Three Years Without Cable TV

I cancelled my cable service three years ago.

And it still has been one of the best decisions I, and my family, have ever made.

After our first year, without cable TV, I wrote four posts to describe the process. They were great journeys in writing for me. They are raw, I think, but were certainly written out of passion and intensity. They are a little bit funny, a little bit satirical, and a whole lot serious. And in 2011, I wrote one addendum on what I believe to have been a spiritual battle, and my subsequent failure of such.

Here they are, again, for you. May they inspire you a bit today to think about what you allow your eyes to see.

Part 1 :: Television and Life: The Beginning of the End of My Cable Subscription

Part 2 :: Television and Life: The Philosophical Reasons We Cancelled Our Television Subscription

Part 3 :: Television and Life: My TV, My Movies, and Jesus

Part 4 :: Television and Life: What I’ve Done Since Canceling My TV

Part 5 :: Name: The Name of God and My Mistake

Eight Things I Learned From Reading the New Testament

It’s been a cool eight weeks since I published my ninetieth straight blog in ninety days.

Through this past summer, I ventured into the readings of the New Testament, every day, and then, through prayer and some additional readings, would write something here that moved me.

I’ve blogged only once since then, writing (or really just quoting) something brief I was reading.

There has been little time since the end of August to write much. And also, the process was so exhausting that I needed a break from this format.

Yet, in the past week or so, this format has beckoned me. My creativity seems to be waning right now, in this season of life, and this is a shred of an outlet. So I’m back. At least for now.

I did want to share here, though, some of my perspectives on reading and writing through the New Testament. And since I keep reading that blog posts should be short, I’ll make this one brief.

Here’s what I figured out.

  • Reading the Word of God requires an investment. Once we relegate our reading to “something that has to be done,” we’ve lost the passion of the narrative, and the intensity of God’s story in our world. It should not be a burden, but it should cost us something.
  • Outside writings were very helpful. It’s no secret that reading a document written in a different millennium, and from a different culture, would have scores of nuances about that environment that are just lost to us. Even the language of the New Testament, Koine Greek, isn’t readily known by most of us, and translation steers interpretation.
  • People get mad quickly. A few posts of mine generated some heat. I attribute that solely to people’s unmovable opinions, and a lack of biblical literacy. If we can’t read the Word of God and expect to be shaken, then we’ve sorely missed the point.
  • It is a relentless story. Morning after morning, day after day, three chapters at a time, the Word was a force in my life. It consumed every thought. I liked that. But it changed me, and my family. Our search for God’s purpose in our own lives, I think, has just begun.

Here are my bothers, though:

  • Jesus attacked the good folk. While we’ve tried to vilify Jesus’ opponents, they weren’t bad people — at least before they began to plot his death. They tithed, preached against adultery, had an extreme desire for holiness, went to communal worship, read the Scriptures, and raised their kids together. They had good behavior. Until Jesus’ advent, the Pharisees weren’t the villains. Their lifestyle was, in fact, aspirational. In every sense, they were good, “church-going” people. Yet their obstinacy, and their inability to be moved by the very presence of God in their lives exposed their blackened hearts. I wonder if the good folk in our world, the good, church-going folk, would be the ones Jesus would expose.
  • My experience with Western Christianity has been to ignore the things that are troubling. Where did women actually fit in the story of the New Testament? What about Mark 4, when the Word was sown, but was never given a chance to grow — and not to the fault of the people (or the soil) — where does God fit in that? What about the three stories of baptism in Acts 8, 9, and 10, when the Spirit was received by people before, during, or after their water baptism? Or Revelation 17, when God is the one controlling the evil in the vision? Is our ignorance the right response to the story of God?
  • We know, and teach, very little of the culture of Paul’s travels. How quickly our perspective of each of his letters would change, if we only knew what life was like to the recipients! How many temples of various gods did he see? What was the celebratory culture in each of those temples like? Why did he say so much about eating together?
  • Discipleship, to Jesus, was a mobile lifestyle. Very little, in the New Testament, is said about people staying put. Now, to be fair, letters and gospel stories were written to people who were static. But the idea of discipleship is mobile. Even if you are settled, aren’t there scores of people in need? Why do those people, today, remain largely untouched by the gospel message?

I promised brevity, and I’ll keep that promise. It’s no surprise that my 90-day journey is still being referenced. I’ve gravitated now, though, to a through study of the gospel of Mark, and am writing a few things for our leaders and teachers of our small groups. I hope, one day, to make those accessible.

And, by the way, you can find all 90 posts right here.

Your Last Hour

There are variations to this cliché, but here it is for us, today:

What would you do if you knew you only had one more hour of life to live?

Or one more day? Or one more month? Year?

Those are very probing questions. Some of you are living with this very sort of knowledge, and are therefore answering this sort of question with every breath.

Here is the very probing statement, though, in our reading today:

Dear children, this is the last hour … (1 John 2:18a; NIV84)

It has an ominous tone to it, almost like a dark sentence in a darker novel. I can see people, afraid, huddled together, with lightning flashing against a rain-splattered window. The older member of the group, the wise one, turns to his companions, and says the very same thing.

The remaining part of the verse has grown, in our combined religious consciousness, to be even more ominous. Here is the complete verse:

Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have come. This is how we know it is the last hour. (2:18)

The antichrist, according to this letter, is a person who denies that Jesus is the Messiah, sent by God (2:22), and therefore, can be anyone, without needing to be anyone in particular.

For believers, it may be not be a grave temptation to decide that a man named Jesus never really was the son of God, or to decide that God exists, but would never stoop to the depths of humanity. Yet, before we move this temptation aside, we may want to consider the siren call of the doubt this could potentially cast in our own life. In fact, this may be the strongest temptation you face, in your own final hour.

In that very last hour, the antichrist of modern culture will try to convince you that God did not send a saving agent to the world, to lavish a divine love on us. If you adopted this temptation, after looking over the valleys and mountains of your past, then your last hour would be very, very different. It is that doubt that can potentially ruin your last hour of life on earth. That is why it is given so much attention here.

We are protected, though, in this last hour. God has, indeed, lavished upon us a love, that has anointed us (2:26; 3:1). We are children, confident of in the house of a Father, protected by all who claim that God has not made us his very own. We walk in a house of light, surrounded by the brilliance of God, protected from the evil that only humanity can produce, when they are apart from God.

So, be aware of this temptation in your last hour. It will come. Remember the words from this New Testament, letter, though. God has covered you with love. Don’t abandon that hope.

__________

Today is day eighty-one.

More Gospel Than a Hundred Sermons

Are we really ready to say that God’s divine power truly gives us everything we need?

That, I think, is the most crucial question of every believer. Can we really transfer every single human right to God, surrendering every notion of creativity to him?

To ask that sort of question, and then to answer it with a yes, requires a degree of faith that hurts.

Here are the first few words, in the second letter of Peter:

Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires. (2 Peter 1:3, 4; NIV84)

“Everything” is not a small word, by the way. Nor is it a small concept.

This is a big statement in this little letter. The purpose of Jesus’ power, in your life, is to provide you with everything you need for life and godliness. Boom.

The very life of Jesus, the very power worked in his resurrection, was to enable you to live life without worry. Understand this idea of worry, though. No worry of an unfaithful God. No worry of a failing God. No worry of a life without God. No worry from any stressor or desperate situation.

God cares even for the smallest of your frets, because Jesus even died to rescue you from every single stressful moment.

Seriously. The idea of “corruption of this world,” in verse 3 is the very result of our own broken human natures. All we can produce, apart from God, is a broken world. God became a human, to rescue us from our own filth.

Boom.

There is more gospel in these three verses than in a hundred sermons of your favorite preacher.

And every time I read this passage, I think of this incredible recording by Acappella. Here it is, and it is a beautiful arrangement for a powerful passage.

__________

Today is day 80. Ten days left.

The Best Seats in the House

Look! The wages you failed to pay the workmen who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. (James 5:4; NIV84)

Something happened to the believers that made them lose much of their personal wealth and resources.

In the passage above, many of them were not paid their due wages. Poverty-stricken, broke, hungry, they cried to God, who was their only defense. And he heard them.

This letter has a different view of poverty than what we readily see, or expect. Consider this passage:

The brother in humble circumstances ought to take pride in his high position. But the one who is rich should take pride in his low position, because he will pass away like a wild flower. For the sun rises with scorching heat and withers the plant; its blossom falls and its beauty is destroyed. In the same way, the rich man will fade away even while he goes about his business. (1:9-11)

You may want to read that again.

The impoverished, to James, are those whose only recourse is God. Not a job change or promotion or second job. Only God. And God responds to them, because their position is indeed high. They have the ear of God, and they have his heart.

The wealthy, according to James, are those who should boast in their humiliation. But what in the world does that mean?

There are several answers, across the spectrum of scholars, but here’s my take. The wealthy should anticipate losing what they have. Or, better yet, should realize that what they have can be gone incredibly quickly. Maybe a further explanation is required.

There is no wealth like the grace of God. The impoverished live this reality every day. The wealthy (even Jesus taught this) are quickly enticed to think they’ve earned the worth in their bank accounts. The kingdom of God welcomes people who, on either side of the spectrum, trust God in every decision, in wealth or poverty. It’s a level playing field, regardless of personal wealth.

But James’ images of poverty in the kingdom continue.

Later, in James 1:27, kingdom people primarily care for the powerless. The impoverished and disenfranchised are those who are exalted to a position of power — because they receive the full resources of the believers. Wow.

Continuing, in James 2:1-7, James wrote against favoritism based upon wealth — at the expense of the poor. Yet, James wrote that God has chosen those who are “poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised.” Again, the poor receive the special treatment in the kingdom.

In our reading today, it is God who champions the cause of the impoverished and oppressed. The poor did not resort to violence in their calamity (5:6), yet cried to God, and trusted in God’s vindication.

__________

So let’s be relevant for a moment. In the current American discourse, much attention has been given to the massive health care debate, and law, implemented in the previous years. Essentially, for whatever political capital there was to be gained, the law will provide health insurance, and medical coverage, for those who cannot afford it.

My only take, and question, is this: if the American church truly exalted the impoverished and poor, would such a law even be necessary?

In the culture of the biblical writings in the New Testament, there was little that looked like our current middle-class. Rich and poor were the only economic statuses — field owners and day-laborers. And there was very little in the way of government subsidies for the devastatingly impoverished. No welfare or unemployment or retirement monies.

And certainly no government healthcare.

There was no safety-net for the poor, except God. And with the fluctuating economy in the ancient world, even the very wealthy could lose everything in war or drought. Simply put, there were no guarantees.

Except God.

(What would happen if we not only taught this, but mentored this, for the next generation? How would that change the cultural landscape of America?)

The emerging kingdom of God, then, simply said that the very, very poor should receive the very best treatment, regardless of the constant flux of their economic world. Because there was no where else for the very poor to turn.

It is this sort of re-creation that is the priority in James’ letter. Kingdom people see the world differently. Our fallen world despises the poor and exalts the rich. The kingdom of God, filled with re-created people, exalts the poor instead.

Exalts them. Not tolerates them. Not feeds them. Exalts them.

__________

This is day 78. Tomorrow we begin 1 Peter.