. What’s sacred is Sacred. Human life, salvation, the human body, Jesus’ passion and the teachings of scripture are not to be trifled with. Do I think every joke about someone going to heaven and meeting St. Peter is sinful? No. I do believe that you should think twice before making any jokes on these subjects, however. Humor is one thing, flippancy is another – be sure that you’re not throwing pearls to pigs.  Me personally? I don’t joke much about death, salvation and judgement.
  4. Intentionally deceiving people in a humorous way is still lying. Lying is still wrong. I’m not saying it’s wrong to say something outlandish to make a point or even to get a laugh; Jesus even used hyperbole. I’m saying that if you’re really lying – even if its out of amusement and not ‘malice’ its still lying.
  5. Jesus himself had a sense of humor. He used humor to teach, to get points across, to be memorable. To be humorous in a pure, holy and loving way is actually (dare I say it?) Christ-like.

In Conclusion

If I’m honest with myself, if I can read in the Bible and not feel convicted then I’m happy. That means I don’t have to change. I’ll often try to read into things in such a way that it fits my life-style as it exists. That’s not the way we’re called to live. If you, like me find these passages convicting try to consider it tomorrow. I think the final question to ask yourself is this: is my humor loving? Is it really out of love for others?

“By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

John 13:35

In all things we are to be loving. So next time you find yourself laughing or making a wise-crack, ask yourself “Is this too much salt?”

The Gift of Worship

Worship, Worship, Worship and more Worship

I throw the word worship around a lot. I mean, I probably use it 50+ times a day. If I’m honest, most of the time I misuse the word – using it in one of the following three ways:

  1. Worship is the music that happens before and after the sermon
  2. Worship is a weekly hour-long event (often called a ‘service’ for some reason) that is a combination of elements ranging from entertaining videos to ‘talks’ and ‘testimonies’
  3. A lifestyle in which the worshipper defers to God in every major opportunity.

All of these do fit into one verse or another, but none of them represent one of the most common greek words for worship. I know it’s right on the tip of your tongue so I’ll help you out, it’s προσκυνέω. As found in the phrase “Hey how on earth do you pronnounce ‘προσκυνέω’?” In case you, like me, missed most (or all) of your second (and first) semester of greek the word is pronounced “proskuneō.” Proskueno appears in the New Testament 59 times and each time it is translated as ‘worship’. Here’s the definition:

1. to crouch, crawl, or fawn, like a dog at his master’s feet; hence, to prostrate one’s self, after the eastern custom, to do reverence or homage to any one, by kneeling or prostrating one’s self before him; Used therefore of the act of worship.

2.to kiss the hand to another as a mark of respect, to do obeisance, etc. to another, especially of the Oriental fashion by prostration, hence to worship.

Listen, I’m not going to write any self-righteous paragraph about how we should all aspire to view worship more like this. I just challenge you to read this definition and really meditate over it. This isn’t the only word that relates to worship, but I just thought it was a startling and vivid image and not one that readily comes to mind for me. For a list of words that are related to praising and worshipping check out this page.

Do you ever think of the enormity of the gift we’re given in worship?

I brought this up because of something that our senior pastor Tim Thompson talked about this morning. He was discussing the importance of being plugged into worship. He mentioned a boy who said to his parents “Do I have to go to worship?” to which his father responded “No, we don’t have to; we get to”

If you actually believe in what the Bible says you have to consider how fortunate we are to be invited into God’s presence. To really frame it, I just want to parallel a few scriptures.

The first is the last several chapters of exodus. These chapters outline the specifics for the construction of the Tabernacle. If you haven’t read it recently (I’ll admit it’s not generally considered some of the more inspiring verses of scripture) check out Exodus chapter 26. Look at the insane detail that is given. In all of this God is saying “This is what you have to do to commune with me.” and not everyone got to really be with him. God dwelt in the tabernacle in one place, the “Holy of Holies” this phrasing was a common Hebrew idiom and you see it all over the Bible; Lord of Lords, King of Kings etc. Only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies. Check out chapter 16 of Leviticus (again, not the favorite among youth leaders looking for scripture that’ll easily relate to this generation) this details the process of bringing a sacrificial lamb into the most holy place.

Doesn’t all that seem difficult, tedious and unnecessary? It is …. now. But only through the blood Christ. When Jesus died the curtain in the Temple was torn away. To those of us who have been following Christ for any number of years this is an all-to-familiar scripture but since most of us weren’t raised in first century Palestine, it means little. So let me remind all of us what this means.

Take a second – really think about it.

I’ve been a Christian so long that I’m bad about taking it all for granted. God – let it sink in. God. . .  the God of the heavens and the earth who created the sun, the moon and the stars (why are they always in that order?)… The same God who created tiny seeds that can grow into a giant redwood… The same God who is beyond our understanding… The same God who took human form and died on a Cross… who had every reason to demand that we come groveling to Him – he came to us. He left the most holy place and made himself available to us.

There are so many times in scripture where the writers of the New Testament do a great job of going through the Old Testament and explaining what it means under the New Covenant created by Christ. The book of Hebrews is written for the Jewish believers, so it focuses on the Old Testament and seeks to explain why and how Jesus is the fulfillment of those scriptures.

So now read Hebrews 9 Check out the first few words:

Now the first covenant had regulations for worship and also an earthly sanctuary. Heb 9:1

Yeah. Yeah it did. Now look at Chapter 10

18And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.19Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus” Heb 10:18-19

Put it into prospective

Let me encourage you again, go back read Exodus and Leviticus. That was worship to the Hebrews! That was what they thought of when someone said “Worship” The tabernacle; that was the model worship center. That’s nothing like what comes to mind for me when someone says ‘worship.’ Now read Hebrews 9 and 10. Worship – worship as we know it, is a privilege, an honor, a gift. How blessed are we? We get to worship.

We get to worship.

Why I Pray

Do you pray? Do you know why?

A study was released in 2006 that seemingly proved that prayers for healing were ineffective. This is the largest study of its kind and to many it seemed to prove that prayer was a useless escapade and that if there is a God, he doesn’t seem to be listening. My first reaction was depression. I thought “God! – Why didn’t you show up?” and for a little while I let it affect my faith, but then I did some of my own research both in the scriptures and elsewhere and I realized that this study doesn’t change anything because that’s not why I pray.

So how do we as Christians react to this study? Well, we could point out that most of the studies before this one seemed to show the opposite to be true – such as a similar study in 1988 which showed that people who were prayed for anonymously needed fewer meds than those in the control group. Or we could point to the fact that statistically those who are involved in church are more likely to heal from diseases. But I really don’t think any of these prove anything. I’m not saying I don’t believe that the most recent study is conclusive; I think none of them are, and I don’t think any of them ever will be.

Why?

If someone asked a wise and generous millionaire for $100 randomly, he might say yes, he might say no – he could have good reasons for both. Perhaps he knows that the person in question is just going to waste that money or perhaps he knows that if he doesn’t give his money to that person, they’ll have the opportunity earn it themselves and in the process learn something. He might even say no and then offer them a job and in the long run, give them way more that $100. He also might give to people who didn’t even ask for it. If someone with whom he’s close asks him for $1 wouldn’t he be more likely to give them the money? Even more so if they were asking for that money so they could use it to help someone else in need? Obviously this analogy has its limits, but I think it changes things we you stop thinking of God as a giant slot machine and start thinking of him as a person. You can measure the statistical likelihood of a slot machine giving you a jackpot and it will not change over time. God is dynamic and while his character is unchanging, in scripture it’s clear that he’s not a slot machine.

So is it useless to Pray?

Medically prayer is shown to be effective for the person praying in that it promotes healthy blood pressure, reduces stress hormones and lowers heart rate. So regardless of what you believe, it is not useless to pray.

But do all of the effects of prayer have to be measurable by numbers? Think of your best friend, your husband, wife, boyfriend or girlfriend – do you find a conversation with that person to be ‘effective’ or ‘ineffective’? Do you only consider it a ‘success’ if you received something from them? Do you quantify all of your relationships in statistics – saying that the relationship isn’t ‘effective’ if you’re not receiving what you ask for? I hope not – most people wouldn’t stand for that. Why do we expect a relationship with a living God to be any different?

The Real Authority

A few years ago there was a distinct drop in pretty much every car’s estimated miles per gallon. Why was this? Did every car actually get less efficient? No, It was because the testing standards became more realistic – the auto industry realized that their mode of testing wasn’t really testing anything real – instead it was just measuring what the MPG would be if a professional driver on a closed course were driving their car. They had to actually study what they were trying to study. I’d suggest that in addition to the fact that prayer isn’t quantifiable, these studies are much the same as the original MPG test; the conditions didn’t actually consider what real prayer looks like – what its purpose is or even simply, how to do it. That brings us to the question, “What then should prayer look like?” For the answer to that question we have to go to where we should have started: Scripture.