Monthly Archives: April 2011

The Point

Christians, pray for tomorrow morning.

There are two days a year that non-churchgoers go to church. Tomorrow is one, and for good reason.

Easter Sunday is a celebration of the only hope for humanity. Of the reason that we can have joy. Of the fact that, in the end, it will all be okay.

We fast for the 40 days of Lent because Easter is that big a deal. We need that much time to adequately prepare. Tomorrow is a day worth celebrating, perhaps more than any other.

Tomorrow is a great chance for people to meet Jesus.

Pray that they will.

The Cost of Mercy

The name Good Friday bothered me for a while after I learned what it was all about. It offended my sensibilities to call such a horrendous day “good.”

Today, Christians commemorate the death of Jesus on the cross. To be blunt, we remember the day humanity murdered God. And not in a swift, sanitary, humane way, either. Crucifixion is absolutely horrific. It’s a nightmarish way to kill someone. And we inflicted it on the only truly good man ever to live.

For a long time, I was preoccupied by our guilt. I focused on our sins, our actions that sent Jesus to the cross.

Then, I saw something else.

Jesus didn’t want to go to the cross. Not at all. He prayed not to go. But He was ready to do it if it were the only way. Soon after that prayer, armed men came to arrest Him. Peter, one of His closest followers, tried to take of the guys’ heads off with his sword.

Jesus stopped him and healed the man Peter had attacked.

Think about that. He had just begged His Father to let Him skip the cross. One of His followers then attacked His captors. A lesser man would have run. But Jesus apparently had His answer.

He went willingly.

Even when the men who had Him arrested taunted Him, challenging Him to get off the cross and prove that He was the Messiah, He stayed. Mind you, He could have blasted the cross to splinters with his mind and called down lightning on all the unbelievers. He didn’t.

That’s the “good” of Good Friday: that Jesus chose the cross for us.

We live in a culture that avoids discomfort at all costs. We see boredom, inconvenience, and pain as great evils. I don’t want that perspective.

For the past several years, I’ve fasted from the evening of Good Friday until Easter Sunday. This year, I’ll do the same, but I’ll be thinking about it differently. Before, I would think about the weight of our sin every time my stomach growled.

This year, it will be less for guilt and more for worship.

This year, the discomfort will be a reminder to say “thank you” to the God who paid the cost of mercy.

The Mandate

When you think of Christians, what’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Got your answer?

Here are some common responses:

  • Those people that hate gays (if we do, we shouldn’t)
  • Hypocrites (fair enough, as my friend Broken Hypocrite will tell you)
  • People who go to church on Sunday (so close)
  • People who believe in Jesus (better)

I ask because it’s Maundy Thursday. Today, Christians commemorate the Last Supper, where Jesus gave His followers communion for the first time. Please note: communion is important to Christians. But the day isn’t called Communion Thursday.

“Maundy” comes from the Latin for “mandate.” Today is named for a command Jesus gave His followers. A command that should define what Christianity looks like to the world.

“A new command I give you,” He said. “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.”

There were times in history when Christians were known for their heart-breaking, self-sacrificial love. In ancient Rome, Christians shamed the pagans by caring for not only their own, but the pagans who had been infected with plague, when no one else would. They died to show Christ’s love.

Jesus told us how people would recognize us as His, and it’s not our church attendance. It’s not spouting perfect theology. It’s not waving a protest sign. It’s not even a clever Christian t-shirt.

It’s love.

That’s not an opinion. It’s not a suggestion. It’s not one more cool idea to file away and forget. It’s a mandate. It’s a command.

This needs to be what we’re about, first and foremost. We need to love people unflinchingly. We need to speak the truth firmly and kindly. We need to sacrifice for others readily.

Maybe then we’ll see the day when people think of Christians as “those people that just love you, no matter what.”

Christians, it’s time. It’s past time.

Forget the Bunny

It’s Easter this Sunday. You know what that means: church and chocolate. Probably brunch with the family. Gotta find a clean shirt. Gotta get up early for a weekend.

When I was growing up, Easter seemed like a seriously random holiday. I could get on board with Halloween and Christmas, but I didn’t really get Easter. I was glad for the Cadbury Cream Eggs – oh, so glad! – and the chance to see my cousins, but I couldn’t tell you the point of it.

When I became a Christian, Easter was all new. And it was the best thing ever. It wasn’t just another holiday anymore.

It was a celebration of my reason to live.

The story of Easter is that God came to Earth and sacrificed His life to restore the relationship we broke with Him. Then, He beat up death and came back.

Forget the bunny. If all that is true, it changes everything.

If Jesus was willing to forgive us, even as we killed Him, we don’t have to worry about being loved: we are. If Jesus really is God and really is the one true authority, we don’t have to worry about purpose: it’s to follow Him. If Jesus actually paid for our sins and rose from the dead, we don’t have to worry about eternity: He’s taken care of it.

That’s worth celebrating.

Several people at Crossroads will be celebrating Easter as Christians for the first time. I’m excited for them. It’s a fantastic experience.

If you want, join us this Sunday and see what it’s all about. We’d be glad to have you there.

Dodging the Truth

Pontius Pilate was a good politician, but a bad philosopher. At least, that’s what I get from his interaction with Jesus.

A crowd of Jews, including some of their religious authorities, shoved a bruised man at him – also a Jew – and demanded the man’s death. He knew something was up when he asked what Jesus had done, and they said, “If he weren’t a criminal, we wouldn’t have brought him to you.”

Given the animosity between the Jews and the Romans? Probably not true in the first place.

Confounded, Pilate questioned Jesus. He couldn’t figure out what the problem was. Jesus hadn’t done anything, but the religious leaders wanted Him dead. The truth was, killing Him would be wrong.

But Pilate was the governor of the region. It was his responsibility to maintain order amidst a people with a history of rebellion. And Jesus was causing a ruckus.

He was torn between what was safe and what was true.

But there was an even deeper truth he didn’t know. He was at a turning point in history. The Author of truth stood before him, on trial. The Source of reality was looking him in the eye. Jesus even gave him a hint. “Everyone on the side of truth,” He said, “listens to me.”

“What is truth?” Pilate asked… and went back outside.

If only he hadn’t asked rhetorically. If only he had stuck around for the answer. He said the right words, but that was all. He was nearer the truth than he’d ever been, and perhaps he would never know it.

We do this all the time.

We argue for the sake of argument. We dodge uncomfortable ideas we can’t refute. We ask high-minded questions without ever waiting for the answer.

All that’s fine. Unless you really are looking for the truth.

If you want to find truth, you have to give up being right all the time. It takes humility. It requires actual listening and consideration. It means letting go of assumptions and opinions as necessary.

It means not taking the easy way out.

The Lynch Mob on Palm Sunday

Yesterday, the church commemorated one of the oddest, most ironic moments in history.

Around 2,000 years ago, Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem during one of the major Jewish festivals. He’d been teaching for three years, gathering followers and gaining momentum. Some thought He was the Messiah, the conqueror God promised them in ages past.

As He entered the city, the crowds flipped out. They grabbed palm branches and their own cloaks and threw then on the road out of respect. They chanted, “save us!” They hailed Him as their savior.

He accepted their praise, knowing they would soon turn on Him. Through tears, He said, “If only you knew what would bring you peace.”

Somewhere in the following five days, public opinion shifted. The man whom they thought would wage war against their oppressors instead challenged their views. He defied expectation by portraying Himself not as a political authority, but a spiritual one above all others. He called them out for their sins and thereby offended a lot of people.

By Friday, the crowd was chanting for His blood.

Sadly, they had it right the first time. Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah they were waiting for.  And though He would prove it, they would kill Him first.

Whenever I look at the story of Palm Sunday, I’m relieved I was born into such an enlightened time. I mean, people today aren’t fickle like that. We don’t just turn on people when they say something we don’t like. No, we weigh the evidence and make sober, reasonable decisions, untainted by emotion.

Especially on the Internet.

Yeah, I think the main difference between us and the crowd back then is that we don’t actually kill people as often.

The contrast between Palm Sunday and Good Friday reminds me to slow down and choose my words carefully. It reminds me to examine what I really believe. It reminds me to breathe deep in moments of intense emotion, before I say or do something dumb.

And it reminds me that even though people make really bad mistakes, God forgives us.

First Samuel, Scene 14, Shots 11-14

I read this:

11 So both of them showed themselves to the Philistine outpost. “Look!” said the Philistines. “The Hebrews are crawling out of the holes they were hiding in.” 12The men of the outpost shouted to Jonathan and his armor-bearer, “Come up to us and we’ll teach you a lesson.”

So Jonathan said to his armor-bearer, “Climb up after me; the LORD has given them into the hand of Israel.”

13 Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armor-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armor-bearer followed and killed behind him. 14 In that first attack Jonathan and his armor-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre.

-1 Samuel 14:11-14

And I see this:

SCENE: EXTERIOR. CLIFFSIDE AT MIKMASH

JONATHAN and his ARMOR BEARER step from behind the boulder, squaring off with the cluster of PHILISTINE GUARDS at the top of the hill. One of the GUARDS spots them. He lazily draws his sword, and the others do the same.

GUARD 1
Well, well. Looks like the Hebrews are crawling out of their holes.

The GUARDS laugh. JONATHAN stares them down, sword in hand. His ARMOR BEARER, unarmed, glances at his master, waiting for orders.

GUARD 2
You wanna learn how to fight? Huh? Come up here and I'll show you!

A fierce, predatory smile works its way across JONATHAN's face.

JONATHAN
That's the sign. They're ours.

JONATHAN dashes up the steep hill, scrambling up the slope, flinging dirt and stones behind him in his haste. The ARMOR BEARER, breathing heavily, is close behind.

GUARD 2 waits for his enemy, idly stretching his swordarm. The GUARDS laugh at the HEBREWS running uphill to their deaths. As JONATHAN approaches striking distance, GUARD 2 rears back for a killing stroke. He swings.

SFX: "Existence" by August Burns Red

JONATHAN, cresting the cliff in a three-point stance, lunges forward, parrying the blow with such force that GUARD 2's sword flies out of his grasp. GUARD 2 barely has time to look stunned before JONATHAN cuts him down with a backhand stroke of his sword.

GUARD 1, enraged, charges at JONATHAN, sword raised high for an overhand chop. JONATHAN steps into the attack, grabbing the PHILISTINE's wrist and wrenches it down, trapping GUARD 1's arm his under his own. He swings GUARD 1 toward the cliff edge and kicks him in the chest. With the flourish of a stage magician, JONATHAN  snatches GUARD 1's sword from his hand as the PHILISTINE tumbles down the cliff.

JONATHAN'S ARMOR BEARER reaches the top of the cliff and finally stands up straight. JONATHAN -- still grinning with bloodthirsty zeal -- turns back to the rest of the GUARDS and begins marching toward them, tossing the sword high to his left. His ARMOR BEARER matches his pace, catching the sword with one hand.

The PHILISTINES charge.

Roaring for blood, JONATHAN surges into their midst. He whirls and cuts, moving more like a dancer than a fighter. He bats their attacks aside without looking at them. As soon as one of them drops, his ARMOR BEARER leaps forward to finish them off. The PHILISTINE GUARDS outnumber them ten to one, but they don't stand a chance.

The Bible is fun to read when you get into it.

Do you see other scenes from the Bible cinematically? Who would you cast for this scene?

Mur Keeps It Real

A couple months ago, I replied to a tweet from Mur Lafferty (@mightymur). I went on with my day. A few seconds later, my phone buzzed. I looked. She had replied.

I think I giggled out loud with joy. It was a fanboy moment.

My friend Nick recommended I Should be Writing to me a few years ago. The name struck me; I’d said the phrase a thousand times. I gave a listen, and never turned back.

Mur is definitely a gifted writer. Her story concepts, in particular, are awesome. Playing for Keeps follows a group of friends with truly mediocre superpowers. Marco and the Red Granny features the most creative use of synesthesia I’ve read since Alfred Bester’s The Stars My Destination. But all this I learned later.

What kept me listening to her podcast is the fact that Mur is real. She talks – frankly, but professionally – about the frustrations of dealing with the publishing industry. She holds herself accountable to her listeners, admitting when she doesn’t follow her own advice. She admits when she’s a noob. Somehow, she manages to write, take care of her family, and then do several podcasts and blogs in which she discusses how to juggle writing, family, and other projects.

And she often repeats that phrase I need to hear again and again: you’re allowed to suck. She reminds me that I don’t need to nail it the first time every time. She reminds me that they key isn’t to only write good stuff: it’s to write, and keep writing.

Preachers could learn from her humility and willingness to get personal. Perfectionists like myself could learn some grace. And we could all learn perseverance from her.

I appreciate what you do, Mur. Thanks for the encouragement and inspiration.

Question the Clown

In a few weeks, I’ll start teaching an adult Sunday School class at my church. It’ll be a series on apologetics, the defense of the Christian faith. I’ll be presenting the case for belief in Jesus in philosophical, historical, scientific, and existential terms.

In short, I wanna demonstrate the logic of Christianity. It’s one of my very favorite things to do.

Aside: Sorry to anyone who has taken the brunt of one of my rants.

I could use your help! What questions do you guys have? Do you wonder why Christians keep quoting the Bible? Or what separates Jesus from other religious teachers? Christians, are there Bible passages that confuse you? Have you been stumped by questions about your faith?

Exploring this stuff is great. Seek answers; Christianity holds up under scrutiny.

So, leave your questions in the comments or e-mail them to me! You may hear the answer at Crossroads in the Sunday School hour.

How (Not) to Roleplay a Christian Character, Part II

Here are a few ideas for bringing Christianity into gaming.

Play a Christian character when the setting allows. If you’re in setting with the spiritual left undefined, especially if it’s Earth, you’re in pretty good shape. Keep my caveats from yesterday in mind, play the character with some faith and conviction, and it could be great. Be sure to decide in advance: how will my character react to the supernatural? And how will they act in a combat-heavy game?

Play a character with Christian character. While He walked on Earth, Jesus showed us what courage, love, humility, wisdom, and grace really look like. Your character can follow His example, no matter the setting. Play someone self-sacrificial, forgiving, and dedicated to truth.

Play a character that reflects truth. Give your character a chronic temptation. Take a moment to consider their moral choices. Or perhaps just play them in a believable, true-to-life way. Let your character illustrate humanity the way you know us to be.

Play to bless your fellow players. Sometimes, the game isn’t even about the characters. I love to get immersed in a game, but it’s often more important for me to care for my fellow players. Maybe that means stepping back and letting them take the spotlight. Maybe it means making in-game choices that are more enjoyable for the party than for you personally. Shoot, maybe you volunteer to get drinks and snacks for everyone when you get a chance. Be a servant. Make it about someone else.

Those are some of my thoughts. What about you? How do your real-life beliefs affect your characters?