Friday, December 29, 2006

WESTWINDS: relational giving guide

as part of a generosity experiment by westwinds community church, i've created this entry so people can post their stories of "relational.

god has been teaching our church a lot about generosity lately, and we've all been very challenged by the strong biblical teaching in our "capital experience" series [see westwinds podcast on itunes for download info]. in fact, much of what we've always taken for granted has been called into question - we no longer advocate tithing, but have begun instead to look at everything we own as available for god's purposes.

in many ways, we've begun asking "what if?" questions.

for example,

What difference would it make if ...

we became a church community with counter-cultural reflexes that resisted the idol of consumerism?

we studied such biblical principles as jubilee and koinonia and asked how these might be worked out creatively and progressively in the local context?

we differentiated clearly between (a) money given by church members to support our staff, premises and programmes and (b) money given for people and causes beyond the local church?

we were sufficiently secure in our friendships and open-hearted in our attitudes to begin to address the inequalities in our own church?

we were to sell our surplus possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, so that we could say truthfully that there are 'no needy persons among us'?

we encouraged small groups in the church to share their resources in order to release funds for ministry and mission?

we became known as a community that took financial issues seriously and was able to offer more than just sympathy (or condemnation) to those in debt?

poor people were to realise that the gospel is good news and to recognise that our church incarnates this good news?

we were to find that this kind of sharing was exciting, liberating and joyful?

we invite you to ask these same questions with us; and, if you'd like to leave a story of your own, simply hit the "comment" button on the bottom and tell your story in the space provided.

best of luck on your experiment,

david mcdonald

Thursday, September 28, 2006

spiritual competencies, week three: conflict

We’re going to look at conflict. We’re not going to look just at the appropriate way to resolve conflict. We’re actually going to talk specifically about how to handle yourself in the midst of a conflict. I think the Bible does a spectacular job of giving us an orientation towards what it means to live lives that are pleasing to God, that are kind, generous, self-emptying, and are lived in orientation in service towards other people. It also gives us very strict guidelines about how discipline issues within a Christian community ought to be handled.

One of the most famous passages of scripture when we talk about conflict is Matthew, Chapter 18 and we’re going to read from that in a moment. I want to read from that passage simply as a means of introduction, because this passage, while it’s not the only passage that talks about conflict resolution (There are probably about a dozen others, primarily dealt with in Paul’s letters.), it sets up how to appropriately handle conflict like how to go through the steps of reconciliation. It leads us also to wonder how we’re going to conduct ourselves—what we’re going to say, what we’re going to think, what we’re going to do, how we’re going to proceed—in the midst of a fight.

That’s the natural inclination; you start thinking, “There’s a reason that conflict resolution and conflict management is touched on in Scripture and that’s because conflict really is inevitable.” No matter what arena of your life you find yourself in you’re going to have conflict at some point, whether it’s in your marriage or your work or your friendly Christian soccer league. You’re going to find somebody to get irritated with in every part of your life or vice versa.

I wish that were different; I wish conflict was less and less frequent in the world, but if you have that new fangled device called a television, then you understand that the obverse is actually far more true. Conflict abounds in our world, not only at a local level, but, of course, in a geo-political level. Today we’re going to talk about how to handle yourself while you’re in the midst of heated conflict.

Let’s start with Matthew, Chapter 18. We’re going to read from Verses 15-17 in The Message translation of the Bible. This, again, talks about how to approach someone who has offended you.

If a fellow believer hurts, you, go and tell him—work it out between

the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. If he won’t listen,

take one or two others along so that the presence of witnesses will

keep things honest, and try again. If he still won’t listen, tell the church.

If he won’t listen to the church, you’ll have to start over from scratch,

confront him with the need for repentance, and offer again God’s

forgiving love.

I want to make a note here. In the NIV translation and many of the other translations of the Bible, that last piece of instruction reads quite a bit differently. In the NIV it says,

If he won’t listen to the whole church, then treat him as you would a

pagan or a tax collector.

I find it interesting that here in The Message translation he essentially tells us from other portions of the Bible how we ought to treat pagans and tax collectors.

Treat them with the need for repentance, start over from scratch and

offer again God’s forgiving love.

What we see here in this piece of the Bible is the beginning for our understanding of conflict in and of itself. Conflict needs to be resolved; you can’t just walk away from it. There’s something that will continue to eat away at you if you leave something unfinished. In the midst of your resolving conflict, your primary focus should be on resolving the conflict, not just getting it off your chest, but actually it coming to some further point of mutual reconciliation. You feel like, yes, you’ve spoken honestly and you’ve been able to hear from each other first. You’ve been able to admit you’re wrong and find common ground, but the point of good conflict is that it gets to be resolved.

Tell me, without raising your hand, just tell me by virtue of the blank stares I’m about to see how many of our conflicts typically get resolved. Typically, when you get into a fight with your boss, do you typically come to a mutual advantageous conclusion? Typically, when you get into an argument with your spouse, do you typically come out in a win-win situation or do you both go away a little bit pouty, kind of grumpy, to separate televisions in different rooms? Typically, we don’t resolve conflict fully.

I think we’ve got to talk about how to get from A to B from conflict to resolution without burying hurts more deeply and without acting in such a way it permanently deteriorates the basis for our relationship. More often than not, it’s not simply the issue over which we’re conflicting—who did the dishes, who got to spend what money, who’s right and who’s wrong. It’s not typically those things that sever or break relationships, but it’s the way we talk about those things that sever or break relationships. It’s the way we conflict over those things that sever or break relationships. It’s the way we handle ourselves in the midst of those conversations that cause us to break fellowship with friends and to end up ultimately a little bit worse off.

You’ve got some scriptures in your copy of the Draft. I wanted you to have those as reminders of how we continuously should be thinking about our lives as we endeavor to follow Jesus.

Let’s talk a little bit about conflict. My best friend’s dad was our premarital counselor when Carmel and I got married. He talked only about three things over the course of about a dozen sessions. He talked about sex for ten of them and then he talked about how to fight clean for the other two. It was really an important concept for us, a really healthy understanding was that there are ways in the midst of conflict to fight either clean or dirty.

Probably before we began the premarital counseling, I always just thought of conflict as an argument. You make mad; I yell, I storm, I get sarcastic, I thunder around, I am the Alpha male, the Patriarch, the priest of the home—all those funny, silly, little things men think. Then the conflict goes away because Carmel would hate me and go to a different room. That’s probably how I had the latent concept of conflict in my mind.

As you begin to explore your emotional self, your own stages of indifference or anger, you realize very, very quickly there is accountability in the midst of conflict. There is an ethic of conflict. We get into those arguments precisely because we’re angry. It’s not like you’re in a conflict when you’re at your best—when someone just gave you a million dollars and you’re so happy you want to share it with everyone and you’re everyone’s best friend. No, that’s not when we find ourselves in conflict. We find ourselves in conflict in bad moments and in the midst of those bad moments, there are ethics about how we conduct ourselves. There are rules we establish for ourselves, based on scripture, about how we ought to conduct ourselves.

We sat down with our premarital counselor and talked through what our issues were. Do you want to know mine? For me, when I would get angry, I would be very sarcastic. I’m not a yeller, I don’t typically get really angry, but I get wickedly sarcastic when I conflict. So, by the grace of God, of course this is something we’ve worked on very hard to be able to identify when I begin to cross that line. You know when you conflicting, whether it’s with your spouse or whatever association, that evil part of you is going to come out. In my case, I’m going to be sarcastic. When I hear myself say sarcastic things, I need to keep myself in check. I need Carmel, and she’s very good at this, to say, “Dave, are you being a little sarcastic right now, per chance?”

You need to be able to keep your self in check so you fight clean. How come? When you fight clean, you get out of the fight earlier; you get out of the fight better. You get out of the fight without really creating another series of fights about how sarcastic Dave McDonald is. The issue stays the same issue. That’s why we say here: Keep it clean and keep it true. When you avoid whatever your pet little sins are and fight fair, you’re able to focus on what the conflict really is about. Because the purpose of all good conflict is for resolution, you’re, therefore, able to resolve the conflict a little soon and a little better off.

Just to speak autobiographically for a second, this was a huge help for our relationship. It filtered into everything we would do from grocery shopping to working out. Every area of your life this begins to filter through as you learn how to manage yourself. This morning I got home from a run and I came in the front door feeling ornery and Carmel said something to me that was meant in the most beautiful voice and immediately I felt myself getting angry. This first thing I do is I put the darts out of mind, I walk into the other room, take deep breaths and all I’m thinking to myself is, “Don’t say a word. Nothing you say is going to make Jesus proud of you in any way. Just walk away. You love your family; you love this woman.” I know for me in those moments I’m not the person I want to be and trying hard to become. I’m not in any way a reflection of Jesus living inside of me. In those moments I’m evil and you’ve got to learn to keep it clean so you can keep it true so the conflict can be about being resolved.

Another thing, of course, you’ve got to keep straight in your mind is you’ve got to know why you’re fighting. I’m terribly white and very, very Caucasian and I’m from Canada, so in your notes it says, “Keep it real,” but I don’t really think I can pull that phrase off. Instead, we have here, “Know why you’re fighting.” Keep it to the issue at hand; know why you’re involved in this conflict. Be aware of how tired you are or what you’ve had to eat or other things that have gone in your day so when you find yourself conflicting with someone else, you don’t confuse the issues.

I love my little boy more than anything; I just love being a dad. I love my daughter, I love my wife; I’m just a family man in a way I never thought I could be. There are days, when I get home, my little guy is playing trucks in his sister’s face and I feel myself getting more and more angry and upset at all the things that are happening in my home. But I know really what I’m angry about is I skipped lunch because I was too busy and all I had to drink was about six pots of coffee. I know what I’m really angry about is something other than what turns out to be fairly harmless playing by the kids. If my kids are rambunctious or excited, I know that’s not what’s making me angry. What’s making me angry is host of internal factors. When we talk about conflict, one of the most important things we can understand is a sense of self awareness. You’ve got to know what’s going on inside of you.

I was talking to a couple not too long ago in some martial counseling with them and I heard the fellow say, “When we start to argue, I just get so mad I lose it.” The arguments ranged from everything about where he put his car keys to something significant, a financial reversal. His response to every situation was to blow up. I think the more aware we become about ourselves, the more we begin to understand there should be graded responses. Losing your car keys probably doesn’t justify breaking things. Having serious financial reversal and going bankrupt probably doesn’t justify violence either, but at least you can understand why someone would be very angry or burst into tears.

I think so often, irregardless of our religious affiliation, our knee jerk reaction to everything that happens is to just blow up. We overreact to things all of the time, but when we can cultivate that sense of self awareness, we begin to realize, “No, this isn’t a Level-Ten worthy response. I’ve just lost my keys; I just need to chill out, relax and check both bedside tables.” You need to have these experiences; you need to know yourself, because it’s not all the end of the world. When we know what causing us to conflict and we have that sense of self awareness, I think we can be able to ramp down just a little bit to be a little more self-controlled.

For those of you who are here for the first time, tonight is our last night in a series on Spiritual Competencies. These are core, key areas of spirituality we think everyone ought to be a little aware of. One of things that seem to happen so often in conflict is we drag other people into it. You remember the words of Jesus in Matthew 18, “If someone offends you, go to them one-on-one and address them. If they’ll receive your correction, great, you’ve gained a friend. If not, then you need to approach someone else and bring them into the conflict as a mediator, not to gang up on someone, but to have someone there who is impartial and who can say, ‘This is something we ought to talk about.’”

Too often what happens is we get into conversations and we say things like, “Everyone thinks you’re this way,” or “Do you know everyone sees how you always…,” and these conflicts then, instead of being about the actual conflict, they begin to escalate and become about something far more ridiculous than what we’re actually conflicting over. Instead of an issue being of financial awareness or hurt feelings, which, to be honest, really aren’t that tricky to address, it becomes about the way in which we conflict.

Psychologists and physiologists refer to this as triangulation. You find someone else who thinks the way you think about someone else and you align yourselves with them. You find an ally and then you come and say, “We really feel like…...” but that’s not the Jesus way. That messes things up and muddies the water that destroys relationships. It makes the person you’re confronting feel defensive and isolated and people never respond with the most open kind of resolution-oriented selves when we attack.

A far healthier approach is to speak with your own voice like we’re instructed in Matthew 18 and to use statements physiologists often refer to as “I” statements. I sometimes feel this way when this happens.” I feel like maybe in this situation I’m being left out,” or “I feel like I’m being overlooked.” Whatever it is, however trivial, bring it back to ourselves, instead of saying “you” statements. You do this,” or “You do that,” or “You make me feel isolated.”

We try and stay away from “always” statements. Have you ever been the victim of an always statement? People say to you, “You always do this,” or “You always do that.” The reality is, nobody always does one or the other thing. Nobody always falls into those same traps, because by-and-large we’re at the very least sometimes aware we don’t represent ourselves in a way that feels true or honest. We have to speak with our own voice; we have to manage what we say. We have to manage the way in which we say it, because one of the great dangers here is the relationship between the people who are conflicting will be damaged, perhaps irreparably.

Anyone you have conflict with you have some relationship with. It could be a distance relationship, but you’ve got some inter-personal connection to that person. We believe, based on the understanding of Jesus and the Scripture, we’re called to love all of humanity. We have to find a way not to severe those relationships through lack of cultivation, but instead we have to find a way to manage ourselves to grow those relationships.

Lastly, we’re ultimately going to find ourselves, thankfully, at the end of a conflict. They don’t always end well, but even when they do, we’ve got to have the mindset of making things better afterwards. You get into an argument with someone and let’s just say they were wrong and you were right and you get that feeling like, “Glad that’s over.” You confront them, they apologize and you say, “That’s okay, it didn’t really bother me anyway,” but then at the end you’ve got to makes things better. You’ve got to ask yourself, “How do I make this right for all time?”

One of the simple ways to do that, to overcome the sense of shame at having goofed up, is to just call them in the next couple of days to talk to them, to seek out some other form of communication with them to let them know things are cool. That doesn’t always have to be verbal; you don’t have to send them an email two days after a conflict and say, “Just so you know I forgive you again for being a jerk. Let’s go ahead and keep forgiving you and reminding you of the thing you committed years ago.” You’ve got to move past those things and try and create some additional space.

If, hypothetically, I did stand John up for an appointment and he wouldn’t let it go for years and made a video about it, the key for us would then be to resolve our conflict and then to spend some time together that has nothing to do with that conflict. To go to Starbucks and just hang out; to do something that involves us creating a positive or safe memory. To do something other than have our last time together be about our conflict, so you kind of put a bookend to all that’s happened. I think this is biblical; I think we see this represented in the New Testament, because our relationships endure. Even the people you’ve had a run-in with years ago, you’re likely to run into them again.

Before we moved here, I made a list of all the people I felt like, “My relationship with these people really south.” There were probably half dozen names on the list of people who I really felt like, “I’ve got to make this right before I leave, because I might never see them again. I know, in all likelihood, I will, but I just don’t want to have that monkey on my back.” I went through and made phones calls and I made personal visits.

Do you know what it takes to go through something like that? I’m not even sure in these situations these are people that we had a conflict, but they just didn’t like me. Whatever I was selling, they didn’t like—they didn’t like the way I looked, they don’t think I’m funny, whatever. I knew this and they were in my circle of relationships. I had to eat humble pie with every one of those people; I just had to choke it down and really, honestly say to people, “I know you hate me, but I realize probably the hard feelings you have against me have some legitimacy to them. I can be short-tempered, narrow-minded, a jerk and all of these awful things that I really am. I’m not being false about it in front of you; these are really the things I struggle with.”

We had to go through these long conversations in the process of restoration between myself and people with whom I had broken relationships. Preserving those relationships for the future in order that in some way I might maybe later speak into their lives or in some way they might have the moral authority to speak into mine to rebuke me or to correct me or to set me straight. If nothing else came of that, I think Jesus is so happy when we take those steps to do what we can to make things right, to manage ourselves in the middle of conflicts.

Just imagine what those conversations might be like for you. When someone doesn’t like you, they don’t like you. It’s not like you calling and saying, “I’m sorry you don’t like me,” and it’s going to make them like you. They’re going to tell you all the reasons why they don’t like you. You’re going to sit there on the phone for hours or at a coffee shop and have people tell you all the things about you they don’t like. I think the strength in those moments it takes to shut up and to listen and to say, “I think there’s some truth in what you’re saying and I need to learn from that. Please forgive me for the parts of those that are entirely my fault.”

The strength that takes forms us. It’s modeled in the very life of Jesus, in the Via Dolorosa and Christ’s brutal murder, betrayal and crucifixion. He was able to stand up to painful untruths and love in the midst of it. That’s our ethic of conflict, to be in conflict and still be loving—not to just be loving when it’s easy, but to be loving when it’s personally painful. To redress wrongs, yes, to try and set things straight, yes, but also to be strong enough and secure enough in the presence of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit to have people take knocks at who you are and know your identity doesn’t come from what they don’t like. Instead, cultivate the person you want to be in the midst of those conversations.

When we think about our lives in conflict, we need to see that as a special area, its own little area, of spiritual growth and development—something that for the rest of our lives we will be trying to get better at. My sincerest hope is today for any of us who might not have thought of that as being worth our attention or being an area that has special consideration, we leave here and go, “I need to learn how to fight a little bit better. I need to learn how to conflict in a little more God-honoring way. I need to learn how to be self-controlled when I’ve lost my self-control, to manage who I am, to have an awareness of what I’m doing to and with this other person. Even in the midst of tension and difficulty, even in the midst of trials and frustration and irritation I can find some way to represent Jesus.”

Lord, thanks so much for taking this same ethic and living it on our behalf. Thank you that our most passionate moments taken from your life are those moments where you were brutally beaten, those moments where you suffered isolation and pain, those moments where you were your weakest, where you were the most human. Thank you that’s it’s there in those moments we learn how to be most Christian. We give ourselves to you, Jesus, in your name. Amen.

spiritual competencies, week two: art and pop culture

We are talking today in our second of three talks about Spiritual Competencies. This is an area of relationships and the intersection of faith, art and pop culture. We believe if you’re going to a follower of Jesus Christ who commits heart, mind and soul to the way of Christ, these are three areas of your life you’re never really going to be able to ignore. You’re never really going to be able to ignore the importance of relationships. You’re never going to be able to get around the fact our world has a way it communicates. We have our own films and music and there is an ethic about presentation that is prevalent all over the Western world. You’re never going to be in a part of your life where you’re not in some kind of conflict. Always, you’re going to find yourself to varying degrees of intensity in some friction with another person. These are three examples of areas where we’re all going to have to find some footing as followers of Jesus Christ.

Today we’re going to focus a little bit on the idea of art and pop culture, which for many people is sometimes quite a contentious issue. For people who have a Christian mindset, it’s sometimes very, very difficult to look at film and television or to listen to the music of youth culture in particular. Some of those things seem offensive and at first seem confusing. They seem to represent or advocate a different worldview or perspective than maybe the one you grew up with.

We are going to talk actually in five short segments. The first two will be more theoretical and the last three will be diving a little bit into the scripture. I want to talk today about why I think why it’s important for us to get a footing in understanding and engaging art and pop culture.

For those of you who are familiar with Church history at all, you’ll know right about the 100 years or so after much of the New Testament was written, before even the Bible had been brought together and canonized, much of the epistles, many of the gospels, were written in a language other than English. In fact, they were written in the language of Aramaic. Much of the Hebrew scripture, of course, was written in Hebrew. What that meant is many, many people who wanted to find out about Jesus couldn’t, because they didn’t speak Aramaic or they didn’t speak Hebrew. It meant the life-saving knowledge of our Creator God was only available to people who spoke a particular language, a language, which by the way, was about as prevalent as French in Michigan. There just weren’t a lot of people speaking Aramaic at the time, except for a certain small cluster of Hebrew people.

A translation process began to take first what became later on the New Testament and put it into what is known as Koine Greek. It was the language of the common people or street slang. It was what you’d order your groceries with or talk to your neighbor. It was the language of everyday people and everybody in the Roman Empire knew and understood and spoke Koine Greek.

When the story of Jesus Christ was put into a language everyone could understand and when copies of that story began to move in a language where everyone could access it through the entire Empire, the Gospel began to move. The spread of Christianity began to move and move more quickly. Once people could hear the Gospel in a way they understood it in their own language, they knew the importance of what they were hearing.

I’d like to suggest to you today the language of the 21st Century Western world, the common language everyone speaks, isn’t English—it’s American pop culture. Whether you go to Germany or Canada or Australia or any part of Western Europe, the language everyone speaks and understands is Bay Watch. Everyone knows what My Space is or Lord of the Rings and everyone knows U2. This is the language of the common people.

I think for us if we were to think seriously about bringing the saving knowledge of Jesus Christ to the Western world, we have to be able to communicate in a language they understand. We have to be able to go toe-to-toe with people and find some common ground.

This week, for example, I was in Colorado Springs performing a wedding for a very good friend of mine who is an actor. Because he’s an actor all of his friends, of course, are actors and film makers and screen writers. I got together with a group of people from Los Angeles and we talked for several days about the spiritual life. We talked God talk and theology, but, of course, we have a very different basis of understanding. Many of them are Christ followers, but they have a different grounding than I do as fulltime pastor. Where did we find our common ground? Because I’m with people in the film industry, we find our common ground for talking about the things of God in film. We find it in movies, in television, in characters, in music—in pop culture. Our common understanding of the world around us gives us an avenue to talk about the things of God.

We’re going to continue to explore this theme throughout the rest of the day. I just want you to spend the next couple of minutes and mull over what this means to find this kind of common ground, maybe in the same way the Apostle Paul did when he began to quote Greek poets to Greek philosophers in an effort to talk about the Hebrew God on Mars Hill.

Music Selection

This is really appropriate for what we’re talking about today. When we play music like this and you read words like this, sometimes there’s a fear for many people we’re somehow advocating this kind nihilistic approach to life or advocating a lifestyle that says, “Everything kind of stinks; it’s all going to go to pot anyway so you might as well buy the cheapest liquor you can and have another glass.” The reality is that’s not really what we’re advocating. We are saying is this is how many, many, many people to an increasing degree understand as a method of coping with the world around them.

This is the perspective, by and large, of a 21st Century post-modern youth culture. This is how people cope with things that seem meaningless. They look at the world around them and they can’t find any hope and they don’t know how to put their lives together.

We can all think of people who instead just resign themselves to the fact nothing is going to have any purpose in life and the least they can do is try and glean a little bit of comfort or pleasure out of cheap wine or parties.

When we play music like this or even when you hear music like this somewhere else, the first thing you ought to have triggering in your mind isn’t, “Is this song good or bad.” You’re knee jerk ought to be, “What is my response to this perspective?” Anything in our popular culture demands a response. You can’t read those words and not have some kind of response. You can’t read about hopelessness or hear someone sing about nihilism or despair and have all those things assault you and not, in some way, respond.

The very reason we’re gathering here together today is because we have a hope centered in Christ Jesus. When we are confronted with hopelessness, there is a response that ought to well up in your spirit. You ought to be able to feel, on some level, like you have a counterpoint to the point of this song. You ought to be able to feel, on some level, like there’s more to this story.

When you’re confronted with songs like this, how do you respond? Do you respond by judging the message of the song? Too often, I think many people do. They say, “Oh, that’s a bad song. It’s not Christian; it’s not God-honoring.” All of those things may be true, but to stand around and point the finger doesn’t change the fact this is how many people cope and relate in life. Instead, we ought to follow the example of Christ.

When we meet someone who has no hope, our response shouldn’t be to judge them for not having hope. Our response should be to say, “Do you know there is hope?” When we meet someone who is broken and fragmented, our response ought to be, “Do you know there is some way we can be put back together?” The very reason we are Christ followers is Jesus has put us back together and is still in the process of putting us back together. The fragmentation of our lives doesn’t end, but at least we know who makes the glue and where our hope lies.

I want to challenge you today. Whenever you’re confronted with something with which you don’t agree, don’t let your response be judgment; let your response be dialogue. Don’t look for the things you think are wrong. Look for the things God has asked you to redeem.

Film Clip

If you’re familiar with the movie, Signs, you know Mel Gibson’s character, prior to the starting point in the film, is an Anglican priest. He has this experience where he walks away from God because of the tragic death of his wife. We pick up here halfway through the film and as Mel Gibson talks and we hear his perspective on these two kinds of people, regardless of the choice he advocates moments later, we can resonate with the truth he’s talking about. There are different kinds of people—people ready to accept the miraculous and people who completely disregard it. If you’ve seen the end of the film, you know through an interesting set of circumstances Mel Gibson comes back to faith and comes full circle. The story in many ways is a story of redemption for his character.

I like to use this film and this clip in particular as an example of the way we can find truth in other sources that supports a biblical worldview. Be real careful and don’t hear me incorrectly and think that I think this should be the sixty-seventh book of the Cannon. What I am saying is you can watch, particularly in film, and you can find biblical truth that represent the teachings of Jesus and the ethic of the Christian life, represented thematically in pop culture. In many ways, it’s those things we see in non-Christian sources that open up for us ways of communication and dialogue. Beyond that, they also give us a glimpse of what it means to see God’s beauty everywhere.

This is a big thing in a critical perspective of looking at particularly the visual arts—paintings, sculptures and statues. This is something theologians refer to as oblation. Oblation is when you look at something beautiful and glorify God because of its beauty. When you experience a sense of awe and wonder of something beautiful, you have this sense of communion with God, because he is the author of beauty. It is He who allows us to perceive and identify things as beautiful. We begin to see beauty all over the world and recognize any beauty is, in fact, God’s beauty reflected.

The people who came into Church authority and leadership after the apostles all passed away were known as the early Church fathers. Sometimes it’s called the Patristic Period. All of the disciples are martyred after Jesus’ life except John and you have these few disciples, particularly John, passing on the way of Christ to a group of people who never met him on the earth. Just imagine what it would have been like to around in that point in time. All you’ve got is a few scrapes of paper with James’ name scrawled on the bottom, a few stories about Jesus and a couple of guys who actually knew him and they’re trying to describe to these next-generation Christians what it means to actually follow Jesus.

The people who knew the Apostles personally were the next leaders of the Church—the Church Fathers. One of them is particularly famous; his name is Origen. Origen is famous for a lot of theological things, some good, some bad, but one of the things that has endured is his perspective that all truth is God’s truth regardless of where it’s found. Someone who is ungodly can actually speak truth and still have it be true. By virtue of it being true, it is a reflection of the nature of God. Likewise, someone who is ungodly can create something beautiful and by virtue of it being beautiful, we can recognize and find the glory of God in that. Later, that is called oblation.

Origen is also famous for coming up with a phrase known as plundering the Egyptians. His theory was because all truth was God’s truth, we could go to places that were distinctly ungodly and find those things that were beautiful or true and take them and claim them as our own. We can find the good things in the evil world around us and redeem them and coax them out of people. We can celebrate goodness wherever we can find it.

That’s appropriate and that’s important for us today, because too often, particularly in the West, we’re very quick to condemn anything that doesn’t bear a Christian label. In fact, the world would be a much better place if we simply began to applaud everything that was good. If we just looked around and saw everything that was good, noble or pure, regardless of who is doing it, and said, “I sure wish you had a relationship with Jesus Christ, but in the meantime, that’s awesome. You doing good things in the name of love or nobility or charity, that’s awesome and we applaud it.” This is a powerful, powerful orientation of faith, because the principles of beauty and goodness permeate our whole world and I think it’s our job to find it.

I like the story in Ezra, Chapter 7, Verse 29. We see Ezra, who is charged with rebuilding the Temple of God, giving thanks to God because a non-Hebrew king has given him authority to make something beautiful.

Blessed be GOD, the God-of-Our-Fathers, who put it in the mind of the

King to beautify The Temple of GOD in Jerusalem!

I love that Ezra is just at this point celebrating beauty. He’s going to use beauty to bring honor to God.

We live in a time and a place where it’s very, very difficult for people to justify spending large amounts of money on church buildings. There are all kinds of arguments for and against how that money should be spent, but one of the arguments for making a building beautiful is it brings glory to God. We participate in the glory and the goodness of God and reflect God’s splendor and honor by creating something beautiful in his name.

We find this, of course, not only in architecture, but also in poetry. Let’s look at Psalm, Chapter 29. This is a chapter-long poem, a work of art, that not only by its subject matter but by its very verse and even its translation into a contemporary English language gives honor to God.

Bravo, GOD, bravo! Gods and all angels shout, “Encore!” In awe

before the glory, in awe before God’s visible power.

Stand at attention! Dress your best to honor him!

GOD thunders across the waters, brilliant, his voice and his face,

streaming brightness—GOD, across the flood waters.

GOD’s thunder tympanic, GOD’s thunder symphonic.

GOD’s thunder smashes cedars, GOD topples the northern cedars.

The mountain ranges skip like spring colts, the high ridges jump like

wild kid goats.

GOD’s thunder spits fire. GOD thunders, the wilderness quakes; he

makes the desert of Kadesh shake.

GOD’s thunder sets the oak trees dancing a wild dance, whirling, the

pelting rain strips their branches. We fall to our knees—we call out,


Above the floodwaters is GOD’s throne from which his power flows,

from which he rules the world.

GOD makes his people strong. GOD gives his people peace.

You experience that verse, those words, the rhythm, the meter, of that passage of the Bible and you get a sense of the effort and history and the honor and tradition. You get a sense of what people put into that as an act of honoring and worshiping our Great King.

Think for a moment, because this will trip you out. Think King David wrote Psalm 29 several thousand years ago. That psalm was probably sung out rather than recorded on paper. As David got up and sang that song to a host of people, someone wrote it down as he sang it. What was the spiritual experience like for someone who transcribed that song? How was it different from the way David sang it? We experience God’s glory in either perspective. What would it have been like to have heard him say it? What would it have been like to write it down? What would it have been like to record it in Hebrew in the history books? What would it have been like to re-record it by hand for thousands of years, to translate it into Aramaic, to again translate it into Greek, to translate it into Latin, to translate it into English, to translate it from English into English we could understand? What was that process like for everyone who touched this piece of Bible?

It was an act of glorifying God. You hearing it, David singing it and everyone in between gives us an understanding of that oblation of the glory of God as reflected in something beautiful and artistic.

Music Selection

When we look at the life of Jesus, you find yourself confronted by a series of difficult questions, questions people have wrestled with ever since. People will continue to wrestle with these questions and most importantly is the question of what Jesus was. We know by reading the words in the New Testament Jesus was God incarnate. He wasn’t a piece of God; he wasn’t like God’s younger brother. He fully, as God, came to have a human experience.

We also know he wasn’t just wearing a man-suit; it’s not like he just zipped up the Joshua of Nazareth skin suit and wore it around. It’s not like he divinely possessed some person and moved them around like a meat puppet. Instead, Jesus came as fully God and had a fully human experience. He lived your life before you. He was a carpenter. If he was born today, he would be wearing dirty jeans with a spackle on them and a big rip in the leg. He’d have a stinky t-shirt and watching the game on Sunday afternoon. He was a blue-collar worker, who came into a blue-collar family, who worked for a living. He had a fully human life. He went to the synagogue; he was religious. He had a family; he had great affection for his mother. He came from a background where there would have been a lot of shame about his birth, because his mom wasn’t married when he was born. He would have endured ridicule. He would have gone to school; he would have studied the scriptures of the people. He knew what it was like to be irritated, to be mocked. He was the first example we have in the Bible of somebody who got ticked off at his church and threw the Temple tantrum. He lived like you and I do; he experienced every avenue of human emotion and experience.

When we start to look at art and at pop culture, we have to have Jesus’ incarnation in mind. I’m going to read from the Gospel of John, Chapter 1 in a minute. There’s a great tendency for us to only value those things that are decidedly spiritual and to disregard those things that are common.

We think about this too in terms of our history. Once upon a time there was high art, there was haute couture and there was low art or folk art. The kind of songs people would sing in the bars, the kind of songs many of our hymns stole the tunes from and changed the words. There were these two categories of art—the art of the rich and the art of the poor. That’s not really true in the Western World any longer. There still is a little bit of folk art and haute couture, but by-and-large those two things have been smashed together into pop culture.

It’s in this muddle of everything we would have found Jesus in his day. He went to feasts and festivals and did the common things of the common people. When he prayed, he prayed in plain language. When he talked to his disciples, he had plain conversations with them. Jesus also, who used the great traditions of the Jewish teachers, spoke sometimes in parables. If we’re really to embrace the nature of Jesus Christ, that demands we embrace and imitate how he lived as being in and among the world.

We’re not advocating you go out and buy the top 25 DVDs or download the coolest songs from iTunes. We’re not saying in order to follow Jesus you’ve got to love the media of the world. We are saying though, like Jesus, we should be willing to engage it. Like Jesus, we should find things that are good and celebrate them. We should enter and participate with the world around us and bring something to it—not just blindly accept it, but bring our spiritual worth to it.

Let’s pick up here in John, Chapter 1 and Verse 9.

The Life-Light was the real thing: Every person entering Life

he brings into Light.

He was in the world, the world was there through him, and yet

the world didn’t even notice.

He came to his own people, but they didn’t want him.

But whoever did want him, who believed he was who he claimed

and would do what he said, he made to be their true selves, their

child-of-God selves.

These are the God-begotten, not blood-begotten, not

flesh-begotten, not sex-begotten.

The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the

neighborhood. We saw the glory with our own eyes, the

one-of-a-kind glory, like-Father, like Son, generous inside and out,

true from start to finish.

I love that line:

He made us our true selves, our God selves.

It’s not only possible, but very real and very meaningful in our lives as we intersect with the world around us, God is daily making us more authentically whole. He is building us up into our God-selves. Rather than being polluted by the lies of advertising, instead we are in the process of redeeming the world by living out our God-lives.

Video Clip

We show you this not simply to be caustic or provocative, but we want to provide some bookend to our conversation about intersection with art and faith and pop culture.

Let me talk just a little bit about this video game. I don’t really want to pick on these fellows; I don’t really advocate you go out and download the clip. The idea we want to create something for our children to enjoy on a video game console is a great idea. I think it’s awesome we want to offer something into the realm of this medium. It is applaud-able we want it to look graphically superior. Even that we would take something as popular as the Left Behind series and make it into a game is a really neat idea. I think they ought to be commended for that. In the game you can make the choice to play either the good guys or the bad guys—I even like that. A big thing in video games these days is to be able to pick who you are, to customize your own experience and to complete the game in a different way. I think all of that is really, really cool.

The part, of course, that makes me uncomfortable isn’t any of those things. In fact, I think there’s a lot to learn from the process by which they have created this video game. The part that’s sticky for me is the killing. The part where I lose is where our identity is traded away and we advance this kind of Western, religious, warfare as something in which we ought to participate and advocate.

I think intersecting with the world and finding those things that are good in the media and in the culture of the world is exactly what Jesus’ followers ought to do. But trading away those things in which we believe, swapping out our ethics, to accept even on an imaginary level the idea that killing people who want to kill you is okay or running around with AK47 to defend Jesus is somehow applaud-able, is totally bankrupt. I don’t think we see that kind of ethic anywhere represented in the New Testament and certainly we don’t see that with Jesus.

Remember what happened when Peter chopped the dude’s ear off in the Garden of Gethsemane. Someone came to take away Jesus himself and Peter rose up to defend him. He chopped the guy across the side of the head, took out a big chunk of his face, part of which was his ear—really attacked someone with a sword. Jesus didn’t thank Peter; Jesus didn’t even try to justify Peter’s actions. He rebuked him and then he healed the man he saved.

The problem with much of what we try and do to be relevant isn’t our efforts at being relevant. Those efforts are awesome; I think more people ought to make more efforts to speak a language and to communicate in such a way that more people can understand the identity of Jesus, the love of God for all of creation, the desire of God to know everybody. But in our efforts to be relevant, if we trade away those very things that make Jesus Jesus, if we change the identity of God, if we compromise the love of God in order to tell people about the love of God, it’s a little bit self-defeating. We lose the very point we’re trying to make; we discredit ourselves.

I don’t want to leave you with the violent Left Behind video game. I want to leave you instead with something I think is as applaud-able as that video clip was deplorable. I want to leave you with a speech that was given to a graduating class of a California university, a speech that’s given largely as segments of advice. The filmmaker, Baz Lurhman, made it into a pop song that was released about five or six years ago. The song is called, Everybody’s Free to Wear Sunscreen. The speech is called Wear Sunscreen.

It’s a series of advice that is not quoting scripture, but it’s the advice in which I think we can find the perspective of God—it’s good advice. It’s actually advice in many ways that drove me back to re-engaging my parents and my family and learning to love the people who God has put into my life. It’s going to be up on the screen for you here and I want to leave you in these closing thoughts with something good from somewhere else.

Ladies and gentlemen of…..Westwinds.

Wear sunscreen.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, sunscreen would be it.

The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proved by scientists,

whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my

own meandering experience. I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will

not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they’ve faded.

But trust me, in 20 years, you’ll look back at photos of yourself and

recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before

you and how fabulous you really looked. You are not as fat as you


Don’t worry about the future. Or worry, but know that worrying is as

effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubble

gum. The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that never

crossed your worried mind, the kind that blindside you at 4 pm on

some idle Tuesday.

Do one thing every day that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with other people’s hearts. Don’t’ put up with

people who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on jealousy. Sometimes you’re ahead,

sometimes you’re behind. The race is long and, in the end, it’s

only with yourself.

Remember compliments you receive. Forget the insults. If you

succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old love letters. Throw away your old bank statements.


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know what you want to do with your

life. The most interesting people I know didn’t know at 22 what

they wanted to do with their lives. Some of the most interesting

40-year-olds I know still don’t.

Get plenty of calcium. Be kind to your knees. You’ll miss them

when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll marry, maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll have children,

maybe you won’t. Maybe you’ll divorce at 40, maybe you’ll dance

the funky chicken on your 75th wedding anniversary. Whatever you

do, don’t congratulate yourself too much, or berate yourself either.

Your choices are half chance. So are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your body. Use it every way you can. Don’t be afraid of it or

what other people think of it. It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever


Dance, even if you have nowhere to do it but your living room.

Read the directions, even if you don’t follow them.

Do not read beauty magazines. They will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your parents. You never know when they’ll be gone for

good. Be nice to your siblings. They’re your best link to your past

and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that friends come and go, but with a precious few you

should hold on. Work hard to bridge the gaps in geography and

lifestyle, because the older you get, the more you need the people

who knew you when you were young.

Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard.

Live in Northern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.


Accept certain inalienable truths: Prices will rise. Politicians will

philander. You, too, will get old. And when you do, you’ll fantasize

that when you were young, prices were reasonable, politicians were

noble, and children respected their elders.

Respect your elders.

Don’t expect anyone else to support you. Maybe you have a trust fund.

Maybe you’ll have wealthy spouse. But you never know when either

one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your hair or by the time you’re 40 it will look


Be careful whose advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply

it. Advice is a form of nostalgia. Dispensing it is a way of fishing the

past from the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts and

recycling it for more than it’s worth.

But trust me on the sunscreen.