The Kingdom of Disney and the Kingdom of God

As I write this, our family is wrapping up a long vacation in Orlando, Florida. We took our kids to a long-awaited, much-anticipated trip to Disney World. Specifically we spent our time at the Magic Kingdom, the epicenter of Disney world. Even though it was a herculean effort to lead four children through the teaming masses of people at the park (a clerk told us it was the busiest day of the year, go figure), we had a thoroughly enjoyable time. It was way more fun than I envisioned and our kids had a grand time.

I was struck by the idea of Disney World. Christians have long had their beefs with this iconic entertainment company. There was the famous ill-fated boycott in the 90’s. There is the company’s profiteering off of violent media. And some feel that Disney introduces secular themes through the cute back door of seemingly innocent characters. There is substance to all of those complaints. It’s not too hard to see in the Disney ethos a sort of pantheism, that there is no transcendant God, but that the real hope for the world lies within your heart and my heart. Good parents subtly correct this with biblical theology.

Still, the idea of the Magic Kingdom is one worth celebrating, I think, in so much as it speaks to the longing in each of us for a place, a time, an environment where all of our hopes and dreams are met. Where evil is destroyed, life is fun and creative, and beautiful. I don’t think this idea originated with Disney. I think his idea originated with God, who once created such a perfect place called Eden. Eden, of course, was not Disney and Disney is not Eden. But Eden was the place where God dwelled and where life was as it should be, as it was created to be. The Bible tells us that Eden was violated by a destructive enemy and a force called sin. And if you look closely at almost every fairy tale that originates from Disney and others, you will find a glimpse of this story.

The Bible also tells us that a Kingdom is coming one day that will spell the end of violence and war, of evil and death. That our hopes and dreams will finally be consummated and life will be as it should be. As we all know it was intended to be. Unlike the Magic Kingdom, the hope for this new city is not within us, but in the King who defeated the enemy and will usher in the Kingdom. Pantheism tells us that we can, by mere belief, usher in the Kingdom. But we all know that is not true. Human history tells us that man cannot create utopia. He can try. He can create pretty cool things, like Disney World which have echoes and glimpses of a perfect Kingdom. But ultimately someone outside of us must do this work. Someone transcendant and powerful and sovereign.

So, yes, Disney gets much of the theology wrong. It’s Walt Disney’s attempt to create Heaven on earth without the ruler of Heaven. And yet we shouldn’t dismiss Disney World as mere fantasy in that we shouldn’t imagine Heaven will be any less wonderful than Disney World. We should know that Heaven will be much greater than Disney world.

Sometimes Christian teaching makes Heaven seem, well, boring. Like going to Disney World in Orlando is way better than going to Heaven. As if Heaven will be a bunch of Christians in suits singing four verses of every hymn without smiling. As if Heaven will be uncreative and unattractive. But if you read the Bible, you will know that Heaven will be anything but. The Kingdom of God will not be any less than Disney world and will be so much more. God, the first Artist, the original Creative, the source of all joy and love and goodness will design a place that will make Disney look like a fold-up carnival in a Kmart parking lot. Because at the center will not be the misplaced hope in the human heart, but the glory of God and the light of His Son, Jesus Christ.

So until that Kingdom is fully here, let’s celebrate glimpses of it when we see them, however flawed, however obscured by the dark glass of a fallen world. When it comes to Disney, let’s dismiss the faulty theology, but celebrate it’s creativity and beauty.

10 Most Popular Blog Posts

This was a great year for my blog, the best ever. I’m still fairly unknown compared to heavyweights like Tim Challies or Jon Acuff, but I’m proud of the fact that my number of visits nearly tripled as did my number of visitors, while my pageviews more than doubled. I also added quite a few Twitter followers and email subscribers. All in all a very good year.

Here are the top ten blogs posts in 2012:

1) Ten Things Nobody Tells You About Being a Dad

This is a half-serious/half-humorous post about the unknowns of fathering. What’s funny about this post is that I wrote it late one Sunday night after an evening church service. I had a bit of inspiration rolling around in my head. I had no idea that it would “go viral” as the cool kids say. It was linked to by quite a few popular blogs.

2) The Sin About Which No One Will Speak

This post addressed the sin of envy, a sin which we seem to cultivate in America as something good. My post makes the argument that we talk quite a bit about the sin of greed, but too little about the sin of envy.

3) What You Don’t Like About Your Church (And Why That’s Good)

Here I discuss the importance of finding a church that doesn’t perfectly suit your preferences. It’s important that Christians die to their preferences for the good of the body and for their own growth.

4) Three Pitfalls for Young, Evangelical Leaders

As a young evangelical leader, I see a lot of hope in my generation. But I also see some potential pitfalls for our leadership. this post generated quite a bit of good discussion on Twitter and elsewhere.

5) Five Reasons Why Pastors Should Apologize

One of the most potent words a pastor or any leader can say is, “I’m sorry; I was wrong.” Rather than weakening his leadership, it empowers it.

6) 5 Ways You Can Help Your Church

This post generated a lot of reaction and I have had several who requested permission to print it for church newsletters or bulletins. Essentially I give some practical ways in which Christians can be good church members.

7) 5 Resolutions for a Christian Communicator

“To communicate the truth of the good news of the gospel, in any form, is a high privilege and a sober calling.” I drafted five resolutions that might guide anyone privileged to communicate the gospel in way.

8) 5 Ways to Pray for Your Church

We complain a lot about the Church and about our own churches. But how often do we pray? This is a simple prayer guide to help folks pray for the local body of believers to which they are called.

9) Bible-reading plans for 2012

I challenged our church to read through the Bible in a year and listed a variety of resources and plans. These are “evergreen” so this post might be helpful if you’re planning on doing it in 2013. (BTW, I’m almost finished with my plan for 2012).

10) What Pastoring Taught Me About Spiritual Growth

Pastoring has taught me a lot about spiritual growth, especially how to disciple different people in different ways.

 

What Advent is and Why We Should Celebrate

There is something really wonderful about the word, advent. When you Google the word, one of the definitions you get is: the arrival of a notable person, thing or event. We know this word from other contexts besides religions. We say things like, “Since the advent of the automobile . . . .” Or “Since the advent of the modern era . . . ”

Advent means something new is coming. The dawn of a new and better era. This is really what Christmas is about, isn’t it? It’s the celebration of the advent of a new era. God broke into time and space and entered our world. He is Immanuel, God with us. He broke in the midst of the sin and clamor and the fallenness. He came as a vulnerable baby in a poverty-stricken town to ordinary people, in a time of great political unrest. Advent–Christ’s Advent–means that God sees us in our distress, in our sin-ravaged condition, in all of our helplessness.

We’d like to think that we can save ourselves from ourselves. We’d like to think that with a few tweaks here and there, we can create the Heaven we long for. We’d like to think that with a bit more progress and education we can overcome evil. But alas, we know we cannot. If the tragic events in Sandy Hook tell us anything they remind us that evil invades even the safest, most beautiful environments on this earth. But the hope of Christmas tells us that Christ invades even the most evil, sin ravaged places on this earth.

The 1st Advent is worth celebrating with great joy because it tells us that a new day is here. Christmas is the dawn of something to come. It fills us with hope that the endless cycle of sin and violence and hopelessness of human history will someday be reversed. The curse that was put on mankind, on the universe is not forever. God broke in as man and God and by his life, death, and resurrection defeated sin and death. As hymnwriter Isaac Watts wrote:

No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.

We should celebrate Christmas joyfully with presents, with food, with singing, with festive decorations because Jesus has come. God is with us. And because the First Advent signals a second advent, a coming of a King whose Kingdom will end all other kingdoms and whose rule will create the world we all long for but can’t create. His glory will spread through the earth and sin and sickness and death will be no more. The enemy will be forever silenced.

So, celebrate Christmas, not as a scrooge, not as a scold, but with overflowing joy. Because the Lord has come.

Evangelism as a Journey Instead of a Deal

I’ve been reading quite a few books on evangelism lately for some of my Mdiv work at Trinity. I don’t agree with all that I have read, but one of the things that I think I’m learning is the simple idea that evangelism is less of a “deal” that we must close and more of a journey, a conversation we must initiate.

The passion to win people to saving knowledge of Christ is good, but sometimes in our zeal we misguidedly think we, and only we, are the ones who have to witness the conversion. And we put all kinds of undue pressure on ourselves to get it all right. In reality, it is the Holy Spirit who does the saving. We are simply ambassadors. We share this great story. Empowered by the Holy Ghost, we go into the world and deliver the message.

And sometimes it is our message that needs tweaking. For instance, many people think witnessing is simply applying a few verses in Romans or Galatians or John and sort of hitting someone with a dump truck of salvation verses. This method may work with someone who has a base in Protestantism or Catholicism. Or it may work with someone who is at the end of years of careful gospel nurturing by someone else. But by and large, starting with the dump truck is ineffective and turns people away. Instead, we should begin by initiating conversation, building a friendship, establishing a repoire. And we might approach the gospel in ways that share the entire narrative rather than skipping ahead to the New Testament.

Recently I had the privilege of sharing the gospel with a Hindu friend. In previous years I might have been intimidated. I don’t have all the answers to rebut Hinduism with Christianity. But this time I was confident. First I asked him about his faith journey. Then I shared the narrative of the Bible. I said something like this, “I know you probably disagree with the Bible and affirm your own holy book. I understand that. Let me just share with you the story of the Bible.” And I started with Creation, then the fall of man and worked through the story of Israel up until the revelation of Jesus on the cross and on through Revelation and the coming Kingdom. I said something like this, “The reason I believe this is because it answer the deep questions people have better than any other narrative I’ve heard or read.”

My friend didn’t bow the knee on the spot and trust Christ. But the dialogue was open and he was intrigued. You see, most people don’t even know what the Bible’s true story is. They react against what they think it is or some misguided ways Christians have presented the gospel message. And again, having been released from the pressure of “closing the deal” so I could have another “notch on my belt” I was free to share only what the Spirit led me to share and then direct the conversation that didn’t make my friend want to shut down and never talk about it again.

We have to start looking at evangelism as less than a one-time, do or die opportunity and more of a journey. The Spirit is working and you may be one of several Christians used by God to win their hearts. When we approach evangelism this way, it takes much of the fear out of it. We don’t have to get out all of our Christian sales pitch in one moment. Instead, we can feel our way around, depend on the Spirit’s leading, and apply the gospel to each person’s differing lives. Sometimes your witness may involve a detailed explanation of the gospel story. Sometimes it may be a question or two that merely cracks open a seemingly shut door. Sometimes it may be as simple as doing a kind work of charity for a person that gets them to ask about why you do it. Other times it may be as simple asking someone to that church function.

The key is to be obedient to the Spirit’s call and be confident in His ability to convert seemingly stone-cold hearts.

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