Thursday, February 24, 2022

If It's Not One Thing, It's Another (Actually, It's BOTH Things)


For those of us who, like the old camp song says, "have decided to follow Jesus," it's not unusual to think about how Jesus' death made it possible for our sins to be forgiven. But forgiveness is not the only reason Christ died.

It's right here in Titus 2:14. Jesus gave himself for us to:
       1) Redeem us from all wickedness, and
       2) Purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

It's right here in the hymn, "Nothing But the Blood of Jesus":
       1) What can wash away my sin?
       2) What can make me whole again?

It's right here in "Search Me, O God":
       1) Cleanse me from every sin and
       2) Set me free

It directly relates to why we call Jesus our Savior AND Lord.

Truth is...It's one thing to be forgiven. It's something else entirely to learn to "say 'No' to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ." (Titus 2:12-13, NIV)

Thursday, February 17, 2022

For Those Who Think I've Got It All Together


I'm just a little over a month shy of having been doing this blog for ten years.

Before that, I became an elder at my church.

Before that, I spent 14 years of my life ministering to and with teenagers; attempting to make disciples out of the clay God put in my reach.

With all of that, you might be tempted to think I've become a mature, in-the-zone kind of Jesus follower: full of wisdom and truth and the confidence that comes from being acclimated to hearing God's voice and walking in step with the Spirit.

"Here's a guy that's been around the track a few times and has a firm grip on God's specific will for his life."

Truth is...since leaving vocational ministry in 1998, my life has been a series of walking through doors that have been opened. There has been no overwhelming sense of any step being exactly what God wanted or any activity being what everything up to that point in my life had prepared me for. Sure, there have been flickers of light and echoes of harmonious collaborations with the Spirit, but nothing that has made my eyes open wide and caused me to say, "Oh, NOW I understand!"

But still, even if I can't see God's hand in every little detail, I am still convinced he loves me in incomprehensible ways. I trust his heart is inclined toward it is toward each person reading these words.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

Romans 7 Per Calvin & Hobbes


We find our hero, Calvin, at the top of a snowy hill.

He comes to a shocking realization.

The apostle Paul put it like this in Romans 7:18-20 (NLT):

I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...We all suffer from this dilemma, but we also all can enjoy the same solution Paul expressed in verses 24 and 25: "Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord."

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Clowning Around With the Gospel


Godspell holds a unique place in the history of musical theater. I mean, there aren't a whole lot of Broadway musicals birthed as someone's master's thesis that feature a group of childlike clowns acting out Biblical parables to a pop music score...while being led by Jesus in a Superman shirt.

Movie cast of Godspell

At the time Godspell was gaining popularity, it also collected a few distractors who thought the play was belittling the teachings of Jesus. Ironically, the intent was the exact opposite.

Consider the following account of how John-Michael Tebelak came to write the show, taken from Carol de Giere's book The Godspell Experience: Inside a Transformative Musical.

While searching for material for his thesis project, Tebelak read through several miracle plays and passion plays, but felt them to be "very heavy." Then, one afternoon, he read the four Gospels of the New Testament in one sitting. "Afterward, I became pretty excited because I found what I wanted to portray on stage...Joy!"
       Tebelak resolved to attend a church service, and it was there that a spiritual experience, or rather lack thereof, completed the inspiration for the new musical. On a snowy Easter morning in 1970, Tebelak arrived at the Anglican Cathedral in Pittsburgh wearing his standard overalls and scraggly Afro haircut. The people sitting near him were complaining about the snowfall upsetting their plans.
       He explained later to Dramatics Magazine, "An old priest came out and mumbled into a microphone, and people mumbled things back, and then everyone got up and left. Instead of 'healing' the burden, or resurrecting the Christ, it seems those people had pushed Him back into the tomb. They had refused to let Him come out that day."
       As Tebelak left the service, a policeman who had been sitting a few pews in front of him wanted to frisk him for drugs. "Apparently he had thought I was ducking into the church to escape the snowstorm. At that moment  -  I think because of the absurd situation  -  it angered me so much that I went home and realized what I wanted to do with the Gospels: I wanted to make it the simple, joyful message that I felt the first time I read them and re-create the sense of community, which I did not share when I went to that service."
       For Tebelak, associating Biblical material with clowns didn't mean he was making fun of religion. Rather
, he wanted his project to be an antidote to lifeless and boring spiritual experiences; clownlike performances were a means to an end.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *

Truth is...Father God, while I am glad that Godspell exists, I pray that the way I live my life, express my faith, and worship with my church family will never come close to mimicking the joyless experience that motivated its creation.