Monday, March 21, 2011

Subversive Words: Everyone Has Something to Teach Me

This last week as I was studying for a message I was putting together on Philippians 2:3-4  I revisited a really good book by Henri Nouwen called Creative Ministry  where I came across this amazing insight:


“…As long as we want to change the condition of other people because we feel guilty about our wealth, we are still playing the power game and waiting for thanks.  But when we start discovering that in many ways we are the poor and those who need our help are the wealthy, who have a lot to give, we become true social agents and do not give in to the temptation of power, because we have discovered that our task is not a heavy burden or a brave sacrifice but an opportunity to see more and more of the face of Him whom we want to meet.” From Creative Ministry by Henri Nouwen (P88-89)

I was struck when reading this of how many times I have reached out to others from a place of subtle arrogance thinking that I had something to offer only to find that the impoverished and the outcasts really had a wealth to teach me.  Nowhere has this been more noticeable than in the area of short-term missions.  How many times have I gone on missions trips as the Biblically literate, affluent American who is there to help these poor folks in the third world only to realize that I was the one in need of their prayers, their ministry, their simplicity of faith.  

While Nouwen’s example of ministering to the poor is certainly striking it can bring with it the temptation of not realizing this truth in every one of our daily relationships with others whether our children, coworkers, neighbors or even our enemies.  I read a quote by Catherine Doucette that sums this idea up quite well, "Every person in this life has something to teach me, and as soon as I accept that, I open myself to truly listening."  These are truly subversive words that have the potential of absolutely wrecking the pious religious ego behind which each of us have a tendency to hide.  

Sometimes we are so obsessed with looking for God in the Bible, in Church, in religious activities that we miss his face and his voice in others.  May God give each of us the grace today to truly enter each and every relationship we have as students rather than experts as those willing to receive rather than those who have so much to offer.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Reality of Hell to Which the Imagery Points

So in the last 2 weeks there have been ongoing conversations regarding the afterlife, particularly the nature of hell and who it is that is going there that have been brought to the forefront of evangelical Christianity by the recent published book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person Who Has Ever Lived by Rob Bell .


There have been quite enough comments on Rob Bell’s book on various blogs (I’ve even commented on a few blogs myself) so I will not get into those issues at the moment though I should be receiving the book any day now and will review it shortly.  For today I would just like to talk about how I have wrestled with this question and where I think I come down.  The following is a picture of how I have come to see hell (please watch the N.T. Wright video as well at the bottom for something more theologically articulate).

In the Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, the movie opens up with a scene of two Hobbits - Smeagol and Deagol fishing in a river.  Deagol catches a fish that is so large that it drags him into the river.  At the bottom of the river his eye catches the shine of a ring which he grabs and brings back to the bank of the river.  As he gazes at his newfound treasure his friend Smeagol is overcome with jealousy and ends up fighting and then strangling his friend for the ring.  Yet, unbeknownst to Smeagol this is no ordinary ring but an evil ring that will ultimately destroy his life (which is exactly what is portrayed in the montage that follows).  Smeagol becomes obsessed with this ring to the point that it drives him away from others, leads him into darkness and makes him a shadow of the person he once was to the point where he forgets the taste of bread and even his own name.  

This is such a profound picture of the effects of sin in our lives.  Most people have known someone who has been caught in the grips of addiction who has become only a shadow of his or her former self, doing things and going places that no person in his right mind would go or do.  And yet this is truly the trajectory of a life that is consumed by sin and that has rejected God.  Sin ultimately makes us less human and, if not dealt with, will eventually mar the very image of God right out of our lives.   Perhaps this is more the reality of what hell towards which the hellish imagery of the Bible is pointing.

This view would be more in line with the likes of what N.T. Wright talks about in the video below (and of which he has written about in Surprised By Hope).   Check it out and leave your comments of how you have wrestled with the idea of “hell” and who it is that goes there.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Grace Proceeds Peace

I am just now beginning to really process the various experiences from my recent trip to Israel and Jordan.  I hope to write a few blog posts on insights that I came back with in the coming days.
The Western Wall, Jerusalem


One of the most insightful parts of the trip was a debate I attended one evening on the subject of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.  The debate was held in the hotel in which we were staying and featured a Palestinian Christian University Professor on one side versus an Israeli Jew and owner of the Hotel on the other side.  While this event was billed as a debate it was very cordial as these two men were also good friends. 

Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
While I won’t go into all of the various issues covered in the debate, I realized for the first time just how complex these issues really are.  It seems that many of us in the West, particularly in America have a way of oversimplifying issues that are not as black and white as we might imagine.  These are complex problems that involve aggression, religion, oppression, displacement of people, erecting of barriers, economic stability, and water rights, issues that go back thousands of years.   As the debate went on, I began to realize why peace in the Middle East seems so illusive.

The best part of the debate was the closing comments of the moderator (a seminary professor from the States).  He closed by noting that the Apostle Paul began almost every one of his letters with “Grace and Peace” not “Peace and Grace” because for true peace to come it must be proceeded by grace.  Grace is offering someone something that they don’t deserve and didn’t earn.  This is what Jesus offers to us and is the basis for the peace we receive in our lives when we surrender to him.  As Irish rockstar Bono noted, grace breaks the cycle of Karma.  This is what makes the good news such amazingly good news – we don’t get what we deserve!  Instead we get more than we can ever imagine in Christ.  When we live in this reality of God’s grace towards us we become people of peace and conduits of grace to others. 

So, this day, may we come to more fully realize the grace of Christ in our lives so that we may bring his grace and peace to bear on the world around us.  May the grace of God bring unity amongst the various factions of Christianity and may that same grace break the cycle of distrust and aggression between Israel and Palestine.   
Amen

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Not Be Moved

In the aftermath of Katrina I didn't write many songs.  Music seemed almost inappropriate in those first months.  But one day about two months after the hurricane I stepped into the auditorium of the church and sat down at the Fender Rhodes and for the first time began to let my bottled up emotions out.  I was in there for probably an hour just singing and crying my prayers to God.  The song that came forth that day sat basically untouched until a couple of months ago when some fellow Vineyard songwriters helped me finish it off.  This song seems particularly relevant in light of the recent events in Japan.  I hope to post a video with the song but for now I will simply post the lyrics.  The song is called Not Be Moved.

Not Be Moved 
Through the storm and the flood
Though my dreams suffer harm
There’s a rock that will not be moved
Though my eyes blur from tears
And the cries burn my ears
There’s a rock that will not be moved
                
Not be moved
Not be moved
There's a rock that will not be moved
See me through
You’ll see me through
You’re the rock that will not be moved

Though the winds and the waves
Come to sweep us away
There’s a rock that will not be moved
When our sorrows enlarge
It won’t change who you are
You’re the rock that will not be moved

Not be moved
Not be moved
There's a rock that will not be moved
See me through
You’ll see me through
You’re the rock that will not be moved








Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Video #2: Caesarea

Here is the second video I have put together from my trip to the Holy Land.  This one is on Caesarea, a port city on the Mediterranean Sea built by Herod.



Aquaduct that delivered water to Caesarea from some 20 miles away.

Roman theater.

Ruins of Herod's fresh water swimming pool overlooking the sea.





Tuesday, March 01, 2011