The True Scandal Of Easter That Most Christians Don’t Like

“To be convinced in our hearts that we have forgiveness of sins and peace with God by grace alone is the hardest thing.”- Martin Luther, Commentary on Galatians

 

Let me ask you a question: have you really grasped that you have peace with God as a believer in Jesus? Like really, deep down embraced that truth? I know a lot of Christians who honestly have not. I got to meet a believer in Jesus this week who was utterly convinced that his relationship with God could and would be cut off if he sinned, whether that sin was murder or being angry in his heart or accidentally exceeding the posted speed limit. If he sinned, he wasn’t saved anymore! In his mind, trusting Jesus meant not sinning, and if he sinned and didn’t repent immediately his eternal life was not at that moment secure.

 

Listen to what the Apostle Paul has to say about the matter:

 

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:1-2)

 

Because we have trusted Jesus, we are “justified” in the eyes of God. We have been declared righteous not because we don’t sin as Christians, but because our Savior paid our debt and gave us His righteousness! (See Romans 3:21-26 for that) This is the joyous celebration of Easter, that Jesus took our sin and our shame and our guilt and put it upon Himself rather than leave us estranged from God.

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

 

Jesus reminds us all in John 3:16 of His motivator for coming to earth: love. He loves people, ALL people (which is what “the world” means in this context…all people, even ones who are hostile to God), and because He loves all people He gave Himself as a sacrifice so that by simply trusting Him, any person can have peace with God that lasts forever. That is the amazing message of Easter!

 

The beautiful truth gets even better! See, grace means that our salvation isn’t based on our faithfulness to Jesus; instead, it is based on Jesus’ faithfulness to us.

 

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

 

This is the true beauty of the Christian faith, that in Jesus’ death on Good Friday and His resurrection on Easter Sunday, we see the love of God in its greatest form. It’s an unconditional love; we don’t have anything to do to earn it or keep it or make it better. We simply trust that Jesus is enough. We come to Him as a person and surrender to that incredible love, with all of our mess and all of our imperfection. We exchange our guilt and shame and sorrow for His love.

 

I really encourage you in this week and a half that we have until Easter to slow down and appreciate the grace of God in salvation, and embrace the true FREEDOM that Jesus’ love for you brings. The cross of Christ isn’t a tragedy; it is an act of supreme love. Jesus’ death doesn’t perfume over your stinky garbage; it sees through anything you might have and reminds you that He loves you as a person, unconditionally. The Resurrection isn’t Jesus somehow tricking death; it’s conquering anything that might stand in the way of you experiencing life in the family of God.

 

Rejoice in the goodness and unconditional love of God in Jesus this Easter!

 

Rejoicing with you,

 

Pastor John

Are You Standing Still or Moving Forward?

How is Jesus changing you from the inside out right now? When is the last time you can recall that the Lord moved something in your heart to be more like His heart? It’s a real question and I would really encourage you to think about it for a minute. God wants us to be “transformed by the renewing of [our] mind,” (Romans 12:2), so ask yourself if it’s really happening within your soul.  If Jesus is moving in your soul in a mighty way, rejoice!

If, though, you can’t remember the last time that the Holy Spirit moved through your soul then it’s time to consider changing your approach to the Christian life.  We can’t change ourselves; that’s God’s place. However, we can “tie the knots and set the sails” in our heart so that when the Spirit blows like a wind, we are ready to move. To be ready, be invested in:

  1. Truth. Be invested in the truth of God found in the Word of God. Sunday morning worship and Bible study are a great place for that.
  2. Community. You become like who you hang around, so choose to be with people becoming like Jesus! Small groups are the place community happens.
  3. Openness. We change when we’re ready to change and never before. Openness is the heart of Life Transformation Groups (LTGs), where we can be honest with ourselves and a very few trusted others.

To come in from the fringes and deeply experience Jesus, you need all three. So how are you getting them?

Sleeping Beauty…Reimagined

Today I took my teens to see the new Disney movie, “Maleficent.” It was an awesome movie, and I recommend it highly! Check out the trailer, and then read on to see why I liked it so much.

The movie is a reimagining of the Disney classic, “Sleeping Beauty,” told from the perspective of the villain, Maleficent. It is more than a retelling; the details are certainly different, which you would expect when “the other side” tells the tale.

I am wary of movies like this because the original is such a huge part of my childhood. (we watched a lot of Disney movies) Imagine if the Transformers was retold from the perspective of Megatron or something…perish the thought! This, though, was awesome. Angelina Jolie did a tremendous job as Maleficent. The rest of the cast kept up with her quite well and supported her efforts in good ways. The plot moved well and had enough twists in it to keep me from going and getting a popcorn refill, and the visual style was really fantastic.

Positive Elements (PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD!)

This really is a retelling of Sleeping Beauty, but from the perspective of the villain, Maleficent. The story, though, goes quite a bit differently as you would expect. I don’t want to spoil the whole plot for you, but Maleficent starts off as a wonderful fairy, then turns evil because she is terribly wronged by her love, and then finds redemption through his daughter Aurora (Sleeping Beauty). Disney’s storyline says:

A beautiful, pure-hearted young woman, Maleficent has an idyllic life growing up in a peaceable forest kingdom, until one day when an invading army threatens the harmony of the land. Maleficent rises to be the land’s fiercest protector, but she ultimately suffers a ruthless betrayal – an act that begins to turn her pure heart to stone. Bent on revenge, Maleficent faces a battle with the invading king’s successor and, as a result, places a curse upon his newborn infant Aurora. As the child grows, Maleficent realizes that Aurora holds the key to peace in the kingdom – and perhaps to Maleficent’s true happiness as well.

While we joked that she is like a female Anakin Skywalker, in reality it is a wonderful story of redemption.

Maleficent is wronged, horribly, by her first love, Stefan. He uses her trust in him to terribly wrong her by cutting her fairy wings off, a scene that had me weepy. That wounding leaves her physically, but more emotionally, scarred and she builds walls around herself to protect herself and her people. The walls are emotional as well as literal, and at one point she builds an impenetrable thorn wall to keep humans out of her land which is a powerful metaphor.

Her revenge against Stefan comes in the form of a curse on his daughter. Maleficent hates Stefan for what he did, and there is some cause for that. She keeps an eye on his daughter to draw out her revenge, and as she does she comes to like and then to love Aurora. In the end, Maleficent comes to sacrifice herself for Aurora and be redeemed from the evil that has grasped her heart.

Good to evil, and then in the name of true, selfless love back to good. This is a great story line and a powerful discussion for parents to have with their children!

Stefan also represents a powerful story. He really does love Maleficent, but he is power hungry and his thirst for power drives him to perform evil acts. It then traps him in his evil, unable to erase the consequences of his actions when they come back to hurt him. He becomes quite paranoid and his paranoia and desire to protect himself and his daughter from Maleficent take absurd lengths. His bad decisions snowball, little by little, until he has lost everything he holds dear. He dies at the end of the movie not just broken in body, but in spirit as well. This is another powerful lesson.

Maleficent has a minion named Diaval who shape shifts from human to raven (and to wolf and dragon on occasion…Maleficent controls that). I expected her minion to be a typical sycophant, but Diaval is much more than a sycophant. He has some stellar discussion in the movie. He acts as Maleficent’s conscience in some sense, urging her to take care of Aurora when she is young, and helping Maleficent by speaking hard truth to her when she needs it. He serves an important role in the movie, and it’s worth thinking about having a friend who can speak the truth to you and help you when times get tough.

There’s a fourth positive element for parents to talk to kids about. That’s the truth that people are seldom black and white, good or evil. We see Maleficent in the original Sleeping Beauty as a purely evil character, but in this movie she is far more nuanced. So, too, is Stefan. Real life seldom has people wearing black hats or white hats. Instead, everyone does what they think is right at the time and everyone’s actions are motivated by their own emotional needs and their experiences. This holds true across the board.

Finally, there’s a small element in the movie about Stefan becoming mentally ill as the movie progresses. It’s handled quite well, with his wife and subjects trying awkwardly to deal with him as he delves farther and farther into paranoia. It isn’t campy and it isn’t made fun of, but it is a major driver of the plot. This is a great discussion to have with family about mental illness and its affect on people and their loved ones.

Negative Elements

I find little to be troubled by in this movie. If you have a moral objection to magic use, skip this one. (duh!) I don’t have that problem and it’s set in a fantasy world, but if you’re sensitive to magical use the movie is filled with it.

The scene when Prince Phillip kisses Aurora can be seen, perhaps, as him using her body without her consent when he kisses her. I didn’t take it that way, but it was an awkward scene and purposefully so. The kiss is very chaste.

The film does not follow the Disney plot from Sleeping Beauty verbatim. It’s a reimagining. This could be a negative in that the villain is portrayed as the ultimate hero, but to me this is a story of redemption not of glorifying evil. In fact, it shows how evil happens and that no one is beyond redemption.

Overall

I have been asked if this movie is okay for kids. I would take my 8 year old to it without concern. If the original Sleeping Beauty is too scary for your kids, this movie will be as well. If not, it’s no worse for sure. It earned a PG rating and that seems appropriate to me. There is no sexual content at all beyond a chaste kiss, and no language in the movie.

I really thought this is a great movie. I enjoyed it thoroughly and so did my teens. We had great discussions on the ride home about all the points above. I recommend families see this and talk about the themes. Disney does a good job of bringing good moral messages in creative packages, and Maleficent keeps that pattern intact.

Wading into the SB1062 debate

BillyDeeIt may be folly to actually make a public statement on something as volatile as SB1062, called the “Religious Freedom Bill” by proponents and lambasted as a discriminatory bill against gay people by opponents. I may be getting myself in trouble with friends near and dear to me on both sides of the aisle by saying a word about it, but as Lando Calrissian once famously quipped, “Here goes nothing!”

My first thought is that most people’s opinions of SB1062 come solely from what others have said about it. They haven’t read it, even though the entire legislation is 2 pages long and not hard to read. If you’re one of them, then learn something by reading it. It’s not too much legalese…it’s pretty easy to actually understand. Not that there aren’t nuances of interpretation and application, but it’s not like it’s rocket science here.

Now to my understanding. I personally think it is a tempest in a teacup. The only thing that this bill really does is allow corporations to claim the same exemption for sincere religious beliefs that individuals now have. Most corporations aren’t huge businesses like Walmart; they’re small businesses like a landscaping company that has an LLC or a mom and pop restaurant that has an incorporation document for liability and taxes.

I guess I am pretty libertarian in my leanings. I think that the government should stay out of peoples’ lives as much as possible. I think that there MUST be protection from any discrimination whatsoever in dealings with the government, but those protections don’t (or shouldn’t) apply to private businesses. The first amendment protects people from government intrusion on free speech, but it does not protect a person from being thrown out of a business if they say something the owner or manager finds offensive. There is a huge difference in my opinion between government and private enterprise.

Say, for instance, my wife wanted to have her hair cut. She goes to a barber shop but the barber, a Muslim, won’t cut it because his religion doesn’t allow him to touch women. (this is not hypothetical…it happened in Ontario, Canada) In my opinion, he should have the right to refuse service to anyone he wants to, and if he can’t cut her hair then that’s not a human rights issue. She can go elsewhere; if he chooses that business practice, then he can live with the business consequences.

I feel the same way about no smoking laws. A business should, in my opinion, be free to set their own policy on allowing smoking in their establishment. If one allowed smoking I wouldn’t go there, but they set their clientele with their policy. The same holds true in other areas. For instance, in Arizona people can carry firearms for personal protection. A business can put up a sign prohibiting the carry of firearms on their premises. If they do, a good number of my friends won’t go there. It’s perfectly acceptable for them to have that policy as private business owners, though they set their clients by their policy.

What that highlights is that my opinion is that the protections we have are mostly from our government, not from each other. If a business wants to adopt a policy that they won’t serve white people, that’s their prerogative in my opinion. I won’t go there and I am okay with it. I think that the free market would take care of most such businesses in America, frankly. If a business adopts policies that too many customers find objectionable and they take their business elsewhere, the business changes or folds. That’s economics 101 in a capitalistic society.

Now as to whether it is wise for a business owner to fall back on religious reasons for not serving a customer, I think that it can be but it must be done with care. My wife owns a business helping women have babies as a doula and midwife in training. I own a business teaching self defense part time. Many of my friends own businesses. I also pastor a church, which is an Arizona corporation upon whose board of directors I sit. Should we be able to set our own policies? Absolutely.

  1. As a pastor there are some weddings that I can’t perform as a matter of my faith and as a pastor of my church. We have policies to that effect. (these revolve mostly around who is eligible in the Scriptures to marry) I have protection to exercise my faith and to do so within my corporation of our church.
  2. My wife gets to set who she thinks that she should work with as a doula and midwife. If she knows that a couple wants religious rites at her birth and that she is required to participate in them, and they violate her faith, she absolutely should have the right to decline that client.
  3. If a racist skinhead with a swastika tattoo and hateful attitude registers for my classes, and I am genuinely concerned that he will use the skills I teach him for harming others rather than protecting himself and his loved ones from aggression, I should 100% have the right to decline to train him. This is part of my faith, that I teach defense and not aggression, protection and not harm. I should be able to live that out in my business, whether it is a sole proprietorship or a corporation.
  4. Our church has a membership covenant and as a corporation should be able to decide who our membership is. If that excludes some people because of their choices, that should be our determination. For instance, our church does not believe that the Bible allows for sexual intimacy outside of marriage. If a couple were living together outside of marriage, we would not welcome them as members of our congregation (though we would welcome them to come worship and be loved). We should be able to set that standard. (and we are under current law)

All that said, are we going to see businesses adopt anti-gay stances or have discriminatory policies? Not much. I am a conservative Christian and have trained people at ASP who are gay, for instance. No problem. I have invited friends who are not Christians to do business with me, to come to worship with us at our church, and my wife has helped women in many walks of life and with many religious affiliations (including none) to have their babies. This is the ebb and flow of life in a pluralistic culture.

But do I want protection from prosecution if I won’t marry a cohabitating couple who aren’t willing to go through premarital mentorship? Yes, yes I do. Do I want to be able to turn someone away from my self-defense classes who I fear will twist my teaching, knowing that I am somewhat responsible for the abilities of my students? Yes, I do. Do I want my wife not to worry about losing her midwifery license because she politely declines a client so as not to participate in a Wiccan birthing ceremony? Yes, I most certainly do.

Do I also want to consider my Christian witness in all of these decisions? Yes I do. I have talked to many couples in the first situation, and in love offer to walk them toward marriage in whatever situation they find themselves. I can’t officiate a wedding because of my convictions that doesn’t meet a certain set of criteria, but I have offered mentorship and marriage building help to those couples. (offered it many times, in fact) I’ve trained people whose philosophy differs from my own, whose worldview is not mine, and who worship a different God. I don’t ask for a doctrinal statement from my students in self defense! My wife has helped many women have babies whose religious beliefs are very different than ours are, and over all these situations we have prayed and decided to be a light in their life and that the actions we took were acceptable to our Lord. Most businesses, in the vast majority of situations, would do the same.

I don’t want the guvmint in those decisions. They are private decisions and should be so.

If you comment, please be kind to others in your comments. Thanks!

Ethics and Intellectual Property

I have simply been overwhelmed lately with the concept of integrity in business and in life. Many of you know I run a business on the side of my pastorate focused on self-defense, and I want that business to reflect the God I serve to the greatest extent possible. Jesus says that the way that we conduct ourselves in everything we do matters as believers. We reflect His character in our behavior! I hope you’re the same way in your business or profession.

This is certainly the heart behind the Ten Commandments. The first four commandments deal with our worship of God, and the final six with our personal relationships with others in light of our worship of God. And nestled in there, coming in at number 8 in the Top Ten List, is this little gem:

You shall not steal.” -Exodus 20:15

No stealing for Christians! Paul reiterates in Romans 13:9 that this command is applicable for believers today and part of the command to love your neighbor as yourself.  It is wrapped up tight in the center of Jesus’ ethic of Christian living in Luke:

And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.” -Luke 6:31

We want others to protect our property…so we must protect theirs. We don’t want to be stolen from…so we act with integrity and guard others’ property. And this is a proactive command…it’s not just “don’t do to others what you don’t want done to you” but “do to them what you want others to do to you.” This isn’t rocket science or “advanced, deep, mature, crazy-over-the-top Christian discipleship;” it’s basics, right? Being forgiven by God as a Christian means you aren’t allowed to rob someone’s home or take their laptop or steal their car. No one argues about these things.

But there is an area of theft that many, many Christians I know are not only utterly uninformed about, they participate in again and again and again without the slightest qualm. They steal all the time, without compunction and without remorse. And they often think that their actions are perfectly acceptable.

I am talking about the theft of intellectual property. Stealing what belongs to someone else, in this case their original work, and using it without the proper right to use it. (using it without credit is plagiarism not theft, which is a whole different problem for another day) Taking their art work, their music, their video, or their other copyrighted work without permission is theft, plain and simple.

Photo courtesy of Jon Dawson (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmd41280)

Photo courtesy of Jon Dawson (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jmd41280)

The biggest places I see it are these:

  • Pirated movies
  • Pirated music
  • The one that bothers me to no end: using copyrighted images found on a Google search or on a social media site of one kind or another.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, using a copyrighted image without permission is stealing. That’s not just Jesus talking, either. That’s the US Copyright Office talking. To get you started about the actual facts about copyrighted work, read this brief handout from the United States Copyright Office. The first four pages are the most important, so don’t go all tl;dr on it. Let’s get a few facts straight about copyright:

  1. Copyright exists whether the owner of the work puts a notice on it or not. There is no need to put the (c) on a work or to watermark it in some way for it to have copyright. That USED to be the case prior to 1989, but…folks…that rule changed when Ronald Reagan was in office. It’s past due for us all to know that. If you made it, you have the copyright to it.
  2. Unpublished work is still covered by copyright. Copyright begins the moment the work is created. It appears as if by magic!
  3. Page three of the handout above very clearly says that pictures are protected work. If you made the picture, it’s your intellectual property! If you didn’t, it’s not.
  4. There is no need to register with the Copyright office for your copyright to be valid. An author MAY register if they want to, but there is no need.

If you think that this is no big deal or that it is much ado about nothing, go read this story. Daniel Morel was awarded over $1.2 Million by a jury because the Associated Press used his images without his permission in several stories. Here’s the kicker: AP didn’t know they were his images and got them from a second-hand party through Twitter. they didn’t steal on purpose, but the court said that they SHOULD have researched thoroughly and found the owner before using them. And that oopsie cost them over a million bucks.

Now, you may never get sued by a copyright holder for millions of dollars because of stealing their image or music, but it’s no less wrong and no less a sin because you don’t get caught. This is a matter not just of legal liability but of ethical behavior and righteous living. We are called to be above reproach, but frankly this is an issue about which we should often be ashamed.

So…what does this mean for us? Simply, it means that we must not steal. We must not steal cars and we must not steal images! We must not use images or music or other copyrighted work that we do not have the rights to, and this extends to our online use of digital imagery. You’ve read this blog post and you now know that this behavior is wrong…so Jesus’ little brother has something to say to you.

So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” -James 4:17

But how can we have integrity in this issue? As bearers of the Image of God and those who desire, then, to live in such a way that we do not steal from others, how can we make sure that we have the rights to the intellectual property that we use?

First, commit as an act of worship of Jesus to live a life of integrity in everything you do. I’m not asking you to be legalistic but to look at every use of someone’s images as an opportunity to worship God. No worship of the Lord goes overlooked by Him, and committing this to His care and His glory brings Him great joy. Jesus asks you to be careful with how you represent Him, so be a person of integrity and of utmost ethical behavior at all times. remember that you are an ambassador for Christ and act accordingly!

Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” -2 Corinthians 5:20

Second, understand the doctrine of fair use. Pay attention to the last paragraph in that link especially. If you can’t be sure it’s fair use, don’t use it without permission!

Third, be careful with images. Don’t for a minute think that you can just Google search for an image and use that image in your own material. Don’t fall prey to the misconception that if you find it on Pinterest or Twitter or someone’s Facebook that it’s fair game for you to use. Simply put, it’s not. Putting an image online does not release copyright! A great resource that I have found to check for the origin of an image is a website called Tin Eye. You can enter an image (even upload one) and it’ll crawl the web looking for the origins of the image. They even have browser plugins that allow the user to right-click on an image and search its’ history easily and quickly! (I have used it many times and it’s pretty amazing, but I am not vouching that it is foolproof and I have no stake in the company)

Fourth, let go of the idea that because others are stealing images online, you can do it too. Your momma used to ask you if you’d jump off a bridge just because all your friends are doing it, right? You are responsible for you and you are accountable to God for your actions. Act accordingly.

Fifth, get permission to use copyrighted works. If you find the owner through Tin Eye or another resource, ask them to use it! They might charge you for it, or they might just let you use it and be grateful that you asked. Either way you’ve done the right thing, and that is reward in itself.

Sixth, learn to use free resources. There are SO MANY images that are licensed for use by Creative Commons or uploaded at sites like Free Digital Photos or The Morgue File among the many that are available to use. (they’re not that hard to findDreamstine has a good database of free images too. You can even find a bunch of images that are licensed for use on Flickr’s Creative Commons section, though there are a lot in there that aren’t as high quality so it takes time to find the stuff you want.

Finally, realize that ethical behavior is important to God. I’m not saying that you’re a terrible person or you’re going to hell if you’ve ever unintentionally stolen an image or used something you shouldn’t have…not at all. What I am saying is that it would be amazing if Christians were known to be above reproach in this area and known to be careful about using that which is not theirs, for obedience to the command to love their neighbor by protecting their property (whether real or intellectual). So be the change you want to see in the church. 🙂

And for the record, yes I have permission to use the images in this post. 🙂 Thanks for asking.