A World at War, Good Friday, and Frodo

wwiOn April 6, 97 years ago, America formally declared war on Germany, entering World War I.

It is Good Friday, the day Christ invaded our enemies and our sins.

Both were major events. Both would see devastating setbacks (so it would seem), but Americans and Christ came out victorious in the end.

I’ve heard it asked, “Why is it called Good Friday?”

If you’re not familiar with the whole passion_of_the_christChristian picture, it may seem rather odd that we celebrate the day our Saviour was beaten and crucified.

But like many wars, it was necessary for Christ to enter into battle in order to declare victory in the end.

You can’t be an official opponent if you don’t enter into a war. You can’t claim victory over that war unless you enter into battle, on the winning side. And you can’t fight the battle effectively unless you believe in the cause you’re fighting for.

Jesus knew the cause of His fight, He entered into the battle, and eventually declared victory three days later by stepping out of that tomb. Though our culture downplays it, there are many things worth fighting for, and Jesus seemed to think that your very soul was worth the fight.

If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, you better believe that when He took those punches to the nose, He was thinking of you.

When the soldiers shoved the crown of thorns on His head, He endured it for you.

When the Father looked down on His Son savagely being nailed to the cross, He knew full well that in the end, you would be able to declare victory next to His Son and stand innocent before Him on the day of Judgement.

It is Good Friday because it is a prelude to the real celebration that is to take place this coming Sunday.

frodo_cryingLike every normal person, my wife and I absolutely love the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Although we marvel at the brilliant filmmaking, we don’t necessarily enjoy all the hurt and anguish Frodo is put through.

But we know it’s part of the story. And if we’re honest with ourselves, we really only love the movies because of the last half hour of the last movie which is saturated in victory and redemption.

But those final scenes mean nothing without the 9+ hours of war and anguish preceeding them.

In the same way, you can’t appreciate the miracle of Easter unless you understand the goodness of Christ’s crucifixion.

One step further: You can’t fully celebrate the miracle of Easter unless you recognize the goodness of you yourself being crucified with Christ.

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Galatians 2:20

Have a very Good Friday and declare war on your sins.

What Christians Fear Most

monsters

Sometimes I feel like a monster.

Not when I lose my temper. When that happens, I’m just being a typical fallen human – my old fleshly self.

But sometimes I feel like a monster from Monstropolis. You know, the ones from Monsters Inc. who are afraid of children.

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?

But we’re not much brighter. We fear man.

We clamor for man’s approval and stop at nothing to gain the respect of the masses.

And if we’re honest with ourselves, on our worst days, we’d rather be judged by God than by our bosses.

This is the wrong way of living. Jesus is very clear in Matthew 10:28: “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in hell.”

We’re so anxious to please others and remain certain not to offend ignorant people with the Gospel, but we’d much rather offend the One who commanded us to do just that!

Think about it. There are plenty of reasons why we don’t witness the way we ought. Laziness and carelessness may be at the top of the list, but fear is most certainly right up there.

Why won’t you witness to your boss? Because you’re afraid of getting fired.

Why won’t you witness to your neighbor? Because you’re afraid of making future front yard conversations terse and awkward.

Remember. These people who do not know the Gospel are as harmless as a child in Monstropolis. You have the Holy Spirit fighting with you, and enabling you to carry on the task.

Easter’s coming up. Invite someone to church. Just a simple, harmless invitation.

After all, who doesn’t like an invitation somewhere, right?

And don’t loose sight of who the real enemy is: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).

Don’t be like the monsters who are scared of little children. Know who your real enemy is and realize the potential – through Christ – they’re keeping you from.

My Secret Obsession

cereal3

I have a secret that I think, after two years of blogging, I’m ready to share.

It’s an unusual secret. A personal one, that really only my wife and a few family members know about. And yes, I get teased about it a lot.

My coworkers don’t know about it, and my friends have no clue.

But now I’m about to share it with 10,000+ readers.

It’s sort of an addiction I face every morning.

Let me set the stage for you so you can appreciate the magnitude of this.

My wife is an amazing cook. She makes the best pasta, the best salads, the best everything I’ve ever had. Including the best eggs.

And each morning I have the option to have her make me gooey, cheesy, scrambled eggs or… a box of cereal.

And each morning I choose a box of cereal.

Not the whole-grain crap or bland granola that you can get in the health-food aisles. I’m talking, if it doesn’t have a cartoon character on the front of the box, I won’t eat it.

If Michael Scott ever opens up Mike’s Cereal Shack, I’ll hop on the first flight to Colorado and go there.

Is it any wonder that my favorite movie studio has a full-fledged cereal bar in their kitchen?

Growing up, I always loved that song “Breakfast” by Newsboys.

If my daughter were to be shrunken by my incredible shrinking machine and she fell into my cereal bowl, I’m not sure I wouldn’t mistake her as a cute little marshmallow and gobble her up. (Props to Rick Moranis for eating a colorless cereal, by the way.)

If I were to be a criminal, I’d be a serial… No – that’s too obvious. I’ll spare you that one.

Earlier this year, being 30, I decided to quit cereal all together and eat toast and eggs like a normal grown-up.

That lasted for about two weeks.

But can you blame me? Wendell the Baker came out with Peanut Butter Toast Crunch! And being a cereal connoisseur, I absolutely had to try it.

Then the Captain came out with Cinnamon Roll Crunch.

Tried it. Loved it.

Then good ol’ Tony hit me with Chocolate Frosted Flakes and Bam-Bam hammered out Poppin’ Pebbles.

It seemed the grocery store was out to see me fail. And yes, I succumbed, and continue to succumb, to all the new flavors and even revert back to old ones, because I figure, hey, I’m off the wagon, might as well frolic in the grass while it’s still fresh.

Sigh.

It’s Ash Wednesday, and some of you will be giving up something for Lent.

I’m not Catholic, so I won’t be giving something up, and it certainly wouldn’t be cereal (I’m not strong enough) or ice cream (don’t even get me started on that).

But whatever you do give up, whether for Lent or at any point throughout your life that you want to abstain from, just know that the world, the devil, your flesh, will all act as your mega grocery store.

And when that happens, and your tempted to go back, pray for the strength to resist. Like, really, really pray. Hard. Pray like you know God will get you through the temptation (notice I didn’t say He’ll take you out of it, but rather get you through it).

And for goodness sakes, stay out of the cereal aisle.

Don’t Go to Church on Easter

emptypew33Easter is just one week away.

Have you invited anybody to church?

Easter is a time for believers to gather together and celebrate the Lord’s resurrection from the grave and our redemption through Him.

But it is NOT an exclusive holiday.

When Christ returns a second time, it’s not going to be done in secret, quietly, behind the doors of a church, nor in the privacy of a stable.

No. Not this time.

It’s going to be loud and explosive and every knee will bow and acknowledge Jesus Christ as Lord of the earth.

Folks, Easter is a dress rehearsal for Christ’s second coming, and all the world will see Him. So what are we doing keeping Easter a private family affair? When we signed up to become Christ’s followers, we agreed to take His message to the ends of the earth. The least we can do is take His message to the other end of our workplace, or down the street.

So here’s my challenge, unorthodox as it may be.

Don’t make plans to go to church on Easter Sunday if you don’t invite a lost person to come with you.

Here’s why I make this challenge. First, it is a reminder that Easter is not about you. Second, how intimidating would it be to have to explain to someone that you didn’t go to church on Easter because you didn’t invite someone else join you?

Now, I may be wrong, but how much less intimidating would it be to just throw out a simple invitation?:

“Got any plans for Easter?”

“No.”

“Want to come to church with me and my family?”

“Naw, that’s fine. Thanks, though.”

Easy peasy.

Now you just need to keep praying for them and witnessing to them since they now know you’re a Christian. Cat’s out of the bag.

Now you can celebrate the Lord’s resurrection with a clear conscious, knowing that you did what you could (and by all means, if the Lord is prodding you to do more, do it). And who knows? The most unexpected thing could happen and they might accept your invitation! And maybe… just maybe they’ll accept the bigger invitation to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior and there will be an even bigger celebration in the celestial halls of Heaven than we could ever dream of here on earth.

Don’t make Easter about you. Make it about Jesus. And the thing Jesus is about, is bringing people from death to life.

Note: I understand that some readers may have faced (or may face) persecution or insults or hardships, especially my international readers. I do not mean to make light of inviting people to church and passing it off as something that is easy to do. But that does not negate the challenge (not mine – Christ’s). All of us believers must pray for the lost as well as fellow believers that God may grant them courage and strength.

 

The Best Book I’ve Ever Read is…

Bottom-of-the-33rd

I have been waiting all year to read this book again. Ever since I read it last April, I’ve often daydreamed about it.

During the hot summer days of 2012, trapped behind a cash register at my day job, I often escaped to the frigid midnight setting of this masterpiece by poet-like author Dan Barry.

During the windy days of fall, my imagination still would not let me forget the Easter Morning images of a crippled ballpark in Pawtucket, New Jersey that was destined for record-setting greatness.

Even as Carols played in the car driving with my wife to Christmas Eve Service, I anticipated the day I would once again crack open the modest book about little-known McCoy Stadium, pregnant with soon-to-be greats such as Cal Ripken Jr. and Wade Boggs, and nurturing has-beens and never-quite-was’s, just dreaming of the day they could grace the filed of a major league stadium, if not for just a moment in time.

Sarabeth and I make it a point to read books with each other. She doesn’t like baseball much – hates it, really. But after reading just a few pages of The Bottom of the 33rd to her, she agreed that Dan Barry is a very good author. And if there’s anything to know about Sarabeth, it’s that she does not say something unless she means it.

So Baseball haters, I’m telling you that this book is so good, that even you should give it a chance.

With the number of books I’ve read in my lifetime, I believe I can qualify as a book critic if I wanted to (just got to figure out how, I guess). And this often-tough critic gives this book a certified 100% approval rating. Why don’t you take a moment to read a couple of select paragraphs from the Prologue to see if it convinces you to get this book:

“Three thirty in the morning.

“Holy Saturday, the awkward Christian pause between the Sorrow and the Joy, has surrendered to the first hushed hours of Easter. The cold and dark cling to the rooftops in a Rhode Island place called Pawtucket. Triple-decker houses, packed with three, four, six sleeping families, loom over its empty, half-lit streets, while the river that cascades through its deserted downtown releases a steady, dreamy sigh. Yet somewhere in the almost sacred stillness, a white orb disturbs the peace, skipping along the night-damp grass, flitting through the night-crisp air, causing general unrest at three thirty in the morning on Sunday, Easter Sunday.”

“Someone not here tonight could pose quite legitimate questions to the players and fans, questions that would naturally start with why. Why did you keep playing? Why did you stay? At two o’clock in the morning, and then at three o’clock, why didn’t you just – leave? The official answer, that some umpire refused to call it a night, would be so lacking in the weight of common sense that it might twirl off like a deflating balloon before the sentence could be finished. But the truer answer might be as unsatisfying to the outsider as it is surprising to these inhabitants of this in-between place, where time’s boundaries have blurred.

“Why did you keep playing? Why did you stay?

“Because we are bound by duty. Because we aspire to greater things. Because we are loyal. Because, in our own secular way, we are celebrating communion, and resurrection, and possibility.”

Do not delay this Easter Season. Get The Bottom of the 33rd on Amazon here.

Disclaimer: This book contains frequent use of the F-word.

I also recommend: Calico Joe by John Grisham and The Rookie by Jim Morris.

[Image Credit]

For Whom the “Bell” Tolls: My Thoughts on Velvet Elvis – Part 1

I wrote this a while back after reading Velvet Elvis by Robb Bell. I knew the book had stirred up a whirlwind of controversy in Christian circles, and before arguing one way or the other I decided to give the guy a chance (I liked his Nooma videos) and see what he had to say before choosing a “side.”

I wrote this back in 2009. Because of the length, I have broken it up into a few different posts. I’d love to hear from you all your thoughts:

It should go without saying that when you see the subtitle of a Christian book labeled, “Repainting the Christian Faith,” you should proceed with caution, should you decide to proceed at all. 
In this disjointed book, Rob Bell seems to want the theme to be about rethinking Christianity and the Bible as, according to him, Jesus did (that’s right, you’re going to hear a lot about a second-guessing Savior). One of his main points is that we are to reform Christianity. Or, as he puts it, we are to be “reforming theology. He uses the example of Martin Luther who exposed the sins of the church leaders to make the church about God and the people and not about business and stale religion. That’s a fine example to use, if Bell is speaking to an audience of money changers. But he’s speaking to you and me, Christians striving to live according to the Word of God because we love Him

And that’s just the introduction. He then begins his first chapter by explaining how everything, at some point had to be named. At some point God’s Spirit had to be named by us, and even the Trinity was once nameless until we came along. And then he subtly suggests that the Spirit of God is not eternal. That at some point, “God became the Spirit so He could be everywhere.” This also implies God was not (and cannot be on His own) omnipresent

Concerning the doctrine found in the Bible, [Bell] points his readers to the example of a trampoline. He seems to be unclear as to whether the net itself is God or if it’s Christianity or what, but the springs are what he focuses on. They are the doctrine that holds everything together. You can remove the springs (doctrine), stretch them, pull them, examine them. If you take one or two springs off of the trampoline, it will not fail, it won’t collapse. This is where the famous controversy comes in: that the virgin birth was not necessary to fulfill Scripture.

In his defense he claims to believe in the virgin birth. But what I find to be more startling than his example of the virgin birth is that he claims that ultimately you can take any prophecy or truth out of the Bible and Christianity still remains unfaltering, somehow leaving you with a sturdy foundation to stand upon. He contrasts this analogy of a trampoline to that of a brick wall where it’s assumed if you take out one unchanging, solid brick, the whole wall will crumble. Plus, Bell says that a wall is meant to be guarded by keeping people out as opposed to enjoying the amusement of a trampoline and inviting others to join you. It’s because you love jumping on the trampoline that you’re going to invite people to join you, he continues, just like if you really love God, you’ll invite people to experience Him. “You rarely defend things you love,” he says. I’d sure hate to have him as the leader of my family [when a burglar breaks in].

He then goes on to describe a leader that is much desired and sought after. One who has more questions than answers. He uses Jesus as an example in that He answered a lot of questions with questions. So in response to the questions people have, Bell boasts in a “Doubt Night” he holds at a church where people are invited to write their questions down on a slip of paper and have them read publicly. (“Why do babies die?”, “Why do bad guys have all the fun?” etc.) In my mind, this can only accomplish one purpose: create more doubt in already [wavering] minds, and without these questions being backed up by answers, I can only imagine how hazardous this kind of thinking is to a young Christian who is already plagued with uncertainties.

Bell says people don’t want a leader with all the answers [I’m assuming political jokes would not be welcome here], but someone who has questions themselves. So while Rob and his pals are doing somersaults and throwing pity parties on his springless trampoline, I think I’ll choose to invest my faith and efforts in those who are laying their lives and reputations on the line by defending the wall as if it’s their very home. They take the Word of God very seriously because they recognize that there are eternal consequences in regard to what we choose to put our faith in. 

To be Continued…

Cult # 3: New Age – Nothing New Under the Sun

Plumbing was on the list of top priorities of things to do last night in the Toy home. I’m not handy by any stretch of the imagination, as evidenced by my sloppy and incomplete tool closet and many half-finished projects around the house. After an hour or two I finally plied the drain covering off the sink only to find out that a piece still needs to be unscrewed from the bottom. No problem. Well, we didn’t have the proper tools, but being a tightwad mixed with a little bit of determination to prove myself, I went about trying to unscrew the darn thing by my own means.

All the while, Sarabeth is telling me that I’m attempting to unscrew the right piece, but I’m seeing the whole apparatus wrong, therefore I can’t possibly get the proper grip in order to unscrew it successfully. I insisted that parts A and B were connected just below the sink. She insisted that part B was just a ring attached to part A. The way these parts were assembled made all the difference between dinner at 9 pm or dinner for breakfast. As I’m staring at the blasted sink between breaths, I finally see that Sarabeth was right the whole time. Part A was not inserted into part B. Part A was just a ring that screwed around Part B. I was seeing the whole thing wrong. But I could have sworn on everything that I was for once, in the right.

New Age is one of the hardest religions to define. It is a worldview whereas once people view the world through it, everything makes sense (or, if it doesn’t, that’s okay!). Very little amount of reasoning and debate will likely sway New Agers and persuade them of the truth. Like me and the sink, it’s very hard reason with New Age thinking. It is a worldview that offers a new way of thinking, yet it is explicitly based off of a lie that was birthed from the beginning of time. “If you eat this fruit, you will be like God…” Yes, the roots of New Age mysticism – as new and exciting as it looks – stretches all the way back to the Garden of Eden. It is indeed the Serpent’s old lie in an updated package. Like Pepsi’s slogan: “New look, same great taste.”

In New Age circles there is no formal structure or organization. Millions of New Age activists hope to transform society by bringing about a reawakening that will emphasize self-discovery, spiritualism, growth and enlightment.

New Age concepts find their roots in the Garden of Eden. It borrows from Hinduism, Buddhism, Babylonian mystery rituals (which are supposed to elevate humans to a godlike status) nature worship, occult practices and reincarnation. Like Hinduism, it teaches concepts like monism (all is one) and pantheism (all is god). It borrows form Taoism, a Chinese philosophy that teaches that all things are constantly changing (yin and yang), therefore nothing is absolute, all is relative, including morals and ethics.

New Age adapts esoteric knowledge from Gnoticism. It ignites a divine spark and power within, therefore negates the need for Christ’s atoning death. New Age thinking is a hybrid or blend of all of the above, plus several other ideas and phenomenon of modern origin: UFO’s, extraterrestrial intelligence and psychokinesis.

Some New Agers buy into one portion of New Age thinking while others accept other portions. New Agism has even caught many Christians in its web. I’ll never forget when a Christian I know was really excited to read Oprah’s book recommendation, The Secret, thinking that it contained great spiritual truths. Not everyone may like the story of Avatar, but it’s the concepts and monistic worldviews – not the nonexistent plot – that skyrocketed the expensive and disastrous film into Box Office history. Take a look at other ways New Age has been influenced by or has influenced modern pop culture:

The 60’s became a springboard for the generation gap, anti-establishment thinking and psychedic expression through LSD and other drugs. This is when the Beatles helped introduce transcendental meditation. The musical Hair introduced Eastern ideas – “Age of Aquarius,” the theme song of NAM with direct references to astrology (mentions moon being in the seventh house and Jupiter aligning with Mars, Peace guiding the planets and love steering the stars). Many celebrities, including Shirley MacLaine, champion New Age thinking, who ebulliently states, “You are unlimited, you just don’t realize it.”

And a side note for my eschatologist friends and political followers , the Age of Aquarius, according to New Agers, will usher in a new world order with three ideals in one world government, one world leader, and one world religion.

In New Age thinking, God is more of an “it” rather than a “He.” Creation is a myth because there is no Creator. All that is here was always here. How? That is no one’s concern (a good reason to skip out of Science class). Salvation is found within themselves. Instead of saving one’s soul from being fallen and sinful, you should achieve a new “awareness” of your divinity and oneness with all things. (I wish I could have been one with the sink last night so I could undo myself.) Christ is demoted from second Person of the trinity to one of many “cosmic Christs,” including Buddah, Moses, Elijah and Mohammed.

Check out the New Age admonition – “Create your own reality.” All New Agers agree on one central dogma: All truth is relative, there are no absolutes, and you find “God” within yourself.

New Age dabbles quite heavily in Occultism, channeling, paranormal experiences, spiritualism, and a host of other dangerous practices placing individuals in the midst of a very real and dangerous spiritual world unguarded by Christ. The Bible cannot be more clear on this. One verse sums it up: “If a person turns to mediums and necromancers, whoring after them, I will set my face against that person and will cut him off from among his people.” Leviticus 20:6.

I realize this doesn’t being to cover the tip of the ice burg on the topic of New Age mysticism, but I hope it give you an idea of the powerful influence it’s having on our nation and our world.

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