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

Are We Radical Enough?

2 Timothy is the final letter written by the apostle Paul in our New Testament, written around 65 or 66 AD. If other sources are true, Paul probably died within a year of writing this letter.

Yet, even if he did not die that soon, it is still our final glimpse into the life of this man, who, at the time of writing this letter, was imprisoned and alone.

Reading through its short four chapters, its teaching isn’t what strikes me the most. It is Paul, the man. There are a few theories about his final imprisonment. Some say that he was still under Roman house arrest, while others think he was serving a second imprisonment, because of the dating of the letter. Either way, the passion and fire of his previous letters, like Romans or Galatians seems to be gone. Instead, we find a man at peace with his situation, yet looking over a life of suffering for Jesus. I wouldn’t say Paul was sad, but I would say that Paul felt he was immobilized for the rest of his life.

Consider this verse, one of the last in the letter, and of the last we have from him:

When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, and my scrolls, especially the parchments. (2 Timothy 4:13; NIV84)

Paul didn’t even have a coat. Only one companion, Luke, was with him. He wrote, later, in chapter 4, that “everyone deserted him” (4:16).

He was suffering for the gospel. Read these verses:

So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God … (1:8)

 And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed … (1:11, 12)

You know that everyone in the province of Asia has deserted me, including Phygelus and Hermogenes. (1:15)

May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. (1:16)

Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. (2:8)

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. (3:10, 11)

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (3:12, 13)

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. (4:6)

Do your best to come to me quickly, for Demas, because he loved this world, has deserted me and has gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, and Titus to Dalmatia. (4:9, 10)

Alexander the metalworker did me a great deal of harm. The Lord will repay him for what he has done. (4:14)

At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me. May it not be held against them. (4:16)

The Lord will rescue me from every evil attack and will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. (4:18)

Depressing, isn’t it? This one man, entrusted to blow open the gates of freedom, was in a jail cell, humiliated and alone and cold.

Yet, by the grace of God, his life intersected with a young man from Lystra, who became his protegé. So mature was Timothy, that Paul sent him to Ephesus, to deal with an intense crisis. The crisis had not abated, because Paul told Timothy to “keep reminding them” of truth (4:14).

It was no matter to Paul, though — he wanted to see Timothy, maybe for the last time, and was content to ask Timothy to leave Ephesus, and visit him.

This letter always breaks my heart when I read it. There is some obvious teaching, yet it is not new. Paul shared these very same sentiments elsewhere. But his suffering is what is most obvious. His suffering was the result of his calling.

Yet he believed in God’s vindication, even to the very end. His suffering would not be in vain.

I am reminded of a scene in the movie “The Count of Monte Cristo,” when Abbe Faria, the priest, and Dantes, spent years unjustly imprisoned, and through a series of unlikely circumstances, meet each other. The surprising intersection of these two men was a great episode in the film. While they dig a tunnel to escape the prison, the priest spends hours teaching and instructing young Dantes, who had become his own unlikely protegé.

Yet the priest died before their chance to escape had come. Dantes is broken, as he watches the priest die on a cold floor in the French jail. Yet the priest had one final lesson for Dantes. Here is the scene:

This is how I imagine Paul. Fighting, struggling, suffering, as best he could, until the very end, blessed to have someone to listen to his final words. His legacy — one of teaching and suffering — is one that gives us pause today, and makes us wonder if our lives are radical enough for the kingdom.

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This is my seventieth post in 70 straight days, while reading through the New Testament. It’s been an amazing journey, and has been such a blessing to me. All of the previous posts are here. I have twenty more days of reading and writing, and while there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it is almost bittersweet. God has done a supernatural work in me this summer, and has given me a blessing that is priceless. Thank you for joining me.

How To Empty the Cross of Its Power

To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ—their Lord and ours … (1 Corinthians 1:2; NIV84)

So Paul began his letter to the Corinthian church this way.

Written from the city of Ephesus, three years or so after he left Corinth, he began this letter with this solid claim:

Believers are different — “sanctified in Christ Jesus.”

And believers form their own culture, around Jesus — “called to be holy, together, with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Yet Corinth was an overwhelming city, with its own culture, and the believers were bringing the culture of the city into the church.

In Paul’s time, it was a Roman colony, enjoying Roman privileges and Roman government and Roman buildings. It had 90,000 people, and hosted an athletic festival second only to the Olympics. It had two ports, each of which faced both east and west, and connected it to both sides of the Roman empire. And it was wealthy, due, in large part, to its extensive slave trade. The temple of the Roman goddess Aphrodite alone had over 1,000 religious prostitutes, to celebrate, worship, and beseech the goddess for fertility and success.

It was stable, wealthy, and entertaining. And it’s values were a drug to the believers who lived there.

Because very quickly in this letter, we see the root of all Paul will write in the following chapters.

The Corinthian church was divided. And all subsequent issues stem from this unhealthy division. In Corinth, the believers were divided along the lines of their teachers, both Paul and Apollos.

Apollos, we’ve learned from reading Acts, was a student of Priscilla and Aquila, and who came to Corinth after Paul left. Whatever his intention while there, divisions arose, and believers picked sides — picked teachers.

Yet Paul doesn’t condemn Apollos. The division of the church was not his fault. In fact, Paul said that Apollos “watered” what Paul “planted.”

These divisions were so sharp that Paul addressed them first, though. It may be unusual to us, but Corinth fashioned itself as a city that enjoyed the presentations of famous philosophers and teachers. Remember, there were no comforts of modern entertainment. Listening to great orators was in fashion, and the believers abandoned their transformed lives, to turn the church into a cultural counterpart to what the city of Corinth offered.

Is it safe to say that we do the same? Do we mimic, in our own churches, the divisions found in our culture? Or celebrate it? Absolutely. We are human, and we sin.

But when we do, we abandon the message of the cross, just like the Corinthian believers. And like the Corinthian church, we divide, and castigate people over mere opinions, as if our intellect and passion can offer anything to the message of the cross!

But isn’t it possible for people to disagree, and still be united?

Yes. But only because we recognize our transformations, and others, because of the message of the cross.

I want to include a 10 minute clip here of Rick Atchley, who is the preaching minister for The Hills Church of Christ in North Richland Hills, Texas. His illustration, regarding divisions over petty opinions, is memorable, and convicting. If you have time, please watch this today.

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For the Corinthians, Paul was only concerned about the message of the cross.

But what is the message of the cross?

Here are Paul’s words, from 1 Corinthians 1:26-31.

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

The message of the cross is a transformed life. It is how God takes the weak and the poor, and resurrects them into a transformed life, so that others will see God through that transformation.

The message of the cross is not tribal warfare. It is not focused on opinions or ideas or traditions. Those things completely reject the message of the cross, and prove, to the world, that the message of the cross is not capable of any sort of transformation.

Believers in Corinth were living and acting like their surrounding culture. And for Paul, who spent around 18 months of his life there, this was a hurtful report. They had emptied the cross of its power, by their divisions over “words of human wisdom.” Here are his words:

For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel—not with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. (1 Corinthians 1:17, NIV84)

If we are united around anything other than the message of the cross, then we are turning our backs on our own call to be different. We’ve accepted the spirit of the world, rather than the spirit of God. Here, again, are Paul’s words:

We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. (1 Corinthians 2:12; NIV84)

God offered the Corinthian believers unlimited access to his work in the world, yet they refused it for their opinions and divisions.

He offers the same to us, too.

The Corinthians, though, exchanged the truth of God for the opinions of people, and the church, as a whole, suffered. Paul’s letter to these believers will attempt to weld their factions back together.

And he will do so with the message of the cross. Here’s what he wrote, at the close of our reading today.

Together you are God’s holy temple, and God will destroy anyone who destroys his temple.

Don’t fool yourselves! If any of you think you are wise in the things of this world, you will have to become foolish before you can be truly wise. This is because God considers the wisdom of this world to be foolish. It is just as the Scriptures say, “God catches the wise when they try to outsmart him.” The Scriptures also say, “The Lord knows that the plans made by wise people are useless.” So stop bragging about what anyone has done. Paul and Apollos and Peter all belong to you. In fact, everything is yours, including the world, life, death, the present, and the future. Everything belongs to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (1 Corinthians 3:17-23; CEV)

The image of God destroying those who divide his temple is powerful.

God cares deeply that believers are united around the message of the cross, because any other identity only empties the cross of its power. When that happens, we only tell the world around us that we are better at fashioning unity than God is.

Wow.

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As always, each morning, and my time of reading, is a personal journey with God. What I write, here, is what I believe God speaks to me, in this particular setting.

I make no claim to supreme authority, but feel moved, by God’s spirit, to share, here, what the passage speaks to me. Thank you for indulging my opinions, but, by all means, don’t follow them. Follow Jesus. Embrace the message of the cross, and that message only.

Three Things the Mission of Jesus Makes Us Leave Behind

This is day thirty-two in the ninety days of reading the New Testament. Today we leave the gospels, and begin Acts. Our reading is from Acts 1 through Acts 3.

And today we must leave some things behind.

Acts is the continuing saga began by Luke in his gospel, written between the 60s and the 80s. And the opening verses of Acts place us within the final days Jesus spent with his apostles. We find here a very dramatic shift.

Jesus wants to talk about the kingdom of God. As a matter of fact, Jesus spends forty days talking about the kingdom of God with the apostles (1:3). Yet in forty days’ worth of conversations, Luke only records two statements by Jesus. Here’s the first:

“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized withwater, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” (1:4, 5)

Here is the second:

“It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (1:7, 8)

Both of these statements come after conversations about two different kingdoms, though. The first comes after forty days of conversations about the “kingdom of God.”

The second statement comes after this question, from the apostles: “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

In this writing, Jesus doesn’t really satisfy our curiosity about either. Are they the same kingdoms? Are they different?

I don’t think it really matters.

It’s almost as if Jesus is saying, “Enough with the teaching, boys. We’ve had these conversations too many times.” The mission now begins. And the mission is simple:

  • Stay in Jerusalem … for now.
  • Receive the holy spirit of God.
  • Be my witnesses.

And then he leaves. Gone. In a cloud. And they couldn’t stop staring into the sky. Two men, dressed in white, shook them from their trance, and told them that the mission begins now.

It was time for them to leave Jesus behind. His physical presence was gone.

And so the first thing we must leave behind is the temptation to be paralyzed by the teachings of Jesus.

I must admit that I have this temptation today. After spending thirty-one days reading the gospels, being in and out of Jesus’ life and geography, I am staring intently up into the sky as well. I do not want those moments to be over. And I readily admit a fear today, of moving on into the New Testament narrative.

The opening scene of Acts places us squarely in this position, though. It is a sweeping prologue, that immediately makes us aware that there is something to do. Not just to learn.

But … the doing isn’t much like what we think.

There isn’t much teaching involved in Jesus’ mission for his apostles. He’s not asking them to try to change people. He’s not asking them to gather people. He’s not asking them to fight sin. He’s not asking them to fight governments. He’s not even asking them to establish any government, or kingdom. No sermons. No bible classes. No church plants (in the sense of our current and cultural definition of people beginning a church gathering in a particular place). No great stages for worship. No worship teams. No church budgets.

He only tells them to receive the spirit, and to be his witnesses. And while the idea of being a witness can take any form, I think the charge is simple enough. So simple, in fact, that we’ve just tried every which way to mess it up.

Enough with that, though. There are a couple of more things in these first three chapters that make us leave behind any preconceptions about Jesus. I want to share those with you.

First is the final word on Judas. And the final word is that he was replaceable.

One of the Twelve had to be replaced. His story is so well-known that it does not need to be repeated, but listen carefully to the Word of God here in Acts. Even one of the Twelve wasn’t immune to the fame and notoriety Jesus can afford anyone. And the fruits of his payment — the field that he bought with his blood money — would forever be deserted (1:20).

His placement next to Jesus made him famous to the wrong people, and he was a willing part in the treason. Yet, with a decision and a prayer, he is replaced. That is quite sobering to me, and it should be to all of us who “labor” for God. We can all be replaced. This kingdom is much bigger than any one of us, and the second thing we should readily leave behind is the idea that in some way we are important because of our contribution, and our proximity, to Jesus.

The story of Judas proves that to us.

And finally, the immersion of the spirit in Acts 2 got my attention. Jesus often teased the coming of this spirit throughout the gospels. There was no notion of how that would occur, though. Jesus just said that it was coming.

And Luke begins Acts by teasing this coming gift.

In 1:2 Jesus gave instructions by the holy spirit. In 1:5 Jesus spoke of the coming baptism into the holy spirit. And in 1:6, power will accompany this spirit’s visitation upon them. Luke is heightening the suspense for us.

So what would that look like? Move yourself to their side of history for a moment. What would this feel like? How would you know when it happened? And how long do you think you would need to wait?

We aren’t sure what their eyes saw in that upper room when the spirit came, though. Nor are we really sure what they heard. The sound on their ears only sounded like a violent wind. Their eyes only saw what looked like tongues of fire. I don’t think it’s some sort of existential moment, here, though. I don’t see tiny wicks above their heads, and their hair blowing like orphaned feathers.

But I do see something here they can’t fully comprehend. And there’s the point.

It can’t be fully explained.

God visits us in inconceivable ways. The exact second we believe we can pinpoint and exactly interpret God’s working and moving is the exact second we look like fools. God can’t be contained. He can’t be predicted. His will and his ways are sovereign and infinitely far above our ability to think and imagine. That’s what Luke wants us to see here. This doesn’t appear to be normal. It doesn’t appear to be prescribed.

Because. It. Isn’t. Normal.

God is not normal.

And so the third thing we must leave behind any idea that God can be contained.

He cannot.

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I hope these thoughts have challenged you today. These first three chapters challenged me in ways I wasn’t entirely ready for this morning. Wow. Thanks for reading. Blessings to you today.

A Skull and a Garden

Today is day thirty-one of ninety days of reading the New Testament. The reading today is the final three chapters of John. Thank you for joining me.

There is a story of hope, written between the lines.

John, in his gospel, weighs us down with such harsh language concerning the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus. It would seem that, while reading these, all hope would be lost.

Notice the cruelty:

  • During Jesus’ arrest, Peter cuts an ear from a man (John 17).
  • While Jesus is on trial, before the high priest, Jesus is brutally slapped after answering a question (John 18). And, yes, the entire scene of Jesus’ death is disturbing, but this passage has always especially offended me.
  • Intermixed in this trial story is the telling of Peter’s denial — a man who, just hours earlier, defended Jesus by hurting another man with his blade (John 18).
  • Pilate ordered Jesus to be flogged, after a seemingly innocent time of questioning (John 19:1).
  • It was the Roman soldiers who placed a crown of thorns on Jesus’ head (John 19:2).
  • Jesus was forced to carry his own cross (John 19:17).
  • At the place called Golgotha, the place of the skull and the place of death, he was crucified (John 19).

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These waves in the story are worth telling here. I’ve not made much mention, throughout these posts, of the specific crucifixion scene. It is, of course, the basis for the gospel, but often, it’s telling far outweighs other facets of Jesus’ life, thus, in my reading, I have found other parts of Jesus’ life to be freshly noticeable.

John’s distinct telling of the story is powerful, though, considering all of these gruesome details, prehaps moreso since he offered the fact that there was an eye-witness to these events.

But in spite of the gruesome pacing, John was also telling us — telling me — between the lines, that there are new beginnings, there is needed hope, even in such a violent telling.

And he does so by the language he uses. Notice the time markers:

  • In John 19:28, John introduces the crucifixion by using the words After this … . Jesus’ crucifixion was a page-turning moment, a new beginning to the story. Hope.
  • In John 19:38, John uses the same phrase again, After this … . Jesus’ burial was a page-turning moment, another new beginning to the story. Hope, again.
  • In John 20:19, John writes this phrase On the evening of that day … . Jesus’ appearance to his disciples was a page-turning moment, another new beginning to the story. More hope.
  • In John 21:1, John writes (again!) After this … . Again, Jesus’ appearance to his disciples on the Sea of Galilee was another page-turning moment. A new beginning. And more hopefulness.

We have to read between the lines to see this, though. We’ve become so familiar with this story, this central story in the life of every believer, that we fail to see the genius of John’s writing. He is telling us that in the midst of this awful moment, there is something new happening.

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So this allows us to look even more closely at the burial scene in John 19:38-42

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jews. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds. 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid. 42 Because it was the Jewish day of Preparation and since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

Of all the page-turning moments in these stories, this is the one that shouts to us — to  me — a new beginning.

Joseph of Arimathea, a Jewish man, is the first in this narrative to not treat Jesus with indignity. This small story is a change of pace from the previous events. Joseph overrides the Jews’ previous treatment of Jesus’ body by asking Pilate for permission to bury Jesus. The Jews had broken the legs of the criminals, and pierced the corpse of Jesus — again, such indignity. Joseph asks for Jesus’ body, because he wants to bury him with reverence and respect.

Nicodemus arrives. The Jewish man who came to Jesus “at night” in John 3, has decided to, at least, respect Jesus. Maybe even follow him. Nicodemus’ decision, though, can be hidden because Jesus’ body needed to be removed before the celebration of Passover began. His was a convenient decision, but nevertheless, he’s there, bringing the burial treatments.

Seventy-five pounds of spices and lotions are brought. Only a king would receive such an amount for their burial. No commoner, and certainly no insurrectionist, would ever have been buried this way.

But there is even more to this new beginning.

John writes that at the place Golgotha, the place of the skull, there was a garden. In the midst of death and horror, there is a place where new things are grown.

And in this garden, John writes, there was a new tomb. A new tomb. No one, according to John, had ever been laid there.

Something is about to be planted in this garden that will come to life again.

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Often, our own humanity allows us to only see cruelty. John needs us to see hope between the lines. The life sprouting in the midst of death.

As we finish the gospels today, as these thirty-one days have taken us and immersed us into the story of Jesus, it is my hope and prayer that you’ve come to know Jesus again. John’s story of Jesus gives us a God who comes to us with an array of new beginnings for so many people. Jesus’ resurrection story is our story. It is your story.

Believe in a God today that can give you something new, even in the place of death. Even in a darkened heart, or an abused life, or in a series of awful mistakes, God can raise something new in you. You may hold a place of death inside you, but inside that place of death, there is a new tomb waiting to receive a spirit that will overshadow every dark moment of your life.