I’m Going Back to the Czech Republic!

church2A request.

It was Saturday afternoon, so there was nobody else around the small, square, gray Baptist church – so incongruous from the soaring double-spired cathedral down the street – in Vysoke Myto, Czech Republic. Its pastor, my friend Zdenek, and I had just finished loading our team’s luggage into the church (a relief after three days of travel). It was 2013; we were preparing for an English camp the upcoming week.

In the quiet afternoon heat, Zdenek locked up the church, then paused and reached out with his foot to brush away cobwebs from the corners of the front steps.

It was all too symbolic.

The Czech Republic is what the United States could become in a few decades on its present course – spiritually dead. Don’t let the cathedrals fool you; despite a spiritual heritage arguably stronger than America’s, the Czechs now trust mostly to atheism. Less than 1% of its population profess Jesus Christ. Unlike impoverished, spiritually attuned nations in Asia or Africa, the Czech Republic is amongst the toughest spiritual soil on earth – rational, material, and self-determined.

I am part of a mission team headed to this country, beloved by God, in July of this year. If you have somehow enjoyed the thoughts I’ve shared on the blog, I would like to respectfully ask for your support. The workers are few.
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Love the Inconveniencers

lineI’m notorious at my church for car troubles.

In two separate cases over the years, I’ve experienced car troubles that forced me to drive markedly slower than the speed limit. One time, I had a engine trouble to where it would stay reasonably cool as long as I stayed under about 55 MPH. The other instance was a weird transmission problem – if I slowed down from fourth gear, there would be a noticeable bump, and then my car would refuse to get back up into fourth gear. Meaning I could not travel over about 55 MPH for fear of over-rpm’ing the engine. (I’m not a car person.)

No doubt this caused consternation for drivers behind me, especially on Montana’s many one-lane highways. Keep in mind that this is the state of “Reasonable and Prudent” fame. I can guess what was going through their minds as they stared endlessly at my tailpipe.

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Do Even Harder Things

shovelThere’s a book out there, Do Hard Things, by Alex and Brett Harris. I’ve never read it, though having heard it cited by a number of teenagers hopelessly on fire, I’m intrigued. It seems to have inspired Christian youth to break out of comfort zones, live sacrificially and selflessly.

But I haven’t read it. So perhaps it is redundantly that I ask –

Are we really doing hard things?

A young man from our youth group preached a sermon from Acts 10 last night. I hope he will not think of me as simply regurgitating what he so finely said (is that illegal?), for something fell together for me in my own words, and I’ve got to get it out.

It was not ten chapters into our current era – the era of salvation through Christ, of his church on earth – that the gospel went from being “just for Jews” (in the Jews’ mind) to open for all nations. You’d think this turn of events would have been obvious from “and Judea and Samaria and to all the ends of the earth” (1:8), but whatever. To get his message across, God orchestrated an encounter between Peter and a Gentile – a centurion of the hated Italian Regiment, natch – and brought the Spirit upon him in full view of Jewish believers. After that, there could be no doubt that the gospel was for all people, Jew and Gentile alike, who would hear the Word and respond.

What’s crazy is that God had to send Peter three visions to get him into position.

Would Peter have gone with Cornelius’ messengers without the visions immediately beforehand?

Somehow I doubt it. It looks safe to say that Peter would rather take the Gospel to his own countrymen than to the Gentiles.

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We Are The Consumer Culture Problem

I’m on vacation until Monday, so this is an auto-post. But please feel free to leave your usual comments and accusations of heresy, and I’ll be back on Monday to answer, with a post following on Tuesday. Keep it real.

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Rant time.

I’m not the sort to promise hell upon people for enjoying simple entertainment. (In fact, I’m not the sort to promise hell for anything short of not believing in Jesus, because that’s, y’know, un-Biblical.)

But something has been brewing in my mind for a while, sending a mighty WALLUMP to the top of my brain every time somebody complains about the bombardment of cheap shallowness we call American consumer culture.

Which I certainly understand.It’s true that our culture seems to have about as much depth as a piece of paper these days. Everything the networks deem noteworthy for us is carefully packaged and marinated in bias, while a great deal more goes unseen. Meanwhile, Beyonce and her bizarre religion-mocking getup are blasted at us, television and movies can’t decide whether to glorify or condemn evil, and our holy holidays are commercialized beyond recognition.

But one factor seems to be escaping us.

It’s our fault.

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Why Evil for Evil Doesn’t Work

cubesIt’s cold.

As I write this on January 4th, the temperature is 8 degrees below zero. The air is painful to breathe. I’m keenly aware of all my nose hairs. Pipes are freezing, and every traffic light in town has somehow been reprogrammed to turn yellow at the exact moment where I must either slam on the gas and risk a ticket or slam on the brakes and risk destruction. I blame the Russians.

Now, you would not walk into your house in these times and say “Man, it’s sub-Arctic in here, let’s open the door.” That would fix nothing. In fact, it would worsen the problem; sub-Arctic would become Mars. Instead, you turn on the heat. It just makes sense.

Don’t worry, I’m going somewhere with this.

Someone at work triggers you in some way. They yell at you, or circulate an unfair or inaccurate comment about you behind your back. Our first instinct in these situations? Hit back somehow. Defend our honor. Eye for an eye. Maybe we yell back; maybe we spread a rumor about the other person, or just bring up a genuine flaw in them to “balance things out”, even if it has nothing to do with the matter at hand. At the very least, we feel like we haven’t just rolled over and taken it, right? That would look weak.

Except…has it ever worked? Really? Does the other person ever just roll over themselves and go “Oh, yeah, I was wrong” ?

Maybe sometimes, depending on how it’s handled. But typically, all that “evil for evil” does is leave the two parties hating each other, and everyone else gets to deal with it. Workplaces, churches, and families across the world are infected with this stuff. Nobody’s ever proven right; nobody’s vindicated; instead, resentment festers, and the whole environment is left feeling awkward, fragile, and, well…

…cold.

Enter Jesus, wielding advice.

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The Fresh Start No Calendar Can Bring (and Why You Need It)

earthA funny thing, this January 1.

I can’t help but imagine the sun giving us a weird look right now. “Okay, Earth, so now you’re one degree further over and…oh, it’s a celebration for you this time? Umm…ok. Have fun, I guess.”

This is the day that most of humanity seems to connect with a fresh start. We’ve got a new paper book hanging on the wall with a big “2017” scrawled on it, so now we get to dump the last 365 days of failure and launch a new life. Or something.

A fresh start is a nice thought. Whether it’s from failure or from simply not being someone you yourself can like, the concepts of redemption and a clean slate permeate literature, television, and film. “Lost” was a great example (darn that show. YOU NEVER TOLD US WHAT HAPPENED TO WALT!!!! Ahem…). The idea of getting to become a better person calls to all of us. Even in the darker shows (think “House of Cards”, not that I could bear to watch it for long), we root for the antihero to experience that gradual turn towards the light. The theme is prevalent – almost universal.

Perhaps there’s a reason redemption sells.

The truth is, it’s speaking to a primal, unspoken truth running through the fabric of mankind. A fresh start is not a novelty. It’s not a fallback strategy, not a last-ditch measure, not “for those other people”. It is a necessity. For everyone.

Even for you, who think you have lived a good life.

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How to Let Go of Our Christian Heroes

walkingThis week, Jen Hatmaker stepped in it.

The popular progressive Christian author and speaker, in an interview with the Religion News Service, stated she believed that “gay relationships are holy”. Her emotion-dripping justification included this:

…my views here are tender. This is a very nuanced conversation, and it’s hard to nail down in one sitting. I’ve seen too much pain and rejection at the intersection of the gay community and the church.

I’ll offer my detailed thoughts on these thoughts at the end of this piece*, because if I share that first, it’ll distract people. First I want to talk about something else: our response.

For as soon as I read Jen’s words, a swell of something hit my chest, and I wasn’t sure whether it was revulsion at lazy doctrine, or pity for Jen.

The moment Jen made her claim, you knew what was coming. She got hit with a tsunami of harsh, sharp-edged online rebuke from every denomination and corner of the earthly church, not to mention those chiming in from the pews via Facebook comments. Smug responses, in some cases, like this from the Christian satire site Babylon Bee. Piling on. In writing, without the nuance of face and voice, I can tell you that this wave of response has already come across to some people as detached, self-satisfied, angry, and alarmist – everything that Christian millennials like Hatmakers’ fans already tend to dislike about the evangelical church. It’s a downside to the internet. It’s also one reason my generation struggles so much to respect doctrine.

If you’re ice-cold objective about all this, you probably know that the harshness of the church’s response doesn’t excuse faulty doctrine. We should be indignant when the name of our God is tarnished, and alarmed when his people are deceived. This stuff matters.

But there’s something about my generation’s struggle that I want to validate – our hesitation to let go of our earthly heroes.

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