The Real Baby Jesus

Traditional Manger Scene

I just heard a new Christmas song on the radio. It was lovely. But it also contained some pretty weak theology. It was about how Jesus came to save us with joy and restore the child in us. It reminded me how so many people in our culture are OK with the idea of a safe little baby who came to bring us joy and peace. The real Jesus was anything but “safe.” And he didn’t come to eliminate conflict or make us feel good.
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The Hidden Beauty of the Local Church

The church is the metaphorical body of Christ. It consists of all followers of Jesus; and crosses denominational, racial, and national lines. The local church is a geographic segment of that global body. It is, in a very literal sense, God’s hands in the community where it is located. And it is a beautiful thing. (Don’t get me wrong it’s also a mess, but it’s a beautiful mess.)
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Magic is not Ministry

I do magic, but magic is not ministry. That may sound strange coming from someone with a “magic ministry,” but it’s true. Ministry happens when there is a connection between people where needs are met. Magic can facilitate that, but it isn’t ministry in itself. To make an analogy, a hammer isn’t construction, it’s just a tool. However, when used properly, a hammer is an important tool in doing construction. Similarly, magic is one tool in the “ministry toolbox.” So, when might magic be the right tool for the job?
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My Journey So Far

Brad on stage

I’d like to share a bit about where I am. Before I do that, a bit of history. I’ve been performing magic pretty much my whole life. In 2004, I quit my “real” job as a computer programmer to go full-time into ministry through magic. I had the opportunity to partner with churches and other Christian organizations all across the country and around the world sharing the love of Jesus through magic and assorted silliness. Things were going well until the big economic downturn. It turns out that when money is tight, churches can find a way to get by without magic shows. Who knew!?
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Us vs. Them

Racism is immoral. It’s the antithesis of the teaching of Scripture. It’s socially unacceptable. And it’s just incorrect. There is simply no basis in fact for believing one race is inferior to another.

Even those of us who abhor racism still tend to find ways of dividing ourselves up into “us” and “them.” It gives us a way to feel superior to “them,” whoever they are.

“They” could be liberals, conservatives, foreigners, refugees, addicts. “They” aren’t worthy of our respect. It’s OK to refer to “them” with dismissive and disrespectful labels, like right-wing, left-wing, radical, extremist, nuts, libtards, teabaggers, and so forth. It’s OK to feel superior to “them.”
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Absolute Offense

The word "values" against compass.

Our culture no longer believes in moral absolutes. Everyone decides for themselves what’s right or wrong. This leads to a major social problem. A shared moral compass plays an important role in a society. If everyone is free to do what is right in their own eyes, how can society function?

It occurred to me that something else is replacing the role of morality as a guiding force in our culture: offence. It is no longer the adherence to a moral code that guides us. Instead, it is the avoidance of offending someone.
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Outrage Word Cloud

Though it isn’t the kind of thing I typically deal with here, I want to address a cultural issue, outrage. It’s everywhere in our culture. And it’s not a coincidence. It’s by design. There are a lot of people, entire industries even, who want you to be outraged, because that’s how they get their money and power. The news media want you outraged so you’ll tune in so they’ll have good ratings to keep their job and get paid more by their advertisers. Politicians want you outraged because it motivates you to get to the voting booth and give them power. Bloggers want you outraged so you’ll click through to their site so they’ll get ad impressions, which is how they make money. Lobbying groups want to keep you outraged, so you’ll vote their way, or put pressure on politicians.
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I Refuse…

I became involved as a volunteer with Compassion International around 1990. Around that time, about 40,000 children died each day from preventable causes, such as lack of clean drinking water, proper nutrition and basic medical care. 40,000 That’s an overwhelming, almost inconceivable number. It would be easy to let despair lead to inaction. During my years volunteering with them, I learned many things, not the least of which is that individuals really can make a difference. One common refrain was, “I can’t change the whole world, but I can change the world for somebody.” A lot of individuals, organizations and governments did a little bit, and things got better. During my time with them, that number kept dropping. It became 38,000, then 32,000, then 28,000, then 24,000. According to UNICEF, that number is now down to 16,000. That’s still a heartbreaking number, but look at how far we’ve come! We could theoretically end abject poverty within a generation. (In reality, war and corrupt governments will make it impossible to completely end it, but we could get amazingly close.) Countless millions have been lifted from abject poverty because individuals chose to do the little they could.
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Disclaimers that Aren’t in Bible

Disclaimers. You know, that fine print that tells us why something doesn’t mean what it says. They seem to be everywhere. They explain that your phone’s “unlimited” data plan isn’t really unlimited. That product’s “lifetime” guarantee doesn’t really last a lifetime. And that miracle product for “effortless” weight loss doesn’t really melt pounds away without effort.

It occurred to me that one place we seem to want disclaimers is in the Bible. We want to believe the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says. Here are a few examples of disclaimers that you won’t find in the Bible:
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Syrian Refugees and the Heart of American Christians

Women and children among Syrian refugees at the platform of Budapest Keleti railway station

I’m concerned, and frankly ashamed, by what the Syrian refugee crisis is revealing about the heart of American Christians.

Let me start by saying that I have a lot of Facebook friends with different political and religious affiliations, so I’m used to seeing disagreement on issues. When it comes to dealing with poverty, for example, my left leaning friends think the primary solution is for the government to provide food, money, and other benefits to people in need. My right leaning friends tend to prefer focusing on ensuring that there are economic opportunities so people can help themselves, and relying more on private charity than government support. When you ignore the silly memes, and cut through all the posturing and bloviating, both sides want to help. We just disagree on the best strategy. That kind of debate doesn’t bother me at all. In fact, I think it’s a good thing.
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