Thursday, May 9, 2013

Praying for Tim Lambesis

Lead singer of As I Lay Dying

If you haven't heard yet Tim Lambesis, lead singer of Christian metal band As I Lay Dying, was arrested in a murder for higher plot. Apparently, he tried to hire somebody to kill his soon to be ex wife. This is an awful, terrible thing. If it is found that this is true, then Tim sinned, and did something terrible. I'm very, very thankful that God was watching out for everybody involved and that nobody was killed.

Yes, put it all together: Christian artist tried to have his wife killed. That's hard to swallow. I hate to write it and I nearly cried when I read it. First off, I'm sad that somebody could lose sight so much that they felt like they had to kill some one else, and I'm equally as distraught at how I think the Christian community will handle it. As Christians we have a tendency to leave people like Tim out to dry. They sinned horribly and we don't want to look bad or be mocked so we speak out against them.

I for one, will not do it. I am committing to pray for Tim Lambesis and his family. Why? Because it's exactly what Jesus did. Look at John 8:1-11. Jesus didn't say that the woman's sin was okay, she didn't say it wasn't a big deal, but He didn't join the crowd and condemn her. He had the opportunity to impress some important people but instead He honored God and helped the hurting woman.

“But if we don't take a stand against him we will be mocked, and God will look bad!”Guess what folks. People are already mocking us and we already look bad. I for one would rather look bad for doing what Jesus would do then for acting like the World. This is the family of God. We support even when somebody makes a mistake.

Well, at least we should. If for a moment we think we deserve God's love and grace more just because we've never done this shame on us. Do we even Bible? I am just blessed that God has taken a sinner like me and forgiven me. He did the same for you and for Tim. 

So as for me. I will commit to pray for Tim and his family. He needs to repent (if he hasn't yet), and I know that since he's still alive God isn't through with him yet. All I can pray is that Tim seeks God in this and follows Jesus.  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Hippos of Doom "Road Trip EP" Review

Do you remember when pop punk didn't suck? Remember when it was just fun to jump up and down to songs about girls, parties, and pranks? I know, I know, it's been a long time but there was the moment when we didn't hide our Blink 182, MxPx, and The Offspring CDs under our beds. We enjoyed them because they wrote about life for those of us who didn't grow up on the streets but still needed to rebel. It was nice to know that sometimes being goofy is the best rebellion to a world that takes everything so damn seriously.

Enter Hippos of Doom. Yes that is right. These are the hippos with guns that you see in your dreams after a night of binge pizza eating. Okay, maybe that's just me but you gotta love the name. The Hippos bring their melodious, fun, at times poignant brand of punk to you, for free on their debut EP Road Trip. If all goes well you can get the free EP here on Indie Vision music.

The Hippos of Doom come from the West Coast and blend fast guitars, thundering drums, and angsty vocals. This EP is a fun little jaunt down memory lane that transports you back to Warp Tour '99. This short EP, brought to you courtesy of Thumperpunk Records, does not boast a song longer than 2:45 and is guaranteed to get you tappin' your foot and playing drums on your steering wheel.

The Hippos are unabashedly Christian but it doesn't really feel oppressive on the album. Wool Brigrade and Judge Not are the two strongest tracks on the record and they are the most “Christian.” They are open, honest, but not disingenuous. It doesn't feel forced. It doesn't sound like some of the old Tooth&Nail alum that would say, “Crap, we got to put a Jesus song on this record or we won't make it to Creation Fest!”

Over all, I would say this EP is beyond worth the minimal space it will take up on your hard drive and it is 15 minutes well spent. I only hope that the full length comes out soon!

Happy listening!

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Brennan Manning

A Ragamuffin Who made it Home

I never got to meet Brennan Manning. He died yesterday. He always reminded me of my father. Perhaps this is because his teachings and interpretation of God's Grace permeated my home ever since The Ragamuffin Gospel was published back in the early 1990s. It was an idea that my whole family could grasp,

My deepest awareness of myself is that I am deeply loved by Jesus Christ and I have done nothing to earn it or deserve it.

Brennan was a Korean War Vet, renegade priest who
spent most of his priesthood working with (and I mean deeply with) the world's poorest and most disenfranchised. He left the priesthood in the late 1960s, early 1970s and started writing about the Love and Grace of Jesus. He lived by, talked through, and walked this out until yesterday, April 12, 2013, when this Ragamuffin went home.

What made Brennan Manning different in my eyes was that unlike most preachers who, in words or actions, say, “I used to be a bad sinner” Brennan was open and honest about his currently level of sin. But I guess being in and out of rehab will do that to you. Every time he fell off the wagon he came back with a new bump or bruise that reminded him, and us, of everyone's need for a Gracious and Loving Savior.

The Ragamuffin Gospel was the first Christian theology type book I ever read. I was eighteen and I was slogging through the complex, yet accessible language I saw what I new everybody else in the world needed to see. I saw that,

The gospel declares that no matter how dutiful or prayerful we are, we can't save ourselves. What Jesus did was sufficient.

Aside from the Bible it was the most important book I've ever read. It clarified how I see Jesus, myself, and the World. It was a breath of fresh air into my 18 year old soul to know that salvation was for those who needed saving not for those who were Hell bent on looking proper.

This post may very well serve my own catharsis, but I'm okay with that. I hope that through this you can, in whatever way, see that you are a sinner in need of Grace. I say that not from a stand point of arrogance against you, but partly thanks to Brennan Manning, I say that from a stand point of gratefulness towards God for my own sins being covered.

Brennan, welcome home. 

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Salvation and an Inconvenient Weekend

 I love Easter. I love everything that goes along with it. I love Good Friday, this year thanks to the new Pope I accidentally gave a crap about Holy Thursday, and Palm Sunday is always fun with the kids at church hitting each other with wisps of palm leaves(let's be thankful it wasn't baseball bat Sunday, right?). When we compile all of this with the ending of winter and the beginning of spring it's borderline magical.
But then, like Christmas, it ends. The chocolate bunnies go on sale, all the ham in the northern hemisphere is eaten, there isn't standing room only in church, and we're back with our regularly scheduled programming  Jesus died and rose again for the reconciliation of mankind to God, so how are the Red Sox looking in spring training?
One of my atheist friends put up a status that said, “Remember everybody, Jesus had a really inconvenient weekend to redeem us all from our sins.” Like most of these things I reacted first with an eye roll, then took a little offense, and finally figured out what God was showing me. Now, I ask that you read til the end of this before you write me off as a heretic.
While the redemption of man was the only reason Jesus came to earth it wasn't the most time consuming part of His life or ministry. It was the most painful, it was the most important, but it really was the quickest. It was the climax of the story. It was the section where all the rising action peaked and then it was concluded in the resurrection and Ascension. Jesus showed the Universe who was boss and now we're stuck in the sequel that will hopefully end soon.
But ask yourself this question: If Jesus came to die for our sins why did He wait 33 years? He could have been a child savant that was killed at the age of 9 because of his miracles and teachings. Hell, Jesus could have been a still born baby and it would've sufficed. The goal was perfect life, perfect death, save the world Why wait the 3 decades? Earth couldn’t have been that much fun in comparison to heaven, could it?
In Luke 19:10 Jesus tells us His scheme. He had a two fold mission of seeking and saving. While the saving was he most important, He did spend the lion's share of His time seeking. That's all the miracles were. That's all that the teaching was. Jesus did not come just to provide free health care and encourage a good moral compass. He totally could have done that without dying. He came to seek out people. He came to show people their need for saving. He spent the first thirty years posing a question and exposing a need, and three days providing the fix.
Philippians 2:12 is not a coffee mug, t-shirt verse because it is one of the most honest verses in the New Testament. Fear and trembling is not something we often connect with Salvation. It's true though, isn't it? Half the time we're worried that we're not doing it right. The other half of the time we're worried that everybody is going to see us for what we are and the
n we're going to embarrass God and completely screw up what Jesus did on the cross all because we can't quick smoking or looking at porn on the internet. We live in victory but we also live in fear and trembling. The majority of our life is spent showing off why we need salvation.
Jesus' life modeled this. Salvation, death to sin, victory over death, while not the easy part, was the quick pull off of the band-aid. It's the same way when we accept Christ. It's easy to see our need. It's easy to see His fix. But that is just one quick, yet important, moment in the rest of our lives. But the three decades of walking, teaching, healing, being talked about, lied about, betrayed, used, and abandoned. The three decades of all that, and still trusting in God, still praying to the Father, still doing the Creator's will; that's the marathon. That's the punch. That's where Jesus modeled the fear and trembling. That's where He modeled walking the walk.
That's a lot more than an inconvenient weekend. 

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Invisible Leprechaun in my Bathroom

Rejecting the Religion of Rejecting Religion

 Back in the late 90s I bought a t-shirt that said “Reject Religion, Embrace Jesus.” I was still in high school. When I wore it out I got some funny looks from both Christians and non. This shirt helped me engage in many conversations and more than one argument. It was an edgy idea. It was the idea that religion and God were not one and the same. I loved that shirt.
Now I see those shirts all the time. There are sermon series, books, bumper stickers, podcasts, viral videos, Tumblr, Pintrest, and Facebook posts all about this. It's borderline become the mantra of Western non-Orthodoxy: God is a Relationship not Religion. The church is not a building. Shrug off the old and bring in the new. Reject religion, Embrace Jesus.
I still agree with this philosophy. Nothing that I just said is untrue or un-Biblical. God desires a relationship and not empty religion (Mark 7:8-13, Isaiah 29:11-16). But like all things that get put on a t-shirt, bumper sticker, Tumblr, and Facebook, this whole idea has become trite. It's fun to say. It's a great thing to drop on people when we talk to them about Jesus and they say, “I'm not religious.” It becomes the next fad and it eventually dies out.
Anybody out there rocking their WWJD? bracelet?
The thing that gets lost in all of this is the source of the main problem. Religion is easy, but relationships are difficult. Rejecting the standard way of living in favor of something that most people would find crazy is not an easy way to live. One of my atheist friends acquainted my relationship to God to his “relationship” with the invisible leprechaun who lives in his bathroom. It is a lot easier to say, “I follow the teachings of Jesus, and go to church to be a better person” then it is to say, “I have surrendered all of my will to Jesus, and I love Him.” To be fair it is just as easy to say, “I reject all the trappings of religion and I follow Jesus” without actually doing it.
A relationship with Jesus has a lot more riding on it then talking to the invisible leprechaun in your bathroom. Jesus puts some pretty clear boundaries on the relationship (before you get all arrogant remember the very nature of relationships is boundaries). Jesus says to follow Him in His sacrifice (Luke 9:23). Jesus tells us if we love Him then we show that through our obedience (John 15:9+10). Jesus promises us that with a relationship with Him we will have trouble with the world at large (Matthew 10:33-35).
When we tell people it's about a relationship and not religion we leave all that stuff out. It sounds to religious that Jesus would want us to live differently. It sounds so constricting to have Christ be the center of our lives. It's hard to seal the deal when we reveal that following in Christ's sufferings means discomfort, and no longer being able to be true to oneself. Nobody likes to be a disciple when the Romans come in with torches and clubs.
Religion sounds so sweet at this point. That's why we've turned all this into the Religion of Rejecting Religion. A lot of us like the idea but few of us like the execution. For those of us who don't like rules we just turn this into the rule of no rules. We drop this line so we cannot be judged. We are quick to jump on all the issues with organized religion without mentioning the plights of unorganized religion. We've become what we hate. We've become rote.
This is not a condemnation it is a gut check. If we consider ourselves religious or not we need to see if we're hiding behind what we've built or standing firm on what Christ has done.  

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Half Atheist

One of my favorite punk bands is Bad Religion. They are punk rock veterans who are against government, religion, and are pro thinking for yourself. A lot of my friends, Christian or not, wonder how I can justify liking a band like that. Don't they hate my God? Aren't they philosophically opposed to me? Aren't they condescending towards me as a person? I won't deny any of that. They are opposed to organized religion, they worship science, and believe that if God does exist (which they are sure He doesn't), He is of no consequence.
One day I was listening to Bad Religion and I was feeling spiritually weird. This is bound to happen when you listen to somebody who sees the world in a way that you do not. I was feeling odd because I wasn't disagreeing with a lot of what they were saying. I have times when I feel like God isn't there. I have times when I feel like religion causes more hurt than help. Dare I say it, I have moments when I feel like I know better than God does. Listening to Bad Religion had put me in such a weird mood that I made a very startling admission.
I am an Atheist.
I said it. I said it out loud and do you know what happened? The Spirit of God fell on me in such a real way that I started to cry. I hadn't felt that close to God in a long time. All of my doubts and fears about God had be pushed aside at that moment. I became a stronger Christian and God used Bad Religion to do it.
If you are still reading, which I hope you are, I owe you an explanation. As a Christian the difference between my flesh and spirit is at the forefront of my day to day. I totally relate to the Apostle Paul when he said:

For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.”
Romans 7:18-20

All day long I see the good I want to do and I do the bad instead. I see God's will, which I know is right, and I do my own thing. All day long I do stupid, stupid, stuff that is covered by the Grace of God. My flesh is atheist. It doesn't want God, it thinks it doesn't need God, and sometimes it wins. Sometime I cuss, sometime I lie, sometimes I lust, sometimes I get mad, and this is the atheist in me doing what I think is right at the moment.
As a Christian you might just say, “Well, that's the sin nature,” or as an atheist you might say, “That's just human nature,” and you'd be right as well. “Well, that doesn't make you an atheist,” is what both sides are probably saying in unison. To a certain extent I guess you'd be right. What I can tell you is that the two halves of me are diametrically opposed and that's how it should be. There is a part of me that God has to beat down and make submit and a part that He has to nurture and enhance. There is a part of me that kicks at the idea of God and there is a part of me that embraces it. This polarity is needed.
It's the blending, deliberating, compromising, and joining of the two that make issues. This, ironically, is the breeding ground for both fundamentalist heresies and Unitarian heresies. This war will wage as long as we have breath. It wages whether we acknowledge it or not. That is why we need Christ. If we can't tell the difference between who we used to be without Jesus and who we are with Jesus then we don't know Jesus. If we rely on rules and not Jesus to be our salvation from our atheist side then all we are is a better behaved atheist.
I've watched a lot of my friends become atheists because they were taught that if you are loved by Jesus you never want to sin. They can't kick the desires they have. They here a different philosophy. They meet a gay person who isn't trying to take down the whole American infrastructure. Sex is fun. All of a sudden God is on the chopping block and it makes more sense to kill Him off then to follow Him. Off with His head. The war isn't worth it so somebody has to die and it might as well be the thing that they can't remember seeing, touching, or feeling.
The thing I love most about Bad Religion is they remind me that the choices I make can only be made by me. They remind me that I don't have to take crap from anybody. They remind me of what lives inside of me. They make me not take my faith for granted. They make me seek out truth and not just swallow what I am taught. They, inadvertently I'm sure, show me how much my flesh hates God and how much my spirit needs Him. 
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Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Relationship

            The fact that God asks anything of us shows the level of intimacy that He wants to have with us. The depth of any relationship is measured in how high the expectations are. If you don’t believe that to be true look at the different labels we have for non-family members. You have strangers, acquaintances, friends, buddies, best friends, bros, boys, significant others etc. We label people by how close they are to us and the closer they are the more we expect from them.  This isn’t mean spirited; it isn’t unreasonable, it is the very nature of relationships.
The Man (Johnny Cash) and Wife. 
            Look at a good marriage. Each member gives 100% of themselves. There is no 50/50. It is all or nothing. God often equates our relationship with Him to a marriage. My wife has higher expectations for me then anybody else on the planet. Are these expectations given out of distrust or hate? No, they are given out of love and intimacy. These expectations show the difference between love and like.
God is not out of line in asking us to love and serve Him. He created us, we goofed, and He saved us. He has put Himself 100% in this relationship multiple times. He has proven to us that He cares. Jesus modeled the level of expectation in the relationship God wants with us. God is not unjust. God is not a tyrant. He leads by example. God loves us all and with that love comes expectations. The expectations don’t save us but they show how He feels about us and how He wants us to feel about Him.
Why is it so hard for us to look at our relationship with God this way? We have super high expectations for Him. If anything bad happens we say, “Why did you do that?” When we don’t like what He has for us we say, “You could’ve done better.” When He gives us His expectations we say, “No, I’m philosophically opposed to that, so You’re wrong.” Why can’t we look at God’s example, what He’s done and just say, “Thanks”?
Relationships are always messy. The deeper the relationship is the bigger the mess will be. God knows this. God knows that the intensity of our relationship with Him will cause some sparks and spilled milk. The question to pose is where will we be standing after the smoke clears: closer or further?

Image originally found