12.31.2008

Salvation

Those who refuse to be sanctified, have not been justified, and will not be glorified...

12.02.2008

Karl Barth

"To clasp the hands in prayer is the beginning of an uprising against the disorder of the world"

11.17.2008

Some Brothers...

So some brothers torture their sisters by popping their balloons, my son is different.


He ate his sister's balloon.


That's right, my daughter Zoe was playing with her pink balloon, O happy day! Everything was right in the world.

And then my son Zane, who is in the midst of an intense 'pretend I'm a cheetah' phase, pounces...


He ate that pretty pink balloon.

And today, we saw it again. Yes, that's right, the balloon made it out, a little worse for wear, but free again.

I'll let you blow it up...

11.11.2008

Thank a Vet

No matter how you feel about it, your presence in America (and the rights and privileges that come with that) have been paid for by the blood, sweat, and tears of countless soldiers and their families.

In spite of how you feel about the current war, or war in general, say, "Thank you," to a veteran today.

"Thanks, Dad."

Go Cheryl!

If you are interested in hand crafted (and made to order) scarves, hats, shawls, and other items, then click the link above.

Our friend Cheryl Lewis has decided to pursue her dream of running her own small business selling her own hand-made items.

Just click on the title link!

11.10.2008

Jesus the First Time Traveller

Don't worry, I promise we aren't starting a UFO cult! Just think on this...


Jesus comes to us from the future.


One of my favorite authors, NT Wright, says that looking to the future (in reading the biblical prophets) is like looking into a fog and describing what you see...

There is something there, but it is mysterious and the detail is hard to make out with any clarity.

...how if someone came walking to us out of the fog?


That someone is Jesus!


He Is from God's future redemption! The Age to Come is fully revealed in the life, death, and specifically, the Resurrection.

It bear's considering, if we were to meet someone 'from the future,' (think some ridiculous sci-fi 'B' movie) what would the attendant thoughts, emotions, questions, and experiences be? ...

Ephesians

In the opening verses of the letter to the Ephesians, Paul writes that he is a messenger or apostle "by the will of God." The Message has Paul saying he is "under God's plan." By way of an introduction to the series we will be doing on the letter to the Ephesian Church, we will be exploring this idea.

What is God's plan? ...God's will? How do we get 'under' it?

What is the letter to the Ephesians all about? The answer to this question dovetails nicely with the others above:

Ephesians is largely a letter that provides the 'big picture' of God's action in history, and provides insight into how we fit into that unfolding redemptive drama. This is, I believe, what Paul means by being 'under God's plan.'

So what do we see? Do we see God's action? Or are we consumed with our own needs and desires?

Do we see dry bones? Or Ezekiel's army? (Ezekiel 37)

Do we see the surrounding Arameans, or the chariots of fire? (2 Kings 6)

Acts 19-20 provide the account of Paul's time in Ephesus and the founding of the community of disciples in that city. It also goes a long way towards shaping our understanding of what it meant for Paul to be 'under God's plan,' how it was a guiding impetus to his life, illuminating a path for him. It was God's plan of salvation, and Paul's own specific purpose within that plan that gave Paul (revealed by the Holy Spirit and imbued with His power) his drive and stamina, his total willingness to pay any cost, as well as giving him direction and allowing him to make decisions about the course of his life.

So how do we make decisions?

How do we choose what to do with our time and energy?

How do we choose what to give our lives to?

11.04.2008

When I Run...

(Check the Title link for an old post on a similar topic)

There is a scene in the popular movie Chariots of Fire where Eric Liddell is talking with his sister. She is concerned that his career as a runner (he was Scotland's first Olympic Medalist) will stand in the way of his career as a missionary to China. Eric responds with this line:

"I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure."

There is something there that we need to grasp.

===============================

The God spoken of in Scripture is the God who invented pleasure of all kinds. We do well to remember this! The Psalmist says to God, "You have made known to me the path of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence, with eternal pleasures at your right hand."

We can easily turn Jesus into a whip-toting, grimacing killjoy. Yet, even His enemies would dispute that point. The Pharisees accused Him of being a drunkard and friend of sinners, a party-going glutton. How could we ever confuse a Jesus who laughingly gave his friends nicknames with a morose religionist?

11.03.2008

The Oval Office?

What would you think of a national religious figure who was referred to by his followers as the "Commander in Chief" and the "Leader of the Free World?" Who called his place of work the "Oval Office" and from there issued highly publicized speeches that were called "State of the Union" addresses? Who had appointed "Cabinet members" to help him accomplish his task and referred to his followers as "Citizens?"

================================

The following terms:

gospel
church
kingdom
twelve
temple
christ
lord
savior
prince of peace
(and many others)

All are terms that would be full of the same kinds of political significance as the "Oval Office" or "citizenship" are to our contemporary ears.

Gospel - the term used in the OT to refer to the coming of YHWH as king, setting things right for the nation of Israel in terms of justice, not least in terms of vanquishing the national enemies and oppressors. In the Roman world the term was used to refer to the official proclamations of the victory of Caesar's armies, the birth of Caesar's sons, and the acclamation of Caesar's deity.

Church - the term used in the Greco-Roman world to refer to the body of citizens called together.

Kingdom - a common term used by both Jews and Romans to refer to... a "kingdom!"

Twelve - the symbol for the nation of Israel, the twelve tribes.

Temple - the symbol of national pride, the place that declared to the world the primacy of Israel over other nations.

Christ - Literally, "the One who has had oil poured on him," the term for the King of the Jewish people.

Savior, Lord, Prince of Peace - Titles specifically ascribed to Caesar. All Roman subjects were required once a year to officially proclaim, "Caesar is Lord;" to which Christians responded, "Jesus is Lord."

================================

Certainly blurs the line of distinction between politics and spirituality, doesn't it?

So what does God think about politics? What were Jesus aims?

What are His desires for our lives?

11.01.2008

Judgment and Theodicy

The voices crying foul about sin and evil in the world (claiming it proves God's non-existence) are the same voices crying foul about God's judgment on sin and evil (claiming the doctrines of hell and judgment are themselves evil).

They seem to vacillate back and forth between the belief that human concepts about justice and evil are valid ways of understanding the universe; (this is the basis upon which they pronounce their judgments upon the Creator of such a wicked Universe as ours) and the belief that evil is a fiction, and the only real evil is to believe in human concepts of justice and evil (these concepts, they claim, are merely religious attempts to control others and prevent them from having a good time)!

I say, choose either one or the other...

10.11.2008

10 Years Ago

Click the title link to read an AP article about the murder of Matthew Shepard.

My wife and I were both in Laramie, attending the University, when this event happened. We were both there for the crazy protesters and counter-protesters; the media circus that followed the murder, another one following the trial a year later, and then another one two years later when they were filming the movie.

This should be a point of reflection and repentance for the Church.

Whenever we point fingers at 'them' we help to create an atmosphere where these kinds of brutalities can happen. The reality is that people engaged in homosexual behavior are no more or less broken than the pastor who calls them an 'abomination.' The reality is that homosexual acts are no more a perversion than a man having sex with his wife while fantasizing about another woman.

We are all created in God's image, and we are all stained with sin. We are breathing Icons of the Creator, but we are cracked.

We are all familiar with infamous Christians who live double lives. Roundly condemning activities publicly that they are covertly and habitually engaging in. Recently a famous Christian leader who was routinely making comments about homosexuality was outed by the male prostitute he had been having a three year relationship with.

I am more than willing to give this man the benefit of the doubt, his sincerity is not what I want to question, rather, I want to ask, 'how did this happen?' If this man had come forward with his struggles, if the Church did not create a 'super-sin' out of this particular issue, if the Church would place more emphasis on Jesus and less on 'good looks,' if the Church would be the first place where sin was able to be confessed instead of the last, if, if, if...

Reflection, and repentance.

It must begin in the Church.

10.08.2008

Politics and Religion



You‘ve heard the phrase about being ‘so heavenly minded that you’re no earthly good.’ This assumes that heaven and earth have nothing to do with each other; that spirituality and politics are two totally separate realms.

And yet, even on the surface of it, that doesn’t fit with our own cultural experience. Conservative Evangelicals as a voting bloc put George W Bush in the White House. Martin Luther King Jr. was a pastor first, and a civil rights activist second. The Church has historically been extremely influential in political issues like abolition, prohibition, prison reform, abortion, education, and many others.

So which party would God endorse?

...both?
...neither?

Does God even care about politics?

And where should the people of God stand on political issues?

Wisdom

To that question, the whole Bible offers one massive and obvious answer: Wisdom. That beautiful and haunting poem from the book of Job issues a call to rediscover the wisdom we need in the middle of the times we live in. I chose that reading long before the present crisis, but re-reading it now it leaps out at us that, in the previous chapter, Job denounces those who think they can make their financial systems last for ever: ‘though they heap up silver like dust, though they build their houses like nests, they may go to bed with wealth but they will do so no more; terrors overtake them like a flood; in the night a whirlwind carries them off.’ I remember being told as a boy that the Bible was as up to date as tomorrow morning’s newspaper, and there you have it in Job 27: a vivid and accurate picture of our world. And it is in that context – our context – that the poet asks, in chapter 28: Where then shall wisdom be found? You can dig for gold, you can trawl the sea for pearls, you can buy coral and crystal and jewels with money; but you can’t get wisdom that way. Indeed, we might want to add, if you spend all your time thinking about gold and pearls and crystal and money you can guarantee that you will not find wisdom.

NT Wright

10.01.2008

What am I?

What is human nature?

I have been asked this on more than one occasion.

We are fundamentally good.

We are God's image.


But there is a force at work within us. Evil unleashed, like a bengal tiger that has somehow been turned loose inside the royal gardens, or the proverbial 'bull in a glass shop;' we are completely and totally beautiful, purposeful, good, powerful, compassionate, just; but there is a force at work within us that claws and devours all goodness.


The term 'Cracked Eikons' is used by Scot McKnight to describe human beings. We are images of God, clearly reflective of who He is, and yet obviously no longer whole; like a cracked mirror will still reflect, and yet is also clearly not whole.

9.30.2008

William Wilberforce: Anti-Hero of Conservative Christians?

I just recently rewatched Amazing Grace and (among many other more profound and emotional thoughts) was struck by the fact that the life of William Wilberforce is a stark antithesis to the model held up by the Conservative Church.*

Okay, so it is, admittedly, a bit more nuanced than the above statement, but true none-the-less...

Here is the nuance:

Conservative Christians have been enthralled by the movie depicting Wilberforce's crusade against the slave-trade in the British Empire, and have been precisely because Wilberforce explicitly expresses that crusade as emanating from his conversion to a personal faith in Christ.

However, whenever contemporary Christians proclaim that our faith in Christ should, as a matter of course, result in similar crusading for justice on the earth, they are responded to by our Conservative brethren with the bitter refrain, "social gospel, it's the social gospel!" It frustrates me...

...especially when the life of Christ Himself seems to be such a commanding anthem for justice on the earth!

=========================================

It seems to me that the emphasis on personal faith should naturally and easily result in justice, moreover, it seems these two should never be held as somehow antithetical to each other, but rather to flow in seemless unity out of the Gospel proclamation of the Kingdom of God; "Jesus is Lord." If our faith is in the One who Rules the earth, then we will be doing our King's bidding here in His kingdom.


Or am I missing something?

=========================================

Okay, more nuance...

I know that Conservative Christians will be the first to teach and preach morality in their Churches, however, it is always with the caveat that "you can separate morality from salvation." We hear talk of justice,** but it seems completely severed from the salvation-life we receive from Jesus.

=========================================

*I, in many ways, consider myself to be a 'Conservative Christian.' (Although not in all ways, obviously...) And hope that my words are seen as critique, yes; but, critique from within, not attack from without...

**I must also point out that Conservative Christians tend to be Conservative politically as well, and so, tend to see 'justice' in terms of maintaining personal morality, admonishing personal responsibility, and advocating for private property rights of the citizens of democratic nations; but rarely if ever in terms of reversing systematic oppression, setting free those in captivity, or undoing the global trend towards building market economies on the overwhelming debt of third-world countries.

9.29.2008

The Theology of GWB

Many of us are familiar with Bush Doctrine, namely, that a country is within it's rights to take preemptive military action in the event of intelligence against another country indicating a serious, immanent threat. Now of course there are critics of this thinking who would say that such action is the cause of conflict, not the interruption of conflict. But my agenda here is to neither defend, nor critique such a policy (we'll do that some other day...), rather to use this idea of 'preemption' as a jumping off point to discuss something more significant than global warfare and massive socio-political upheaval.

Agape is one of the 1st Century Greek words translated into English as the word 'love.'

It is distinct from other Greek words also translated into English as 'love.' Loosely translated:

Phileo - the love expressed in the bond of friendship
Storge - the love expressed in kind affection
Eros - the love expressed in romance

Agape is expressed in a number of significant ways:

1) Creation - as parents choose to bring a child into existence out of love (the love coming before the child and bringing it into existence), not out of any sense of what the child can do for them, but out of a desire to provide something for the child. In fact the mother's love causes her to provide for the child, and to bring the child itself into existence in order to provide for it, just so God's love has burst forth into words of creative power, bringing into existence all that we see.

2) Election - God chose Abram. The calling and the naming of Abram (Abraham) are significant in that Abraham had done nothing to earn this blessing, in point of fact, God chose Abraham in order to bless him. God called him 'Father of Nations' when he and his wife were extremely old, and were childless. Through God's calling, naming, blessing, and choosing Abram, he became Abraham, Father of Nations, elect of God.

3) Incarnation - God personally and intimately involved Himself in the human condition. He shared in our humanity, frailty, and vulnerability. He invited broken people to share in His fellowship, not requiring purity and righteousness as a prerequisite for that fellowship, but rather creating purity and righteousness out of fellowship with Him! He did this not out of any sense of what we could do for Him, but out of a desire to do something for us.

4) Atonement - ultimately agape is expressed in a human being hanging from a cross. This man, who was more than a man, was the precise way in which God took all of human suffering, evil, chaos, and death upon Himself. Again, God did this not because we were somehow deserving of it, but precisely in order to make us into a people who were no longer warped and broken by suffering, evil, chaos and death.

Agape is preemptive love! It is love that strikes first; not because that love is deserved, but rather because in giving love to what is undeserving of love, agape can make what is unlovely and unlovable into something lovely and lovable!

9.28.2008

God is Green


Green SUVs, green stock-portfolios, green music videos...
green products permeate pop-culture. Should the Church
join this craze?


How does God feel about the environment?

Why has God given it to us?

How would He want His Church to act towards it?


Join us as we search the Scriptures to discover His heart
on environmental issues

9.14.2008

Theological Neophilia

One of the side-effects of our cultural default to suspicion is a love of new theories that undermine established ones.

We are predisposed to believe new ideas in contrast to old ones.

This, of course, doesn't make sense intellectually, but it is an observable reality; I constantly meet people whose framework for understanding history is someone in Idaho, locked in their attic, furiously blogging, spewing conspiracy theories about the 'real' history of ____________ (fill in the blank with their particular axe to grind).

I can't tell you how many people I meet who are willing to assert the most bizarre hypothesis; Jesus was a woman, Jesus never existed, Jesus was Hindu (often the same person will wheel out several opposing hypotheses without concern for their contradiction!).

But this doesn't mean that we should take the opposite approach either!

We must continually look with fresh eyes upon the evidence we have before us. I find it laughable that intelligent people would question the existence of Jesus as a historical figure; not because I hold firm to the doctrines of faith, but precisely because the historical record demands the presence of Jesus!

However, if we are to look at what the historical record indicates, then we must be willing to make hamburgers of some sacred cows...

What if it turns out that the comforts and meanings that we derive from our faith in Christ (as we received it) stand in antithesis to the aims of Christ as we discover them in pursuit of truth? Surely we must recognize this a legitimate possibility, after all we must see that the reality of God must be orders of magnitude beyond our concept of God. Will you let go of your concept of Christ, in order to embrace Christ Himself?

9.13.2008

Politics

"Part of the problem, particularly in the United States, is that cultures become so polarized that it is often assumed that if you tick one box you’re going to tick a dozen other boxes down the same side of the page – without realising that the page itself is highly arbitrary and culture-bound. We have to claim the freedom, in Christ and in our various cultures, to name and call issues one by one with wisdom and clarity, without assuming that a decision on one point commits us to a decision on others."

N T Wright

As a follower of the Resurrected Lord, the Crucified King Jesus, I am compelled to concerns and positions on many issues that seem schizophrenic in light of our current political spectrum...

Radically anti-abortion, and yet firmly anti-capital punishment; this seems to me a consistent ethic of the sanctity of human life, and yet it makes little sense in the political realm of the American electorate.

Many other issues could be brought up in light of Wright's words above...

Poverty, family, health, education, international aid, foreign peacekeeping, illicit drug trafficking, internet pornography, etc.

I find myself all over the political map, driven by my faith to positions that seem contradictory to those who's politics are motivated instead by adherence to the platform of a particular party.

A Conversation with Friends...

I had a conversation with some new friends the other night and one of them used a phrase that did a wonderful job of communicating one of my personal values:

We try to get behind people, as opposed to getting behind projects.

The temptation is to make a plan and then look for people to fill the slots...

But what if the plan is to get behind people?

What if people are the project? (Don't read that in a cynical way!)

What if the very 'task' we are trying to accomplish is encouraging people to step into the destiny that God has for them, to become the unique reflection of God that only they can be? (The biblical term for this would be 'making disciples.')

9.09.2008

Heaven Help Us!

"...the scripture always bends towards the oppressed and the marginalized. Beginning in the Torah—take care of the widow, the orphan, the stranger among you. The story is written by oppressed minorities. And it continues, no room in the inn, they follow Jesus because they are hungry. The story always goes towards the underside of the Empire. I think it is sometimes hard for the American church to understand the Bible because we are the Empire. We are the ones in power, the ones with wealth. I think in some settings that's why the Bible has such little power."

Rob Bell (emphasis mine)

9.03.2008

A Climatology Parable

John and Bob walked into the garage, turned the car on, and closed the garage door...

Hours later...

John, "Hey Bob, do you think its getting warm in here?"

Bob, "Maybe."

John, "No maybe about it Bob, it sure is warmer! In fact, I think the fumes from the car exhaust are causing some sort of 'effect' that is raising the temperature!"

Bob, "Okay John, you're right, it is getting warmer, but it has nothing to do with the fumes from the car. It's just the sun beating down on the roof like normal. The garage always goes through cycles of heating and cooling."

John, (cough) "I think we should turn the car off and then it will cool down."

Bob, (cough, cough) "John, I just told you, these poisonous fumes aren't causing it to heat up in here, it's just the noon-day sun!!!"

Hours later...

Bob, (barely conscious) "See John, (cough, wheeze, cough) I told you these poisonous fumes wouldn't increase the temperature that much... (hacking up blood) trust me John, we aren't going to die of heat stroke."

;-)

John, "It could keep heating up... we could die of heat stroke! We've gotta turn this car off!"

Bob, (cough, hack, cough) "You are plain silly! It is just the sun, it will never get hot enough to be (wheeze, hack) dangerous, and even if it does, that won't be until long after we've left the garage!"

===============================================

I gotta admit, the science behind Climate Change is opaque to me. I have no idea how to evaluate whether humans are the cause of global warming. I have a BS in Social Studies! But it does seem a little silly to be arguing over climate change when surely we can all agree that emitting toxins into our air and water supply is a bad idea?

9.02.2008

Wow

I had a couple of amazing moments today... (yeah Sean, I teared up both times!)

The first this morning reading through Philippians:

The famous poem in Chapter 2, where Jesus service, suffering, crucifixion, and death are the expression of deity!

How mind-boggling? When I hear the phrase 'Lord of the Earth' I hear echoes of the marching legions of Rome, or the thundering of the herds of Genghis Khan... or the recoil of tanks firing, or jets roaring overhead...

Power and glory, strength and honor, majesty, deity itself, sits not on a throne, but rather hangs from a cross...

...dripping with blood and gore.


How truly amazing is Jesus.


==============================

And then just now reading through an NT Wright essay:

He talked of the work of the church in terms of a chalice, or a violin. Both beautiful in and of themselves as works of craftsmanship, but beautiful even more so because of what happens when the winemaker, or the musician arrives...

The mission of the Church is to become a well-crafted, beautifully made, violin. Lovingly put together with lines strong and graceful...

...and then the Master Musician will come!

He will pick up the violin and begin to play it!

And the wedding feast of the Lamb will begin!

The Wright Stuff

"Somehow, God's dimension and our dimension, heaven and earth, overlap and interlock. All the questions we want to ask - How does this happen, who does it happen to, when, where, why, under what conditions, what does it look like when it does - all these remain partly mysterious, and will do until creation is finally renewed and the two spheres, the two dimensions, joined into one as they were designed to be (and as Christians pray daily that they will be). But the point of talking about the Spirit in this framework ought by now to be clear. If it wasn't, St Paul would rub our noses in it: those in whom the Spirit comes to live are God's renewed Temple. They are, individually and corporately, locations where heaven and earth meet."

8.31.2008

Good ol' Isaiah

"...will be trampled under him as straw is trampled down in the manure. They will spread out their hands in it, as a swimmer spreads out his hands to swim."

Yuch!

I think this is one of my new favorite verses! ...talk about 'rich biblical imagery!'

Sexuality



Ours is a sexually charged culture:

For many people sex is about a search for something; identity, conquest, validation, power, self-worth, connection...

And so, we run from relationship to relationship, looking for some degree of depth and significance.


Perhaps, however, sexuality is better understood differently:

Instead of sex being a search, what if sexuality is supposed to be the expression of something that we have found?

A culmination.

A reflection.


What if sex is an outward enactment of a deeper reality?


What if sex is spiritual?

What would be the significance of understanding sexuality as a part of God’s grand scheme for the universe?

8.30.2008

Jesus the Revolutionary

Sarah Palin has been aptly described as "a God fearing, gun totting, former beauty queen."


I am encouraged to read up on the prospective VP selection for the GOP, she is more than a token female (although she is, quite obviously, a cagey attempt to garner some of the Hillary for Pres crowd), and has a track record of thumbing her nose at the establishment within her own party, and has taken a strong line against corruption in her own party. Things I admire, and believe the country will admire. However, I find these kind of sentiments to be... frustratingly disturbing... to say the least.

What do you think?

When people talk about Jesus as a revolutionary, is this what you think was meant?





...more thoughts on politics at a later date!

8.29.2008

A Hermeneutic of Suspicion versus an Epistemology of Love

A Hermeneutic of Suspicion::

Our culture defaults to suspicion. This is even more prevalent amongst younger generations. I admit to it, my first instinct is to ask, 'where's the catch?'

'What are you selling?'

'Yeah, right!?!'


Even people I trust, even about things that I already adhere to. My primary mode of thinking is suspicion.

Look for the angles, watch for the hoax.

Who's the sucker? If you don't know who the sucker is...
...then you're the sucker!


We doubt as a matter of reflex.

The suspicious approach is our default mode of understanding and interpreting the world around us; this leads to an attempt at a self-centered epistemology, a 'pick and choose' hermeneutic that attempts to divorce thoughts from their context. We take what we hear, or read, or see, and we spin it to fit our own grid. We fail to come at anything with an attempt to understand it on it's own terms because nothing is to be trusted on its own terms! And so, we fail to understand.

This is what has been called the 'wikipedia-zation' of knowledge. It leads ultimately to a failure to critique sources of information, and their authority, because we have become the source of all authority. We assume that we can know the truth on our own, in fact, that this is the only way it can be known.

Because there is no authority that we will accept, ultimately we will accept any authority, because we cannot function without authority.*

===================================

Here is where this gets practical:

According to recent studies, 80 percent of this countries population believe that "an individual should arrive at his or her own religious beliefs independent of any churches or synagogues."

Here is where it gets problematic:

Epistemology is a communal activity; we cannot come to any knowledge of truth, or approach to knowledge of truth, apart from our relationships with people. If we think otherwise we are deluding ourselves, and ignorant of our tutors (those who influence us). We wear lenses in all that we understand, and those lenses come from other people.

This plays into spirituality in amazing ways. The DaVinci Code was a wonderful example of people grasping at anything to bolster their already held beliefs. On both sides. People antagonistic to Christianity looked to Dan Brown's novel to define their understanding of Church history (a work of fiction, based upon an admitted hoax... but an attractive one.) Christians were quick to respond with protest and outrage.

Rarely did people ask the deeper questions about what really happened, why people were so intrigued by such a presentation of history, or how we can even know! Much less actually enter into dialogue or relationship with each other...

===================================

An Epistemology of Love ::

So what would a different way of knowing and understanding look like?

To whet your appetite here is an interview that references NT Wright's epistemology of love.

More to come...

===================================

*We take almost the entire realm of our own knowledge of the universe on the authority of others, from atoms, to Beijing, to fidelity, to the 'Catcher in the Rye.' ...I've never actually seen a possum, I can choose to believe it is an elaborate hoax, foisted upon me by those with nothing to gain, or I can simply take it upon the authority of other people that such a creature does indeed exist.

8.22.2008

What's the plan?

Ephesians 1:10

God wants to put everything back together in Jesus. Fixing broken people, broken societies, and broken ecologies, through the broken body of the Messiah-King.

Ephesians 2:10

God's method for this is you and me! The simple prayers of a faithful grandmother. The engineer designing portable water filtration. The family who adopts a homeless man. The coach who loves her athletes. These are the fingerprints of God.

Ephesians 3:10

It is the Church (not the institution, but the community of people who have been gripped by God's vision for the wold) that is the center of everything. In spite of the way things might look to the casual observer, it is the joy of angels, the obsession of principalities and powers on high, to look over the on goings of the People of God.

8.18.2008

Scripture

I had a blast on my birthday...

I turned 30 yesterday, and got to celebrate it by gathering together as God's community, honoring Him, enjoying each other, and growing in His purposes. I was truly blessed! Thank you to all of you who are a part of my life, and this community!

We spent the evening talking about Scripture, asking some of the following questions:

What is the Bible?
Where did it come from?
Is it something we can trust?
What is it's purpose?
How are we supposed to interact with it?

I had several people express interest and gratitude for the handout that we looked at, so here is the material that was on it:

Basic Questions:
What is the plain meaning of the text?
What is the significance of that?
How does that apply to my life, or that of my community?

Word Study:
Look up every use of a specific word in a letter, or the entire Bible

Background:
Look up the meanings of people’s names, or place names.
Find out the history of certain places or people mentioned in a passage. Look them up in other passages or sections of the Bible.

Become a Character:
Ask some basic questions about the character’s role in the story:
Who am I?
What am I feeling?
What are my motivations?
What am I doing?
What am I thinking?
What am I learning?
What mistakes am I making?
Take this approach to each character or group of characters in the story.

Outline:
Take a large chunk of scripture (for example: an epistle, or the life of Joseph in Genesis) and make an outline of it, listing major points, subpoints, and details

Paraphrase:
Put a passage into your own words.

Memorizing Scripture:
Commit a passage of scripture to memory

Lectio Divina:
Lectio-read the passage several times
Meditatio-meditate upon the passage, a phrase, or even a single word
Oratio-respond to God in prayer
Contemplatio-listen to what God wants to say to you

Where do I start?

Get a good modern translation of the Bible
(I use NIV and The Message primarily)

Start with the New Testament:
Mark is the shortest letter that tells Jesus’ story
Luke and Acts were written as sequels, telling the story of Jesus and the early Church
The Psalms are ancient songs/poems

Resources:
Study Bibles
Commentaries
Books
Concordances

www.biblegateway.com
NIV Application Commentary Series
Everyone Commentary Series
NT Wright
How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth
Stuart and Fee

What am I trying to accomplish?
1) Familiarity with the grand story told by the Bible as a whole
2) Study of the details and how they fit into that entire grand story
3) Meditation upon the words inspired by God;
allowing the Spirit of God to reveal from the words of Scripture who God is, what He is like, and what He is inviting us to participate in.

How often, and how long, should I read?
Find a regular place in your daily routine where you can be uninterrupted.
Read as little or as much as necessary to interact with the Holy Spirit!

Huh?

"It's not our business to make friends with all of the political leaders of the world," said Bob DeWaay, an evangelical minister from Minnesota whose book, "Redefining Christianity: Understanding the Purpose Driven Movement," critiques Warren's work.

"We have a message about how people get right with God, not about how the world is going to get rid of its problems," DeWaay said.


I came across this in an article about the McCain/Obama interview at Saddleback Church.

I have to say I am flabbergasted by this statement...

Getting people right with God has nothing to do with the world's problems???!!!?!?!?!

It seems like Jesus would disagree:

Luke 4:16-20

And it seems like the fulfillment of the promises in Scripture, in fact, would contradict the statement above:

Revelation 22:1-6
Ezekiel 41:1-12

We could go on, and on, but I will instead, encourage you to read for yourself! Does the Bible really teach that people living in a right relationship with Him will have no impact on what goes on in the world? What is the relationship between the state of the world and humanity's openness to God?

The next generation is watching, closely watching, how the Church will answer these questions!

8.16.2008

A Different God

"Do you know that moment in Jesus Christ Superstar where the crowds are coming into Jerusalem and the disciples are all singing, ‘Haysannah, Hosannah’. And one of the zealots says to Jesus, ‘Come on, you ride in ahead of us and you’ll get the power and the glory for ever and ever and ever.’ And Jesus turns round and says, ‘Neither you, Simon, nor the 50,000, nor the Romans, nor the Jews, nor Judas, nor the twelve, nor the priests, nor the scribes, nor doomed Jerusalem herself, understand what power is, understand what glory is.’ And then he proceeds to weep over Jerusalem and prophesy its destruction; and then he goes, steadily through the following week, to his enthronement on Calvary, which with hindsight the church realizes to be the place where all power, all real power, is congregated.
The world needs to see that there is a different model of authority. Because the world needs to know that there is a different God. When the world says, ‘God’ it doesn’t mean what you and I mean by God. It doesn’t mean the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. It means either a pantheist god: the god of all-being, a sort of nature god. Or, it means a deist-god way up in the sky who started off by being a landlord, then became an absentee landlord, and now is just an absentee. We have to tell the world again, that the God who is in authority over the world, the God who speaks through scripture, is the Father of Jesus, the God who sends the Spirit. And, therefore, we have to announce to the world the story of scripture."

NT Wright

8.08.2008

Grandpa Jim


My Grandfather just recently passed away.

I have to admit that it is a little hard to grieve at his passing; not because I didn't love him, or because I won't miss him; but rather, because he lived such a remarkably great life that I think it is more fitting to celebrate him than grieve him.

He was married to my grandmother for well over fifty faithful years. He raised a wonderful family, loved his wife and children dearly. Watched his grandchildren grow up and have their own kids. He live a life full of goodness and virtue that many simply could never imagine to be possible.

He worked hard, worked with his hands.

He grew up very poor, but didn't know it until he grew older! He spoke fondly of his boyhood and his family.

He was the kind of man who enjoyed the company of children. As I grew older I began to notice how easily he enjoyed taking his grandchildren for walks, to play catch, to swing on swings or slide down slides. What for many adults (and even parents) is a chore that they engage in, knowing it to be important, but finding it less than exciting, my grandfather did simply and with joy.

He was a friend to many. He was deeply involved in the life of their Church. He took it upon himself to care for handyman tasks about the Church building.

I remember holidays at their house in San Jose. All the cousins building forts in the living room out of chairs and blankets. Raiding the fridge in the middle of the night! I remember silly jokes and Hertz Donuts! I remember goofy sayings with just a little bit of an accent..

He is a man with a legacy.

My spiritual life is a tribute to his. He not only raised my mother to live in Christ, but was always there for me to see; a man of God. He is my grandfather, but he passed on much more than genes. He loved God deeply, and was deeply loved by Him. And so, God has brought Grandpa Jim to be with Him!

(I hope he gets the jokes!)

And now, we await the coming resurrection of the saints, when we shall see each other again!

Hollywood Does It Again!

Man! What a let down...

I saw the 2nd Narnia movie, what a horrible movie!

I was in pain the entire movie!

They added scenes, they deleted scenes, they changed characters around, invented plot lines that didn't exist, and removed ones that did...

I was literally cringing the entire movie!

Why would you make a move based on a book and do something like this?!?!

I guess you can get away with it if the author is DEAD!

I wanted my money back! (Which wasn't much because we went to the $3 theater...)

If the same guys rewrite the 3rd one, I may not see it...

8.05.2008

No Easy Answers...

So I read this interview with NT Wright about the recent Lambeth Conference (a once every ten years, gathering of worldwide Anglican Bishops to address issues the global Anglican Communion is facing) which had been addressing the issues surrounding the potential schism in the ranks of Anglicans worldwide.

Anglicans in Africa and elsewhere have been appalled at the decision by the US Episcopal Church to go ahead with the consecration of Gene Robinson as a Bishop in spite of appeals by Anglican leadership to refrain. Robinson is an openly practicing homosexual. The central issue for the conference was Church discipline, Church community, and the basis for the communions remaining whole; of course, this also touched very much on the issue of homosexuality itself (although, the wider world, both secular and Church, has seemed to act as though the sexual issue was the primary one).

After reading the article I ended up following links and reading various things...

The above link to the Wiki-entry on Gene Robinson, and this article. If you only read one of the links in this post read the last one (gettingit.com)

I had just had a conversation yesterday with a teenage girl, pregnant, homosexual, and deeply disturbed at the Church and the way it treats people; she was referencing the science that has proven homosexuality to be rooted in genes, and the history that shows Jesus as a man who had impregnated Mary Magdalene.

I read much more than the above articles, but I think the above is enough to give you the flavor of what I was ruminating about...

...so:

What does Scripture say to someone in Cheryl Chase's shoes?

How would various outcomes in scientific findings about human sexuality effect our understanding of what the Bible teaches about human understanding?

What should a pastor do with someone in Mrs. Chase's shoes? ...and how does that answer impinge on the issue of homosexuality?

Does the typical answer the Church gives on the question of homosexuality do justice to the uniqueness of the issue?

Questions abound!

Answers, perhaps, are more ambiguous...

=============================================

What I do know is this:

Pat answers are more about the self-image of the person giving them, than the person in need of wisdom, or the god who is said to endorse them.

Humble and genuine concern for the welfare of others should be the primary motive in offering wisdom.

"Jesus is Lord," is the proclamation of the gospel.
"I wanna have heterosexual intercourse," is not the proclamation of the gospel.

=============================================

If we can lovingly point all people to Jesus as the true King of the world, and encourage them to allow Him to become that for them, all the while acknowledging that this requires a death to self and death to sin for all people (primarily for us as His disciples and does not single out homosexual people in this respect), then I think we have made the first step down the right path...

...if, however, we are pointing to heterosexuality instead of Jesus; or singling out homosexuals as somehow fundamentally "other" than the rest of humanity; or if we are not speaking of Jesus in terms of absolute surrender; or failing to communicate that identity is found in Christ and no other place; or if we are bolstering our own position at the expense of people on the outside; we are walking a path that will lead to our own ruin, the abandonment of the very purpose for which God has given Himself to us, and the ruin of others.

=============================================

I'd love some comments on this one. It continues to be a very raw issue in Buffalo.

7.28.2008

McLaren: Whipping Boy for the Conservative Church

I am amazed at the response I get to the writings of Brian McLaren.

It fascinates me the things people see in his words. He has regularly been vilified as a proponent of relativism (denying the validity of truth altogether), and is used as a by-word to scare people from the pulpits of conservative Churches nation-wide...

I happen to think he is a much-needed voice in the Western Church.

He has written one of the best books on the Kingdom of God that I have ever read (at least from the perspective of a pastor; looking for a book that is accessable to non-academics, personally applicable and engaging, and covers the range of the topic), has a firm grasp on the pulse of our post-Christian culture, seems to have real insight on how to preach the gospel in such a context, and he is a constant voice for intellectual humility amongst Christians.


I find his challenge to the Western Church to be spot on. We have become, in many instances, a self-contained sub-culture, completely irrelevant to the world. (I know the word relevance gets spit upon by conservative Christians, "what it really means is syncretism, going soft, letting the culture dictate to us, etc." but the simple fact is that God is NOT irrelevant to the world, and if we are, it is because we are out of sync with Him...)

I certainly don't want to go on record affirming everything he has said, but I do want to get him a legitimately honest and open hearing, before he is condemned to the Tower of the Inquisitor!

SO, let's have it, what exactly is your problem with McLaren?

7.14.2008

Politics....

You know the old joke:

Poli-tics is a Latin phrase meanings 'multiple blood sucking creatures.'

I couldn't help but think of this when I came across the following phrase:

A columnist in the local paper referred to the congressional changing of the guard in 2006 as accomplishing nothing "except alter the label on the enema bottle..."

...amused chuckling...

;-)

I have had a few political conversations lately and it had me thinking through a few things. I am not a political junkie, but I keep an ear to what is going on. I read the local paper and listen to conservative and liberal talk radio throughout the day in my work truck; but I don't watch TV. I am independent and have only voted once for a member of either major party, I have what would be 'conservative' stances on some issues, and 'liberal' ones on others, but I am far too firm (even extreme) on most of my positions to be called a 'moderate.'

But here is where the rubber meets the road.

I am very firm on my political opinions, and I hold them because I believe them to be correct (I know that this seems redundant, but in today's intellectual climate it needs to be stated!!) and yet, I don't find my convictions to be a sufficient motivation to portray those with whom I disagree as incompetent, ignorant, or malevolent. It is precisely this that I find so repugnant about politics (as well as other arenas for intellectual debate):

The inability of most people to grant credibility to those with opposing views.

Without this willingness to allow others to hold opinions divergent from ours, we can never engage in real conversation and debate. You can't have intellectual debate if the real underlying issue is not the policy at hand but rather it is simply that your opponent is stupid, ignorant, or evil. If we never engage in honest interaction with those who differ from us, then how can we actually claim to believe that what we assert is in any sense of the word 'true?' If we are afraid to engage with others who hold different opinions without claiming that they are defective human beings, then we are really saying we have no faith in the veracity of our convictions. If, conversely, we believe our assertions to be accurate than we would welcome the opportunity for robust, lively, and cordial challenges to those assertions.

It is precisely this that I believe is necessary to any real dialogue:

A willingness to grant legitimacy to ones opponents.

This willingness should not be confused for a lack of resolve about ones owns opinions, moral character, or intellectual rigor. This willingness is not about our assurance of the truth, but rather about our honoring other human beings as such, as well as our resolute stance in open and honest pursuit of the truth!

Unfortunately politicians on both sides (and people in general) tend to be lacking in such a willingness. It is this emphatic need to demonize opponents that the younger generation finds so repulsive in the American Church.

7.10.2008

N T Wright Interview

The cure is more complicated than the diagnosis, yes?

It is and it isn't. The relief of global debt has actually been figured out. There are serious economists and bankers who have worked on this. I'm not an economist or a banker, but I have seen and talked to people in that field. They've got strategies where if you do this now, then you can do that next year, and so on. There would be ways through. Somebody said the sort of broad-brush sums we're talking about would cost, say, America roughly the amount that it spends on going to the movies each year. It would cost roughly that amount to put the whole thing back the right way around. Then we could all proceed together. What really sticks in my throat is that while all this is going on, the American government, along with my own government and several others, talk about bringing freedom and justice to the world, when we are doing the precise opposite. Use of imperial rhetoric to cover up our own consistent greed . if we have any Christian moral courage, this is what we ought to be talking about. Face it, we are in a world where two-thirds of the people are poor and crying for justice. One-third of the people are rich and wanting more sex. I want to say, what is wrong with this picture? This cannot be the way the Creator-God intended the cosmos to work.

6.25.2008

Spiritual Formation: Part 5

The Renovation of the Heart: Disciples in God’s Kingdom

At this point we have established the fact of the problem, and the nature of the problem. Here we come to the substance of Jesus life and teaching as a response to the problem. We read throughout the gospels:

"Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. 'The time has come,' he said. 'The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!'"

"From that time on Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.'"


Which begs the question...

=================================

What is the Kingdom of the Heavens (God)?

The Psalmist writes, "the highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to man."

The Kingdom of God, simply put, is wherever God is King; there is a realm where whatever God desires to happen, actually happens, this realm is called 'heaven' or God's 'Kingdom.' There is a realm where God has set aside His dominion and placed authority into the hands of human beings, this is the realm of the earth.

The earth is sustained and exists by virtue of God's will, however, human beings were given control over what God had made. We have seen elsewhere that man has excluded God's direction from the realm of human activity and this is the cause of the problem.

=================================

Two Kingdoms

God has always intended for mankind to have their own authority! In the beginning God gave humanity dominion of the earth, it was to be our role to exercise concern and authority over the world; to protect and create, to cultivate and care.

Just like the ultimate goal of all healthy parenting is children who become parents, so God wanted to give power into the hands of human beings. Like adult children who love and obey their parents, and parents who love their adult children and respect them as fully capable and mature human beings; so God wants to see us mature and align ourselves of our own free will with His power and authority!

Of course we have worked towards two kingdoms in a very different way! We have rebelled! Like a child stealing the car out of his parents drive-way that was intended for them on their 16th birthday, we have taken by violence that which was ours by birthright!

We have worked toward a human kingdom that was autonomous but in rebellion, as opposed to reaching autonomy through maturity. God always wanted us to have our own dominion, but not the way we have made it...

=================================

You must have often wondered why the Enemy does not make more use of His power to be sensibly present to human souls in any degree He chooses and at any moment. But you now see that the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo. For His ignoble idea is to eat the cake and have it; the creatures are to be one with Him, but yet themselves; merely to cancel them, or assimilate them, will not serve.

God is wanting to have a relationship with His children, but a relationship of mutual affection, and mutual engagement. God wants to share life with us!

Just like a mother wants her children to do good, not merely out of obedience, but out of the depths of their character, so God wants us to submit our will to His, not merely to 'do what He says,' but to will it! Phillipians 2:13

=================================

The Invitation to the Kingdom

When Jesus arrived on the scene preaching a message of God's Kingdom coming, what He was essentially saying was, "God is bringing His rule, and His reign; God is going to put everything back together the right way!"

This is Jesus invitation to allow God to become our king. We are invited to partner with God; to allow the Kingdom of God to merge with the Kingdom of Man; to allow the dictates of heaven to direct life on earth; to cooperate with God.

In a very real sense, we are not having our will overrun by the will of God; it is not one kingdom taking another over by force. Instead we are submitting, choosing God's will over our own; it is more like a nation petitioning for entrance into the E. U.

This is God's plan for putting the world right: inviting individual women and men to become disciples within His Kingdom; willing subjects who want to put God's good authority into effect in every aspect of their being.

It is this willing cooperation with the Spirit of God that works for the effective renovation of our hearts, and the subsequent transformation of our world.

=================================

With these concepts and observations under our belt, we turn to approach the teaching of Jesus called 'the Sermon on the Mount.'
Divine and human agency are not mutually exclusive...

Heaven and earth are not so sharply divided as we might think.

6.24.2008

DTS Promotional Trailers





What a Week!



Clean-up day in the Pooley Place neighborhood



BBQ at Pooley Place



BBQ at Pooley Place



BBQ at Ashland Avenue



Clean-up at Lisa's house



Pizza and water give-away at the Thursday in the Square Concert



Pizza and water give-away at the Thursday in the Square Concert



Pizza and water give-away at the Thursday in the Square Concert



Pizza and water give-away at the Thursday in the Square Concert



Church @ Cafe 59



BBQ at Pooley Place



Neighborhood Clean-up on Pooley Place



BBQ on Ashland Avenue



Clean-up at Lisa's house



Clean-up at Lisa's house



Someone tell Jason you're only supposed to get sick from the tapwater in MEXICO!



Nursing Home visit on Sunday Morning



Clean-up after Church @ Cafe 59



BBQ at Pooley Place



BBQ at Pooley Place

We had a couple of BBQ's, a couple of clean-up days, passed out free goodies at an outdoor concert, and visited our adopted grandparents (all 50 of them!), and had church on Wednesday and Sunday! We ran the teenagers pretty hard! They were a great blessing!

Make sure to ask those youngsters about their week in Buffalo!

6.22.2008

Response to a response

"The problem is that my generation has decided that what they decide from all of there questioning is that what they come up with IS truth, which may not be the case."

I don't much think that this is true only of our generation. Our parents generation has done the same thing, only without the questioning! They have decided that what they come up with IS truth, however, they didn't arrive at those notions through serious wrestling with the Spirit, but rather through acceptance of dogma.

Accepting the party line, and chucking the party line, neither of these is acceptable (have you heard Derek Webb's track A New Law?) but merely a way of avoiding a life with an ear to the Spirit.

I think what Wright was getting at was exactly this, we must seek God, not anything else. No substitutes. Not even when honest and godly men stand up in the pulpit and say, "Here is truth, this is what the Bible says." There is no short cut.

It is this that our generation inherently grasps with all of its deconstruction and rethinking of established ways of doing, thinking, and being. And it is this that the previous generation often fails to grasp with its desperate hunger for the comforts of conformity. (Including theological conformity.)

I guess I see the previous generation of Christians as hopelessly enmeshed in cultural syncretism. Evangelical Christians are in bed with the Republican machine, for all of our (yes I consider myself a part of the flock) pro-life rhetoric, we really don't think through the inconsistency of supporting 'pro-life' politicians who rabidly support pre-emptively bombing foreigners, capital punishment, etc. (for example)

====================================

There are problems with giving people the freedom to wrestle with God on their own. But those problems are less than the ones that come from refusing to let people wrestle with God. It all boils down to trusting the Holy Spirit in people's lives...

...will we point people towards Jesus? Or towards our own conceptions of truth?

...will we release our control of others into God's hands? Or will we continue to impose our own frame of reference on others?

It is scary to say to someone, I don't want to answer that question for you; I would prefer that you seek God, wrestle with scripture, pray, read, contemplate, experience, and hear the voice of God for yourself! But this is of course, where Jesus has much to teach us about pedagogy. He pointedly refused to answer people's questions.

The goal of Jesus interactions with people was never to transmit information, but to instigate a radical shift in worldview; He did not seek to give people techniques, but to foment rebellion; His aim was not to educate, but to demonstrate and make available crucifixion and resurrection as a superior mode of living.

This poses real problems for the forms of Western Christianity that our parents grew up with (and I caught the tail end of in my own upbringing). This simply isn't comfortable for people who want to view Jesus through the lens of "absolute truth that I can rest on." This is not to say that there are not things that are real, or statements that do not correspond to reality, but merely that the post-modern critique of modernism's intellectual arrogance must be heard and taken into account (even if we ultimately come to different conclusions than that of certain postmodern philosophers!).

I guess it boils down to this. Our parents tend to think of truth as something static. Our generation tends to view it as dynamic. While I don't necessarily go so far as to agree with our generation in total (although a strong case could be made for truth being personal as opposed to propositional ie "I am the way, the truth, and the life"), we have to acknowledge that our experience of truth is dynamic, and that this requires an intellectual humility that older Christians lack (this, unfortunately, has not gone without notice by the world looking on, to the detriment of our witness)

==============================

This finally gets us, however, to the deeper issue:

God is not interested in us 'getting it right;' as though holiness was akin to having the correct answers to the math test, and it didn't matter if you worked the sums out yourself or copied your neighbors scan-tron sheet, so long as the machine read your answers as the right ones you "passed the test." He is interested in us 'becoming' holy; holiness is like the ability to take the equation and solve it, using your own resources to solve real mathematical dilemmas.

There is, of course, some value in possessing truth the way the cheater possesses correct answers to math questions. Knowing true things about reality has value. But of infinitely greater value is the ability to discern reality, to be able to answer math questions as they come. If someone parrots (and sincerely believes), "God loves me," they will have gained some significant benefit, however, if that person has a deep experience of the reality of God's love, they will take that with them into all sorts of diverse circumstances and automatically apply that love to various situations in their own life and the life of others.

This is where this conversation ultimately ends: God is not interested in have us 'do good,' but rather 'be good.' He is not interested in us 'saying truth' but in us 'aligning with truth.' It is not the external actions that God is primarily concerned with (adultery and murder) but the realities of the human will (lust and contempt) that God wants to deal with. The fruit of the tree is a mere byproduct, God is concerned with making the tree 'good.'

6.21.2008

Perpetual Wrestling

There is a deep theological point underneath all this. I believe, as an a priori, that
he church will never get to the point where it has solved all the exegetical
questions, understood all the theology of the New Testament, so that subsequent
generations can sit back and look it up and not have to think for themselves. I have
come to believe that God has so ordered things that each generation will have to
wrestle afresh not just with a few details on the side but with the large questions of
Jesus and the kingdom, of Paul and the faithfulness of God, of John’s view of God
and the world, of Revelation’s vision of the new Jerusalem coming down from
heaven. If the church as a whole is not doing this, it is not growing into the wisdom
it will need for its many-sided mission. And that means that though most church
members will not give themselves professionally to the tasks of scholarship, they
need to be part of a fellowship in which such tasks are being energetically pursued
and the resultant challenges and dialogue given proper space and weight. This means
– and I don’t think either the church or Christian scholars often reflect properly on
this – that the task of biblical scholarship is a necessary part of the church’s life in
every generation. It isn’t just that, as an unfortunate accident, we don’t quite
understand the Bible yet as well as we should, but perhaps another few monographs
and commentaries will do the trick. It is, rather, that each generation needs to
struggle with the big questions as well as the small ones as part of its own healthy
witness and worship.

6.07.2008

Spiritual Formation: Part 4

It’s Terminal: This is a Diseased Tree…

Jesus pulls no punches when it comes to the human heart. He compares the hearts of the holiest people of his day with dishes full of last weeks dinner, and tombs full of rotting flesh!

We read in Matthew 23:25-28, Jesus critique aimed directly at the heart (the will, the spirit).

Jesus uses the apt metaphor of a tree producing fruit; you can tell what kind of tree it is by what kind of fruit it produces; but the important thing is the health of the tree. If the tree is good and healthy, you will see good, healthy fruit; if the tree is bad and diseased, you will see bad, diseased fruit.

Tying fruit onto a dying tree is about as useless as good deeds that come out of false motives. Jesus will have none of it; He wants us to be healthy, not merely appear to be so.

The flaw in the human heart is equivalent to a diseased tree.

===============================

The Reality of Our Disorder

Of course, many will say, "You can't expect perfection! We are merely human!" We often excuse ourselves with phrases like, "I was acting out of character," or, "I wouldn't have done that if..." or "I just blew it!"

Now in one sense these are fair concerns; if we are not the sort to curse unless we are in physical pain, that certainly says something about our character, but it also says something that we curse when we are hurt. The act reveals our character; we are the type of person who curses when we smash our thumb.

When we do these things they are evidence of our character…

We are the kinds of people who “blow it!”

Jesus tells us that "the good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks."
(Luke 6:45)

We have said elsewhere that the world is what it is largely due to humanity's role within it.

This means we must come to terms with the reality that we are the kinds of people who produce global pollution, societies of abuse and violence, parents who neglect their children, cultures with little value for women; in short we are the kinds of people who will take God's beautiful creation, and turn it into hell.

Spiritual Formation Part 3

Process: Disease of the Heart

The Biblical Doctrine of the Fall

The previous post outlined what we can observe in the world around us. The Bible gives us much the same picture (with added detail):

We read in Romans 1:18-32 that humans turned from God, and ended up turning away from their humanity in the process. This lead to brokenness on the inside, causing brokenness on the outside.

The above passage is tremendous in its assessment of the state of our world:

Rebellion lead to sin; sin lead to a fundamental corruption of our human nature; that lead to acts of destruction; this wrought havoc on human life both individual and corporate; which worked itself out into the very creation itself suffering corruption


==============================

The Process of Spiritual Formation

The passage above also points to another reality: we are all in process. Our spirit is formed. We did not get to the place we are at without numerous influences. We are all going through “character development;” (just as we all have received an education, the question being "what kind of education") the question is what kind of character is being formed in us?

We have all, from the moment of conception, been pressed upon by outside influences; our genetic stock, our social environment, our physical environment. We, too, play a role in the formation of our spirit/will; every decision we make serves to shape our spirit, to form it... do we do this intentionally or unintentionally?

To what end are we being formed?

What is the end result or goal of the process we are in?

Are we even engaging with the process, or are we merely passive reactors?

This brings to mind a poster I read (one of those "inspirational" posters they sell in the airline magazines), it said:

“Be careful what you think, your thoughts become your words.
Be careful what you say, your words become your deeds.
Be careful what you do, your deeds become your habits.
Be careful what habits you form, your habits form your character.”


==============================

Diagnosis: The Problem is a Twisted Will

The Psalmist prays:

Turn my heart toward your statutes;
Turn my eyes away from worthless things.


The problem according to the Buddhist (as much as I can grasp) is simply that we have a heart! There is the problem; the solution is to eradicate desire, eradicate the will/heart/spirit, and suffering will cease. With this the Christian must disagree.

The problem according to the "secularist" (as much as I can grasp) is simply that our will is frustrated! The solution is to find ways to just give people whatever they desire. With this, too, the Christian must disagree.

We read in James 1:13-18 that there are "good and perfect gifts" to desire! The problem is not desire in and of itself. Neither, however, is the problem simply that we do not get what we want, when we want it. (This passage states that some desires, when fulfilled, lead to death!) The problem is that our desires are evil!

Our will is twisted, our heart is diseased, our spirit is wounded.

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The core of man is the will or spirit, it is the part of us that desires and chooses; it is what it is as a result of a process of experiences and choices; by effectively shutting God out of that process, we have brought ourselves to a place where our hearts are set upon desires that (if fulfilled) will destroy us and our world.

What is the solution?

6.04.2008

Spiritual Formation: Part 2

The title link will take you to Part 1

Symptoms: Observations

It takes little observation to come to the conclusion that the World is in chaos. War, extinction, pollution, genocide, hunger, disease, drought, hurricanes and typhoons, the list could continue...

It also takes little observation to come to the conclusion that this state of existence has a root cause, namely homo sapiens sapiens (for those of you who don't speak Latin, that means you and me!). War, pollution, hunger, and disease are easily traced back to human activity or inactivity; more recently we are hearing that human beings are also major causes in factors that create drought, famine, and even storms on the far side of the plant.

It takes even less observation to see that humanity is in chaos. Murder, rape, torture, theft, dishonesty; alienation, loneliness, depression, anxiety, suicide, emptiness; abandoned children, betrayed spouses, addicted bodies; in the words of an old-dead-guy, "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short."

The conclusion, simply, is this:

The world is broken because humanity is broken.

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So what is the problem with humanity?

At this point there is obviously some diversity of opinion. However there is also remarkable continuity amongst thinkers from many diverse contexts...

A cross-section of thinkers, observers, ethicists, educators, theologians and spiritualists from all cultures and times (as best as I can understand them), line up to support this conclusion:

The problem with humanity lies in the human will.

Granted, not everyone would use this terminology, however, if we continue to use the term will as we have been (synonymous with heart, and spirit; the seat of human desire and choice), I believe that this statement is consistent with the understanding of Classical Greek thought, Buddhist thought, the Monotheistic tradition, and even some of what might fall under the rubric of "eastern philosophy." *

Arguably the dominant paradigm in our own culture (what we might here call Modern Western Secularism), it should be noted, seems to move away from this conclusion**

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The problem lies in the human will.

The Ancient Greeks concerned themselves with implanting virtue (the capacity to will and to act for good) in the heart of men. Muslims, Christians and Jews speak of repentance, obedience, and submission; subjecting our will to that of God. Buddhists speak of desire as the source of suffering, and so work to eradicate the yearning will within a human being.

The capacity for choice, the ability to create, the drive for purpose, that comes from the heart of a human being is also the source of human evil. We find ourselves in a state where our will or spirit does not rule the self, but is rather subject to it; emotions, thoughts, and physical sensations telling us what to choose, as opposed to our capacity for choice and purpose re-aligning our thoughts and emotions around the will.

The emotional and intellectual states of a six month old with the body of Lou Ferrigno would be an appropriate mental picture to associate with such a state (helped of course by Mr. Ferrigno's portrayal of a man who's capacity for choice was completely overrun by his emotional states).

Our will (the center of creative power, choice, and purpose) flails around at odd times and places, in total disjunction to any real sustained agenda. We choose to honor our commitments and then to break them, act selflessly toward a stranger and then stab a friend in the back, depending on which set of emotional attachments are screaming loudest in our mind at the time the decision presents itself...

There is something drastically wrong in the heart of man.

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The conclusion, simply, is this:

The world is broken because humanity is broken and...

...humans are broken because our spirit is broken.

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...more to come.


*I am fully aware that there has also existed throughout cultures and times the gnostic view that the essential problem with the world is that we lack the proper knowledge (gnosis). This seems tied either to the pantheistic view that Good and Evil (and hence moral action, including choice) are actually an illusion, or the dualism that calls the world Evil and and escape from it Good. How these ways of seeing speak of human choice (the will) I don't really know. But they seem (to my best way of understanding) to either deny the existence of the will, or to marginalize it's role in the problem of human nature.

**Interestingly enough Modern Western Secularism seems not so much to ignore the will, but rather to view the fundamental problem with humanity is the frustration of the human will for any reason. The real problem is that the Universe doesn't acquiesce to our demands; we don't get what we want and when we want it! The solution then becomes a special kind of gnosis that allows us to better manipulate our bodies, or the physical world around us, to produce the desired results.

6.03.2008

Kingdom

These are thoughts from a few years ago...

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Church = Red

Kingdom = Black

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One circle, both red and black; representing the Church is the same as the Kingdom.

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Two separate circles, touching at one point where the Church will be replaced by the Kingdom, at the Return; the Church is separate from the Kingdom (and will someday be replaced by it)

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The Church is a manifestation of the Kingdom; the Church is a smaller circle inside the larger Kingdom circle.

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The Church manifests the Kingdom; the Church is a larger circle with the Kingdom inside it.

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The Church is a manifestation of the Kingdom, and also a catalyst for the Kingdom, expanding it; the Church is a smaller circle inside the larger Kingdom circle, but it is pushing forward, creating a bulge in the Kingdom, out into the World.

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The Church is the outer edge of the Circle of the Kingdom, with the center Being God/Heaven

The Church is the outer edge of the Kingdom, Heaven (God) is the Center, outside of the Kingdom is the Outer Darkness where ultimately no-thing exists; perhaps it is better to think of God as directly touching the outer darkness (by way of the Crucifixion) and the Church and the Kingdom also coinciding at that point. In one sense it is the absolute center, in another it is the utter edge.

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...probably none of these diagrams are anywhere near appropriate. The real questions are:

What is the Kingdom of God? What is the Church? How does the Kingdom relate to the Church? How does the Church relate to the World? How does the Kingdom relate to the World? What are some other possible Venn Diagrams we could posit? How does this help us to understand the Kingdom? The Churches' role in the World? ...?

6.02.2008

The Blind Watchmaker?

"Dawkins' work here is not in the line of Darwin, but of metaphysical speculation which attempts to hitch its wagon to Darwin's star. His soul-mates are people like Ernst Haeckel and Herbert Spencer--to mention only two of the more respectable from a logically pretty grubby bunch. When he writes a book like the present one he is not functioning as a scientist. If he were, he should incorporate his "findings" into the most advanced textbooks in the field and see how they fare as representations of established knowledge. He complains that "the true, Darwinian explanation of our own existence is still, remarkably, not a routine part of the curriculum of a general education." (4) Then by all means let him enter the academic arena and present his views about the watchmaker as established knowledge. He should not reserve his views for infliction upon a largely helpless public whom his scientific credentials and elaborate rhetorical devices will overwhelm and make incapable of any accurate assessment of argument. When he writes books like The Blind Watchmaker he is just a naturalist metaphysician, trying to cozy up to the scientists and blend into their company in such a way that his true colors will not be noticed. He takes the liberty to dress down what he calls "redneck creationism" (252), but unfortunately there are rednecks on the side of "Darwinianism" as well. He is one of the most outstanding."