Wednesday, March 17, 2010

How should we then live?

Reading back over the last several months of blogs I realize it would be wise for me to restate the purpose for this discussion forum. The Gospel or good news that Jesus taught has captured my heart like nothing ever has. It is such a phenomenal way to live that I want to sell everything I have if only I can have all that Jesus promised. And not only do I want to possess this priceless pearl I want my friends and neighbors to own this as well.

You will have to forgive me, if in my excitement I speak of the Gospel in a way that sounds impossible to live. That's OK. If the kingdom were something we could live toward in our own strength it would be no different that any other world system. The very nature of this other-worldly value system is that it looks to us like Mount Everest. It looks like an ocean we could never swim across. Here is a truth that every Christian should think long and hard about. If our encounters with Jesus don't leave us with more questions than answers we are having an inferior experience. Encountering the kingdom of heaven at each turn will call deeper levels of faith out of those who are serious about following Jesus.

We are learning something that is totally contrary to the habits of our flesh and the thought processes of our mind. I think it would be wise to resign ourselves to a lifestyle of unresolved conflicts and unanswered questions.

So what is the good of encountering Jesus you ask? I didn't say we don't resolve conflicts and we don't get answers. On the contrary, the follower of Christ will have more stories of God's miraculous intervention and more answers to life's questions. It's just that these events will lead us deeper into God where the conflicts are bigger and the questions go deeper.

Jesus invites us into a relationship with him where we join his heart to love, serve, forgive, sacrifice, and even suffer on behalf of those who are lost, lonely and trapped. Attacking and undoing the things Satan has done to people in this world is the most exciting and fulfilling activity I can think of.

Let's love deeply, serve passionately and give generously; forgiving always, sacrificing joyfully and pursuing always.

In short, let's build a community of followers of Jesus who live in such a way that others would happen upon us and think it foolish not to join us.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

What is the Good News?

Have you ever played whisper down the lane? Isn't it fascinating that someone can whisper a coherent sentence to a friend and then watch as that sentence changes slightly as it passes from person to person. Get enough people involved and by the time the sentence has been whispered all the way down the lane it sounds nothing like the original message.

I am concerned that we have experienced something like this down through the ages of church history. The Gospel or good news that we preach today is an interesting variant of the Gospel we have recorded in the Bible. Am I suggesting that I know some secret that is unavailable to the rest of the church? Of course not. I simply believe that there is an honest way to read the Bible and there is a dishonest way to read the Bible.

First, we must recognize that the writers of Scripture had an agenda as they wrote. Each writer chose the words, and chose the stories he or she (after all we are not really sure who wrote Hebrews) wished to include for the purpose of making their point. So in reality we have five major Gospel stories. We have the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John and Paul. Paul, you say? Yes, Paul. After all, it is the message of Paul as he preached the good news about Jesus to the Gentiles that has largely become our Gospel today.

It is Paul who teaches that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
It is Paul who teaches that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life.
It is Paul who teaches that if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead you will be saved.

Matthew wrote a story that was largely concerned with how Jews heard the Gospel.
Mark wrote a very condensed story that hit the high points and didn't include as much material as the others.
Luke put together a story as accurately as he could so that his friend Theo would have an accurate account of Jesus.
John had an agenda vastly different than the others as he spoke of the "Word of God" and how this was revealed as Jesus.
Paul was specifically packaging his message to reach Gentiles. Remember, the people who heard Paul's Gospel did not have the advantage of having a New Testament. Paul was all they knew about Jesus.

In short, trying to synthesize these Gospel stories is to ignore the intent of the Scripture writers. I believe it is dishonest to look at these five "witnesses" as though we are looking at a crime scene and are trying to recreate the "whole" story. It is much more honest to ask ourselves why each of these writers told the story the way they did.

Second, let's not refer to the Gospel of Jesus unless we are referencing the stuff Jesus taught. Too many ideas get ascribed to Jesus that simply weren't his. For instance, most of us think that sin and salvation is a largely personal or individual event; that the kingdom message is one of repentance from things like stealing, sexual promiscuity, and rude behaviors. If you read the Gospel according to Luke you will find that repentance and righteousness are ideas and activities contained in the messge and ministry of John the Baptist. These are preparatory for the coming of Jesus. John's ministry was to prepare people for Jesus. Somehow, John's ministry has become the message of the kingdom, instead of the stuff Jesus taught.

Jesus' message was one that addressed societal sin, value systems, powers and authorities. Jesus confronted what the world values and offered another way. Yes, personal salvation is part of the good news. But it is portrayed (at least in Luke) as the doorway into the kingdom. It is not the kingdom message.

What is the good news? It's right there in our Bibles. Let's stop playing whisper down the lane and dig for ourselves until WE hear the good news that Jesus brought from heaven.

Just some stuff that we should talk about!

Saturday, March 6, 2010

the argument culture

Something has been growing in me for the last year, like a mold that I cannot get rid of. It appears to me that I have been invited into a discussion time and time again that is designed to frustrate me. Like every human who has lived before me I inherit the ideas, philosophies and doctrines of those who have gone before me. As I consider this discussion I am beginning to realize that the deck is stacked against me.

Over the years I have been passionate about many things - and my passion has led me to read, research, discuss, listen and then express my feelings on a matter. It has not been until recently that I have realized I have joined a game that has no winner. I have joined a culture that is satisfied with choosing sides. It's as if what you believe is more important than the world those beliefs create.

Let me give you a few examples.

Who is right, the conservatives or the liberals? Most of us are not so closed minded as to be totally in the conservative camp or totally in the liberal camp (although some are and I apologize for the "close minded" comment). We recognize a predisposition in our souls to agree with the majority of ideas coming out of a particular worldview. We agree with principles and ideas originating in a place inhabited by thinkers who wish to either preserve traditional, tried and true strategies, or who wish to challenge the status quo and try out new, "cutting edge" strategies. And discussion (better known as arguments) are a series of polarizing ideas in which we draw the battle lines on either side of an issue and then point out the weaknesses on the otherside.

Who is right, the capitalists or the socialists? We all know that freedom and competition are the ingredients that go into invention and excellence. After all that is what makes this country so prosperous. Or is it? Why do more and more people seem to be falling behind and why are specific people groups not thriving in this environment? Maybe the wealth should be shared; with those having so much sharing with those who have so little.

If I throw this meaty bone out into a group of interested parties you can imagine the healthy exchange of ideas that would ensue. We would quickly be forced into one of the two camps by the questions and accusations of the other and before long there would be an argument between two polarized groups.

Who is right the Christians or the non-Christians? We as Christians realize that ours is the revelation of Scripture, ours is the truth of God, ours is the moral authority. So much of what we say and how we package the "Gospel" is a drawing up of battle lines. WE know the correct position on issues like marriage, raising children, sexuality, basic morality, etc. It's our job to get this information out to the world that is so mistaken and so ignorant of what God intended.

Before long we have a polarized discussion between the holy and the un-holy. Is it any wonder that we are known more for our moral and doctrinal positions than for the nature of our character?

We have unknowingly chosen to participate in this argument culture, seeing the world as a serious of choices to agree with one side or the other. I want to suggest to you that Jesus gives us another option.

All human arguments are predicated on the assumption that power is exerted from above. In other words, winning an argument is virtuous and establishes a superior power in our belief while losing an argument is a failure and requires that we discard our inferior belief.

But what if power can be exerted from below, from a place of weakness, without fear of "losing"? Jesus regularly took polarized arguments and inserted a different perspective. It was if he surveyed the battle field and was constantly able to lift the conversation out of us vs. them into a higher realm. Insiders or outsiders, haves and have nots, religious or pagan, Jew or Samaritan, free or slave; Jesus' teaching always trancended these polarized groups and suggested a different way. A way of serving, forgiving, loving and submitting.

What would it look like if we elevated the one we disagree with above our need to be right? What would a community look like that valued connection based on serving from below instead of being right from above.

Here in the Flathead we are coming to the end of a prayer vigil by well-meaning Christians who are praying to end abortion. We see these prayer warriors night and day picketting the abortion clinic, peacefully and with great faithfulness. I personally admire these brothers and sisters in faith. But I wonder, what would happen with those who seek an abortion if there was an unexhaustible supply of Jesus followers who regularly opened their homes to pregnant teenagers and single mothers. If our energies were directed at the people who feel the need to seek an abortion from below - from a place of serving love instead of from above - moral superiority?

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Mud Room

I grew up in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania - a world away from rural America and the culture I now live in - Montana. There are many differences between eastern, city culture and western, rural culture. One of the main differences is pavement.

Our love affair with pavement on the east coast had left me totally ignorant of the concept of the mud room. After sixteen years (more accurately - sixteen spring seasons) I have learned plenty about this rural American phenomena.

And as I think about all of the nice houses I have been in I have come to a conclusion. The mud room is the least hospitable room in the house. There are shoes, boots, carharts, jackets, and yes mud all over the place. I pull my shoes off and get on out of that room as quickly as I can. Invariably, other people are also standing around trying to get their muddy shoes off and we are all bumping into each other and getting mud on each other - basically annoying the hell out of each other.

If you hang out for very long in the mud room you will notice that different people have different strategies for getting their muddy shoes or boots off. Some try to find a clean place to sit down, cleaning up a two foot square oasis of floor in which to deal with their muddy shoes without getting the rest of their clothes muddy. Some scrape as much mud off their shoes as they can onto the welcome mat and then continue into the house until the host politely asks them to remove their shoes.

My favorite method is the pogo stick. This is where we hop on one foot while trying to remove the shoe on the other foot and then repeat the process while trying to keep our sock out of the mud. I have seen some guests insist that they don't have any mud on their shoes at all. True or not, it's simple courtesy to take your shoes off in the mud room.

It's my contention that most Christian thought has spent all of its time in the mud room. We love to teach and talk about our battle with sin. We write books and hold seminars for the express purpose of dealing with all that is wrong in the world. Our fears revolve around moral failure, sexual deviancy and the polluting of our kids' minds.

If the kingdom of heaven was represented by a delightfully inviting mansion, filled with rooms for our care, our provision, and our intimacy with Jesus, it seems to me that the mud room, while necessary, would be the place I spent the least amount of time in. Why is the average Christian experience the exact opposite?

It's as if we think sin has more power than the cross. Maybe sin sticks better then forgiveness. If in Christ old things have passed away and all things have become new, if in Christ there is no condemnation at all, if God is not counting our sins against us, why do we spend so much time in the mud room?

Salvation, being born again, meeting Christ at the cross and trading him our sin for his righteousness is simply the entry point into the mansion. No one would want to live here, but we absolutely must pass through this room to enter the house. What would it be like if our books, our sermons, our conversations explored the rest of the house? What does the rest of the kingdom contain?

Remember, outside the kingdom when the unclean touches the clean, the clean is despoiled. But in Jesus, when he touches the dead man or the blind man or the man with leprosy they become clean. Why isn't this the experience of the average Christian? Maybe the answer is found in a different part of the house - outside of the mud room.

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Is God in Control?

Christians are funny creatures. In our haste to be "good" Christians we race each other to heap as many superlatives on God as we can. That is to say, we rush to create God in an image that is perfect in our eyes. A famous Christian philospher once noted that given the choice between two attributes of God, whichever is better, that must be God.

Does God know everything? Is he omniscient? Well, knowing everything is better than not knowing everything. Therefore, he must know everything.

Is God all powerful? Is he omnipotent? Well, having all power is better then having most of the power. Therefore, he must be all powerful.

And so on and so forth. God being the best of everything we can think of. There's just one problem with this God. This is not a God of revelation. This is a God of definition.

Do we really think God is a person, an individual being? Does God have a personality? Does he have different moods? Does he make decisions from his heart or is he locked into some kind of cosmic perfection which dictates what is most Godly?

The God of the Bible is revealed as a being interacting with people he loves. Sometimes he feels joy as we are intimate with him and sometimes he feels angry because we lie to him and betray his heart. Why is it so important to us for God to be in control? He doesn't seem to feel like he is.

Control is an interesting thing. When we say that God is sovereign, what do we mean? We live in a mechanistic culture where we have learned to push a button and expect a result. We can cook our meals in 2 minutes in a microwave and we can obtain any kind of food just by heading down to the supermarket. No building a fire, harvesting our food or waiting for the seasons to change. Machines have produced a whole new level of control. Is this how we view God's sovereignty?

How would we think if we lived in a time before machines? What kind of "control" would we expect of a king in the 12th century? Yes, he has ultimate authority over his kingdom. Yes, he has an army with which he protects his people. Yes, a good king would desire to care for and to protect his people. But what would it mean in this culture to say, "The king is in control"?
Can the king produce food out of season? How much time would it take the king to respond to an invasion of his lands by an outside army? Would there be any pain and suffering during the time it took the king to assemble his army and ride to the defense of his people? Even if he quickly defeated the enemy and drove out the invading army would this mean that every citizen had been completey protected?

Control looks different without a mechanistic world view - doesn't it? Maybe, our lives are more like individual adventures in a hostile land. God's love for us and his "control" over our lives is more relational than mechanistic. We will engage the enemy. We will experience loss. Life often brings heart ache and pain. But our loving Father will always ride to our defense. He's just not pushing buttons, moment by moment controlling the comfort or safety of our life experience.

This idea of God requires a great deal more faith. Is God still in control after a loved one has died? Is God still in control as we fight against sickness and disease? Is God in control if He does not arrive on the scene as fast as we think he should?

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

you're not doing enough

Try harder. Do more. Be more.

Who hasn't felt some form of guilt as they consider their "level of maturity" as a follower of Christ. Who hasn't asked themselves why they don't like praying or why it's such a struggle to attend church regularly? Who hasn't been the recipient of a passionate plea from well meaning church leaders to live more like Jesus?

I feel like there is an elephant in the living room every time Christians gather for almost any reason. Performance anxiety. I find it interesting and not a little bit humorous that this euphemism is used most often in the realm of sexual relationships. The basic idea is that one or both partners wonder if their sexual prowess is impressive to their partner. What is ironic about this anxiety is that sex is commonly referred to as "love-making". Last time I checked love always hoped, did not judge and kept no record of wrongs. Why then if two people are engaged in the activity of "making love" would there be any performance anxiety?

Inherant in every wounded human heart is the question, Do I measure up? We ask it a thousand different ways. Am I smart? Do people like me? Am I a good person? Am I attractive? Am I successful? Am I significant? etc. etc. etc.

The condition of Adam and Eve before they divided their hearts between God and something else was total contentment. They were naked and were not ashamed. Everything about the other was out in the open and their was no performance anxiety. Jesus, the second Adam, walked around Palestine, jobless, homeless, living off the provision of others (many of them women) and declaring his beliefs in such a way as to constantly attract the criticism of those around him. Somehow though he was at peace with this lifestyle.

Godliness with contentment is priceless. The Gospel we preach at the Dwelling Place begins and ends in an ocean of grace. Until a person rests in the unending love and acceptance of the Father we will always wonder if we are doing enough.

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

what is so original about sin?

I had a few interesting conversations this week with friends and the subject of original sin came up. So I thought it might be a good topic to discuss in light of how most Christians read the Bible.

Romans 5:12ff is the classic text for original sin. "Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned." And then in verse 18ff, "Consequently, just as the result of one trespass was condemnation for all men, so also the result of one act of righteousness was justification that brings life for all men. For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous."

Some observations of this text

1. ". . .death came to all men, BECAUSE ALL SINNED." Paul is pretty clear in associating the consequence of death with the participation in sin. We are held accountable for our choices not Adam's choices.

2. The words "Consequently, just as. . ." point us to the relationship of the two following statements. These two opposite statements are related. They are parallel. They are a comparison.
disobedience - made sinners
obedience - made righteous

You have two choices at this point. Either participation is necessary in both cases or participation is not necessary. Choice #1 if you participate in disobedience you are made a sinner like Adam. If you participate in obedience you are made righteous like Jesus.
Choice #2 Without participation in disobedience we are made sinners by Adam's "original sin". And without participation in obedience we are made righteous by Jesus' perfect life.

I lean toward choice #1. I think Scripture clearly portrays individual responsibility to pursue relationship with God. Our choices, our participation is crucial to our relationship with God. Ezekiel 18 is pretty clear (vs. 17) we do not die for the sins of our father. Check it out.

On a side note, choice #2 is intriguing, because it suggests universalism; the belief that all of humankind is saved from their sins regardless of whether they embrace Christ or not. You can wrestled with this one on your own time.

So why do most Christians accept the idea of original sin? Because we embrace our father's faith without questioning it. There is much hidden in the shadows of human history that most of us don't take the time to investigate. This particular Christian idea has its own history of which I only know part.

Jewish culture, leading up to the time of Christ was centered around community in a way that we simply don't understand. People new that they were connected to each other in a vital way that they could not ignore. The current state in an individual's life was credited to the choices of the generations that had gone before. The virtue of an individuals life was seen in the context of his or her family. The righteous often times suffered along with their unrighteous brothers and sisters, and the unrighteous were blessed along with their righteous brothers and sisters. God related to Israel as a community as much as he related to individuals.

Jewish thought saw the human heart as having a "bent" toward evil without being condemned for this "bent". In other words humans seemed to all choose evil at some point - it was inevitable. But condemned at birth - no.

Toward the end of the Jewish prophetic writings the prophets start to say some radical new things. God will write his laws on people's hearts. He will not judge individuals for the sins of family or community. Each person is free to choose whom he or she will serve.

Enter Jesus. And here I can't help but see the deal breaker for original sin. Was Jesus human? Then why does he not have "original sin". Jesus made possible the promises of the prophets by tearing down the wall separating the individual from the Holy of Holies. Personal intimacy with God was now available to all. And Pentecost saw God pouring out his Holy Spirit on everyone.

At first (for over 200 years) faith in Jesus, which came to be known as the Way was governed by the Holy Spirit as individual communities sought to live out their faith as the Holy Spirit taught them. They had the benefit of writings like the gospels and the letters that were left behind by the apostles, but there was no centralized authority governing and separating correct doctrine from heresy.

It was if God was confident in His ability to guide his church through the indwelling Holy Spirit.

Unfortunately, this was not good enough for men. With Emperor Constantine came the joining of the kingdom of heaven with the ideas and authority of human empire. Within a hundred years Tertullian would lay out for us the doctrine of original sin and the centralized church would have the human authority to make this doctrine universal.

Questioning this doctrine excluded many from the opportunity to serve the church as recognized ministers. Questioning this doctrine caused many to be sent into exile or even put to death for their heresy. Centralized authority which ruled over personal belief crushed relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit.

We owe it to ourselves and to a world looking for the truth to question the faith of our fathers and live our lives of faith from our own relationship with Jesus through the revelation of the Holy Spirit. Study the Scriptures, study some church history. Why do you believe what you believe?

Just some stuff we shoud talk about.

Monday, January 18, 2010

And now for something completely different. . .

Do you like the story you are in? Does your life make any kind of sense to you? If you were a screenwriter making the movie of your life would you take some "creative license" and tweak it a bit?

Behind the intellectual format of this blog is my underlying conviction that we are all involved in a story. Our story. And our story is happening inside of God's story. Unfortunately, as soon as I drop "God's story" into this post ten thousand different perversions of what I meant are formed in your minds. You see, I am convinced that man's propensity to attempt to control God's story and consequently your story leads him to foolish decisions about God's story.

We could sit and list versions of God's story all day long. We hear from the people who make God into a puppet-master, laying out human history and then "sovereignly" making it happen.
Some say that God is dis-interested. He put it all together, wound it up and let it go. God is something like an absentee father. We know he's there, but he doesn't visit often. Some would make God to be Santa Claus, organizing us into those he likes and those he hates. Dolling out presents to make our lives more comfortable or enjoyable. But only if you are not on the "naughty" list.

Man is eternally creative in his or her attempts to create a God we can live with. But I am more concerned with your story. I am afraid that much of Christian theology over the years has caused many hungry, passionate people to suspend their story and "wait" on the Lord. I do not think we were designed for this. Let me try to explain.

Creation as I observe it is busy being what it was created to be. Trees do their tree thing and ants do their ant thing. The ocean is all oceany and the mountains, well, have you ever seen anything more mountainy? The story of mankind is no different.

We were designed to enjoy relationships. We as humans were put together to be intimate with other beings. Have you ever watched someone who really loves their dog, their cat or their horse? They talk to them, they listen to them, they hold them and they love them. They ooze intimacy in their relationship with their pet.

Have you ever watched a really good parent. Their ability to exist in the world of a two year old and the adult world is uncanny. A really good parent makes their child feel totally connected to them and still gets the bills payed. Children who grow up feeling intimate with their parents are the ones who are best prepared to live their own stories. Do some field research - check it out.

The same is true of friendships, marriages, teams, and communities. Intimate relationship and the pursuit of these relationships is what we were designed for. Being human is being in relationship. Too many of us have allowed a static idea about who God is and what he wants, to interupt our pursuit of intimacy with others. Yes, God has stuff to say about how we live our lives, but he talks to us along the way; from within our story. We were created in his image. We have been asked to love, to risk, to pursue; to create as we live our stories.

I have fallen in love with Jesus. I know that sounds cliche'. My story is my story and I don't apologize for it. I look for ways to hang out with Jesus the same way I look for ways to hang out with my wife, my kids and my friends. I listen to the things he says, the same way I listen to the things my wife, kids, and friends say. I enjoy what he decides to give me, the same way I enjoy what my wife, kids and friends decide to give me.

I don't wake up in the morning waiting for God to tell me what to do today. I take the stuff that bubbles out of my heart (the new one God traded me for) and I act on it. All the time, listening for what my friends have to say as I live my story.

Just some stuff we should REALLY talk about.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The cycle of history

OK. We've spent some time discussing the difference it makes to view life as organic instead of mechanistic. And we've talked about time being more accurately represented as seasonal or cyclical as opposed to linear. So now, let's look at the big picture of what I will call redemptive history or you might think of as the story of the Bible.

Here are a few starter questions:
1. Why is the God of the Old Testament so much different than the revelation of Jesus in the New Testament? (If you don't think there is any difference or that the difference is a minor thing then I would suspect you don't read your Bible very much.)
2. Where does God's justice fit into a theology of grace?
3. Bill Johnson says, "God is in a good mood." Is he always in a good mood? What about the book of Ezekiel when he seems pissed and says quite pointedly, "I will destroy you. . .I will send plagues, war and famine on you to kill you"?
4. Does God intend to punish or judge sin?

The story of humankind is the story of the collision between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdoms of this earth. Let me exlain.

Our story begins with God creating us and putting us in an environment that is an extension of the perfect spiritual realm of heaven. This realm (the garden) was surrounded by a kingdom that needed to be subdued and ruled. Enter our choice to pursue knowledge through someone other than our Father. Our choice to not be exclusive in our intimacy with the Father led to a steady increase of our distance from him as we sought comfort, pleasure, knowledge, etc. from a source other than our Father. This "season" of placing our faith in each other instead of our Father culminates in the story of the Tower of Babel. In our passion to be like God we as humans were becoming very adept at doing things that were pretty impressive by pooling our resources and trusting in each other. God's opinion on what we were accomplishing was that it was leading us away from desiring intimacy with him. So he put a stop to it. As intimacy with the Father decreased, evil increased. As the fruit of our decision to trust in someone other than the Father grew He decided to put an end to it. The flood.

Rewind. Start over. Call a man named Abram out of the nations of the world to birth a new nation, set apart to be exclusively intimate with the Father. As the generations rolled by his people decided to share their allegiance, their intimacy, with other gods. The fruit of this decision was so much evil that God says Israel was doing things that even the pagan world found abominable. Read the prophets. God is angry. He decides in his anger to destroy Israel. Enter the kings of Babylon and Persia. Exit the favor of God on Israel.

A remnant. A tree reduced to a small insignificant root. The root of Jesse (look it up). Jesus is born into poverty in a red-neck village on the frontier of the empire. He teaches that he has not come to judge but to save. Again, we choose to live by faith in Jesus or in someone or something else. This decision of where to place our faith will bear fruit. Apparently their is so much grace in this cycle of redemptive history that sin (all sin) is being forgiven and everyone (I think this means everyone) has the extended opportunity to be intimate with the Father through Jesus.

I see a clear cycle of human history. The Father inserts his presence, his love, his creativity, his desire for intimacy into the world. We, as humans decide where we will live from; where we will place our faith; whether or not we want exclusive (think of it as a monogamous relationship) intimacy with the Father. Our decision then grows, matures and bears fruit. What we have birthed by our decsions then illicits a response from our thoroughly invested, incredibly passionate, looking for loving intimacy Father. Another collision. Another cycle. Another opportunity for humankind to choose intimacy with the Father or not.

I think we find ourselves in a season of grace in the midst of cyclical history. The history of humankind pursued by a God who desperately wants to be exclusively intimate with us.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Organic - it's not just for farming

Many parts of our method of obtaining truth are handed to us, and we accept them without giving them a second thought. At one time everybody believed that the earth was at the center of the universe. At another, that the world was flat. These beliefs were the result of centuries of human history that were not static. Peoples and cultures lived, moved, thought, fought, lived and died. The product of these events was the belief system of the following generations.

We in the 21st century are no different. Unknown to most of us is the radical shift in culture that came with the industrial revolution. Late 1800's and early 1900's saw a completely agricultural world morf into a world of machines, assembly lines, technology and life altering inventions (like the lightbulb). Most of us cannot conceive of a world that stops when it is dark and continues again when the sun comes up. Artificial light has changed our lifestyles in ways that we don't even remember anymore.

This industrial revolution has also, over time, shifted our method of obtaining truth. What once was a world where things were cultivated, fed, watered, and left to grow for a season has become a world of time saving devices that need to be fixed and upgraded. We think in terms of fixing parts and upgrading performance. This is radically different than the world Jesus lived in.

Do you realize that every metaphor Jesus used to describe his kingdom was organic. Not once did he refer to a mechanism like a sun-dial or an aqueduct or any type of man made machine. He continually used organic metaphors like planting, reaping, seeds, yeast, trees, etc.

So what is my problem with the industrial revolution? Just this. I think we often think in terms of fixing our lives or our bodies or our marriages or our relationships. We are looking for a spiritual part to plug in and make things work better. Something like a Christianity 7.o or 8.o. I think God grows things. I don't think he fixes things.

Take for instance a husband who doesn't like what is going on in his marriage. He wants to fix it. Some principle or new relational strategy that will make things work like they should. What he fails to realize and probably wouldn't understand if someone told him is that the season of his marriage has changed. The flower has closed up and if he doesn't recognize the changing season and adapt his behavior accordingly there will be no harvest. The heat of summer is upon him; water, weed, tend your flower with love and attention. There is no guarantee because this is not a machine. But, if you will answer the call of the deep place in your wife's heart and tend to her without trying to fix her you will be a good husband. But what will happen? What will the result be? Who knows; this is an organism, not a mechanism.

How would we perceive our relationships differently if we thought organically and not mechanistically? What would we do differently with things like struggle, pain, and loneliness? Yes, I believe that God breaks in on our world and changes things in an instant. But even this is a harvest from someone else's season of planting and watering.

Just some stuff we should talk about.

Monday, January 4, 2010

the cycle of faith

I attended a teen summer camp many years ago and the speaker said a most interesting thing. He said that teenagers who go to the mall are going to hell. You could have heard a pin drop. Every teen there had been to the mall and each one had just been told by the "authority" that they were going to hell. Although, that was not exactly what he had said. He did not say that ALL teenagers who go to the mall were going to hell. What really rankled the kids at the camp was what the speaker did not say.

It's my contention that what we talk about is the dominant part of our culture. What gets the most press becomes the "flavor" of our community. Many churches these days are talking about the power of God and quoting Scriptures like "on earth as it is in heaven". Please hear me. I absolutely love this promise and I lean into it as hard as I can. However, I have noticed that we are not sure what to do with friends that have not acquired their miracle yet. I have friends with cancer, a son who is deaf, and several friends who have disfunctional marriages. I pray for these situations, believing that it is God's will to heal and restore. I do not believe that God sent these sicknesses or hardships to "teach" or "refine". God is not the author of death - Satan is.

So what do I say about those I love who suffer daily; those who battle character deficiencies for years on end? I think part of my difficulty is the traditional theology that sees the death and resurrection of Jesus as a point in linear time after which "all things have become new". I suspect that this is lazy theology. This idea ignores many Scriptures which talk of our suffering and those who remain sick.

I think we may have stumbled upon a major cultural mistake. Two thousand years ago time was conceived of as being cyclical not linear. Jesus life, death and resurrection was unique and world changing. However, the invitation to his potiential disciples is to follow him - to share in his life; to share in his death and "somehow to attain to the resurrection of the dead."

We participate in the cyclical sequence of events which begins with a clash between the kingdom of heaven and the powers of this earth (human and demonic). The clash can both undo the works of Satan and produce persecution. In both however, we suffer for a little while so that our faith, which is of greater worth than gold can be proved genuine (1 Peter 1:7). Put another way, the life of living faith in Jesus will take us through seasons of pain and suffering as we battle for true faith and as we carry the burdens of others.

This conversation will applaud the faith of the one who lives with pain and the faith of the one who has been freed of pain. To ignore the seasons of unrealized victory and anticipated freedom in the continuing cycle of redemptive history is to paint those who are battling pain and disappointment, with a second-class brush. As if somehow they are exeperiencing a lesser measure of the love of our Father. What is love? To lay down your life for another. It is my bet that those of us who follow Jesus will experience both the fellowship of sharing in his suffering and the power of his resurrection in a continuing cycle of deepening faith.

Friday, January 1, 2010

who are you talking to?

There is much confusion amongst followers of Jesus as to what Jesus really taught. He says things that seem to contradict. He tells a Samaritan women that he came only for the people of Israel, but when asked who his neighbor is, Jesus makes the hero of the story the Good Samaritan. Jesus teaches that not the smallest section of the Hebrew law is to be forgotten, yet he regularly "revises" the same law when the religious leaders challenge him on things like working on the Sabbath and the law's injuction to fast or to give to the poor.

Why do we have Christians on street corners with bull-horns acting like Old Testament prophets and others posting a 3500 year old Jewish document on billboards? I believe the answer can be found in the context of Jesus' life. How silly we are to ignore the time and culture of Jesus' life as we try to understand what he taught.

Jesus came to a culture that was distinctly Jewish. What does this mean to Gentiles two millenia away? It means that much of Jesus' teaching was specifically addressing a people group who were already the people of God, who already had relationship with him, who already sought his voice and to do his will. When Jesus says in Matthew 5:13, "You are the salt of the earth. . .", he is addressing Jews (the people of God). He is warning Israel that if they don't flavor the world with the heart of their loving Father they may find themselves "thrown out and trampled on". Low and behold most of Israel rejects Jesus and over the next two thousand years we find the Jews (for the most part) on the outside looking in. We find their history repeting itself as the powers of this world trample on them.

Jesus is extremely compassionate and loving to almost everyone he encounters. He heals everyone brought to him, he feeds the hungry, he tells poor people the good news of a new kingdom. However, Jesus saves his more belligerant responses for those who are spiritual leaders. He regularly attacks the behavior and character of the spiritual leaders of Israel calling them names, insulting them, and messing up their church building. He even saves some of his most aggressive stuff for his own disciples who he is grooming to lead when he is gone. He calls Peter "Satan" and he gets openly frustrated with his guys when they cannot heal the boy with a demon. Why the double standard?

I believe that we as humans misunderstand the teachings of the son of God because we have a different orientation than he does. We look at the world as good and evil. We see us and them. We think in terms of right and wrong, anchoring our morality to a static (unchanging) system of belief.

Jesus regulary took a distinctly other-world position or a third choice. He didn't see the choice of stoning a women caught in adultery as either; obey the law or ignore the law. He inserted choice number three. Yes, the law requires her death, let the righteous execute the law. What, no one is righteous? Surprise. Surprise. Hey, I'm righteous, and I decide to give you mercy not judgment. By the way, sweetheart, you probably don't want to sleep around anymore.

Jesus' posture recognizes that two different groups are present when they bring him the woman caught in adultery. Group one, morally upright, leaders in the church, intent on "protecting" their righteousness. To these Jesus has a message that causes conviction; a message of direct instruction, a message that if it does not produce repentance will cause distance between them and Jesus. What happens? What they thought was the morally right execution of their function in the people of God is taken away from them. This causes many "leaders" in the church to secretly resent the teachings of Jesus and to look for ways to retain control, to keep their position.

Group two, the woman.

Jesus was constantly aware of two groups of people who were following him around. Group one were the outsiders, the poor, the rejected, the sorrowful, the sick. These he pursued with love. These, he hung out with in their comfortable places and befriended. To these he said, "I haven't come to judge you but to love you." His kingdom is expressly for them. This is why he has come.

Group two are the righteous, the insiders, the healthy. Now, Jesus is not against these people because they are righteous, healthy insiders. Rather, he resents the posture of those who have gotten theirs and are not concerned that others be included. In fact, I would suggest that Jesus loves the insider just as much as the outsider. But his invitation to these is different. Come, spend your wealth on the poor. Invest, your health and energy on those who are sick. Risk your comfort and safety to attack the powers of this world and undo the work of Satan in the world.

So whether you consider yourself to be an insider or an outsider, whether you are healthy or sick, whether you have tons of joy or regulary sorrow; Jesus invites both groups to be part of a third group. Those who wish to be intimate with Jesus and as they grow healthy in him to invest that strength the same way Jesus invested his strenth - for the salvation of those who are hurting.

Jesus said, "I did not come to call the healthy but the sick." However, he would love it if the healthy would join him in loving on the sick. So God Bless the bull-horns and the billboards. Just keep them inside the church buildings where only the "righteous" can feel the sting of rebuke and wrestle with the law. After all, this was Jesus' model and should be ours as well.

Just some stuff we should talk about.