Monday, April 11, 2011

I Blame Jesus

One of the biggest issues I have been wrestling with in recent weeks through all of the debates on heaven, hell and eternity has come from one of Jesus’ sayings in Matthew 7.  In verses 7-11 he takes our normal human love, marred by sin as it is, and then uses that as a starting point for understanding God’s love for us. 
Matthew 7:7-11
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
   9 “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!

I have always loved these verses for how they draw us into relationship with our loving, heavenly Father.  What a beautiful way to think of our relationship with God--as children running to our Father with all of our needs.  And yet I also find these verses problematic in that Jesus not only shows us a specific application of truth but also shows us a way in which to think about God—if you being evil are capable of love then how much more your heavenly Father who is love personified?  

Shortly after the birth of our first child Tevia I became aware of a kind of love that I had never experienced before.  The first time I remember experiencing this love in a profound way was about 1 month after she was born.  I had been gone for a few days leading worship at a youth retreat and when I returned I found that she was sick.  This was the first time in her life that she had been sick.  Something came over me in that moment and I picked her up and took her into a room away from everyone else and began to pray for her.  Immediately God healed her.  While I was thankful that God healed her I was even more in awe of how I felt about her in that moment.  Up to that point in my life every one else I had ever loved had required an act of my will but in that moment the love I had for her was instinctual, a part of my being.  It wasn’t something I could turn off any more than I could make my own heart stop beating.  I just loved her and couldn’t imagine that she could ever do anything that would make me not love her.  It was in that moment that I remembered the words of Jesus from Matthew 7:7-11.  I realized that as intense as the love was that I was feeling for my daughter it was nothing compared to the love God has for me and all of his children. 

The teaching of Jesus in Matthew 7:7-11 starts with our human understanding of love on such a basic level (children with their father) and works its way out from there.  In a way it would be much easier if Jesus had never said things like this, if Jesus had never encouraged us to run to God for whatever we need just like children to a loving father.  Without these words of Jesus we might not have such a clear picture of how much God truly loves us.  And if we didn’t realize how much God loves us, then we would never even bother grappling with issues of whether or not there is a literal hell and just who might end up there.  I have really been enjoying the lively theological debate that has sprung up in the last few weeks over universalism, inclusivism, heaven, hell, eternity, predestiniation, free-will etc. but in the end I don’t blame Rob Bell for this conversation... I blame Jesus! 

I blame Jesus for not only teaching us about love but actually showing us what love looked like—a love that entered into the world in which we live, a love that welcomed outsiders and that challenged the institutions of the day, a love that was demonstrated in laying his life down for his friends and forgiving his enemies even as he hung dying upon the cross.  Is it any wonder why we have difficulty with reconciling certain aspects of truth in the scriptures?  We wouldn’t have these problems if we just cut the gospels (and Jesus) out of the Bible.  But I am a big fan of keeping both in! 

I have read some wonderfully insightful and well thought out posts on heaven, hell, and eternity in the last few weeks by folks like Scot McKnight, Tim Keller, and Rachel Held Evans as well as a host of other lesser known bloggers and I still am not quite sure where I land on all of these issues (the wrestling continues).  But at the end of the day I am confident that God is love... beyond all comprehension, beyond anything we can even imagine.  My hope is that in all of our wrestling with these theological issues that we will allow our lives to be ever filled and shaped by God’s love and that we wouldn’t become so distracted by debates over the hereafter that we fail to truly love God and others in this moment. 

I want to close this with a prayer from the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:14-19
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name.  I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Twitter, Social Media Without All the Relational Baggage

I decided to give up Facebook for lent.  So in the past few weeks I have engaged a bit more with Twitter (I know this is kind of like giving up beef for lent only to eat fried seafood every night.)  I only went through moderate Facebook withdrawals and have learned to lead a quite happy life without it though I will likely return to Facebook in a few weeks. 

What I've Learned as a Tweeter
Though I have had a Twitter account for a couple of years it has remained mostly neglected because I just didn't really "get" it until recently.  I read a very insightful interview with Twitter’s founder recently in one of those magazines you find on an airplane.  When asked about the difference between Twitter and Facebook he likened Twitter to a person’s own customized news feed.  Twitter isn’t about relationships as much as information.  This idea really helped me to understand what I might get out of Twitter that blogging, RSS Readers and Facebook don’t offer.  So armed with this idea I began following interesting sources of information.  Initially I only followed people that I really liked but then realized that Twitter could be a great place to learn to get a wide variety of perspectives from others that I might not normally choose to consider.  So I have have chosen to follow an eclectic blend of news sources, Sci-fi aficionados, non-profit humanitarian organizations, comedians, social commentators, and more than a few rather geeky science feeds on physics, asteroids and theories that are way over my head.  Oh, in this mix I also follow a few friends and fellow bloggers but that seems almost more incidental in the Twitter universe.  

At first it was a little weird to post something on Twitter and get no feedback whatsoever when the same status update on Facebook might have drawn 15 comments but again I had to realize that Twitter isn’t so much about social networking as social informational networking.  And this is why Twitter is not such a drain on time because it really doesn’t scratch the itch for human interaction much at all (though it certainly can lead there).  I read a great post (Twitter vs. Facebook) by Frank Viola on this subject in which he compared Facebook to a class reunion and Twitter to a roundtable discussion.  I think he’s on to something.  I tend to think of Facebook as more of a party and as such it likely appeals more to extroverts and outward processors.  Twitter on the other hand is not only a great stream of information but is a lot less taxing on those who are not so much into parties and crowds, those who might be more introverted or at least partied out.  Twitter seems to give a person more power to interact in places they choose without always having to navigate the uncomfortable issues that arise in the highly social world of Facebook over misunderstandings, strong opinions, those who want to "friend" you that you don't want as friends, the steady stream of invitations to play games and support causes that one has to constantly reject etc.  I will likely go back to Facebook but I suspect I will use it much less in the days to come because even though I am more of an extrovert and outward processor sometimes I just don't feel like going to a party.  Sometimes I just want to sit on my back porch and read.

  • How have you processed the differences between these two types of social media?  Are you drawn to either one of them more?  And do you think this has anything to do with your personality and the format of these social media tools?

By the way, you can tweet this blog or post to Facebook by clicking on one icons at the bottom of this post.  Go ahead try it!  Really!

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Wisdom Begins in Wonder

photo by Crispin Schroeder

Wisdom Begins in Wonder

The journey of wisdom begins not with reductionism,
The breaking down of truth into its smallest components
Or beliefs crafted into bullet points to fire at those who might oppose. 
Wisdom begins in wonder. 

All the years I tried to gain understanding
Looking through the lens of a moral microscope,
Searching for a truth
That I could finally hold and control and call my own.
And yet the truth shunned my advances. 
Because wisdom begins in wonder.

I’d rehearsed all my lines, readied for the trial,
The script of sentences on my tongue,
To shine truth’s light on all the squint-eyed sinners.
Yet no sooner did I learn that in being right I could be so wrong.
For wisdom begins in wonder.

In moments of transcendence
When a melody rescues me from small thinking
In times when the beauty of a sunrise fills my heart with warmth
When I’ve stood by the ocean or on a mountainside
or gazed at the starry night sky
Or in the quiet when I have felt my life held
In the grip of a love incomprehensible
Only then, plunged into mystery and beauty,
In awe of the Holy,
Do I take my first shaky steps on the path of wisdom and understanding,
For wisdom begins in wonder.


The above was inspired by some reflections on The Fear of the Lord.  I recently revisited Eugene Peterson's Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places where I found the following quotes:
  “The moment we find ourselves unexpectedly in the presence of the sacred, our first response is to stop in silence.  We do nothing.  We say nothing.  We fear to trespass inadvertently; we are afraid of saying something inappropriate.  Plunged into mystery we become still, we fall silent, all our senses alert.  This is the fear-of-the-Lord.” (P41)

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

The Gifts of the Spirit and Centered Set Faith

Note: This post discusses Centered Set Christianity.  If you have never heard the term before you may want to read In or Out or check out Dave Schmelzer's Bounded and Centered Set Thinking

In the last week I have had several conversations with other believers concerning the gifts of the Holy Spirit (tongues, prophecy, healing, wisdom etc.)   This discussion continued in our home group tonight as well.  This is an interesting subject because it brings such strong reactions whether from those who have baggage from seeing abuses first-hand in Charismatic/Pentecostal Christian gatherings, or from those who stand outside of those traditions who are just afraid of what they associate with more Charismatic expressions of faith, to those who wholeheartedly embrace spiritual gifts no matter how crazy they may seem to others.  As we conversed on this subject at our home group I couldn’t help but think of how a centered set understanding of faith might be helpful when it comes to the Holy Spirit and spiritual gifts and practices in the church.

One of the most famous instances of the Holy Spirit showing up in the Bible is recorded in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost.  This was the first recorded instance of people speaking in tongues in the whole Bible.  Acts 2 records that as the disciples spoke in tongues, the crowd around them each heard them proclaiming the wonders of God in their own language.  This was no small deal because it was quite the international crowd (made up from folks of upwards of 16 different nationalities).  Immediately after that Peter preached a sermon and some 3,000 people became Christ-followers and joined this newly birthed entity called church. 

What strikes me about this original encounter is that the Holy Spirit wasn’t just putting on a show with tongues but was rather leading people to Jesus.  In other words the Holy Spirit was doing just what Jesus did in his earthly ministry—breaking down walls and reconciling people to God (the walls or barriers that day were language, culture and religion).  Sure it must have looked awfully crazy, but it was craziness with a point and that point was Jesus.  Most people I run into in various aspects of life truly want to experience God.  They are dying to have some kind of spiritual connection in their lives.  They don’t want religion whether it’s the stuffy traditional type or the crazy bounce-off-the-walls type, rather they want to experience true relationship with their creator.

In my years as a Christian I have been a part of many charismatic gatherings where spiritual gifts were strongly emphasized and yet most of the time these meetings were not the sorts of places that outsiders would ever feel welcomed or even begin to know how to make their way in.  Somehow the emphasis on gifts had become a barrier to the very mission of the Holy Spirit—leading people to Jesus.  It is interesting to note that the day the Holy Spirit was poured out on the church nobody had any idea how it would look and yet there was no doubt when it happened that it was God.  In modern times what has been associated with the gifts of the Spirit has often had as much to do with a certain type of religious culture as with the Holy Spirit and as such has become just another bounded set version of Christianity.  (This is not to say that God never truly shows up in these areas because he does but there is often a whole lot theatrics and culture added as well)

While there is always a temptation to avoid anything having to do with gifts of the Spirit because of all of the abuses out there I am more interested in how we can begin helping people everywhere—whether in or outside of church encounter God in meaningful ways without having to control or put our own religious-cultural packaging on what that should look like.  In other words how can we help people experience God (the Holy Spirit) and thus help adjust the trajectory theirs lives so they are heading towards Jesus.  This is more of a centered set approach faith that removes religious/cultural boundaries to help people encounter God right where they are.  In my estimation this seems more in line with the ministry of Jesus and the Holy Spirit that we read about in the Bible but I am just thinking out loud here.  

What do you think about the gifts of the Holy Spirit in a centered set approach to faith?

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Best Rule Ever!

Last week I had the opportunity to attend of a meeting of youngish leaders (I put “ish” on because they included me;-)  The gathering was of about thirty people from different parts of the country and from various ministry backgrounds from church planters to worship leaders to those who work with nonprofit groups.  The guy who organized the meeting gave us instructions in an email a week or so before we arrived.  The event had one rule, just one – NO COMPLAINING.  I have to say that in all the meetings I attended I’ve never seen one that was so intentional from the outset about not complaining.  Looking back on the gathering I think this is the best rule ever.  From our opening session right up to the late night conversations on the last night everything stayed on such a positive and productive track. 

How many times have you been in meetings that have turned into a whole lot of whining and moaning about what’s wrong with everything?  I’ve been in more than a couple myself… truth be told I’ve done my share of whining too.

Having a “no complaining” rule isn’t denial of problems but rather it forces one to work on problems from a positive place which, in turn, is much more conducive to solutions that are fair, just, innovative and loving.  I read an amazing quote by Ghandi that I used to keep on my office wall, “Be the change you want to see.”  The truth is that when we are in a posture of grumbling and complaining we will bring no redemptive change in the world around us because we feel somehow that we are the victims of all the problems around us.  Yet when we stop complaining and start doing something, no matter how insignificant it may seem at the time, we ourselves begin to change and to effect change in the world around us.  I’m convinced that I want to try enforcing this rule more in my own life but also in meetings with those who lead with me.

What are your experiences with groups of people and complaining?

Friday, April 01, 2011

Insights from Stage Theory for the Love Wins Conversation

A few weeks ago I said I was going to write a review on Bell’s new book Love Wins but there are already so many great (and not so great) reviews out there that I think I would rather dialogue on the issues that this book tends to bring up concerning theology, Church, and culture.  Over the couple of years I have participated in a very insightful conversation on a blog called Not the Religious Type.  I was fascinated by the blog and read it for a few months before I purchased the book on which the blog was base: Not the Religious Type by Dave Schmelzer (a Vineyard pastor in Boston).  Not the Religious Type is one of the most helpful books I’ve read in many years in the way it helps Christ-followers to perhaps a more redemptive path of grappling with theology, Church and culture.  The book is worth the price for the chapters on Stage Theory and Centered Set Christianity.  I am posting a video on Stage Theory that Schmelzer produced which explains the basic idea as it applies to one’s spiritual journey.  Please watch the following video as Schmelzer explains the theory much better than I do below.
Concerning Bell’s book Love Wins, it seems that reactions to his ideas very easily typify the different stages referenced by Schmelzer.  So on the one hand you have a very Stage two reaction (rules based) by folks like John Piper and Justin Taylor and then you have an equally strong Stage 3 (rebellion against stage 2) by more of the emerging church crowd.  I can only hope that these conversations can lead some of us more fully into the stage 4 understanding that truth is much bigger, deeper, profound, and mysterious than we tend to make it.  As Schmelzer and company argue Stage 4 is truly the only way to reach our world that is increasingly characterized by a Stage 3 rebellion against the Stage 2 institutions which have ruled for hundreds of years.  I would be interested to get feedback from anyone who has watched the above video (or is familiar with Stage Theory) on any insights that it might bring to the conversation that has been going on around Love Wins.

Community Reminds us of What is Important

This week I had the opportunity of getting to make some new friends in the national Vineyard movement from scholars to church planters to worship leaders.  While I came away with many insights after a few days of meetings one of the key truths that stuck out to me came from the very context of community in which all of the conversations and good ideas arose.  I realized that one reason I need community around me is to keep me mindful of the important things that I seem to so easily forget when I am wrapped up in my own world.  Each of the diverse and passionate voices had a way of prodding me towards truth and helping me gain fresh perspective. 

How about you?  Have you experienced this in your relationships with others?