Saturday, April 23, 2016

Symbols & the Image of God

"So YHWH created man in his own image, in the image of YHWH he created him; male and female he created them."
Gen. 1:27

Don't be deceived, my dear brothers.  Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of heavenly lights...:
James 1: 16 & 17

It was about 9:45AM when I heard it on the radio.  MPR said that Carver County deputies had rushed to Paisley Park studios because someone was down.  I thought, "That's not a good omen."

I was out running errands, and had to enter a store.  By the time I returned to my car, it was official.  Prince Rogers Nelson was dead.

Paisley Park studios is about 11 miles from where I live. I thought about driving over there just to take a look.  There weren't that many people over there at that time of the morning.  Maybe it's a good thing that I didn't.  By the time of the afternoon rush hour traffic, thousands of people had gathered over there, and Hwy. 212 was backed up for miles.

By night time, 1st Avenue (The venue where Prince first achieved notice) was holding an all-night dance party.  It's Saturday morning now, but near as I can tell the dance party is still going on.  The 35W bridge across the Mississippi river will be lit in purple for the next week.

Love him or hate him, if you live in Minnesota you have to appreciate Prince.  This is a large State with a small population.  Yet, for some odd reason we have come up with Post-it Notes, Roller Blades, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Garrison Keillor and his Prairie Home Companion, "Surfin' Bird," the Guthrie Theater and Bob Dylan, among many other cultural achievements.  St. Paul can even boast of having the nation's largest occult publishing company, Llewellyn. (Hurray?...)

Yet Prince put Minnesota and the Twin Cities on the map in ways that no one else did.  Primarily because he stayed here.  He grew up in North Minneapolis and chose to move to a western suburb.  He had a massive affect on the local music scene, and it's no secret that he mentored scads of up and coming musicians.

I was in High School when Prince began to gain attention.  I was a senior when I fist heard bits and pieces of the "Controversy" album.  I can honestly say that I had never heard anything like it.  It had New Wave, funk, pop, and rock in it.  Totally original.  Other than some interesting musical styles, the lyrics were the strangest I'd ever heard.

He would combine overt sexual innuendos with spiritual themes. (More on that, later.)  It was shocking, offensive and intriguing all at the same time...with a beat you could dance to.

"1999" came out when I was in college, and that's the album that catapulted him into the stars.  I got to see him on that tour at the old Met Center before they tore it down.

It was the original line up of his creations.  Vanity 6 opened the show.  Three good looking gals in their skivvies singing.  What 19yr old boy didn't like that?  Then it was The Time.  Morris Day and Jerome almost brought the house down.  Then it was Prince.  He only played for about an hour, but it was something else.

Don't tell Prince this, but The Time actually out performed him. :)


So what does his death have to do with a blog that explores the church in modern America?

To be honest, I had a hard time with a lot of Prince's music.  Some of it was so overtly dirty that I just couldn't handle it.  I recognized that he was a musical genius, but those dirty lines really turned me off.  Still, unless you chose not to pay attention, there was clearly something more going on...

There are folks out there who have a difficult time with the ancient language and culture of the bible.  The nuance and profound depth can confuse and bother them.  They keep wanting to make the bible fit our modern cultural and scientific context, and it simply wont.  I think it's much wiser to let the bible be the bible and speak it's ancient wisdom on it's own terms into ours, whether it's modern America or 3rd World Nepal.  If you let it do that, you will find that a good deal of the time, it is smacking us "Moderns" over the head and essentially saying, "You think you so baaaaaad?  You don't know jack!"

"In the image of YHWH he created him"

The term "The image of God" is used at various times in the bible.  In James and the aftermath of the flood account in Genesis, referring to humans as image bearers is what gives all humanity value, worth and dignity.  However, in the first creation account, baring God's image is what gives humans function and purpose.

Read through it.  
If you let it speak for itself, without an agenda, it's really fascinating.

You may notice that when God brings living organisms into existence the phrase, "according to their kind" is stated and restated as the agenda and purpose for plants and animals.  They are to recreate themselves.  But when it comes to humans, that phrase is dropped.

I wont bother going into detail about what the Hebrew words "Radah" and "Kabash" mean, but suffice it to say that humans were created to be CO-creators with God.  We were built to work and make things.  As God's stewards on his good earth, we were made to tend his good world and bring even more creation into it.

Which is why it always galls me that the majority of "Evangelicals" in America don't think that pollution is a big deal.  "It's a socialist myth that farting toxic fumes into our air could possibly have nasty side effects!"

Not in any way that we are to think of ourselves as Mini-gods as Oprah might.  However, we bare His image.  We are naturally creative.  We bare HIS image in a way that nothing else in creation does.  How could we not be creative?

I don't "Get" a lot of modern art.  But I still like to see it.  Even stuff that might rub me the wrong way.  I figure if it is purposely offensive, then it must be that way to challenge me on some level.  Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of junk out there.  I've got some artist friends.  They are the first to say that a huge chunk of artists are simply posers who want to live the whole Bohemian life style...and have the tax payers fund it if possible.

Still, sometimes I will see a painting, drawing, photo, or hear some music, and I will swear that I glimpse a piece of God in it somehow. (Could be that I'm just plain nuts.  Meh.) I remember seeing Neil Young play "Like a Hurricane" live and I KNOW I heard the image of God flowing out of him.

"You are like a hurricane.  There's calm in your eyes."
It has since become a very personal hymn for me.

And that's where it gets interesting.  You can be a complete raging, militant, Jesus-hating atheist...and you are still made in the image of God.  You can have little to no overt knowledge of Christ, but he still created you, he values you and you share some of his characteristics.

That's why I can see God testifying to humanity and to himself 
when I see his image doing creative works.

"Every good and perfect gift is from above..."

It breaks my heart that someday those very qualities will come back to haunt those who reject Christ when they finally stand before him.


Prince.  An interesting fellow.  I don't recall the name of the Lutheran church in Minneapolis, but in his teen years, he did attend the youth group there.  Later in life, he became a Jehovah's Witness. (There are stories, which may be urban legends, of him showing up at people's doors with his bodyguards to hand out Watchtower tracts.  And that's funny!) I know that he changed the lyrics to his dirty songs after he became a JW.

Like I said before, if you were paying attention to him, you could see that there was more going on then simply dirty lyrics.  Why else would someone meld sex with spiritual thoughts?  Prince was looking for something.  I don't know if he ever found it, but I'll give him credit for at least looking.  Most folks don't even bother to try looking for more.  That's beyond pathetic if you ask me.

I'm not one to judge most folks in their last moments.  Who can tell what was going on in their heads at that time?  I recall that when the militant atheist, Christopher Hitchens, died, his close friend, a Believer, refused to condemn him.  They had been friends for a long time and often debated publicly.  Hitchens knew the Gospel message.  In his dying moments, perhaps he cried out to Christ.  It is not for me to condemn.

So Prince?
His last minutes were spent in an elevator at his home/studio.
Did the image speak to him?  
Did he hear the dove cry?

Do you? 




Incase you're curious about truly talented Prince was, take a look at these two videos.  Prince could play around 30 instruments with perfection.  I think about that when I here a whiny fraud like Kanye West talk about his own "Art." (Sure buddy, you forgot to add the "F" to the beginning of that term.)

You'll have to wait a bit on this first one.  But do give it a view.  I don't know who the first guitar player is, but contrast that with what happens around the 3:30 mark


Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Tactics of Grace

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them."
Matt. 5:17

"So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets."
Matt. 7:12

"Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.  A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.  He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.  So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him,“Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
All the people saw this and began to mutter, “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.
 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.”
 Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham.  For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” 
Luke 19:1-10

Let's say that your out taking a walk some where.  You're minding your own business.  Up ahead, you see a group of folks holding signs.  As you get closer, you begin to be able to read the signs.  They read something along the lines of, "You suck!"  "YOU are a horrible, messed up jerk."  You need to join our club, or you be a complete and total loser FOREVER!!!!"

As you get closer, this group begins to turn it's attention to you.  A few of them even start walking to you to hand you leaflets that explain your worthlessness.  They tell you that they care about you, they don't want you to be the jerk that you are.  They want to help you to stop being such a loser.

A quick aside: This actually happened to my and two friends from Bethel Seminary.  We were going to see Neil Young and Crazy Horse in Minneapolis.  For some odd reason, there were people outside the Target Center carrying signs that basically said, "Turn or Burn!"

We found this to be odd, because it was Neil Young and NOT Bette which case I would have fully understood.

How receptive might you be to their message????


This morning, a friend of mine had "Liked" this on Facebook.  I didn't think about it much at the time.  However, as the morning wore on, it began to gnaw at my brain for some reason. (Mostly because I think it had to do with John MacArthur.)

MacArthur's not a bad guy.  As far as understanding the basic essentials of Christianity, he a good resource.  However, after that you better know what you're getting into.

He espouses "Dispensationalist" theology, which has some merits, but can also quickly descend into all sort of kookery. (I.E. John Hagee and his blood moons, or those awful "Left Behind" movies.) He doesn't believe that catholics...or probably orthodox christians can be saved. (Which pretty much cancels out the entire church up until the Reformation.)

He has also earned a solid reputation for not exactly being the most gracious or merciful guy, even though his catch-phrase is "grace to you."

I've often believed that the theology we embrace has as much to do with us and our personalities, as it does with what the bible says.  That's something I try to be on guard about at all times, because I can easily wish that bible and God would do what I want them to do...and that rarely works out very well.

At any rate, in this instance I think it's absolutely true, because by and large, what MacArthur is saying simply DOES NOT match up with the tactics that Jesus used when it came to dealing with sinners.  Jesus never, ever confronted sinners with how sinful they were, or how they could never get the law right.  He never berated, condemned, or told anyone how unworthy they were.  You can't find it in the bible, and I dare you to prove it otherwise...

I'll wait a moment while that rolls around in your head.


A HA!!!!!!

I was wrong.  Jesus actually DID condemn certain sinners, didn't he?  At which specific group of sinners...and we are all sinners...did Jesus save his most blasting condemnations for?

That's right.  The professional religious class.  He routinely tore those guys a new one almost every chance he got.

Something to think about...


The thing is, I'm not in any way, shape or form trying to minimize sin and the sinful nature, nor what it does to people.  I struggle with my own crap every single day.  I hate my sin.  I hate the fact that I'm really, really good at it.  I am fully and completely aware of it.

And I think that most people, including non-believers are too, on some sort of level, anyway.  Most people I know already realize that they are messed up on some level.  They might not understand what "Sin" is, but they know they have issues to deal with.  They don't need someone to come along and shove it back in their face like a puppy who just pooped on the carpet.  They need someone to come along side them and extend love and mercy.  You know, kind of like Jesus did with Zacchaeus.

It's also been my experience that, other than Donald Trump and his supporters, the folks who have the least awareness of their sins and sinful nature are my fellow Believers.  It's not exactly a secret that outsiders view us as being judgmental and hypocritical.

Recently, I've been wanting to write about the whole Transgender thing that now seems to be becoming more popular.  I've read and listened to some bits on this that really disturb me to my very core.  My soul tells me that this sort of self-mutilation is wrong on every level and has deep spiritual warfare roots to it.

However, I'm having trouble writing anything due to the simple fact that I hardly know anyone for whom this is an issue.  I've only had two trans acquaintances through my job, and both of them have left.  I never got the chance to develop the friend relationship that I wanted.  I want to hear their stories. I want to understand THEM,...their fear, guilt, shame, etc.  I admit it.  I can't wrap my head around something like this.  Until I do, I think it unfair of me to say too much on this issue one way or the other.

And that's the crux of the matter.

If you look at the character that Jesus displayed in the Gospels, you rarely see him saying much to the "Sinners."  He talked a lot to his disciples and followers.  He certainly had some good speeches and buffets for large crowds.  However, there simply isn't much recorded of what he had to say when he was sitting down for a meal, or being alone with those sinful they hookers, traitors or what not.  All you see is that he hung out with them when everyone else looked down on them.

That very act on the part of Jesus seemed to have some amazing impacts on those folks.  It spoke volumes without a word.

"The Silence is Deafening," is a favorite quote of one of my old seminary professors.

Maybe Jesus knows something we don't.

Islam?  Get yourself some muslim friends.  Atheists?  They're great to have extended conversations with.  Buddhists?  You might learn a thing or two about materialism in America from them.  Gays?  Unless you have some as friends, you have no business speaking about them. (Besides, I had one once who was the BEST to go shopping with.  I have no fashion sense.  He had it in spades.) In fact, unless you are going to expend a bit of effort to get to know various people, what business do you have saying anything to them?  It's great to pontificate in public, but the final and ultimate meat of the Gospel is found in relationship.  That's where the rubber meets the road.

Maybe Jesus still knows something that we, you and I still haven't figured out.