Monday, December 19, 2011

Point of Sale Salvation

I can't remember exactly when I prayed "the" prayer. Maybe I was three or four, possibly five, my mom probably knows. It doesn't seem that significant now. I remember telling people that my true conversion occurred when I was 19. After the spiritual high wore off, it didn't feel much different and I went on making the same mistakes, questioned what it all meant and struggled with knowing what it meant to "believe" in Jesus. It was / is more of a process than an instantaneous conversion. Today I can say that I am assured of my salvation; I know who I am in Christ. I have heard somewhere that salvation happens instantly, but sanctification is a process. I don't know. Paul said that we must "work out our salvation," so he would probably disagree with the whole "instantaneous" thing.

I have never pushed the whole prayer thing with my own kids. I guess I'm not really willing to pressure or even gently and lovingly persuade my kids into doing something I'm not even sure about. This isn't to say that I don't think proclaiming that you know and love Jesus isn't an important and life altering decision in someone's life, or that parents that have or plan to talk to their kids about "accepting Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior," are doing something inappropriate. It is just something that I am personally choosing not to pursue with my kids. Something I want them to become curious about and really want to do it, not something I planted or indoctrinated them with. I recall telling campus missionaries that tried to "save" me in college that Christianity was my parent's religion. Maybe that's because I prayed "the" prayer before I knew that I could make it mine, before I knew what it even meant to follow Jesus (which I still don't fully understand).

I think the bigger question here is what does it even mean to be "saved." Theologically, the "work" of salvation has already happened on the cross, but what does it take to be "saved." Should we simply believe? Must we then proclaim what we believe? Is that it? Most mainstream Evangelicals treat salvation like a point of sale transaction. Once you swipe your eternity debit card through the machine and punch in your Jesus PIN number, you are good to go. But I have problems with this definition of salvation. It is obvious to me that it isn't some instantaneous occurrence where a little bell rings in Heaven and half-naked baby angels begin to celebrate. I also believe that shedding this type of view is essential to our understanding of what it means to enter into the Kingdom of God and both know and follow Jesus. The "cost of discipleship" discussed in Luke 14 should tell us that it is more than simply praying.

One of my favorite translations is the New Living Translation. Reading through the New Testament I have noticed that nearly every time the translation uses the word "believers" it has an asterisk. In the footnote it reads "Greek: disciples." I wonder why the translators chose to use "believers" instead? "Disciple" is so much richer in context. To be a believer (someone who knows) has a much different meaning than a disciple (someone who imitates).

In John 8, Jesus is speaking to a crowd of people. Early on, He is speaking directly to the "unbelievers," but then he turns his focus to the "believers":
"Jesus said to the people who believed in him, “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
It sounds like you can be a "believer" and not be free. Only by following his teachings can you become a disciple and learn the truth, and only then will you be set free.

In Matthew 7, Jesus says that simply calling out to him (praying?) will not automatically mean you will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. You must actually do something (be a disciple):
“Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter." (Matthew 7:21)
The question that follows is "what exactly are the 'teachings' of Jesus?"
“Teacher, which is the most important commandment in the law of Moses?” Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ (Matthew 22:36-39)
And in John, Jesus comes full circle: we must (1) remain faithful to His teachings, (2) His teachings are to love and (3) if we love we prove we are a true disciple:
"Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” (John 13:35)
I write all of this not because I have answers, but because I have questions. How can I lead my kids into a deeper and more authentic relationship with Jesus? How can I allow freedom for my children to make their own decisions and be true disciples of Jesus? I think part of the reason I don't want to lead my children through a simple pray and profession of faith is that following Jesus is so much deeper than that. I want my children to be disciples of Jesus, not just believers in Him.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Our Abba Father

Originally posted on our MSM blog on November 24th, 2008:

I have been overwhelmed on a couple of occasions here in Charlotte. Once was when Avery and I sat in on a Bible study at Hoskins Park. Hoskins is a transitional housing ministry that gets men off the streets and helps them plug back into society. I sat near the back with a few guys I had met earlier that night listening to the speaker as he talked about the attributes of God – How do we see Him? Who is He to us? The room was filled with men who were broken in one form or another, myself included. I slowly brought my eyes across the small room with probably more than 40 men stuffed in it. I saw some men eagerly taking notes, I saw others focused intently on the speaker, I saw one man sleeping, and being nudged by fellow brothers with stern looks on their faces. I saw another young man, actually the first I had met that night, get up slowly from his seat and stagger towards the door, errantly grasping for the door knob until finally he clumsily made his way outside, followed quickly by a couple of staff. Turns out that sometime between the time I met him and Bible study he had downed a 5th of vodka and had to be taken to the hospital. We were all broken, none more than any other. I got a sense that the men were “for” each other, and believed in the staff who lived right there with them.

As I held Avery in my lap and listened, a feeling of joy rushed over me, Jesus was with us, and only His healing can truly “heal” us. It’s amazing when a group of broken people gather together. More importantly, broken people who are ready for the Lord to work. I was inspired by these men. I got a sense of community from Hoskins Park. I also got the sense that the Lord wanted me to tell them all that He was proud of them, that even though they have all been pulled through the muck and mire, that it doesn’t discount their story, it doesn’t make their impact on others invalid. That actually the opposite was true, their stories, thier testimonies, even though incomplete, were given to them by God, by our Abba Father, and He wants us to shout them to anyone who wants to listen.

I love it when Avery tells me a story, about what he learned in Sunday school that day, or what he heard downtown from somebody, I want to hear him, I want to listen. That is what God, our Abba Father wants from us. He wants to hear our story, our testimony of what He has done in our lives. I was overwhelmed, like every single man’s story in that room the other night was downloaded into my mind, like I knew them well, their struggles, their victories, and I hadn’t heard one of them. The Lord was confirming in my own soul that when His people come together, and earnestly seek Him with transparency, and honesty, realizing our own brokenness, great things can happen. God honored that. Afterwards, men I had never met or talked to, men from completely different social, and economic backgrounds came up to Avery and I and gave us hugs, thanking us for being there. Overwhelming.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Prosperity Doctrine Debunked

Originally posted on our MSM blog November 26th, 2008:

If you are much younger than I am, you probably don’t even remember Jim Bakker and the PTL (Praise The Lord Club). Back in the 60s, Bakker was the first host of The 700 Club, then started his own televangelist show, The PTL Club, on Trinity Broadcast Network (TBN), eventually owning the rights to the show. He used his power and influence to embezzle millions of dollars, which he was convicted of and sentenced to prison. Interestingly enough, the property that Forest Hill Church in Charlotte is on, was owned by the Bakker’s, and it was not only the studio location of The PTL Club which, on a daily average, reached the TV sets of an estimated 12 million viewers, but it was also their home (the staff at Forest Hill called that building “the mansion”), which Forest Hill now uses as office, and small group meeting space.

Now, why am I writing about Jim Bakker you ask? Well first off, let me make it clear, there is no connection whatsoever between Jim Bakker or the PTL and Forest Hill Church. Forest Hill purchased the property long after the scandal, long after Bakker was in prison. The campus is huge, there have been add-ons and renovations. One that intrigued me was in the basement, below the filming studio, where Bakker had installed a pool, with Roman-looking columns and lavish molding and architecture. Forest Hill renovated the pool to create the youth worship room by just laying down flooring over the top of it, yep, just a hollow pool just beneath rowdy 8th graders (good thing none of their parents read this website :)

So, back to the question, why am I writing about Jim Bakker? I couldn’t help but think about Jim Bakker and his cronies lounging around the pool or sitting in the sauna talking about the prosperity doctrine or some other skewed theology that justified his lavish spending and complete disregard for other people. Then, ironically, we had the opportunity to talk about poverty, the homeless and poor in Bakker’s old living room, and on top of his pool. Our God has a great sense of humor. Twenty years prior, in the same room, people were talking about how material prosperity, particularly financial prosperity and success in business and personal life, is to be expected as external evidence of God’s favor. Then last week we had the opportunity to share the true and simple Gospel. Classic.

Here are some scriptures we used in our presentation that I’m not sure were fully understood until Forest Hill took over the property:

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. (Luke 12:33)

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. (I Timothy 6:17-19)

If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. Our actions will show that we belong to the truth, so we will be confident when we stand before God. (I John 3:16-19)

Whatever you have done for the least of these brothers of mine, you have done to me. (Matthew 25:40)

In all of our travels we have seen very few churches who reach out in more tangible and meaningful ways to the poor and marginalized than at Forest Hill. Thanks Forest Hill for helping debunk false doctrine.

(Additional note: In prison Bakker started to actually read the Bible. He then came out with a book called I Was Wrong where he wrote “The more I studied the Bible, however, I had to admit that the prosperity message did not line up with the tenor of Scripture. My heart was crushed to think that I led so many people astray. I was appalled that I could have been so wrong, and I was deeply grateful that God had not struck me dead as a false prophet!”)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Big Buster Fiasco

Originally posted September 13th, 2008 on our MSM blog:

If you haven’t been paying attention to the news from Illinois, it is raining in Chicago. Day and night, night and day it is raining. Here is a picture of the flooding.

So we needed somewhere to park Big Buster because we were headed to Jesus People USA for a week, and there isn’t much RV parking in downtown Chicago. We were offered a place to park by a guy who is part of Reba Place Fellowship and owns a vacant lot in Evanston. He showed us were it was and then drove off. The whole place was washed over in mud, so you couldn’t tell where the asphalt ended and where the dirt started. I tried to keep it as close to the right as possible, but about 30 ft. in were branches from a tree that I had to avoid. As I steered left we began to sink. We got all the way up to our axle and storage containers along the entire driver side. The view from the back had us tilted almost to where it looked like it would just tip over. I spent 2 hours digging out the entire driver side so that when the tow truck pulled us out they didn’t scrape the undercarriage. The tow company had to get the “extra-duty” truck, but they got it out. No damage.

I was thinking as I helplessly looked at the back of the RV tilting to one side: What if the earth swallowed up Big Buster? What if this was the end of our trip? His answer: I would point you in a different direction, I would bless you in a different way, the world would not end, and in some ways, it might end up being better, because you would have a story to tell. Big Buster (unfortunately) will be destroyed by moths and rust, our God is much bigger than that box I was putting Him in. The Lord rushed in and gave me a sense of peace and almost tranquility about the situation. God is good – ALL THE TIME!

This is what Serenity and the kids did while I was digging.

And although the Lord didn’t take away Big Buster, we still have a story.

Jesus People USA

Originally posted September 23rd, 2008:

We had a great time at Jesus People USA last week!

We were welcomed by Anna, the gal in charge of hospitality of volunteers and guests, and directed to our humble abode that our family would be living in for the next 7 days.

We then took a couple days to settle in and get adjusted to the new schedule and new surroundings. They provide breakfast, lunch and dinner for all the residents, guests, and volunteers. What a treat! Having our own apartment AND being served each meal was like vacation to us!

During last week we “did life” with Jesus People. Each day was filled with meeting new people, eating with everyone in the cafeteria, participating in the food bag program at the shelter, watching the kids all play together on the playground, figuring out the bus system, visiting some of the Chicago city parks, doing laundry in the basement of JPUSA late at night, and joining everyone for church on Sunday.

One of the biggest things that stood out to us was the diversity of JPUSA. The top three levels of the building was an assisted living community that Jesus People took care of and lived with. A group of students had just been welcomed to start the Project 12 program that is an intensive discipleship program for newcomers. Then there are all the folks who have made the commitment to live there and call it “home”. Many of them had been there for 10+ years, raising their families there and taking part in the common work that supports the financial burdens of the community. All these people consisted of whites, blacks, goths, punks, travelers, children, young families, elderly, jocks, artists, musicians, hippies, and even a pirate who greeted Andy with “Ahoy!”. It was a beautiful picture of the kingdom of God.

Honestly, our time at Jesus People was a place that ministered to us. We were blessed by their gracious hospitality and welcoming spirits. We left knowing that we had made friends and kindred spirits. We were encouraged by their stories and what the Lord had taught them through living in a community of believers. They had experienced ups and downs, times of passion, times of complacency, change, division, mistakes made within their community, joy, heartache, and many, many times of working through differences. Someone made a statement that really summed it up, “You either come and learn or you realize you are not ready and leave.” Community is not easy but can bring more joy than you could ever experience on your own.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

This little spot needs some Jesus

Originally posted on October 20th, 2008 on our Mustard Seed Ministries blog:

We went down a few blocks from our parking spot at the Jubilee House to Dorchester Ave. today to give out some free coffee. Most people wouldn’t make eye contact with me, and even more didn’t want anything I was offering. This is what I did most of the morning:

But that was OK. We pray for an attitude of simplicity, and when we keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus, whatever comes our way is a blessing. That may be feeding hundreds and praying for just as many, or it could be handing out 8 cups of coffee and listening deeply with those 8 people. I was able to pray for one Vietnamese man named Gree (probably spelled much differently) who had lost his job 7 months ago and was looking for work — any work. With his broken English he told me his story about working hard the past 7 years and always having work. The fact that he lived in the same place for all 7 of the years yet his landlord kicked him out just yesterday. I prayed with him that he would find a job, but that more importantly he would see Jesus revealed in his life, and that Jesus would become the only thing that he truly “needed.”

The most enjoyable friend that I met was a guy named Ron. Ron approached me as I was sitting exactly like the picture above. He didn’t make eye contact until he was a few feet away. When he did I asked him if he wanted some free coffee and his immediate (and I mean immediate) response was “NO!” Then not 4 seconds later he came back around the corner and said, “what did you say?” I repeated the same thing, “would you like some free coffee?” He smiled from ear to ear and a look of disbelief came over his face. “Your just giving free coffee away? Sure, I love coffee, I have no idea why I said ‘No’ I love coffee. Something made me just stop and turn around.” The whole time a huge infectious smile crossed his face. Then he asked, “So, why do you do this?” I simply said “Jesus.” Ron’s face changed to a serious look and he seemed like he was going to cry, not in a blubbering kind of way, but in a way that he couldn’t stop because he was moved. He glanced slightly upward as to look to God and with his hand on his chest he started to tell me about his relationship with God, and as his story went on so did his excitement. Ron was a great encouragement on a day we had to pour out a bunch of coffee.

Ron went on to say that he wasn’t even going to come down the block I was on, but something led him that direction. He also said that the small park we were set up at was the exact ground that a Vietnamese gang had “claimed.” Some stabbings and even some shootings had occurred there in the past months. He mentioned, “This little spot needs some Jesus.”

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Veggie Oil Ratings

See post below to know why I am reposting from our MSM blog.

Originally posted on September 28th, 2008:

So I'm not sure if anyone has noticed, but a while back we added a segment on the left hand column of our website called "currently running our RVs on vegetable oil from . . . " Next to the name of the restaurant we pumped the grease from is a number in parentheses. Tim and I have a rating system we use when discussing grease. Usually when we pull up behind a restaurant to look in the grease bin, only one of us gets out to look inside. When the lone scout returns the discussion usually goes a little something like this: "It looks like around a 7, about 50 gallons. Do you want to go in and ask or do you want me to?" Our rating system goes as follows:

1 - straight fat, usually makes Tim dry heave

2 - some grease, some fat, probably smells terrible and stays with you for a while

3 - possibly garbage or something else (we saw a dead bird in one grease bin)

4 - some grease, but a fatty sludge floating in it as well

5 - this is the lowest rating that we actually use. A 5 is not fatty, but very dark. The managers of these restaurants get the most out of their grease, but hey, it still drives.

6 - slightly lighter, and no fat

7 - an amber color, looks a little closer to what fuel should look like

8 - similar to a nice pale ale, but I wouldn't drink it

9 - we call a "9" -- Qdoba grease. This stuff looks like honey, and drives just as smooth

10 - SVO or straight vegetable oil -- we've never gotten this stuff for free.

Not all nationwide chains have the same rating. For example, we looked in Sonic grease bins a dozen times and didn't want anything to do with it, but the Sonic in Rock Springs, WY, was an 8. One nationwide chain has continually received the same low rating - Outback Steakhouse. Take it from us, beware of the bloomin' onion.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

School of Radical Christianity

Obviously, if you follow this blog (which the extended periods of time between posts probably assures that nobody is reading this), you know that I have not posted much for quite a while. This was for several reasons. First, I have been busy adjusting to being a full time teacher again, but that is no excuse for the lack of posts this past summer. The main reason, however, is that I have simply had nothing to say. I have not had much creative inspiration, and have not felt like sharing much. I blame Facebook. So, as of last week, I am going to pour my creative energy into writing again and have disabled my Facebook account. I figure my real friends can find me some other way, such as this blog, or our Jubilee website, or calling me, or maybe even if the occasion arises, a face to face discussion!

To spark some creative thoughts, I have decided that I will repost a favorite blog entry from our Mustard Seed Ministries blog (our traveling ministry blog) every few days. Here is the first one I found that caught my attention. . . ahhh, the days we spent at the Holy Family House. . . we can learn a lot from those crazy Catholics. Enjoy. . . .

Originally posted on August 21st, 2008:

We dropped in on the folks at Holy Family Catholic Worker House today. If you don't know much about the Catholic Worker Movement or it's founder Dorthy Day, I encourage you to check them out. Her solidarity with the poor brought on much persecution here in the United States. She was hated for advocating socialist ideals, she was arrested for protesting women being excluded from voting, and for protesting both European wars.

The "Holy House" as it is known in the neighborhood, was a peaceful, welcoming place. The rhythms of life seem simpler, smoother, and in a lot of ways easier, although life in a working poor neighborhood can obviously have it's difficulties. The house opens it's doors 4 times a week to anyone who is interested in coming for breakfast, and 6 times a week for dinner. They have designed and intentional times for community, for prayer, for spending time together in service, and all of it based on the Gospel.

Their website says it best:

We live, in community, a simple lifestyle and are about a ministry of specific works of mercy and works of justice. Community and ministry are necessarily integrated elements of living at Holy Family House. Part of the on-going purpose of Catholic Worker, by tradition, is to be a “school of radical Christianity, an invitation to know, through experience, the Gospel Jesus, who chose to become like, be with and for the poor.”

I saw the prayer of St. Francis today while I was there and I can only hope that we as Christians, and specifically we as Mustard Seed Ministries can, through Christ, be able to do this:

Where there is discord, may we bring harmony.

Where there is error, may we bring truth.

Where there is doubt, may we bring faith.

Where there is despair, may we bring hope.

St. Francis of Assisi

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Of Gods and Men

Serenity and I watched this movie last night. It was very powerful. If you are looking for a Transformers-type blockbuster, this isn't it, but it is very well done, extremely suspenseful, and is quietly powerful. It was one of the best movies Serenity and I have seen for a while, and we watch a lot of movies.

Much of the movie follows the daily prayers, meals and simple tasks of the monks, and is starkly contrasted from scene to scene by showing other characters in the film, such as military officials and Islamic extremists. The simplicity of the monk's daily lives is possibly the most powerful aspect of the film. From watering their vegetable gardens to the meditative prayers throughout the day, the simplicity of their lives is appealing.

There are some very profound scenes throughout the film dealing with missiology, community, peace and reconciliation.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Woe to You

Here are the lyrics to a song by one of my favorite musicians, Matt Papa. The lyrics are a little shocking, then you realize that it is basically an overview of what Jesus said in Matthew 23. Are we acting like 21st Century Pharisees? As you read the lyrics, allow the Holy Spirit to reveal things in your own life. In the way you worship. In the way you speak to others. With your finances. In the way you view God. In the way you "do" church. In the way you seek justice.

I have allowed this song to speak to me and it has torn me up, sometimes to tears. Am I grieving His Spirit? Where is my treasure? Is God simply my genie? Am I practicing a "worthless religion"? Is the gospel I profess tickling my ears or is it a radical, life-altering, power-filled Gospel, Good News worth listening to. All of these are questions we must ask ourselves if we plan to be the church the Bridegroom is coming back for.

Woe To You

Religious people
You white-washed tombs
Beautiful on the outside
But you’re full of bones

You look very religious
You follow all your little rules
But you don’t follow Jesus
You just talk like you should

Woe to you, woe to you
All your pretty words sound
Like filthy rags
Woe, woe to you

Prosperity and progress
You say bless me indeed
You fill up your bank accounts
While children die in their need

One day you’ll retire
You’ll have a house on the sea
But my friend where your treasure is
That’s where your heart’s gonna be

Woe to you, woe to you
You call him Lord but
He’s just your genie
Woe, woe to you

Where is the justice?
Who’s preaching the truth
Your sermons are entertaining
And your churches are cool

You’re grieving His Spirit
And You’re winning the lost
To a worthless religion
Cause you don’t talk about the cross

Woe to you, woe to you
Your gospel is tickling our ears to death
Woe, woe to you

Where is the justice and mercy
And walking humbly with Your God
Who’s caring for orphans and widows
And living holy in this world
For this is what He requires

Woe to you, woe to you
For many will come to Him on that day
And say Lord, Lord, but He’ll say
Woe, woe to you

Woe to you, woe to you
Repent before it’s too late

Monday, May 2, 2011

God loves that guy

Great song by Andy Gullahorn, one of my favorite performers:

That Guy
He scoped out the market
All the women and kids
With so many distractions
Nobody noticed him
Nobody noticed him
He had a jacket a size too big
A skullcap on his head
And a couple of homemade bombs
He duct taped them to his chest
He taped them to his chest

God loves that guy
God loves that guy

He followed his heart
To a co-worker’s bed
He could have salvaged his marriage with kids
But he chose to leave instead
He chose to leave
He thought it was love
But it was just a mirage
So he sits in his idling car
Parked in a closed garage
Inside a closed garage

God loves that guy
God loves that guy

Me on the other hand I can write somebody off
Like the last check for a student loan
I can love when it’s convenient
But it’s not always convenient
It’s not always the easy road
I want to look past the outside to the well-meaning heart
To the good they forgot that they had
Teach me to love, teach me to love
Teach me to love like that

He messed up again
Wanted to disappear
But he can’t ‘cause he’s easy to find
I see him in the mirror
I see him in the mirror

God loves that guy
God loves that guy
Teach me to love, teach me to love
Teach me to love like that
Love like that

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

On Friday a thief | On Sunday a King

Though the Earth Cried out for blood
Satisfied her hunger was
Her billows calmed on raging seas
for the souls on men she craved

Sun and moon from balcony
Turned their head in disbelief
Their precious Love would taste the sting
disfigured and disdained

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

So three days in darkness slept
The Morning Sun of righteousness
But rose to shame the throes of death
And over turn his rule

Now daughters and the sons of men
Would pay not their dues again
The debt of blood they owed was rent
When the day rolled a new

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke holding keys
To Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

On Friday a thief
On Sunday a King
Laid down in grief
But awoke with keys
Of Hell on that day
The first born of the slain
The Man Jesus Christ
Laid death in his grave

He has cheated
Hell and seated
Us above the fall
In desperate places
He paid our wages
One time once and for all

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

C.S. Lewis and Rob Bell -- BFFs

I have to be honest, I have never really thought much about the topics of heaven and hell. I tend to want to be a minimalist, to keep it as simple as I possibly can, and that includes my theology: "love God and love your neighbor." Orthodox (whatever that means since "right thinking" is different for each denomination out there and very view topics can the evangelical church actually agree upon - even the "creeds" differ) eschatological theology seems to undo my "simplicity" doctrine. So I have always stayed away from it.

Rob Bell kinda messed that up for me. Being a naturally inquisitive fellow I wanted to know what Arminianism was, or what being a Universalist actually means. So I began to do a little reading, and I mean very little. I am not intellectual or a theologian, my daily struggle is to think about God more than I do about football, so I'm not going to present myself as someone who has all the answers and has thought about this stuff for decades. The first thing I came across was an article about C.S. Lewis -- this is where my research has stalled. . .

Did anybody else know that Lewis smoked no less than 30 cigarettes a day between pipes? That he lived for more than 30 years with a woman who was not his wife? Or that one of his best friends was a homosexual? Most evangelicals today, unfortunately, would reject anyone with that sort of a resume. But when they hear it was C.S. Lewis, they rightly make the decision to look past some of his moral failings.

What if they learned that Lewis had some less than orthodox beliefs about heaven and hell and several other theological questions? Some quite similar to Bell's. We tend to quote Lewis when he affirms our orthodox thinking (once again, not a big fan of the word, who is to say what is "right thinking"). Here is a smattering of some of his thoughts:

On the Bible:

"Naivete, error, contradiction, even wickedness are not removed. The total result is not 'the Word of God' in the sense that every passage, in itself, gives impeccable science or history. It carries the Word of God. . ."

"If every good and perfect gift comes from the Father of lights, then all true and edifying writings, whether in Scripture or not, must be in some sense inspired."

Only C.S. Lewis can get away with this level of heresy! A biographer of Lewis' claimed that he did not believe in the infallibility or the verbal inspiration of the Scriptures. Whoa. Let's continue. . .

"The first chapters of Genesis, no doubt, gives the story in the form of a folktale."

What? This orthodox thinker believed that the creation story was simply that, a story? (Did anybody else know that John Calvin (talk about orthodoxical) questioned the story of Job and believed that it was actually fiction. If we have to throw out Calvin and C.S. Lewis, we will have to get rid of a lot of books. You can rest assured though, Lewis did not believe that the New Testament had any fiction, in his assertion, it was all historical fact.)

About Salvation:

When asked if he had made a "decision" at the time of his conversion, Lewis responded:

"At the time, I felt I was the object rather than the subject."

So it's not just about saying a prayer or making a "decision" to follow Christ?

In the last Narnia book, Susan, a central character is "of her own free will 'no longer a friend of Narnia' [that is, a believer]." This is where Arminian doctrine comes in, C.S. Lewis believed that you could lose your salvation.

The fate of all mankind:

(It is easier here to simply quote directly from one of the articles I read)

"In the children's Narnia series, the lion Aslan is Lewis's Christ-figure. In The Last Battle deceivers say: "[The god] Tash and Aslan are only two different names for You Know Who." Later they use the hybrid or compound name Tashlan to make their point. At the end of this last book in the Narnia series one of the outsiders, a Calorman named Emeth (which is the transliteration of the Hebrew world for "truth"), who has been a life-long worshiper of Tash, approaches Aslan. To this Tash-server Aslan says, "Son, thou art welcome." Emeth counters, "I am no son of Thine but a servant of Tash." Aslan rejoins: "All the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me." This is a clear indicator that for Lewis the non Christ-worshiper may be received into heaven."

Now, I understand that some of you may not agree that we can pin Lewis' beliefs down to what he wrote in a children's story, but how many times have we taken what Lewis wrote in the Narnia series and used it to support some of his more orthodox beliefs? Shouldn't we also hold up some of his less than orthodox ones that happen to come from allegory?

I had an acquaintance, and reader of this blog, send me emails and tell my why the authors I have read were heretical. ALL of them. From John Eldridge to Brennan Manning. From Shane Claiborne to Greg Boyd (actually, he never said anything negative about John Perkins, but hey, how could you, the guy is a legend). He wanted to get together and discuss the finer points of systematic theology. I declined, remember my "simplicity" doctrine? If Brennan Manning and Shane Claiborne are showing me a deeper way to love God and love my neighbor then I embrace them. You can add C.S. Lewis to that heretic list too, and I'm fine with it. Actually, I think he would have been too, I'm also pretty sure he would do a decent job defending his "heretical" points of view, as one former student of Lewis' once said, debating him is like "wielding a peashooter against a howitzer."

My biggest question is why we are so afraid to talk about these things? Why do we not want to acknowledge our reservation, or doubts or our fears? When we refuse to acknowledge these questions inside of us and inside of our brothers and sisters we eliminate any sort of grace-filled discussion about the questions that so many of us have but are afraid to bring up, because, hey, we might be treated like Rob Bell. We do such a good job of telling people what we are against, what we don't believe in, who we think are wrong and where all the people who don't agree with us can go, that it overshadows what we should be "for." We should be for people. We should be for affirming our doubt so that we can collectively love Jesus in a deeper way. We should be for Rob Bell as much as we are for C.S. Lewis (or people who ramble off his "orthodox" quotes while ignoring or rejecting his less "orthodox" ones).

Pastors and theologians (actually anybody with a blog) who disagree with Bell have been lambasting him. Would those same people, when given the choice, rather reject Bell and his eschatology, or wash his feet. I think there would be a deep hesitation in the latter. Only one time does Jesus ever give us an "example" (John 13), maybe if we served Bell and others who may be questioning what all of this means rather than condemn, the unbelieving world would actually be able to embrace the Good News of Jesus. Who knows, C.S. Lewis was an atheist until he was 32, maybe some atheist sees our actions and actually becomes one of the evangelical world's greatest theologians.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Have we fallen for a myth?

This post has been a long time coming. I finished Greg Boyd's book The Myth of a Christian Nation months ago, and haven't had the time to write about it (being a father of 4 kiddos limits my concentrated time for writing, I would really like to do more, but can't find the time without neglecting their desire to play Connect Four - which is, OK). It has taken me just about that long to process some of the concepts and truths in the book.

Originally I had not wanted to read the book because I believed it was going to be too political, too Left and Right. I assumed that it would stand on one side or the other and try to explain a certain political position, whether that be liberal or conservative, and how it fits with God's plans. I guess I judged a book by it's cover (or its title). It did none of this, rather it put into writing things that I have believed about politics and government but not been able to articulate, then went one step past that by planting those beliefs right in the middle of the Kingdom of God.

Boyd is a pastor of a church in Minneapolis. When he preached the sermon series the book is based upon, over 1,000 of his church congregation left the church. The message is bold, but just as Jesus said, "If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first" (John 15:18).

Here is what Boyd writes as the thesis of the book:
My thesis, which caused such an uproar, is this: I believe a significant segment of American evangelicalism is guilty of nationalistic and political idolatry. To a frightful degree, I think, evangelicals fuse the kingdom of God with a preferred version of the kingdom of the world (whether it's our national interests, a particular form of government, a particular political program, or so on). Rather than focusing our understanding of God's kingdom on the person of Jesus - who, incidentally, never allowed himself to get pulled into the political disputes of his day - I believe many of us American evangelicals have allowed our understanding of the kingdom of God to be polluted with political ideals, agendas, and issues.
The book wasn't necessarily political, in the sense of standing in a liberal, conservative, Right or Left ideology, but it was very political, in the sense that it spoke about kingdoms. Really, the book is a treatise about the contrast between the kingdom of the world and the Kingdom of God. It was eye-opening.

In the first two chapters, Boyd explains, while thoroughly inserting Scriptures, this difference. The first chapter, titled "The Kingdom of the Sword," discusses how this kingdom is basically a "power over" kingdom. Meaning that, although not everything governments of the world do are necessarily bad (Boyd repeats numerous times that many governments do some very good things), they use power to coerce it's citizens into following laws and doing good (or evil). By referring to these "kingdoms" as "The Kingdom of the Sword," Boyd is not specifically defining them by violence, as much as this might be the case, but rather by the power to use violence if needed in order to control citizens. Yet, however much a government attempts to influence how their subjects think and feel, it cannot bring about internal change. Only the Kingdom of the Cross can do that.

The Kingdom of the Cross is how Boyd defines the Kingdom of God because the actions of Jesus on the cross is a perfect example and representation of the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of the Cross is defined by "power under," sacrificially loving others, even your enemy, serving them, "becoming the least." Boyd gives several examples of what this looks like in the life of Jesus: becoming like children (Matt. 19:14, Matt. 18:3-4), possibly the most dramatic and emotional example was Jesus washing feet (John 13:4-5), and enemy love (Matt. 16:21-23). In regards to this, Boyd tells the story of how the slave of the high priest, Malchus, had his ear cut off by Peter in the garden when they attempted to arrest Jesus. "But Jesus answered, 'No more of this!' And he touched the man’s ear and healed him" (Luke 22:51). Boyd then asks some poignant questions:
"Do you think [Malchus], with whatever ill will he may have harbored toward Jesus on the way to arresting him, continued to harbor it after his encounter with Kingdom love? Can you imagine him being among those who spit on Jesus and mocked him? Is it not more likely that he became at least a little more open to God's love and perhaps a little more loving toward others as a result of Jesus' gift? The point is that love, through service, has a power to affect people in ways that 'power over' tactics do not, and it is this unique power of self-sacrificial love that most centrally defines the kingdom of God."
The Kingdom of God contrasts the kingdom of the world in every possible way. If we desire to experience the Kingdom of God, we must first learn to recognize it. The example we are given is in the life of Jesus. Examining His life, what He did, where He went, who He spent time with, how He interacted with government, money, His friends and His enemies are just a few of the relationships we must examine in our own lives. I find it interesting that the only time Jesus tells His disciples that he is giving them an "example" is when He washes their feet (John 13:15).

The book does discuss politics. Boyd goes on to discuss Constantine and the Christianization of empire in AD 312, going even further by giving a short history of the "power over" of the Church. Finally explaining that it was never Jesus' goal to Christianize the Romans, and that it shouldn't be our goal to Christianize our current kingdom-of-the-world government in the United States. Legislating morality through some political agenda by demonizing gays, pro-choicers or liberals or on the flip side demonizing fundamentalists, gay-bashers and anti-abortionists as being intolerant blurs the line between the Kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world.
If we were thinking along the lines of the kingdom of God, however, we would realize that none of the people mentioned in the above lists are people whom kingdom-of-God citizens are called to fight against. They are, rather, people whom kingdom-of-God citizens are called to fight for.
Rather, what we must focus on is recognizing the contrast between the two kingdoms. That should be our singular focus as kingdom-of-God citizens and is probably once again best explained by Boyd:
A person may win by kingdom-of-the-world standards but lose by the standards that eternally count-the standards of the kingdom of God. We can posses all the right kingdom-of-the-world opinions on the planet and stand for all the right kingdom-of-the-world causes, but if we don’t look like Jesus Christ carrying his cross to Golgotha-sacrificing our time, energy, and resources for others-our rightness is merely religious noise. Jesus taught that there will be many who seem to believe the right things and do religious deeds in his name whom He will renounce, for they didn’t love him by loving the homeless, the hungry, the poor, and the prisoner (Matt. 7:21-23; 25:41-46; cf. Luck 6:46-49). However right we may be, without love we are simply displaying a religious version of the world, not the Kingdom of God.
Jesus, our example, didn't win in a kingdom of the world way, that is why He said that His kingdom was not of this world. To Pilate, His victory wasn't going to look at all like a victory. If we call ourselves followers of Christ, we must learn to recognize this Kingdom that He spoke of and desperately seek it, with everything we can muster and all of who we claim to be.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

God, give us more creativity. . .

Creativity like this. . .

Here is the trailer to a really cool urban farming project / film project. A very creative way to spread the love of fresh produce.

You can check out episodes of Truck Farm at Sustainable Traditions.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Take a moment. . . .

and think about this. The United States spends $30,000 per second on its military. What should be the typical Christian's response to that statistic?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

My wife is amazing . . . (my kids are too.)

While I am at work, kicking my feet up, Serenity is at home with our four kids. Usually, when I spend a few hours alone with the kids and Serenity gets away to have coffee with a friend or to just have some time on her own, my head nearly explodes from the frustration that wells up inside me. Don't get me wrong, I think my kids are great. They are fun to be with and possess a compassion and kindness that fills me with joy. They each put a smile on my face in their own unique way.

However, spending an entire day with them can sometimes become a little stressful. Serenity is able to do this day in and day out with a grace and love that, as she would be the first to tell you, can only come from the Holy Spirit.

Homeschooling an 8, 6, and 4-year-old with a 16-month climbing all over you is a fantastic feat. Doing it without going crazy is even more fantastic. Doing it well is supernatural. My wife pulls this off. Yes, she is not perfect, and on occasion as I walk into the house after a day at work and see her still in her pajamas, she gives me a look like I better take the kids for a while or . . . well . . . I don't know, but it wouldn't be pretty.

She not only pulls this off with grace and love, but she does it with an amazing creativity. Last week each of our 4 kids went through the stomach flu and Serenity was still able to do this amazing project with them:

That's right, our solar system. Each paper-mâché planet in their respective spots orbiting around the sun (the ceiling light), and don't forget the newest dwarf planet (Pluto) on the far right.

Not only are our kids learning something, but they are having fun doing it. On top of that, my wife puts in the time to make our kids feel valued and esteemed as children of God, preparing them to be "in the world, but not of the world."

I'm sorry I don't say this enough, but thank you Seren for doing this important work, and doing it well, you are an awesome home-schooling momma.

Justice/Injustice Personified

Understanding the differences may demonstrate your understanding of the Kingdom of God. I know I'm still striving to recognize them.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

What matters to God?

Last weekend, Serenity and I were able to attend the Justice Conference in Bend. It was an wonderful time of being filled up by an amazing God. The conference was packed (literally, over 1,000 attendees - the conference center ran out of chairs - and six 1-hour sessions each day) with scholars, pastors and speakers who revealed new concepts and challenges to both of us. We both came away from the weekend feeling renewed and more focused on seeking "what matters to God." Most of the time we struggle with knowing exactly what that means, but we are seeking an answer.

I want to give you a snapshot of some of the speakers and concepts that stood out to me. Each of these I plan to wrestle with individually, and could probably write a post about each. Another time maybe.

To open the conference up, the lead pastor at Antioch Church in Bend, the driving creative force behind the conference, Ken Wytsma (check out his blog here) shared a message entitled Why Justice?

Ken spoke about the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." (action)

Yet he goes on to say that many in the Church have changed it to the Silver Rule: "Do not do unto others what you would not want done to you." (passive)

Possibly the most powerful concept of the entire weekend was when Ken showed a video of a young girl trapped in the sex trade in southeast Asia, explaining that it was when presented with this issue that he realized:

"God simultaneously hears my prayers and the prayers of that little girl."

This forces us to see many of our cares and worries in a completely different perspective.

What matters to God? That little girl matters, not as if we don't, but when we pray that God would fix our VW, when viewed from this perspective, you have to wonder how concerned God is in answering it. And we are now presented with a choice - do we follow the Golden Rule or the Silver Rule? Do we seek justice (action) or do we simply not hurt others (passive)?

You can watch his entire message here:

Mike and Danae Yankoski spoke on Saturday morning and shared about living out justice every day. Mike wrote the book Under the Overpass, which greatly influenced our own walk towards God's call to love the marginalized. Danae co-authored Crazy Love with Francis Chan, and they wrote a book called Zealous Love together.

[Andy footnote]: It can become popular to "shop" for justice issues. A lot of idealists are swept away by every issue of injustice in the world and quickly become overwhelmed by the enormity of pain and suffering throughout our world. Mike and Danae encourage us to live it out in our daily lives. One of my prayers is that His Spirit will give us eyes to see the injustices in our communities rather than fruitlessly search out the newest and hippest trend.

Mike spoke about the Hebrew word "shalom." Many simply translate shalom as "peace," but it is much more than that, it is "the flourishing of everything that is." The opposite of shalom is injustice. We must seek justice in order to experience shalom. We must be both ambassadors and agents. Ambassadors 'declare' and agents 'seek out.'

Ultimately we must be adamant about justice, we must be searching for it in our daily lives, yet we are not called to do all of the work of the kingdom.

Shane Claiborne rocked it as usual. He spoke on several issues, it might just be better for you to go and watch this YouTube video, it is very similar to what he spoke on last weekend:

Eluding to the parable of the mustard seed, Shane said "The Kingdom spreads best by fascination not by force."

Adam Hochschild gave a synopsis of his book Bury the Chains, which is about the fight to end the slave trade in the British Empire. This was very interesting (and not just because I have a history degree, even right-brained Serenity said it was good.) Really good stuff about the fight for justice and how it might take a life-time, but it is close to the heart of God.

Lastly, Nicholas Wolterstorff, an authority on justice, and the Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale spoke twice over the weekend and just about made my head explode. On Saturday night his message was about Matthew 25 and the parable of the sheep and the goats. When we do the things Jesus talks about in the passage, feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner and love the orphan and widow are we doing the things of charity or the things of justice? Dr. Wolterstorff would argue we are living out justice, not simply benevolence.

One of the most interesting concepts discussed this past weekend was the Greek word dikaios. Dr. Wolterstorff believes we (English speakers) have incorrectly translated this word. The "romance" languages of Spanish, French, Italian, etc. translate dikaios as justice, while most English translations have the word as righteousness. This word can sometimes allow us to focus inwardly and make our faith individualistic. As in Matthew 5:6:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
When we change the translation to what Dr. Wolterstorff believes to be a more accurate translation, it brings new meaning to the words of Jesus:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.
Or again in Matthew 6:33:
But seek first his kingdom and his justice, and all these things will be given to you as well.
Dr. Wolterstorff claims that this word, dikaios, is mistranslated throughout the Old and New Testament. This allows us to see that seeking His Kingdom is a synonym to seeking justice. At the very least it demonstrates that seeking justice is something that matters to God.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Sins? They now have an app for that.

This is classic. They now have an app for Catholic confession. You can scroll through a list of sins, choose the one you committed and then receive penance for them. The app guides the sinner through the 10 Commandments with a series of questions attached to each. Users tick boxes for the sins they have committed. The $1.99 app then guides them through contrition and offers sample phrases they can tell a real-life priest to be absolved of sins.


Off to the Justice Conference this weekend in Bend, OR.

I'm beginning to realize more and more that the work we are doing out of our garage is the work of justice. There are so many things that are intertwined in our little community Tuesday afternoons: reconciliation, redistribution, community, compassion. It is so simple, yet complex.

I'm very excited about wrestling through some of this during our time this weekend, not only will it be a time to dive into our role as people who create space for God to do his work of justice, but it will be a great time for Serenity and I to have some space of our own, become refreshed on our mission, as we make a push for our 1 year Jubilee anniversary!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

"Resident Aliens"

The basis for the ethics of the Sermon on the Mount is not what works but rather the way God is. Cheek-turning is not advocated as what works (it usually does not), but advocated because this is the way God is--God is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. This is not a stratagem for getting what we want but the only manner of life available, now that, in Jesus, we have seen what God wants. We seek reconciliation with the neighbor, not because we feel so much better afterward, but because reconciliation is what God is doing in the world through Christ [italics added].

Hauerwas and Willimon - Resident Aliens

Greg Boyd: GOD’s Kingdom vs. The Kingdom of Man

This is essential to our understanding of God and our role in this world. Jesus refers to the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven more than 100 times. We must grasp the fact that His Kingdom is in direct opposition to the kingdoms of this world, no matter how "good" they may seem.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

The marriage of belief and action

There is a "dual importance of right thinking and right living. Both are present in communities that manifest God's kingdom. Both matter. Yet it seems that many of us have inherited a version of Christianity in which sound thinking (orthodoxy) invariably comes first. Meaning, we often feel the need to completely iron out our theology before we enact our theology. We feel the pressure to resolve all our questions about a given issue - an issue like shared economics, for instance - and figure out exactly what we believe before we start behaving in new ways." - Economy of Love

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Downfall of the Kingdom of the Sword

I watched this movie yesterday. Powerful and perplexing stuff. The film has a tense feeling to it throughout, as do most films based on mad men. Downfall is based on the memoirs of Hitler's stenographer and personal secretary, who was with him throughout the war, even the last 12 days of his life spent in the Berlin bunker, which is what the movie focuses on.

As a history teacher, I have spent time teaching on Adolf Hitler, World War II and the Holocaust. They are all difficult topics to help high school age students (or anybody for that matter) understand. There are layers of complex questions, but one of the most common and also most difficult to answer is simply "why?" Why was Hitler compelled to heap such violence and hatred on a group of people? Why did the majority of German people simply go along with it? Why didn't the Allies do more, or even acknowledge the atrocities? I don't think any of us truly know, that is why it is so perplexing.

I was reading in Luke last Saturday where he says that the Holy Spirit will give us the words to say whenever we are in difficult situations and need to bear witness (Luke 12:12 and Mark 13:11). Right away I wondered what I would say (or better yet, what words the Holy Spirit would give me) in response to someone who asked "What about death and destruction by men, is that God's plan?" "What about Hitler, God's silence proves there is no God?"

What about Hitler? Especially after you read Romans 13 or the "unlimited submission to government" chapter of Paul's letter. Where do we draw the line? What exactly does it mean to be "subject" to the authorities? Does it mean to agree with the government? Not break laws? Pay our taxes? Look the other way when we see the government we are subject to act unjustly or violently? Does Romans 13 prohibit Christians from civil disobedience? Most of us would claim that if we were a German Christian in 1943 we would have opposed Hitler and the Nazis. Then why did very few Christians actually do this? According to Paul, all authority has been "instituted by God" (Romans 13:1). Is this the text that most of these believers sited in their inaction? What about in our own blind patriotism in this present age? Is the government always right, or does it perpetuate injustice and we site Romans 13 to justify our complacency?

John Howard Yoder probably gets it right in his book The Politics of Jesus when he writes:

"God is not said to create or . . . ordain the powers that be, but only to order them, to put them in order, sovereignly to tell them where they belong, what is their place . . . [it is not] by ordering this realm God specifically, morally approves of what a government does . . . God does not take the responsibility for the existence of the rebellious "powers that be" or for their shape or identity; they already are. What the text says is that God orders them, brings them into line, providentially and permissively lines them up with divine purpose."

The Kingdom of the Sword, which includes every government that was ever created by man (even "good" ones) will eventually recede and disappear. God has promised this, and we can have peace knowing that the Kingdom of the Cross, the backwards, upside down Kingdom of Jesus is the only Kingdom ordained and it is always advancing.