Tag Archives: christianity

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An Open Letter to Blockbuster Sermon Church

(Editor’s Note: This post is a response to an actual job listing for a pastoral position. I chose for the headline a nickname for the church (from a website they referenced and/or created) rather than the actual stated church name. I did this in the hopes that, should they abandon this particular branding experiment, my post will not be the first thing people read about their church when they search for it online.)

To Brad and the good people at Blockbuster Sermon Church:

I hear you’re looking for a pastor! How’s that going?

I’m not available or anything, I was just curious. I saw your job listing for a pastor when a friend of mine posted it to Facebook, and — okay, in the interests of full disclosure, I did laugh at it. Several times.

I’m not proud of that, I’m just admitting it because it’s truth. My friends and I, we often use Facebook as a form of entertainment, and sometimes that entertainment comes at the expense of others, especially others in churches.  You might’ve done this yourself. Sadly, the combination of smartphones, social media, and churches has created an ever-flowing stream of cringeworthy content.

(If you’ve ever laughed at the “Jesus Is A Friend of Mine” video, you know what I’m talking about.)

Anyway, this section of the job listing is what caught the eye of my friend, and it’s what I want to talk to you about (yes, I know you’ve since changed some of the wording here, but I think your first draft was more honest, so I’m going with that):

Here is our concept. If a worship leader can take a song from Chris Tomlin and play it just like the album and that is 100% accepted in the church why can’t you, as a pastor, copy or do word per word of a sermon from Craig Groeschel and add 10% of your own style to it just like the band does. This concept would work great mixed with your own sermons about 20% of the time.
Meaning let’s give Blockbuster Sermons to the people. Proven messages or hit sermons then add 20% to 50% of your personal sermons based on a mutual agreement and or the congregation response. Test it out and see how it goes.

So Brad… can I call you Brad? … I salute you for being willing to experiment and try things that other churches aren’t doing. Being a West coast guy myself, I salute your sense of adventure and what I think could a willingness to move in whatever direction the Spirit of God is leading.

Nevertheless, I need to object.

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Lifting Up Jesus Isn’t Always What You Think It Is

Sometimes all it takes to properly contextualize a verse of Scripture is to read the next one.

This is John 12:32 (NIV):

 

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

I grew up hearing preachers and worship leaders quote John 12:32, and the application was, “we need to lift Jesus up on our praises! Honor him with your songs and your prayers, and God will use that to draw others around you into relationship.”

Now, let me be clear. I don’t think that’s wrong in the sense that it’s untrue… I believe we SHOULD lift Jesus up on our praises, and I believe God *does* sometimes use our public displays of affection as ways to engage others into relationship with him.

It’s a tricky thing, though, because, while Jesus did encourage people to pray and give privately to avoid showiness, he also publicly blessed the woman who showered him with expensive perfume. There’s a tension to be managed… it’s less of an either/or than a both/and situation.

Cause a lot of times, outward displays of piety come off as phony and calculated, like we’re doing it more to impress others with how holy we are. Or worse, trying to impress God! To Jesus, these displays are ridiculous and sad, akin to Ted Cruz trying to court Indiana voters by referring to the “basketball ring.”

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What Traffic Cops Can Teach Us About NFL Protests

So yesterday, on the way to church, I received a citation for speeding.

It happened while I was listening to a song from my middle school years, in a blast of nostalgia. The weather was nice, I was grooving along, and before I knew it, red and blues were flashing behind me. 75 in a 55, with my wife and two nephews in the car. My interaction with the officer was civil, if not pleasant. I didn’t take it personally. I didn’t think he pulled me over because I was black and driving a nice car (though the thought did cross my mind). Not my finest hour, but I’ll take the penalties and try to do better.

What’s interesting is that at church, our guest preacher also had a story about being pulled over by police. Except it wasn’t for speeding, but for continually driving in the left lane, a practice that is illegal in the state of Washington, several other states, and in my opinion, should be illegal everywhere.

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Get Out: Why Evangelicals Should See It

Get Out is a taut horror thriller from Jordan Peele, famous as half of Comedy Central’s sketch comedy duo Key & Peele. In Get Out, Peele makes his debut behind the camera, directing fresh-faced Daniel Kaluuya (Black Mirror, Sicario) and Allison Williams (The Mindy Project) with his original script. But rather than comparing it to horror classics, I found it instructive to compare Get Out to another story with a relationship at its center – 2015’s film adaption of the hit musical The Last Five Years, starring Anna Kendrick and Jeremy Jordan. They’re both masterful in the way they use characters to hone a sense of perspective.  And Lord knows, when it comes to racial issues, evangelicals could use a healthy dose of the black perspective.

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What Traffic Can Teach Christians About Racism

So one of the problems I see in our political discourse, is that we often use the same words but mean different things.

And nowhere is that problem more vexing than in our discussions about race. It’s been a problem for a long time, of course, but ever since the election of Donald Trump, there have been a fresh round of arguments springing up on cable-news pundit panels, message boards and social media feeds. And the typical argument goes something like this:

 

Progressive: [Insert recent news story] is a clear example of racism! That [incident, action, statement or idea] is racist!

Conservative: No, it isn’t! Why do you make everything about race? That had nothing to do with race. [Insert person at the center of story] is not a racist!

Progressive: You don’t know what you’re talking about! Your denial of racism is racist!

Conservative: You don’t know what you’re talking about! Your accusation of racism makes you the real racist!

Rinse and repeat.

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Philemon: The Identity Conundrum

Editor’s Note: This is the written draft of a sermon that I delivered at Kaleo Covenant Church. The alternate title I considered using was: “‘Who'” & ‘What’: When To Use Which, How & Why.” To set the mood, I walked out to one of my favorite songs, which I reference later in my introduction. Hope you enjoy it.

 

 

It’s September, a time for a new start. It’s back to school time, yes, but it’s also a time when our home lives and routines tend to engage again. Summer travel season is usually over by September. Football is on TV, it’s the start of a new financial quarter… et cetera.

September is my favorite time of year, in part because my birthday is in September, but also because I think it’s a time for optimism. I have a lot of great September memories of starting school, starting a new job, moving to a new place… I have such a history of hope that comes alive in September. Also, “September” by Earth Wind & Fire… that will always be my jam.

Part of the hope that I tend to carry when starting a new season is that it represents a new start. Especially if you’re starting up at a new school or a new job, you’re getting a chance to make a first impression all over again, which means that you’re no longer shackled to the baggage that you carried before. If, in your previous life, you were known as a jerk, or a screw-up, or a loner, or bossy, or any other persona that you would rather leave behind, September is a time when you can start anew, and become the person YOU want to be, instead of the person that others have known you to be.

Today we’re going to be looking at a Scripture passage that deals with someone who has the opportunity to create a fresh start, and to examine questions about his identity. So in a little bit, I’m going to ask you to pull out your Bibles and read along with me.
But first… it’s important to define some terms that are important when discussing identity.
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Why Christians Should Care About the Demise of Gawker

 

If you follow the inner workings of internet journalism, you’ve probably heard about the recent shuttering of Gawker.com, the centerpiece website of the Gawker Media empire that includes several other popular websites (specifically: Jezebel, Deadspin, Gizmodo, Kotaku, Lifehacker, and Jalopnik). Those other websites will be consolidated into the Fusion Media Group, owned by Spanish-language conglomerate Univision Communication, Inc., but Gawker.com itself, as of early this week, ceased operations.

Univision chose to shut down Gawker after a successful ownership bid in a bankruptcy auction, which was the result of Gawker being sued by former wrestler Hulk Hogan for invasion of privacy after the website posted a video of him having sex without his consent.  Industry observers claim the lawsuit was bankrolled by tech mogul and libertarian activist Peter Thiel, who made it his mission to destroy Gawker after they outed him as gay in 2007.

Because of the salacious nature of the lawsuit, most of the reactions from Christians in my social media have been muted, if any reaction at all – usually some combination of “meh” and “good riddance.”

But I think as Christians, we ought to be concerned about the implications of this series of events.

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Going Rogue Threatens God’s Mission for Justice

Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is out in theaters, and it dutifully fills all the boxes in the spy thriller checklist. Lifelike masks? Death-defying stunts? Car chases? Gunplay and physical combat? Glamorous locales? Check, check, checkity-pop-zoom-bam-BOOM.

One thing that stuck with me was the title; an interesting development, because action movie titles are often pretty irrelevant. They’re designed to sound intriguing-and-dangerous-but-vague, and too often come across instead as techno-gibberish. (Does anyone remember what “Ghost Protocol” referred to in the fourth M:I installment? Don’t look it up on Wikipedia, that’s cheating.)

On the contrary, a whole nation going rogue? That’s much easier to understand. The phrase picked up steam in the broader consciousness after Sarah Palin entitled her 2009 political memoir Going Rogue, reclaiming a definition of a rogue not simply as “someone who lacks judgment or principle,” but “someone who deviates from the expected norm of behavior.”

(Say what you want about Sarah Palin, but she’s amazing at deviating from expected norms.)

In Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the rogues in question take the form of a nefarious collective of foreign agents called The Syndicate, all united in the pursuit of a terrorist agenda.

So with the Impossible Missions Force (IMF) shut down by Congress, super spy Ethan Hunt (Cruise) must rely on his friends, comic relief Simon Pegg as Benji, the steely-eyed Jeremy Renner as chief analyst Brant, Ving Rhames’ muscly perma-smirk as the homie Luther, and Rebecca Ferguson as mysterious femme fatale Ilsa Faust – all working together to defeat The Syndicate, and to a lesser extent, justify the IMF’s existence.mission impossible cast profiles

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Stop Columbusing. Lecrae Didn’t Invent Christian Rap.

Okay, so this piece may sound like I’m trying to criticize Lecrae, so before I go any further, let me offer a few disclaimers.

 

I like Lecrae.

 

I really, really like Lecrae.

 

As an artist, as a person — as far as I can tell — he seems to be the real deal.

 

I have defended him in my writing plenty of times, most recently for collaborating with — *** GASP *** — secular artists, mostly because the sacred vs. secular dichotomy is generally unhelpful and really no longer exists, anyway.

But generally, I like his music, and I think he’s taking a great approach to his music career in general, which, by all accounts is growing to incredible heights. It is not at all an exaggeration to say that Lecrae appears to be enjoying a level of critical acclaim and professional exposure that most Christian rappers can only dream about. He’s appearing in a feature film, his new album Anomaly just shot to the top of the Billboard charts, and just this very evening (it’s probably airing as I type this), Lecrae is making an appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon, performing his new single “All I Need Is You” with The Roots.

This is all a Really Big Deal.

However, there is a shadow side to all of this attention.

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Black Jesus Modest Proposal: Watch It At Church

(Editor’s Note: If you don’t know the history behind the term “modest proposal,” you won’t understand unless you read the whole thing.)

 

Well, last night happened and, as far as I can tell, the four horsemen of the apocalypse have yet to appear.

Which world-shattering event am I referring to? A new development in the Israel-Palestine conflict? A new executive order signed by President Obama? Another Mark Driscoll scandal? No, no… I’m talking about something important. 

Last night was the premiere of the new Aaron McGruder comedy, “Black Jesus.” For the uninitiated, here’s a trailer: