Friday, December 28, 2007

Lost Love

I've fallen short once again on my advent posts. For the last two years, I've tried to post once for each of the four Sunday's of Advent. Three out of four's not bad. The last Sunday just comes so close to Christmas eve and Christmas that the thought of opening the computer and writing just seems wrong. Anyway, we missed the Sunday of Love, but be sure that it was here. Merry Christmas to all (yes it is still Christmas on the 27th) and a very Happy New Year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Expecting Joy

Where is the Joy? In the gospels, two disciples go up to the mountain with Christ and witness his transfiguration. One of them wants to stay and live in this moment, but Jesus makes it clear that there is work to do and staying on the mountain is not an option, but perhaps a bigger change was in the two who had seen the glory of Christ and knew what was to come. In the text for this Sunday, we find John the Baptist in jail, sending his disciples to ask Jesus “are you the one, or should we expect someone else.” I think the first truth here is the understanding that we are not enough. Regardless of Jesus role as “the One”, “One” was and is needed. We can’t do it on our own. But second, John knew that if Jesus response was positive, then it had all been worth it. He had spent his life proclaiming Christ and was in jail because of it. Was it worth it? “Are you the one?” The answer to this question would validate his life, a life that had no meaning apart from Christ. I believe the response would restore John’s joy and the same understanding in our life is where Joy is found. We are nothing apart from Christ, and that he is the one which we have expected is the Joy of the advent season.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Peace Happens

The second week of advent is upon us and we look to the concept of Peace as we prepare for Christ's arrival. Many churches looked upon the text of Luke 3 in which John the Baptist "prepares the way for the Lord, making straight paths for him" as was prophesied by Isaiah. I find it odd that one would be sent before the Lord to make the paths straight for Him. We often think of our God in omnipotent terms and wonder why so much discord is allowed if God is in control. In doing so, we seem to secretly long for a loss of the free will and personal choice required to truly accept His grace on our own volition. If we overlook this idea of freedom, then we are left to wonder why such a powerful God would need one to set the paths straight so that he could arrive. My belief is that these straight paths aren't for the benefit of our savior, to allow Him to find us, rather, for the benefit of us to prepare us to be able to let Him find us. How does John propose that we do this- "Repent." As we search for peace, we must be reminded again that we may only find it by setting ourselves straight and preparing the way for our Lord, not by continuing in our own ways and wondering why things never seem to work out. May you find this straight path and ready your heart for our Lord this advent season and receive the peace of Christ.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Lost Hope

In one of Tony Campolo’s books, he tells a story of a very dull village that got really excited about the news of a race. They came to the race very excited and prepared to run. The starter pistol sounded, they bounded off of the starting line, and took several strides then stopped to celebrate. Think about that for a while and you should get the connection to the life of a Christian. For this week of Advent, we celebrate Hope. The following passage from Romans is one of the texts for this week from the lectionary:
11And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.
Romans 13
As Christians, we see ourselves as “saved” and speak of salvation as the past tense. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the peace of Christ that comes to a believer, but if we get stuck in this past tense, I don’t know that we can fully experience it. Paul is talking about the future in this verse. God has given us salvation- a concept that is past, present and future, but hope resides in a confidence in the future. Another lectionary text this week speaks of two men walking in a field, one will be taken and one left behind. This imagery is quite fearful.

But compare fear for a moment. When we sit alone in a house, paranoid of the noises outside, we fear. It is not a pleasant fear because hope is absent. We’re not confident of what is coming next. On the contrary, when sit perched atop the biggest hill on the thrill ride at the amusement park, or harnessed in for a bungee jump that same fear is exhilaration because even though the danger is real, we can be pretty confident in the eminent safety of our two feet firmly planted on solid ground once it’s over. Without a confidence in the future, without hope, we can’t experience joy, peace, or even true love. We get locked up in desperation and self-preservation. Look to the words of Paul this week from Romans as a source of Hope for the future. Work out your faith in fear and trembling, but know that God is God and our home is with him. May you have a week filled with Hope as we prepare for the arrival of the Christ.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Power Sabbath

On Sunday, I had the privilege of sharing a message with the congregation of Chestnut Grove. The topic of the message was taking the time to rest and hear from God. Just prior to the season of advent is a wonderful time to contemplate this message as we learn to still ourselves in the presence of God. As mentioned in the bulletin, this message was inspired by an article that I read a year or two ago in a magazine call the Youthworker Journal written by Steve Gerali. If you're interested in reading it, here is a link to the article "Taking A Power Sabbath." Feel free to comment if you'd like.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Golden Compass

By now, many of you have probably heard about, or gotten the e-mail warning about new movie “The Golden Compass.” I first heard of Philip Pulman and his novels earlier this year when I read an article about his atheist beliefs and how he hoped to use his books as a tool to explore the role of religion in our world. There were a few red flags for me in reading the article, but mostly I was intrigued. I think that sometimes as Christians we can learn a lot from atheists if we only allow ourselves to engage with them in dialogue rather than argument. At worst, we are forced to own our beliefs and ideals and at best, we find insight from their search for truth that may sometimes shed light on our own belief system. Anyway, after reading the article, I planned to read these books just to see what they were all about, but they found their way moving further and further down my reading list. Just a few weeks ago, my sixteen-year-old niece pointed out “The Golden Compass” on a shelf in Target. I told her that I’d read something about the author, but by that point, I couldn’t recall what it had been. Then only a few days later, I saw the e-mail, verified by that our faith is under assault. I think the danger is overstated, but the fact is that a number of Christians are uncomfortable about this and will speak out in opposition to the film. My hope would be that people engage the film and books in a reasonable manner that opens dialogue and discussion rather than shutting doors. Too often, I fear that we don’t have enough faith in the power of truth. It all reminds me of a line from a U2 song- “I don’t believe the devil, I don’t believe his book, but the truth is not the same without the lies he made up.” “The Last Temptation of Christ”, “Dogma”, “The DaVinci Code”, all failed to damage the truth, but they revealed much about what the world needs and how it views the church’s ability to deliver. So, for now, I’ll wait and see, and in the meantime, I’ll probably try to get a copy of that book. If you interested in a deeper take on the controversy, is in the midst of a three part series about the film. Here is the first article in the series.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Real Beauty

Many of you may be familiar with the Dove: Real Beauty Campaign. Here is a description from its website:

For too long, beauty has been defined by narrow, stifling stereotypes. Women have told us it's time to change all that. Dove agrees. We believe real beauty comes in many shapes, sizes and ages. That is why Dove is launching the Campaign for Real Beauty.

On Sunday night in our youth gathering we looked at a film produced by this campaign called “Evolution.” After watching the film we looked at scripture relating to how we should be more concerned with the heart and what is on the inside than on outward appearances. The video and scripture led to interesting discussion.

But, I did feel a bit guilty about using this clip after doing some research on the film, company, and campaign. While Dove is making the effort to build self-esteem in women of all ages, another company “Axe” seems to be doing the opposite. A quick look at the back of a bottle of “Axe” body wash, body spray, or deodorant shows just what the “Axe Effect” is- usually a cartoon silhouette of a man either running from a flock of chasing women, or in the middle of two women hanging on him. The print and video ads depicting the “Axe Effect” are much less benign. While Dove is promoting an image of beauty regardless of age and body type, Axe is promoting an image of women as objects for which the use of Axe will make more attainable.

So why would I feel guilty about using the Dove ad? If you look at the back of any Dove or Axe product, you will find the same name- Unilever. This company owns both Dove and Axe. I’m not really sure how corporate America operates, but I do find it troubling that an organization could on the one hand promote such a positive campaign, while on the other, producing ads that directly contradict that campaign. Is it all just a marketing ploy to diversify in advertising to reach target audiences? And if so, should it be praised for the good that it does or criticized for the hypocrisy that it represents?

Monday, November 05, 2007

Generation Gap?

I saw this interesting video the other day. I am only 34 (at least for a few more days) and there are so many aspects of the world of teenagers that I am way out of touch with. On the surface, this video seems to point that out vividly, but after watching a few times, I think it may actually be more of a bridge than a gap. I'm not a child of the technology age, but whoever created this video expresses universal concerns about our need for relevance, authenticity, and community; Values that often seem scarce in all of our worlds- children, teens, and adults. I pray that our faith can reflect all three. Here's the video:

Monday, October 15, 2007

The Gospel According to “Halo 3”

I must admit, I’m not a big video gamer. In fact, I’ve never even played a “first-person shooter” game like Halo. But lately, I’ve been taken aback at the amount of anticipation leading up to the release of Halo 3 and the subsequent sales of the game which have surpassed the level of many modern movie blockbusters. It has also registered on my radar that this game has prompted a debate among religious leaders, youth ministers in particular, about if and how the success of this game can be exploited for the benefit of the church. I have talked before with the youth at our church about making wise media choices. Ratings don’t always provide the most useful information for making these choices. Just because a movie is PG doesn’t mean that it cannot be harmful to the individual or society. But an R rating doesn’t necessarily mean that a film has no merit or value. (Think of films such as Schindler’s List, Saving Private Ryan, or even The Passion of Christ.) So I can’t say that Halo is bad just because of its “M” rating. I would say that I would be very careful about viewing an R rated film with the youth of our church. I would have to be very sure that the value of the message outweighs the negatives of language, sex, or violence that may have led to the rating. I’d also want to be very careful that teens were given the opportunity to adequately debrief what they’d seen and equip parents to continue with the discussion. So far, the only redeeming value that I’ve read for making use of Halo in the church setting is to draw young people in. I’m not convinced that this practice is justified. I can’t condemn teens and adults who enjoy the game. For one, I’m not familiar enough with the game to make a judgment about its value. For another, I don’t believe that just because media is not appropriate for consumption in a group setting outside of the home that this means under proper guidance from parents that it is not acceptable for private consumption. But I do think that as parents make efforts to monitor their children’s media practices, whether it’s not allowing R movies or M rated games, the church does not need to undermine their efforts by so openly promoting a game perceived by many as unreasonably violent. I hope to post several more comments on this topic over the next few days/weeks, and publish links to other sources discussing the topic. The first is an article from the Washington Post found here. Feel free to weigh in with your opinion. I plan to link articles on both sides of this discussion in the near future.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I'm Still Here...Really

I am feeling like a bad "website" poster after the sporadic summer and now the lack of posting with the start of a new school year. Now that things are beginning to settle down, I'll try my best to post more regular and to keep folks updated about what is going on in the life of the CGBC Youth. For now, your grace is appreciated. Here is a great video to get you through the week.

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Not-so-Endless Summer

The blog postings have been few and far between this summer, but I think that all of that may be coming to a close soon. Our youth had a fun, but hot day at King's Dominion yesterday and we anticipate welcoming our rising seventh graders into the Youth Group by month's end. If any rising seventh graders haven't heard from us, please get in touch as we will all be going to dinner together on Wednesday, August 15 to prepare everyone for what to expect on the 19th when they are officially welcomed into the youth program. Schools start on August 22 this year and we look forward to a great year of CGBC youth. Remember that we meet every Sunday evening from 6:30 to 8:00 for a meal, Bible study and recreation. We also meet after the church's Wednesday night dinners for an hour of Bible study from 6:30-7:30. The final piece of our weekly schedule is the Sunday School hour at 10:00 on Sunday mornings. All of our meetings take place in the youth space in the basement of the church, usually referred to as the fellowship hall unless otherwise noted.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

The Significance of Memorial

We mark this weekend and the first day of our week with remembrance. Even back through the history of the Hebrews, God instructs his people to remember. An obvious reason for remembrance is the trite saying that "those who fail to remember history are doomed to repeat it." I'm not very fond of such a utilitarian view for the purpose of study. We remember because of humanity. Those who have gone before us were individuals. Men and women with husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, children, friends, teachers; people just like the ones we encounter every day; people just like the ones we see in the mirror every morning. We remember because of respect. To take the time to honor the dead, we value their person, their legacy. We value who they were and what they've left behind; for we all leave something behind. The Bible commands us to "honor our parents." In no small way, this requires that we learn to respect those from whom we came. Good, bad, or ugly, it is from our parents that we came and much of who we are is owed to them. Until we can honor that, we cannot honor ourselves. That is why we memorialize. Those who have gone before us have made us who we are. For better or for worse, we are the product of our history and as such we must remember it so that we may honor it, but this is much different than revering it. On Memorial Day, we honor those who have fallen in service of their nation. These are the men and women who have made us who we are. Some have fallen in honor and others in disgrace, but still we remember. We remember and model the way of the hero, and learn to avoid the way of the heel. They are our mothers and fathers; aunts and uncles; brothers and sisters; and maybe even children, and we remember them. But mostly we remember that in this world there are those who are willing to leave service to self behind and work in the interest of others, and this attitude more than all is worthy of memorial.