Archive for March, 2018

Easter is a fantastic day. In many ways it’s the holiest day of the year. For Pastor’s it’s among the busiest. Check out this little bit of humor from John Christ.

Okay, I try to be a level headed, loving guy, who’s as kind as possible but occasionally I hear something that is so ludicrous that I feel like I have to comment on it, especially when it relates to the arts. I heard one just the other day on a commercial for the Chappaquiddick movie. I was fine with all of it. I like movies that explore historical events, but then it got to the end and they were listing the rating and why the movie received it and one of the items listed was “historical smoking.” Really? Historical SMOKING?!? Really?!?

Now please don’t get me wrong, I do not smoke. I do not like smoking. I think smoking is a pretty nasty, dangerous habit and I wish everyone would quit, but this is what they’re worried about?!? They actually think they have to warn us about smoking in the movie. Like some kid is going to watch this movie (will any kid watch this movie?) and say, “I think I’m going to start smoking because I really want to be like that cool senator who got drunk and drove his car off a bridge killing the young woman who was riding with him and then didn’t report it for ten hours. yeah, I wanna be like that guy. Quick gimme a Marlboro.” Do we really think that’s what is going to happen? Oh yes please protect our kids from historical smoking.

Again, I DO NOT want kids to smoke, but what about all the other stuff we bombard them with every day.The stuff about which no one says a word. Forget the movies where at least there is a rating system responsible parent can use. What about just good old network prime time TV? There’s all matter of sexuality, graphic violence, drug abuse, alcoholism and a whole host of other stuff we ought to be a lot more incensed about goes virtually unnoticed, but please, oh please, protect them from historical smoking, because clearly that is the biggest problem we face. This shows me how completely out of touch so much of our media is and it leads me to two major conclusions. First and foremost, good parenting is more essential than it has ever been in our history. Secondly, those of us with a creative bent have got to get to work creating something better. They’re so out of touch that the only real choice we have is to do it ourselves.

I’m fully aware that I have posted on this song before. I’m equally sure that I will sound like I have an axe to grind and further, I’m sure I’m in the minority on this, but I can’t stand the song Imagine by John Lennon. This morning checking through my social media I saw a clip of a young man who was on the X-Factor. Abandoned with his brother and left for dead in Iraq he was rescued by a woman who adopted them both and changed the entire course of their lives. I was starting to get inspired, even excited to hear what he would do and rooting for him. It’s the kind of story that I love. Then they asked him what song he was going to sing and he said Imagine by John Lennon. It was like the wind fell out of my sails. I can’t stand that song.

You see when you start off a song with “Imagine there’s no heaven,” my first question is “Why would I want to do that?” Heaven is a place of tremendous hope for me. When this world is at its worst, when I face the loss of someone I love, the hope of heaven is such a tremendous comfort. It reminds me that there is a God who loves me and a Christ who died for me. To imagine there’s no heaven is simply not something I would even want to consider, and secondly if I do imagine it, I certainly don’t see the panacea that Lennon imagined. Quite the contrary.

At this point, I was about to flip past the video, something made me stay. I started to think why would this man want to sing this song and then a thought hit me. He was born and left for dead in Iraq, a place not exactly known for its religious freedom. Maybe that’s why. I’d have to imagine the beginning of his story could sour someone toward religion, but still his story didn’t end there. It’s one of rescue and redemption that is more than religion and should be grounds for tremendous faith. Then another thought hit me. Maybe I’m way overthinking this. Maybe he just likes the song, after all it seems everybody but me does.

I guess that’s what hit me. To some folks a song is just a song. This man’s story is beautiful in so many ways. It’s a rescue story and it ends in victory. That’s how I see my faith. I was lost and in many ways alone when Jesus came to my rescue. He allowed me to imagine there is a heaven and to believe it’s real and to find tremendous hope and purpose in this life, sharing his story. Maybe that’s why I can’t stand Imagine. I mean consider the rest of that first verse.

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

If the song jumps the track on the first line, it’s the last line that kills it for me. I don’t have to imagine all the people living for today. I see it all around me as I watch people live as if there is no tomorrow and it makes me sad. I see it on the news as people do whatever they please and then expect the government to fix the repercussions of choices that are short sighted and foolish as they live for today. It’s not panacea. It’s the exact opposite of that. That this song is an anthem to so many is revelatory of all that is wrong in our world—a world that my God came to rescue. If you’re going to imagine, use your imagination to imagine something that will actually be better. Living for today ain’t all Lennon cracked it up to be.

Let’s start this off right. Please do not misread the title. I was not disappointed with I Can Only Imagine the movie. It’s amazing. Nor was I disappointed with the song. The first time I heard it, it turned me into a blubbering mess. I’m also not disappointed with Bart Millard, who I am convinced is in the stratosphere of Christian songwriters. No we’ll get to the power of disappointment in a moment.

There have been times in the past where I have gone to see a Christian movie in the theaters (because if we want people and more importantly studios to keep making Christian movies, we have to spend our money and support them in the theaters and not just wait for video or Netflix) and walked away thinking that was pretty good for a Christian movie. I Can Only Imagine is not like that. I Can Only Imagine is just a straight up good, possibly great, movie. It is brilliant. While it is decidedly Christian in content, I am pretty convinced that like the song that inspired it this will appeal to a much wider audience. There is some fantastic storytelling here. I realize the odds are extremely small of this happening, but if there are any Academy Award voters reading this post, Dennis Quaid’s performance in this movie is worthy of a nomination. Yes, he is that good! If you have not seen I Can Only Imagine yet, trust me, you need to and you won’t be disappointed.

So let’s get to the power of disappointment. There is a very poignant scene in the movie where Bart and the rest of Mercy Me get a showcase for the CMA week. This is a big deal and their agent got five major labels to come and see them. Bart clearly believes this will be their big break. Backstage after the show the band waits for word. Bart clearly feels like he can’t wait any longer for them to make a decision and finally, despite the protests of the rest of the band, goes out and interrupts the meeting. He begs the label execs to tell him what they think. And they tell him he’s not good enough. This scene is brilliantly shot. For every negative comment he hears from a label exec, he flashes back to his mean, nasty, cruel father telling him he’ll never measure up, that this is all a big pipe dream. He leaves the room crushed, defeated and determined to quit. Instead he decides to deal with his past. He goes back to confront his father. I don’t want to go too much further because that could be a spoiler. Suffice it to say the meeting is one more crushing disappointment in what was by all accounts a hard life.

Disappointments are a funny thing. Had Bart gotten a record deal that night, most of the good things in his life would never have happened, and he definitely would never have ended up writing I Can Only Imagine, a song that has now been declared the number one Christian song of all time and a song that has been used to give help and hope, not to mention brought joy to millions of people all over the world.

The creative life is full of disappointment, rejection and yes sometimes all out failure. It’s in those moments when we need to trust God to be bigger, hold on to Him, sometimes deal with our issues and keep moving forward. Remember the Bible says in ALL things God works for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.

What will happen if you can face disappointment and move forward in Him?

I can only imagine.

Here’s the song that inspired it all in case you’re one of the three people left who haven’t heard it, or if maybe you just need a reminder.

It’s Palm Sunday and I wonder if people understand what was happening that day. About 550 years before the original Palm Sunday, the prophet Zechariah told us it would happen. He said,

“Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion!
Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

And that’s what happened. Jesus came riding into Jerusalem and the people waved Palm branches and placed their cloaks on the road in front of Jesus. It finally looks like He’s getting the recognition He deserved, but the people were missing the point. They were missing the donkey. You see when a king would ride into a territory and they came in peace, they would ride into the territory on the smallest most unassuming animal imaginable. The colt of a donkey. The message was simple, your king comes in peace. The thing is that the people were looking for something else. They were looking for Jesus to overthrow the Romans and when he didn’t deliver that, their Palm Sunday “Hosanna’s” became Good Friday “Crucify’s.” The problem wasn’t with Jesus, it was with the people’s expectations. The prophecy fulfilled in the donkey showed them a king that came in peace. Don’t miss the donkey. Jesus is exactly who we need him to be. He didn’t come to rescue us from every problem. Rather he came to save us for all eternity.

Don’t miss the donkey.

The photo is one of the paintings I did based on my message today.

My friend Marlita Hill author of Defying Discord posted thing today and it’s brilliant. Failure just might be an illusion and a way to success.

Find out more about Marlita on her Facebook page.

I sometimes enjoy using cartooning to explore complex subjects. Such is the case in my most recent series at over at Creachertoons.

One of my dear sisters in Christ from church lent me a devotional from Dr. Tony Evans, a preaching hero of mine, called Life Under God. I got myself a little messed up and I ended up ahead of the devotional by a day. The truth he shared today was priceless and I just had to share it here. Now if you happen to be one of my Springfield people, it’s okay to read this, just don’t be surprised if you hear it in a sermon in the next month or two.

He starts off with these words from the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:34):

“So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of it’s own.”

Most people are being crucified between two thieves: yesterday and tomorrow. They killed today because of what happened yesterday, and they are too scared today because of what may happen tomorrow. Do you know that today is the tomorrow you worried about yesterday?

Now there is a truth bomb for you. Worry is a useless exercise that will strip you of the hope and creativity you need to solve the problems of today. Give this day to the Lord and move forward in hope.

Thanks Dr. Evans for this pertinent reminder and thank you Jesus for inspiring it.

I had this idea for sort of the ultimate creative exercise, that would have proven the ultimate point I am trying to make about discourse in our world. With all the talk about “fake news” it would maybe not have been thought as original as I would like to be, but if could have done some real good.

What I was going to do was to make up a story—a totally plausible–something that could actually have happened and yet just preposterous enough that all but the most gullible among us should second guess it. I was going to write it and check it and then I was going to give it a tantalizing title and put it out on Social Media, acting outraged over what I had just heard and seeing how many people would distribute it. Then after about a week I was going to write a secondary article denouncing it and showing people how quickly fake news and false teaching are disseminated and how wrong it is to share things we don’t know to be true. I had all intentions of doing this, but I didn’t. Here’s why.

1. I live to honor God. He gave this law about not bearing false witness and I am pretty sure it still applies here. Even though I was trying to prove a point, I would have been guilty of false teaching, gossip and a whole bunch of other things.

2. I value my credibility. A big part of doing what I do hinges on people believing me. Also important is that people feel safe sharing what I post. What would happen if I started to put things out there that would make people constantly wonder, “Is he trying to trick us this time too?”

3. Rebottling Genies is hard. What if someone read the first story and not the second. What if my story was passed along and the people who saw it were unaware of the retraction or the point behind the exercise. Things on social media have the potential to spread and take on a life of their own. I can’t even begin to imagine that I would be able to reach everyone touched by something I’ve posted with a single retraction. I’d simply be guilty of misinformation. There are other reasons as well but these are the big three.

Why did I share this? Because there are people all over the “inter-webs” who do not have my scruples. They post things for the sole purpose of getting people to share them, spread lies and turn people against each other. It may be the ultimate misuse of creativity. So the next time you get outrages over something you read online, before you pass it, take a breath, calm down and maybe do a little research. People always joke, “I read it on the internet, it must be true.” You know why people laugh when they say that? Because it is so obviously untrue. Watch what you post and what you repost and share. The internet gives a platform to anyone and everyone who wants one, We’d be lying to ourselves if we thought all those people posting are honest and with our best interests at heart.

Use your platform for good and value the trust of the people who give you their time.

Speak the truth. Post the truth. People are watching.

I just finished writing the sermon for a funeral service, I’m doing tomorrow. I didn’t know the man, though we did meet once. That’s always a challenge, but it is an honor to have the opportunity to bring a message of hope to hurting people. The idea that came to me is not all that original but it hit me in a way I hadn’t thought of before. It’s the idea of the “dash”—how our whole lives are summed up with a single hyphen, that little line between the dates of our birth and our death. So much summed up in so little, but then I had a thought. This is what I want on my tombstone. (I gave myself the benefit of the doubt and give myself a hundred years. That number is, of course, up to God.)

What really hit me in this Easter season is, because of what Jesus did for us, believers get a second dash… a really long one. Ain’t God good?!?