God Meets Culture, the writing home of Michael J. Klassen

September 28, 2012

What Defines You?

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael J. Klassen @ 10:16 am
Tags: , , , ,

“I want to ask you a question that probably no pastor has ever asked you. If you could get a tattoo, what would it be?”

Seeing that most of my listeners sported an assortment of intricate designs on their bodies, I reworded my question. “Now, I know some of you already have tattoos, but if you could choose only one, what would you get?”

Without any hesitation, a hand shot into the air.

“I’d get the word ‘Perseverance’ tattooed on my forearm so that every time I look in the mirror when I comb my hair, I’d see it.”

“I’d get the names of my kids,” another voice answered.

“I’d get a crucifix,” a man in a suit replied.

“That’s an interesting answer,” I said to the suited man. “Ten years ago, a good friend asked me the same question.” Then I rolled up my left short shirt sleeve…

Sometimes People From the Roughest Backgrounds Can Be The Warmest Listeners

Two or three times a year, I speak for a very special group of people. All of the participants are unemployed and attending a morning Employment Ready workshop through a ministry called Denver Works.

The demographics vary every time I’m there. Occasionally, white collar workers attend, but usually the listeners consist of blue collar-type people. Due to the poor economy over the last few years, attendance has been higher than normal.

Sitting in the back of the room waiting to speak, I noticed that all my listeners were men in their 20s and 30s. Most of them had just been released from jail.

Speaking before a group of recent ex-convicts can be a little intimidating. But I find they can be extremely refreshing if they have a faith in Christ—which was the case in this situation. The men were volleying Scripture passages back and forth and sharing their need for Jesus in order to get a job and stay out of jail.

As their training came to a conclusion, I knew my audience that morning would be warmer than most churches.

We All Need Reminders Of What Defines Us

Rolling up my sleeve, I showed the men that I sported some ink just like them. It was a crucifix.

That morning, I explained that getting a tattoo was one of the most spiritual experiences of my life. I wanted a reminder of what Jesus did for me two thousand years ago. But I also wanted a reminder of what defines me.

All of us gravitate toward different dictionaries of sorts, that tell us who we are. Some people define themselves by their jobs. Other people define themselves by the status of their relationships. Still others define themselves by their good or bad conduct.

Two weeks ago, my wife and I spent the whole weekend arguing (my ex-convict listeners were surprised that a pastor would fight with his wife). By the end of the weekend, I felt exhausted and demoralized.

But halfway through the next week, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart. I realized that I was defining myself by my wife’s opinion of me. I can’t blame her for that.

Suddenly I was reminded of the crucifix on my arm. Nothing, no one can define me except Jesus Christ. God loved me so much that he sent his only son to die on a cross to forgive me and win the right to define me for himself.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an ex-convict.

It doesn’t matter if you willingly choose to reject God’s love.

It doesn’t matter if you’re an addict, an adulterer, unemployed, or an “upstanding” church attender.

God loves you–and you can’t do ANYTHING to make him love you any more or any less.

One of my favorite verses in Scripture is Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Did you see that? God didn’t wait for us to get our act together before sending Jesus to earth. He sent him while we were still sinners.

Feasting on this truth with my new ex-convict friends, we all realized we were sharing a holy moment.

Only God can define us because we belong to him. He created us, but he also purchased us.

Michael J. Klassen is a freelance writer and co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. 

Advertisements

September 21, 2012

Was Jesus Married? Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, And Harvard Divinity School

“Unfortunately for the early editors, one particularly troubling earthly theme kept recurring in the gospels. Mary Magdalene.” He paused. “More specifically, her marriage to Jesus Christ.”

“I beg your pardon?” Sophie’s eyes moved to Langdon and then back to Teabing.

“It’s a matter of historical record,” Teabing said, “and Da Vinci was certainly aware of that fact” (Dan Brown, The Da Vinci Code, 244).

A little less than a decade ago, Dan Brown’s controversial book The Da Vinci Code rocked western culture. Seemingly everywhere I went, people were carrying the book, sneaking a peek whenever they could. Churches warned their congregants against reading it, which made me want to read it all the more.

Finally, I decided to indulge in the forbidden fruit and I LOVED IT!—despite its many flaws and shortcomings. Within the first few pages, I could tell Brown had an ax to grind with the Catholic Church and the Christian faith. Having studied Gnosticism in graduate school, I was surprised by the extent Brown sought to deliberately twist the facts.

The plot of the Da Vinci Code (if you were one of the few who didn’t read it) surrounds the existence of a modern-day descendent of Jesus, who was allegedly married to Mary Magdalene.

The book, which was categorized fiction in library bookshelves, undermined the faith of many Christians. People struggled with the idea of placing their trust in a man who was married and possibly wasn’t even God.

Finally, the hullaballoo died down and life returned to (ab)normal…until this week.

Was Dan Brown Right??

This week, I read on CNN.com that an extremely old Coptic fragment from Egypt was discovered that included the words “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …”

Since then, news sites have once again stirred the pot, proposing the idea that Jesus was married.

(I do want to point out that no buildings were burned and no people were killed after the news sites aired the story. Just sayin’.)

Harvard Divinity School Professor Karen King announced the findings of the fragment on Tuesday in Rome at the International Association for Coptic Studies. Despite the fact that she calls the fragment  “The Gospel of Jesus’ Wife”, she also explained that the fragment “does not, however, provide evidence that the historical Jesus was married.”

Nevertheless, media outlets trumpeted the report, manipulating the facts about as loosely as well as…well, Dan Brown did a decade ago.

So, does the fragment offer any proof that Jesus was married? It does say “Jesus said to them, ‘My wife …” doesn’t it?

The Facts About The Fragment

Let’s look at the facts:

It just isn’t old enough. Papyrologists speculate that the fragment was written in the fourth century AD. That’s old, but not quite old enough in my opinion. Amidst the thousands of early documents referring to Jesus, one surfaces three hundred years after his time on earth, and we’re supposed to believe that one over the many others?

Fiction Novels About Jesus Were Common. At the same time, fictional depictions of Jesus’ life were legion in the centuries following Jesus’ ministry on earth. How do we know that someone wasn’t writing a very fictional account of Jesus?

We don’t know the context. If you take a close look at the fragment above, you’ll notice that periods, commas, quotation marks, even spacing between words, are non-existent. Usually, the words appear in ALL CAPS. So really, the translation of the fragment should be literally translated JESUSSAIDTOTHEMMYWIFE. This could have been the transcription of a sermon, and the context of the words could have been something like this:

We must not live like the Pharisees in Jesus’ time. “You are white-washed tombs,” Jesus said to them. My wife says the Pharisees were dead before they ever lived.

Without punctuation and context, we really aren’t sure what the writer is saying.

All wives are women but not all women are wives. Finally, the comments of Dr. Craig Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, made me nearly laugh out loud. In an interview with yesterday’s Denver Post, Blomberg explained, “The Coptic word for ‘wife’ is the same word for ‘woman’…[Jesus] could have been talking about [his] mother.”

Did you read that? In all likelihood, Jesus was talking about his dear old mom!

Every so often, books, blogs or news reports announce “startling” evidence that undermines the faith of well-meaning people. But a faith built on a fiction novel or a news headline is shaky at best. Before jumping to conclusions, let’s wait for the truth to emerge and remember that our foundation is much sturdier.

 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 3:11

Michael J. Klassen is a freelance writer and co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. 

September 14, 2012

A Radical Way To Get Back At The Muslims

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael J. Klassen @ 10:48 am
Tags:

I ran across a Radio Free Babylon cartoon that follows the theme of this morning’s blog:

Click on it to enlarge.

Michael J. Klassen

How Big Is The God of Islam?

Tuesday this week, four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens, were killed after gunmen set fire to the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.

The killing, which coincided with a protest outside the consulate compound, surrounded an inflammatory movie about Islam’s prophet Muhammad.

The Wall Street Journal identifies the filmmaker as Sam Bacile (reportedly a pseudonym), an Israeli-American real estate developer living in California. In fear for his life, “Bacile” has reportedly gone into hiding.

YouTube carried the movie, “Innocence Of Muslims” for a time, but after the protest decided to remove it. However, it does carry several movie trailers. Take a peek and you can tell it ranks extremely high on the “cheese” scale. So high that I refuse to give you the link here.

What The Protest Says About The Protesters

The movie portrays Muhammed as a womanizer, child molester and ruthless killer. Other scenes show angry Muslims destroying Christian homes and a donkey who was anointed the first Muslim animal.

After barely suffering through the embarrassingly bad movie trailer, I must ask an all-important question…

But first–a common phrase recited among Muslims is called the Takbir. When they’re happy, or pleased, or in the midst of battle, or under duress, they shout the Takbir: Allahu Akbar! The phrase is translated “God is great!”

Without a doubt, the protesters chanted “Allahu Akbar!” before setting the compound on fire and killing four people. But this begs the question: How big is Islam’s God if his followers must act on his behalf? I mean, if he’s that great, why does he need people to come to his defense? Can’t he defend himself?

Don’t worry—I don’t intend on pouring fuel on the fire in the Middle East…

What The Film Says About The Film Maker

This begs another question: How big must Sam Bacile’s God be if he must act on his God’s behalf? A cheesy movie like that has a zero percent chance of winning people over from Islam. At a minimum, the movie is an attempt to strike a blow to the Muslim faith.

Lest I cast a stone in my own glass house, I must ask myself, To what extent do I run to God’s defense? Sometimes, when I read comments from atheists belittling my faith—like I quoted in last week’s post—my initial reaction is to strike back.

Let’s Make Room For God To Defend Himself

Back in New Testament times, the Jewish religious leaders were furious about an upstart sect that proclaimed Jesus was the messiah. So, in defense of their God, they jailed the entire leadership team of this sect, intent on putting them to death.

Then a wise Pharisee named Gamaliel stood and addressed the incensed leaders. Extrabiblical records indicate that he was the most respected Jewish leader of his time (and the mentor of a young man named Saul, who we know today as the apostle Paul).

After recalling previous failed messiahs, he concluded his remarks with this:

Leave these men alone! Let them go! For if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail.  But if it is from God, you will not be able to stop these men; you will only find yourselves fighting against God. Acts 5:38-39

Gamaliel’s words convinced the religious leaders, and they released them.

Please understand, I’m not advocating a lackadaisical, fatalistic approach to life and faith. But in matters that involve a threat to the reputation of our God–If we really believe our God is all-powerful, then he doesn’t need us to fight his battles–except on our knees.

What battles are you tempted to fight on behalf of God?

Michael J. Klassen is a freelance writer and co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. 

September 7, 2012

Why The Pines Of Rome Whisper God’s Existence

Atheism has become  nouveau chic. Just look at the list of celebrities who have added their names to its burgeoning rolls: Woody Allen, Dave Berry, James Cameron, Jodie Foster, Bill Gates, Billy Joel, Barry Manilow, Keanu Reeves. To find your favorite trend-setter, click here.

Yesterday, CNN posted an interview with apostle of atheism Richard Dawkins.

“I don’t think that religion has anything useful to teach us,” he explains. “One of the main reasons why people are religious is because they’re persuaded by the apparent design of living things.”

While eschewing religion, the self-described “fairly militant atheist” still considers himself a “cultural Christian.”

Admittedly, I cannot debate Richard Dawkins on the finer points of science. Or even its more general points. And while Dawkins would easily be able to discern flaws in my reasons for believing in the existence God, I  hearken to one proof:

Music.

How I Encountered God And The Pines Of Rome In Southern Colorado

Yesterday, I spent half the day driving home from Taos, New Mexico after a four-day spiritual retreat. In order to keep myself from falling asleep at the wheel, I decided to listen to some classical music.

I know, you probably think “classical music” is spelled “Zzzzzzzzz.” But I’ve played the violin since I was a child, and certain pieces bring back a flood of memories (which helps keep me awake on long drives home).

Back in the day, when my fingers were much more limber than they are today, I thoroughly enjoyed playing The Pines of Rome by Ottorino Respighi. Even if you aren’t acquainted with the music, you might recognize it because filmmakers have lifted segments for movie scores on numerous occasions.

But driving the desolate roads of southern Colorado, the final movement spoke to my heart. This happens almost every time I listen to it. Somehow, Respighi knew how to build a musical piece to a climax like no composer (contemporary or classical) I’ve ever experienced. His ending builds and builds and builds—to the point that my heart can hardly stand it. But then it builds more.

Yesterday, as the music hit its climax, my heart felt like it was about to explode. “Thank you God!” I shouted without even thinking. There was no other way to release the pressure. Suddenly, I felt enveloped in a sense of transcendence. But I’m not alone. Experts in classical music acknowledge the profound conclusion to The Pines of Rome.

How can science explain the transcendence so readily present in music? It can’t. Our hearts yearn for touching God. Is it subjective? Yes. Does that make it any less real or present? Not a bit.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Ecclesiastes 3:11 (NIV)

Fortunately, even when we don’t believe in God, he still believes in us.

What songs or music evoke a sense of transcendence in you?

Michael J. Klassen is a freelance writer and co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado. He still plays his violin on the worship team at church when he isn’t preaching.

August 31, 2012

Famous (And Not-So-Famous) Last Words

Filed under: Uncategorized — Michael J. Klassen @ 9:47 pm

Image

“You have won, O Galilean”
Emperor Julian, after his failed attempt to reverse the official endorsement of Christianity by the Roman Empire.

“No, you certainly can’t.”
John F. Kennedy to Nellie Connelly, wife of Governor John Connelly, who commented, “You certainly can’t say that the people of Dallas haven’t given you a nice welcome, Mr. President.”

“Thomas Jefferson survives…”
Former U.S, president John Adams, commenting on his former political nemesis (actually, Jefferson had died earlier that same day).

“Is it the Fourth?”
Former president Thomas Jefferson (he and John Adams died on July 4, 1826).

“I am about to—or I am going to—die: either expression is correct.”
Dominique Bouhours, French grammarian, d. 1702

“Go on, get out! Last words are for fools who haven’t said enough.”
Revolutionary Karl Marx to his housekeeper, who urged him to tell her his last words so she could write them down for posterity.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Jesus Christ (Luke 23:46)

My (Not-So-Famous) Last Words

At the risk of sounding overly dramatic, this blog post is the final post, at least in this format.

January 1, 2010, I launched A Daily Bible Conversation, inviting family, friends, and anyone else who might be interested, into reading through the Bible in a year. Within weeks, readers from all over the world were responding to my invitation.

People like Elna Dreyer became friends, although she lived on the other side of the world in South Africa. Murray Downie from Australia joined in on the conversation. Soon, the blog attracted readers from Saudi Arabia, Bolivia, and England and beyond.

And my world grew smaller.

A Quick And Easy Way To Burn Out

Reading through the Bible together was fascinating, but by June of that year, I was running out of steam. Try writing 800 words a day 150 days in a row. That’s insane!

Fortunately, my co-pastor Eugene Scott came to the rescue. He offered to write two days a week and advised me to combine Saturday and Sunday. Suddenly, writing four days a week became much more manageable.

By the end of the year, I had written around 360,000 words. That’s the equivalent of over seven books! I also wrote a book with an author that year, which brought my total to eight books. Ridiculous.

The next year, Eugene and I decided to rename the blog The Neighborhood Café and write once a week. Then we added other writers who contributed once a week. Thanks Michael Gallup and Brendan Scott!

Two Options For The Future

As this last summer progressed, Eugene and I discussed our dreams for taking the blog into the future. After realizing we wanted to move in different directions, we amicably decided to bring this blog to a close and follow our dreams.

Eugene’s blog is entitled Living Spiritually. If you’d like to subscribe, click here. Thank you, Eugene, for pulling me out of the deep waters when I was drowning in blog posts. You are a valued colleague and friend.

After today, I’m inaugurating a new blog which I’m calling God Meets Culture. The purpose of the blog reflects the title:  discussing the intersection of God and culture. I’ll offer various thoughts on the subject as well as a book, video, quote, or website of the month.

As time progresses, I’ll offer resources for aspiring writers as well.

To subscribe, click here and then click on “Follow blog via email” in the right-hand column. Please bear with me as I pull the website together.

Thank you for taking the time to read my ramblings. Hopefully in some way they made a difference in your life.

Michael J. Klassen

Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado with Eugene Scott.

Blog at WordPress.com.