Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Spritual Growth and Maturity - My Thoughts

When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.
-- 1 Cor 13:11

When we are children, we are given quite a few rules to follow. Things like, 'don't pull your sisters hair', or 'you can't have candy for dinner', or 'look both ways before crossing the street' and a whole list of other do's and dont's. In most cases these rules aren't made up just to make the lives of children more difficult, they are given to protect the child, or to prevent the child from harming another person. As a child I really didn't understand the health consequences of eating only candy all the time, and as I child I really didn't have the capacity to care for or have empathy for another person yet. So rules were put into place until I matured. Now at 40 years old, if I go the my moms house and my sister happens to be there, we may both sit down to watch a TV show and we would ask each other what we want to watch and one of us would defer to the other if we didn't have the same show in mind. But if my mother still has to break up a fight over the remote and tell me 'don't pull your sister's hair', you might suspect that I have a developmental problem; that I never matured.

I suspect that Spiritual Maturity is very similar in nature. If you'll note, Paul's comment from 1 Cor 13:11 about putting childish things away, is right in the middle of a very well known chapter about God's kind of love and relationship.

There is another thing that I think Paul understood quite well, and that we need to remember; Spiritual Growth is a process, and it is a process that is guided by the Spirit. Both Jesus and Paul use a 'fruit' metaphor to describe the developing of love and patience and kindness in a believers life, and I think there is good reason for this. I think they both wanted people to understand that just like fruit, these things take time to grow in us, and that they aren't a work. Since Paul understood this process, it isn't surprising that he often did give commands to address specific problems in the Churches he wrote to. But those commands weren't intended to be an end in themselves, rather they were put in place until the believers learned to walk by the Spirit and the Spirit had produced fruit. Then the command would no longer be needed.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Spiritual Growth and Maturity - Questions

First, if you haven't read it already, Kingdom Grace has an excellent post here that discusses discipleship and spiritual growth. Her post may be an oblique rebuttal to the growing controversy over whether missional churches are any more effective than attractional megachurches. Whether it was intended to be that or not, it is still an excellent post. Here is a quote that might pique your interest.

Then in a rush to transform our new converts into shiny, happy christians we train them into every aspect of cultural christianity rather than trusting the process of transformation by the Spirit that begins within before it becomes evident to others. The goal is to get them looking and acting like good christians as soon as possible.

For sometime now, I have been thinking about what it means to be spiritually mature, and wondering if we use the terms 'milk' and 'meat' (technically solid food) in a way that Paul intended when he wrote 1 Corinthians 3:2, or when the author of Hebrews 5:12 used the same metaphor. I would say that I believe it is almost certainly misused when someone pridefully exclaims that their pastor preaches only meat -- as if milk is never an appropriate food. By the way, whenever I've heard someone thank their pastor for 'giving us meat today', it was usually after a sermon that served a heavy dose of legalism. Which, ironically, may be the polar opposite of what 'meat' is.

In the next post, I'll share my thoughts about what it means to be mature, and what I'm leaning toward in my understanding of the terms 'milk' and 'solid food'. Like I said, I've been pondering them so I haven't fully settled the issue in my mind. But for now I want to hear what others might think. I will tell you that I've been looking at 1 Corinthians - chapters 2 and 3, Hebrews 5 (Obviously), and Romans 14.

What does it mean to be 'Spiritually Mature'?

What do the terms 'milk' and 'solid food' refer to in 1 Cor 3:2 and Heb 5:12?

Is it ever appropriate to give someone milk? Conversely, is it appropriate to give meat to a mass audience?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Obedience - can we find a better word?

Who knows, I may be the only person of the face of the planet that is bothered by the use of the term 'obedience' when used in context of our relationship with God. If you google the term obedience the vast majority of the entries on the first 2 result pages deal with dog obedience training, or the Milgram experiment. So culturally speaking we are already behind the 8 ball when we decide to use this term.

For me this definitely isn't about wanting to do my own thing without having to listen. In fact, my hearts deep desire is to have the heart and mind of Christ. I don't merely want to externally conform to a list of moral requirements or laws, I want an inner reality that produces actions that are in line with Father's own heart. I'm not content with obedience, I want something much deeper. And I think Father is more interested in our heart as well. To me obedience is the language of the lists, laws, and the Pharisee. In an actual relationship with Christ, however, I learn to trust him, and I'm transformed by him as I begin to place my life in his hands. It's only through Love, trust, and relationship with Father, Son, and Spirit that I will be changed on the inside. Conformity and obedience can't transform, so maybe we should leave that term for the dogs.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


Here lately I've noticed that my best thoughts occur at 5:30 in the morning.... or maybe they just seem like my best thoughts because it's 5:30 and I'm not fully awake :-). Anyway, my morning thoughts this week have been drifting back to a conversation I had a couple of weeks ago. Actually it was a conversation I listened to and wanted to say something but unfortunately I take far too long to think through a response. I'm like Calvin in the comic strip 'Calvin and Hobbes' who said, "Well, remember what you said, because in a day or two, I'll have a witty and blistering retort! You'll be devastated THEN!" Not that I need to come up with a witty and blistering retort, it just usually takes me some time to think through a response, even if I already have an opinion on the matter.

We talked about Jesus being the full revelation of the character of God in human flesh. The subject of Jesus being 'angry' when he cleared the temple came up during the conversation, and rightly a friend of mine pointed out that maybe it wasn't anger, or at least anger in the sense that we usually picture it. The reason he thinks it probably looked different that we think is because in Matthew 21:12-15, immediately after the incident we see people coming to him for healing and children were shouting in the temple "Hosanna to the Son of David". In particular it is interesting that children were there cheering him on. When grown men rage, don't children usually scatter? Now I'm sure that Jesus didn't do this with a smile on his face, but how ever he did it, it didn't strike fear in the hearts of the children. He was probably stern, and determined but controlled in his response.
(see Jn 2:13-16, Mk 11:15-17, Mat 21:12-15, Lk 19:45-46)

What I wished that I could have added to the conversation was the fact that there was only once in all of the Gospels where they felt the need to record that Jesus was angry.

He entered again into a synagogue; and a man was there whose hand was withered. They were watching Him to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse Him. He said to the man with the withered hand, "Get up and come forward!" And He said to them, "Is it lawful to do good or to do harm on the Sabbath, to save a life or to kill?" But they kept silent. After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
Mark 3:4-5

It is worth noting that Jesus was angry and grieved, and that his response was to heal someone rather than call down fire from heaven. So we can say that God does get angry, but it never looks like human anger.

Another point I which I would have made is the fact that often we try to elevate anger or wrath to be an attribute of God, when that clearly isn't what scripture teaches. Scripture says that God is Love, but it never says that God is wrath or God is anger. I think it is important to understand this because God's anger or wrath is an expression of the God whose very nature is Love, and not just any love but Agape -- the other centered, self-giving Love. Wayne Jacobsen defines God's wrath in this way -- the full weight of God's being brought against that which destroys the object of his affection. I think he is right; Scripture is clear that God's wrath is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness; the things that decay and destroy his good creation. It is in a sense the fire that will make the world right again. It is motivated by Love, and once things are put right once again. It is an expression that will cease.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

doing vs being - where do we find our identity?

When you talk to youth (and some adults) about their future career, how do you usually phrase it? Do you ask "What do you want to do when you grow up?" or do you ask "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I think there is an important distinction to be made here. We live in a culture where our vocation is usually one of the primary ways to identify, or define a person; he's a doctor, she's a photographer, he's a home-maker, she's a CEO, etc. But what happens when the person leaves or loses their vocation? Do they lose their identity? Are they a different person? Are they now a 'nobody'? What about those who have not yet entered a vocation? Has their life not 'started' yet? I ask these questions because I myself had to come face to face with my own misconceptions about identity just a few years ago. Up until my current vocation with a rather large company, I had always made a name for myself and had a reputation of being the 'go to' guy. It was my 'identity', or at least a big part of it. Then I joined this large corporation and found myself without an 'identity'; I was part of the herd, I was (and still am) doing a very minor job that most people didn't even know existed, and doesn't begin to use the knowledge and skills that I have. For the first 6 months, I was like a drug user going through withdrawals; and I can definitely see why some who lose their job can sink into deep depression. But through it all God was helping me to see that my true identity was something else altogether, something unshakable, something that had to do with being rather than doing.

There is another thing that I've noticed about myself in the area of doing. For a large part of my life, I've allowed my failures to define me. Saying 'I'm a sinner' is easy for me to say and believe. I've never been a good enough son, or a good enough friend, or a good enough husband, or father. And I've wondered if people would be better off without me. To be defined by our failures isn't what God intended, yet I think that this is a powerful lie, that so many people (myself included) struggle with. As hard at it was for me to let go of the false identity of vocation, this one is even harder. Every time I fail, the whisper 'I am not....' is there to tell me how utterly worthless I am.

Yet there is another voice. The voice of the great 'I AM', that has been whispering something different to me. He tells me that I am his son, whom he loves. He tells me that from the foundation of the world he looked forward to my adoption as a son. He tells me that no matter where I wander in life - even in the darkest places, I will always be a son. For those who are sons and daughters of our great Abba, this is an unshakable truth, all that we now know will pass away, but this will never change.

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge
- Paul's prayer for us in Ephesians 3:17-19

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Some songs inspired by CS Lewis

A very sweet, kind, and beautiful young friend of mine, whom God is especially fond of, introduced me to some new music by an artist named Brooke Fraser. Thanks Meganne!

I ended up downloading the whole album off of itunes because Brooke's music is definitely worth listening to from an artistic standpoint. If you get a chance, take a listen sometime. One of her songs has made the Christian charts, so it does sound a bit like everything else you hear (but that's not always a bad thing), but I think that's the only one like that on the album. This chart maker was inspired by my personal favorite book of C.S. Lewis' works, 'The Great Divorce'. I think a different title would have done it better. It's a work of fiction, but there are some great though provoking ideas within it. In the book, the main character visits heaven, where he finds that heaven is more real than he is. He is merely a shadow in comparison, and his feet can't even bend the blades of grass in heaven. He finds that as people travel toward the King, they become more solid, more real. I won't give away too much else, but that is enough to show that Brooke was definitely thinking of this Book when she wrote this song; by the way I also love the diversity of faces used in the video:

Shadow Feet

Walking, stumbling
On these shadow feet
Toward home, a land that I’ve never seen
I am changing
Less and less asleep
Made of different stuff than when I began

Of course with the second song, she leave no room for doubt about her inspiration because it's called 'CS Lewis Song'.

CS Lewis Song
If I find in myself desires nothing in this world can satisfy
I can only conclude that I was not made for here
If the flesh that I fight is at best only light and momentary
Then of course I’ll feel nude when to where I’m destined I’m compared

Speak to me in the light of the dawn
Mercy comes with the morning
I will sigh and with all creation groan
As I wait for hope to come for me

Am I lost or just less found,
On the straight or on the roundabout of the wrong way?
Is this a soul that stirs in me,
Is it breaking free, wanting to come alive?

‘Cause my comfort would prefer for me to be numb
And avoid the impending birth
Of who I was born to become


For we, we are not long here
Our time is but a breath
So we better breathe it
And I, I was made to live
I was made to love
I was made to know you

Hope is coming for me


And although this one isn't CS Lewis inspired, but one I know Meganne like so this ones for Meganne:


Ok, now I know I'm getting ridiculous, but if your still with me. Here's one more called 'Albertine'. I like this one purely for the musical quality, it has a folksy, sultry kind of feel to me.


Monday, September 29, 2008

Prophets of Love

By Your Side - Tenth Avenue North

The mind of a Pharisee thinks truth is more important than love, but Jesus showed us that love is the most important part of truth.
-- From 'He Loves Me!', by Wayne Jacobsen

While there have been various movements around lately such as the emerging church, the new reformed movement, or various proclaimed revival 'outpourings'. There has been another set of voices that have been calling believers back to believe in the Goodness, Grace, and Love of God. None of these voices have gotten organized, other than simply following the prompting of the Holy Spirit. And, as far as I can tell, none wish to build or proclaim the next 'great thing'. They are simply Prophets of Love, proclaiming God's Love to all people, and reminding us that we can't save ourselves, we can't fix ourselves, we don't need to work to earn anything from our Father (like the song above), and that the only hope we have is in the transforming power of His Love.

All to often in our world, we find that performance is a condition of our acceptance and worth as a person. We learn this in school, many learn this in our homes, our churches, and in our jobs. This is the way of the world, and we recast God in our image when we assume that God is the same way. I'm guilty of this more times than I'd like to admit. But in God we find someone who knows us at our worst, and loves us all the more. He doesn't stand back and wait for us to fix ourselves, rather he offers to come into our brokenness and begin the healing process - if we ask. He is the one who is faithful to complete the work he begun. When we look for something we can do to get right with him, we get nowhere. But when we trust what he has done to make us right, that makes all the difference. I have found that the most profound changes in my heart come at my darkest hours; Those times when I finally give up on my abilities to accomplish anything through self-effort. “We worship in the Spirit, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh.” (Phil 3:3) Papa, may I learn from those and trust you at the first, rather than at last.

Are you Tired? Worn out? Burned out on Religion? Come to me, get away with me and you'll recover your life.
-- Matt 11:28, The Message

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.
-- Zephaniah 3:17, NIV

Here are just a few voices of Love that God has brought into my life at just the right times:

He Loves Me! - Wayne Jacobsen.
True Faced - John Lynch
The parable of the dancing God - Baxter Kruger
The Shack - Paul Young
The Wisdom of Tenderness - Brennan Manning

Friday, September 26, 2008

A couple of songs that have been on my mind.

Here are the songs.

Both of the songs happen to be from Third Day's latest album called 'Revelation'. I've been listening to them way too much, because I can really relate to both of them; although I probably relate to them in a way that is different from what the writer intended. To me the hold slightly different meanings than how they are traditionally taught. The first is called 'Slow Down'.

Oh, I don't want to let go
Of all the things that I know
Are keeping me away from my life.
Oh, I don't want to slow down.
No, I don't want to look around,
But I can't seem to work it out,
So help me God.

For me, I can see that there are some things in my life that I still hold on to. Mostly because I don't quite know what else to do yet. I'm still part of a corporate machine that keeps me from doing things that really matter, and I really want that to change. I'm still somewhat a part of the American lifestyle that keeps so many very busy, very disconnected, and causes so much stress and depression. How do I step off that tread mill and not end up on the street with kids to feed? I don't know, so help me God!

The second song is called 'Born Again', and although I'm sure they wrote it to describe the traditional meaning of 'Born Again', I'm not thinking about my salvation experience.

It feels like I'm born again
It feels like I'm living
For the very first time
For the very first time
It feels like I'm breathing
It feels like I'm moving
For the very first time
For the very first time

I'm thinking of the last 3 years of my life. I was falling apart inside 3 years ago, and trying to look nice and together on the outside. But in my most disparate hour, God showed me that I had him all wrong. I thought he was keeping a list; I thought he was constantly disappointed in me; I thought I had to get my act together before he would love me or bless me. I was a believer already after all, and wasn't it about time I started doing all that you are supposed to do? But I was wrong, God didn't want me to change by my own self effort disguised as 'Spirit Empowered'. He wanted me to be still and know that he loves me, and that abiding is his Love is my only hope for change. I began to come back to life once I figured out that he wasn't looking for performance and that he already loved me more deeply than I could possibly imagine. I've come a long way in 3 years, but I know there is a long way yet to go in my process of 'unlearning'.

Friday, September 05, 2008

A 'Punishing God'? - Thoughts on the Cross and Forgiveness

Was the Cross punishment? In one sense; yes it was. It was a particularly cruel punishment established by Rome. The historian Josephus called it "the most wretched of deaths." So yes, humanly speaking it was a punishment, and I do not want at all to make light of the intense suffering that Jesus endured on the Cross. What I do want to look at though is whether or not there is a scriptural basis to say that 'God punished Jesus for our sin.' As I stated in the previous post, this understating of the cross makes no sense to me. It's not forgiveness, and it may appease or change God but it doesn't change me. And it may be quite Loving for Jesus to 'take my punishment', but it leaves us with a cruel and unforgiving Father. While scripture clearly indicates that the cross was intended to be a demonstration of love, by both Jesus and Father (Rom 5:8). Athanasius in his writing On the Incarnation, postulates that God could have done the work of reconciliation in secret somewhere in heaven, but that we would not have believed such a message. Rather the very public, and very obvious death of Jesus and the eyewitness accounts of his resurrection was meant to leave us without any doubt that indeed something happened; something that even after 2000 years we can look to.

Why doesn't God just forgive us?
I'm sure you've heard that question hundreds of times before and the answer usually given has to do with God's justice. The argument is that God justice must be 'satisfied'. While looking at Hebrews 9:22 I took a look at the Greek word that is translated into 'forgiveness' and found something astounding. I found that God doesn't 'just forgive', because that doesn't help us. It was never his intention to 'just forgive' because he wanted to solve our problem, not just forgive it and leave us eternally in our bondage to sin. The word in the Greek that is translated forgive is Aphiemi and it has a much broader meaning that the word forgive conveys in English. In Greek it carries with it the idea of actually removing sin from a person, so that when Jesus tells people their sins are forgiven in scripture he is saying their sins have been taken away.

What God accomplished by the Cross:
In the most basic terms, the Christ's death and resurrection is said to take away our sins (John 1:29, Heb 9:28, 1 John 3:5), and reconcile (2 Cor 5:18-19 , Eph 2:16, Col 1:20, 1 Peter 3:18) us to God. Both sin and the law (Eph 2:14-16, Col 2:14, Rom 7:1-6) are abolished in Christ. I'm sure you've heard these said before, but don't be so quick to pass them by. Think about what scripture is teaching here and what it is not teaching. It is saying that our problem is resolved, our spiritual disease is cured, we are set free and the law that condemns us is abolished. Scripture points to God's work on the cross as being something greater, something multifaceted that we can bring our questions to and find an answer; Love for the unloved, worth for those who feel worthless, a clean conscience for those who feel the weight of their guilt, freedom for those enslaved by their addictions. Consider the additional passages:

And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross. (Col 2:15)

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Heb 9:15)

For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. (1 Peter 3:18)

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures (1 Cor 15:3)

Justifies - makes us right with God. (Rom 5)

Cleanse our conscience (Heb 9:14)

The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil's work. ( 1 John 3:8 )

In all of scripture there is only one verse that comes close to calling the cross 'God's punishment'. And that is Isaiah 53:5, yet even this verse uses a Hebrew word that is distinct from the word used for punishment. This word, muwcar, means chastening, correction, or instruction. This of course differs greatly from punishing someone for a criminal act. So you still have to bring your own presuppositions about 'punishment' to the text in order to read it that way (which, unfortunately, the NIV translators did).

How does the Cross (and resurrection) work?
While we are told what Christ did on the cross for us to resolved our problem, we aren't really given much information on the technical details of how this is accomplished. Maybe this is intended to be part of our faith, or trust in God. To trust that he is telling us the truth and not worry about the technical details. Maybe asking this question is what got us the doctrine of 'Penal Atonement' in the first place. Yet I believe there are hints in scripture that give us some small clue:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being by Him; and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being (Jn 1:1-3)
He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1:17, see also 1 Cor. 8:6)
And He (Christ) is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power (Heb 1:3)
For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. (2 Cor 5:14)
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Cor 5:21)

If the one who is sustaining all of creation dies, what happens to creation? If he bears our sin, what happens to sin when he dies? And if the one who is sustaining creation is raised from the dead what happens to creation? If he ascends to the Father, is there then any consequence for creation?

Now, what are we to make of the fact that this One became a human being? What are we to make of the fact that the eternal and beloved Son of the Father–in and through and by whom all things were created–entered into his creation and became a man? Are we to treat this Son incarnate, Jesus Christ, as a mere man, a single, solitary, individual human being, who lived and died like every other human being? Does his presence, the presence of this Son incarnate, not carry immediate and decisive implications for the whole universe? How can we not see that this Son is Lord, that his existence–his life and death and resurrection and ascension–has dramatic and stunning significance for the cosmos? How can we not see that the human race is necessarily and beautifully and wonderfully bound up in this Son incarnate, this Creator incarnate, and therefore how could we possibly be blind to the staggering and glorious fact that the human race has been gathered together in this one Man, the Son-Creator incarnate, and taken to the Father in his ascension? For good or ill, what becomes of this Son, this Son-Creator incarnate, becomes of us. If he dies, we die. If he rises again, we rise again. If he ascends to the Father and sits down at His right hand, we too are lifted up and embraced by the Father and accepted into the life of the Trinity.
-- Baxter Kruger, The light of the Cosmos

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A 'Punishing God'?

Why do we have such difficulty believing God could love those we perceive as good and those we perceive as bad with the same unfailing love? Because we relentlessly insist on trying to humanize God. We tend to love people according to how they act, and we keep trying to re-create God in our image.
-- Beth Moore

First I must confess that it may be too soon for me to post on such a subject because I myself am in the process (for about 2 1/2 years now) of rediscovering the character and nature of God. I had some misconceptions about God that He thankfully revealed to me to be false, and I have since repented (Repenting in the original sense of the word; μετάνοια or metanoia - to change ones mind). Second, I would like to warn you that continuing further might be akin to something like taking the 'red pill' and could bring to the surface some issues you may have never considered before, and it could be at times disorienting. Because of this, I will probably use quite a few quotes for no other reason than to show that my view on the subject is not 'new' or 'unique'. If you are satisfied with your beliefs about God and punishment; if there is no 'splinter in your mind', then you may want to go read something else. Here I am simply sharing with my friend what I've come to believe regarding the idea of a 'punishing God'.

I believe that, over the centuries, Christianity has picked up some baggage along the way that we need get rid of. To demonstrate this let me quote two Theologians. The first is Jonathan Edwards, an 18th century theologian who is considered to be one of America's the most influential theologians. His beliefs and legacy have greatly shaped beliefs and practices of churches in America.

The bow of God's wrath is bent, and His arrows made ready upon the string. Justice points the arrow at your heart and strings the bow. It is nothing but the mere pleasure of God (and that of an angry God without any promise or obligation at all) that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood.

Compare this to the 4th century theologian Athanasius of Alexandria, who was much closer to Christ and apostles than Edwards.
It would, of course, have been unthinkable that God should go back upon His word and that man, having transgressed, should not die; but it was equally monstrous that beings which once had shared the nature of the Word should perish and turn back again into non-existence through corruption. It was unworthy of the goodness of God that creatures made by Him should be brought to nothing through the deceit wrought upon man by the devil; and it was supremely unfitting that the work of God in mankind should disappear, either through their own negligence or through the deceit of evil spirits. As, then, the creatures whom He had created reasonable, like the Word, were in fact perishing, and such noble works were on the road to ruin, what then was God, being Good, to do? Was He to let corruption and death have their way with them? In that case, what was the use of having made them in the beginning? Surely it would have been better never to have been created at all than, having been created, to be neglected and perish; and, besides that, such indifference to the ruin of His own work before His very eyes would argue not goodness in God but limitation, and that far more than if He had never created men at all. It was impossible, therefore, that God should leave man to be carried off by corruption, because it would be unfitting and unworthy of Himself.

Do you notice the difference in tone, and the difference in how each perceives God's attitude towards creation? In Jonathan Edwards' words we see a god who is ready and willing to punish us for our sins, and in Athanasius' words we see the Trinitarian God of Scripture who rescues us from our sins. As Paul puts it in Romans 8:1-2 "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death."(emphasis mine) I believe this as well as anything demonstrates that there was a marked shift in our understanding of God's nature, the meaning of the terms judge and justice, and our understanding of the Cross.

Think about this for a moment, if Jesus suffers God's 'punishment' for our sins, where does forgiveness fit in? As Baxter Kruger says:

There is no forgiveness in that model. God doesn't forgive you, Jesus suffers your punishment. That's not forgiveness is it? It's justice; there's not any forgiveness there. Now, I know that rocks your world; I hope it does.
-- Baxter Kruger, Perichoresis 101 (audio)

And if Jesus suffers God's 'punishment' for our sins, who does that change or who does that 'fix'? It would change God wouldn't it? God's 'need' for 'justice' (in the western legal since of the word) would be 'satisfied', but we would be unchanged.

Why did God need the cross to save us? How does it make anything better? These were the questions I asked myself.

For many with a hurtful understanding of Christianity this is vitally important. For them the cross is something terrible. It shows them a cruel God who accuses and condemns us for something we cannot help and then murders his own son to appease this bloodlust. They do not see love in the cross; they see something cruel, they see a God who frightens them. How can they open their hearts to the one who is Life, who is Love, with this hurtful and false image of God blocking them? Understanding how the cross shows us the radical love of God is crucial here because it affects how we can trust and open our lives to God's love.
-- Derek Flood, Penal Substitution vs. Christus Victor

Since Adam’s fall we have come to picture God not as a loving Father inviting us to trust him, but an exacting sovereign who must be appeased. When we start from that vantage point we miss God’s purpose on the cross. For his plan was not to satisfy some need in himself at his Son’s expense, but rather to satisfy a need in us at his own expense.
-- Wayne Jacobsen, He Loves Me!, p. 104

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! --Revelation 1:5b-6(emphasis mine)

When we begin to peel off the religious lenses that we've inherited we begin to see that God's purpose is all about restoration and healing. When we start to understand this, we can begin to truly believe John 3:16 -- "For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (emphasis mine)

Today when we think about a Judge and justice, our minds immediately think about the black-robed cold and detached man whose job is to hand out punishments to wrongdoers. But the Hebrews thought of something different, they thought about the old testament Judges. "When the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge and delivered them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge; for the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who oppressed and afflicted them."(Judges 2:18) Hebrew Judges were delivers, their active goal was to deliver Israel from suffering at the hands of it's enemies. So God as Judge, means that he is our deliverer, and when he brings justice he will finally once and for all restore right relations, or as N.T. Wright says, he will 'put the world to rights'.

I know I said that I would address my friends concern it two posts, but this one is turning quite lengthy. I still need to address the idea that god excludes people from the offer of salvation among other things. I'll get to that next.

For more a in depth treatment of the Cross as cure, you can listen to the free 'Transition' audios by Wayne Jacobsen.

Also check out the podcast: Can we make God too nice?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Romans 9 (to 11)

I have a friend who currently considers himself to be a "non-theist". One of his complaints against Christianity in general and Calvinism in particular is the view that God makes us a certain way, then arbitrarily decides who he is going to punish and who he is going to let off the hook. He quoted Romans 9 as a sort of proof that this is the way the 'god of the bible' is -- an unjust, punishing god. I'm thinking that he has recently had a conversation with a Calvinist and they pulled out their 'Ace of Spades' (Romans 9) to support their beliefs. I can say this because I myself used to be a Calvinist and frequently used Romans 9 in this manner. Life, however, can sometimes break apart your 'Theology'; at least that is what happened to me. But that is a story for another time. I wanted to address his objection from two different angles and in two different posts. First I want to deal directly with the text of Romans 9, and then in the second post I want to address the concept of a 'punishing god'.

When I was a Calvinist and used Romans 9 as a proof-text to support my beliefs, but there was something that always didn't seem quite right. Romans 9 as I understood it at the time seemed out of place in the middle of a book that invited all people to make a real choice to trust God. As I said before, life experiences broke my theology and I walked away from Romans 9, and the rest of Scripture made more sense. To be honest I stayed away from this passage for about 2 years, and when I finally was able to read this passage without bringing my preconceptions to it, I was blown away by what I found.

Because of our western mind, and evangelical preconceptions we can sometimes read a text too myopically or even inverted. First is the fact that Paul in Romans 9-11 is talking about the nation of Israel, not about individuals.
For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel. Theirs is the adoption as sons; theirs the divine glory, the covenants, the receiving of the law, the temple worship and the promises.
Rom. 9:3-4

In the modern west, we tend to be very individually focused and always default to this way of thinking. But Paul is not talking about individuals, rather he is talking about the nation of Israel -- the political/religious system and it's rules and regulations that served as a buffer between God and his people. Ironically, in Romans 9 Paul is addressing the objection that God is being unfair by being more inclusive than under the old covenant, not less so. And Paul is basically saying that God's promise did not fail, in reality he was fulfilling his plan and that he has to right to bring and end to the old covenant and be more inclusive, him being God and all.

Quickly, I also want to point out that calling/election (vocation) is not necessarily synonymous with salvation. Israel was called to be a light to the nations, and according to Paul Israel was called to be a bearer, more on that in a moment.

What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory— even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?
Rom. 9:22-24

Sounds pretty harsh doesn't it? But don't be too quick to make assumptions about who or what he is talking about. The traditional view basically translates 'objects of his wrath' as the world, and 'objects of his mercy' as the privileged few. But once you say it out loud that way it doesn't take long for you to realize that this interpretation contradicts the rest of scripture. In fact we must stick with Paul's subject at hand - Israel. Only then can we begin to make sense of what he is talking about. And when you do that, it turns everything I previously understood on it's head. In it's proper context, it becomes clear that the objects of God's wrath is Israel; the old covenant system and it's regulations, not the people. And the objects of God's mercy is the world. I also want to define God's wrath in this way -- his fierce determination to destroy sin because of the destruction is causes to his creation. I'll address this more in depth in my second post. So the thing that God bore with great patience was Israel, that old covenant religious system. During the time of the old covenant, God was patiently waiting for the day when he could finally be united with his people. And when it was finally brought to an end, God tore the veil in the Temple in half as if to say, "I'm outta here! No longer will there be a barrier between me any my beloved."

If you aren't convinced that the object of God's wrath was Israel, then read Paul's own words in Chapter 11.

Again I ask: Did they (Israel) stumble so as to fall beyond recovery? Not at all! Rather, because of their transgression, salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious. But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!

For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?

Rom 11:11-12,15

As I final thought. I want to point out that while 'destruction' is the final state of the old covenant system, Paul makes it perfectly clear that this isn't necessarily the eternal state of the people that were under that system. They too are invited to be included -- to make a real choice.

I haven't begun to do justice to this passage, but for further reading check out:
N.T. Wright - Romans and the Theology of Paul
Baxter Kruger - Why I left Calvinism

Monday, August 25, 2008

Freedom: An incremental Process

"I don't understand," replied Mack. "I don't even understand what you just told me."
She turned back and smiled. "I know. I didn't tell you so that you would understand right now. I told you for later. At this point, you don't even comprehend that freedom is an incremental process." Gently reaching out, she took Mack's hands in hers, flour covered and all, and looking him straight in the eyes she continued, "Mackenzie, the Truth shall set you free and the Truth has a name; he's over in the woodshop right now covered in sawdust. Everything is about him. And freedom is a process that happens inside a relationship with him. Then all that stuff you feel churnin' around inside will start to work its way out."
-- The Shack, William P. Young

This weekend the Holy Spirit and I got the opportunity to travel a bit further along the road of freedom from my own expectations. Though I wish I could just be totally free with a wave of a wand, this isn't how these things work and this is where I'm at right now.

This weekend, I felt some disappointment as a result of an expectation I had with a friend. The details aren't important, especially since it was really an unspoken expectation that wasn't fair on my part. The reality was that my expectation led me to feel hurt by the lack of action of another. And that of an action they weren't aware I was expecting. How lame is that! But it did provide a moment for the Holy Spirit to help me see what was going on here. I was able to acknowledge my feelings and rather than let them turn to resentment, I began to ask Father why, in this instance, was I looking for affirmation in another person rather than from Him? That is when this quote from 'The Shack' came to mind, "freedom is a process that happens inside a relationship with [Jesus]." The Holy Spirit helped to remind me where I really draw my identity from. And that is from who God says I am. In that alone, will I be able to find true freedom from the tyrrany of my own expections and allow others the freedom to be who they are.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Truefaced (Do you believe?)

Do you believe

  • That the Father loves you unconditionally, and is crazy about you?
  • That the Father has done everything to restore the relationship he desires to have with you?
  • That the Father will faithfully transform you into what he originally intended for you?
  • That the Fathers very essence is Love?

Or do you believe

  • That God really only loves you as long as you are performing well?
  • That it's up to you to get things right in your 'relationship' with God?
  • That you are on your own and need lots of discipline and accountability to keep 'God's commands'?
  • That God chooses to love, or in some cases chooses not to love?

Which do you believe, deep down? Really?

My friend Kent posted a link to an excellent message given by John Lynch called "TrueFaced". If you believe the the second list more that the first, this message is for you. If you are tired of faking it and long to be real, this message is for you. Believe in God's Grace and Love for you, it's real, and really true. Hop off the performance treadmill that's going nowhere, and know that all that needed to be done has already been done in Christ. Come and be real with your Heavenly Papa, his arms are open wide, and his Love is beyond description.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Random (or not?) thoughts for today.

Here are a couple of things that I read off my blog roll today. The all point to a similar idea in my mind, though I'm not sure I can quite explain why. First is a great quote from William P Young, author of 'The Shack':

Expectations are one of the dominant ways that we attempt to control our lives, our relationships and God. Largely, they are disappointments waiting to happen. When one has a system of expectations, then ‘I’ become the center of the universe and everything and everyone is subject to my judgment and punishment depending on how they are ‘currently’ meeting up to those expectations (whether my expectations have been communicated or not).

Expectations are all about ‘doing’ … about performance. There is little room for ‘being’ within the web of expectations and ‘being’ has little to offer the one trying to control through expectations. "Who cares about who you are as long as you are doing what I think I need and expect." Expectations are largely a substitute for God, or in some sense, the need we have to play God ourselves.

And remember, ‘control’ is all about ‘fear’.

Letting go of ‘expectations’ is soooo risky; it feels like a free fall since our world was held together by that web, but it is in that ‘risk’ that you find a God who does not meet your expectations (thankfully), but loves you and is involved, and in that ‘risk’ is where ‘faith’ grows. Then we begin to live more in the environment of ‘expectancy’, the edgy, free flowing realm of wonder and surprise.

Then I read Baxter Kruger's blog entry about the 'Keys to Marriage', and Kent commenting on Baxter's post. These got me thinking about 'where I'm at' currently in my relationship with Father and with others. There a still a great many things that I'm learning to let go of, but I also see Father's progress in my life. I'm finding that I am much more free from the expectations of others than I used to be, and that is good. The opinion of others used to dominate my life, and I would run myself ragged to meet their expectations. This isn't the case any more, and I'm much happier for it.

Today I finally finished 'Families where Grace is in Place' by Jeff Vanvonderen and it was challenging in a good way. I still struggle with how to be a graceful parent of 4 and sometimes I fall back on my old methods when I get frazzled. This book certainly helped me to see what grace-full parenting can look like. I may want to read this one 3 or 4 more times, just to help get the concepts through my thick head :-). As I read the last 2 paragraphs of the book, the same themes of freedom, expectations and letting go of control appeared again:

I have offered the principles in this book, not as standards to measure up to, but as new ways for you to think about God, His grace, and how it can become real and life-changing for you and your family. If you are a believer, your value and identity is settled because of Jesus. It is not up to your family members to validate you with their performance. You are free to let go of controlling; you can learn what it means to server without becoming everyone's slave. You can learn more and more to act toward others out of a new spiritual fullness.
With God's grace, you can become a more effective, more grace-full husband, wife, parent. As these truths sink deep into your heart, yours will be more and more a family where grace is in place.

Random? or not?

Monday, June 30, 2008

God is for us

Here is a beautiful song that you probably will never hear on the radio. It's called "You are on our side" by Bethany Dillon.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The only thing that counts...

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.
- Galaians 5:6 (NIV)

As many times as I had read Galatians in my life, you would have thought that I would have noticed that one before. This came as no big surpise to me, given the journey that Father has taken me on over the past couple of years, but I still thought it was a pretty cool way of stating what the 'work' of faith actually is.


This week my local congregation has been holding a Youth VBS in the evenings called 'Wild Week'. It wasn't as wild as this, but was still fun and interesting and God did stir the hearts of some of the teens that were there. One of the nights the guest speaker used James 3:17.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. -- James 3:17 (NIV)

The thing that frustrated me was the fact that he focused on all the attributes (purity, peace-loving, considerate, etc.) and encouraged the students to 'act' in that manner. However in context James isn't asking us to 'act' this way. Instead, he's telling us what this kind of wisdom looks like, and 'if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.' (James 1:5) I really wished he would have mentioned that.


If you are familiar with the history of the cannon of Scripture then you know that James barely made it in, and during the Reformation it nearly got booted out -- Martin Luther called it an 'epistle of straw'. What gets James into trouble even today is his statement, 'You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone.' (James 2:24) I'm going to be honest here and say that this is a real problem in Scripture because it does directly disagree with entire rest of the New Testament. I don't know what happened here, poor choice of words by James or a bad copy by someone later, who knows. At any rate, reading back through James you do get the sense that he would agree with Paul that the 'work' of faith is love. So I present here an interesting substitution of the word 'love' for 'works' in James' controversial passage:

But someone may well say, "You have faith and I have love; show me your faith without love, and I will show you my faith by my love." You believe that God is one You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder. But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without love is useless? Was not Abraham our father justified by love when he offered up Isaac his son on the altar? You see that faith was expressed in his love for God, and as a result of love, faith was perfected; and the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "AND ABRAHAM BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS," and he was called the friend of God. You see that a man is justified by love and not by faith alone. In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by love when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without love is dead. -- Adapted from James 2:18-26 (NIV)

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My wife's blog and website

If you beautiful photos of children and families, be sure to check out my wife's blog and website!

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

We died with Christ - the reality

Every once in a while, I'm given a critical piece to the puzzle that helps me to really understand certain aspects of my faith that I've puzzled over. One of those things was Paul's statement that 'we died with Christ'. I've never really been given a good explaination of what he meant when he said that; it was one of those theological truths that had no real impact on life -- that is until today.

Today I read Baxter Krugers blog on 'Why I Left Calvinism', and when I read the paragaph I've quoted below, I was blown away.

While the Son incarnate is certainly a real man, an individual person, he is much more. His humanity is, as J. B. Torrance insisted, “vicarious humanity.” What becomes of him is not small-print, back-page news, which may or may not be relevant to us. He is the one in whom all things came into being and are continually upheld, thus what becomes of him has immediate implications for the whole creation. This fact should lead us to see with Paul that when Christ died, we died. When he rose, we rose. When he ascended, we were lifted up in him to the Father’s arms (see Ephesians 2:4-6; 2Corinthians 5:14ff). But this is a subject for another day. For now, the point is that it was Jesus’ relationship with the entire cosmos and with the whole human race that called a halt to any notion of limited atonement that I had running though my brain. The life, death, resurrection and ascension of the incarnate Son/Creator was as wide and deep and large as creation itself. To deny this was simply to deny that Jesus was the incarnate Son of God and the Creator in and through and by and for whom all things were created and are sustained.

This may be old news to you, but for me there are so many things that fit together better in my mind with this little revelation. One Baxter mentions himself in his post, Divine Assurance -- We can know for sure that the Father loves us. There is no wondering if you are one of the loved or not. The is no need to ignore 1 John 2:2 (Christ died for the sins of the whole world), it gives a much deeper meaning to the ordinace of Baptism, and helps to solidify my personal view of the Cross as cure just to name a few. I may post more detailed thoughts about this in the future, but wanted to put something up now while I was thinking about it. Be sure to read Baxter's full post, it's worth it.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Hell and other things

This week has been and interesting week; I had a confluence of messages from Father. The first message I blogged about in a previous post. Then I started reading "Abba's Child" by Brendan Manning. In the book he talks about how, in our relationship with Father, there are 2 critical things that need to be settled in our hearts; His character, and our identity. Brendan says that the biggest problem in the American church is self-rejection because it contradicts the voice that calls us 'Beloved'.

The 3rd message I heard this week can be found here:
Hell: Isn't the God of Christianity an angry judge?

I found this message on the website for a book called 'The reason for God' by Tim Keller. It might sound strange to say that this message fit in so well with the other messages, but you need to hear it to understand. Tim describes hell as placing your identity in something other than God, and to me that fit very well with Brendan's message that our identity is 'Beloved of God' as well as God showing me personally that I was not abandoned like I once thought.

I will say that I think explaining the Cross as cure, like Wayne Jacobsen does, actually would fit better in this message than Tim's brief description of the Cross does. At any rate, take a listen and feel free to comment!

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

The Father's (and Grandma's) Undivided Heart

I'm not one to usually let people into my inner life -- not that I don't want to, it's just that historically I've found that people don't know what to do with the unfiltered me. As a result most people see me as a quiet or private person. Tonight, however, I've decided to let you get a peek into my inner life. Not a full exposure, mind you, just a peek.

One of my biggest struggles in life revolves around whether I'm likable or lovable. What does a broken person have to offer the world or God anyway? This has been a struggle of mine since childhood. During my childhood, I distinctly remember asking God to take me away from my family and put me in a family that was kind, supportive and loving; rather than one that was abusive and critical. I remember crying at night and through my tears praying this prayer for weeks. And finally one night, I asked God to do it or I wouldn't believe in him any more. He didn't do it, and I quit praying. I didn't really quit believing in God, but I certainly felt abandoned and unloved by him.

One of the bright spots in my childhood was my grandmother, Grandma was what I called her. She loved Jesus, and she loved me. I don't once remember her raising her voice to me, or ever even saying no to anything I asked (although I must say that the most outrageous thing I ever asked was to eat cereal for dinner). My mom tells me that she did spank me once when I was 2 for cleaning the fake snow off the windows she had just sprayed on. Apparently I thought she was cleaning the windows and was trying to help her. When she figured out that I thought I was helping, she was devastated. Whenever I would come to visit she would include me in her hobbies; she taught me how to pour, fire and paint ceramics, she let me 'play' her piano, and she let me help in the kitchen. She was a Sunday school teacher, and she would often practice her lesson (flanelgraph and all) on me.  I never outgrew going to Grandma's because of the love that she showed me. She died when I was 17, and it was her display of love that brought me back to God. So in one sense, you might say that my coming to faith is unusual. I didn't come to faith by fear of hell, but by love. One peculiar thing that I was told later in life was that my Grandma treated me differently than other grandchildren. She wasn't mean to the others, but she didn't spend the kind of time with them or show them love like she did me. I couldn't figure that out, until tonight; more on that in a minute.

It is hard to try to condense my history to help you understand where I'm coming from, so hopefully sharing all this will make sense to you as an outsider. Anyway, fast-forward to 2006 where I'm in what may be my deepest moment of doubt that I'm loved by God since my childhood. By this time, I've been well trained in religious thinking, and with that thinking comes the idea that if you aren't sinning then life will be good. Life wasn't good, and I'm thinking that I'm a total screw up, my family deserves better, and God must hate me. It was during that time that I stumbled upon the Jake book, and through that Lifestream. You might say that it was a message straight from God to me, once again replacing Fear with Love. In reading the books, and listening to the transition series a huge piece of my own great sadness fell off. And it brought me to a place where I could feel safe enough to ask God to show me how much he loves me.

Still there was that lingering question of abandonment during my childhood. And because of that question, along with some of the traditional teachings on God. It seemed that God had a divided heart toward humanity, and toward me. It's brought to the surface when I hear of a child that is abused, neglected, or killed. And it's brought to the surface every time someone talks about hell or God's 'wrath'. Such events send me into a mild depression, although nothing like I faced in the past. So tonight (after hearing a sermon on Sunday on God's wrath), I was walking in the neighborhood, and I asked God to show me how much he loves me, like I have many times over the past 2 years. After that and some random conversations with God, my mind wandered back to my Grandma and how she had loved me, and how that love brought me back to God. I was wondering why she treated me special, thinking that maybe she was there when my mom examined the impressions of my father's belt on my back. While I was thinking of this God spoke to me. He said, "I asked her to love you with my love." I don't often hear things so clearly, but I clearly heard that (and yes, I blubbered like a baby). God showed me how much he loved me; a love manifested in my Grandma. He showed me I wasn't abandoned after all, and that his heart was never divided. Tonight another large chunk of my own great sadness fell off.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Straining out gnats and swallowing camels

'The Shack' by William P Young, is a favorite of mine that has come under fire by some well known people within the evangelical community in America. Yes, the shack makes some theological statements in the book. And No, I wouldn't agree with every theological statement in the book. But this is a story, not a theological treatise on the Trinity. It is a story that reflects God's care for his children even in the midst of our sin, pain, and suffering. It is a story of how God desires relationship with each of us, not followers of a set of rules and principles. And I think there is so much more right in this book than there is wrong.

So who are some of the people who have criticized 'The Shack'? Mark Driscoll and Al Mohler are a couple of names that I can give you at the moment. For the most part, I would say that they draw invalid conclusions about specific narrative in the book. This is a broad problem that I see in western society in general. We tend to break things down into tiny fragments and examine the fragments, all the while missing the bigger picture -- straining out gnats and swallowing camels as Jesus put it. One quick example is Mark's claim that the book teaches modalism, and he pulls a statement out of the book that vaguely appears to support his claim. Yet on page 100, the Author's belief in the Trinity couldn't me more clear:
"We are not three gods, and we are not talking about one god with three attitudes, like a man who is a husband, father, and worker. I am one God and I am three persons, and each of the three is fully and entirely the one.

I could provide a counter point to nearly every objection raised, but I don't think that would change the minds of those who have already made a judgment call on the book. Even though there are a couple of things that I might disagree with in 'The Shack', I would still highly recommend it; not as a book that I would hand anyone and say 'This sums up my doctrinal beliefs'. Rather as a story that has the ability to let you get a glimpse of the Love our Father has for us.


Writing about this has reminded me about some of Jesus' words that really haunted me several years ago.

You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
-- John 5:39-40

I was once a lot like Mark, and Dr. Mohler; sure that my 'doctrine' was correct, and confident that my correct doctrine insured that I was worshiping the right god. But the more I though about Jesus' words, the more uncomfortable I became with studying doctrine. Did doctrine transform my life? Did Jesus spend time making sure his disciples doctrine was in order? Did the pharisee's spend a great deal of time studying scripture, and did that make them right? For the time being, I've abandoned holding doctrinal positions; that may sound crazy, but I felt impressed by God to do so because doctrine was my graven image. It was the thing that had usurped God's place in my life. I know doctrine can be good, but there is a danger of boxing God in, creating a graven image, or making God subject to scripture with doctrine.

Monday, April 14, 2008

When do we graduate?

This weekend I was talking with a friend about current church practices. We were discussing how everything in the modern church centers around church activity, and 'Bible Study'. I told him that it felt like it was like we were perpetual students, always studying, but never a chance to put our knowledge into practical use. Almost like students who never graduate and get a job. The closest we may get are the occasional field trips (Mission Trips).

Then today I ran across this post at run with it; I think she did a better job at stating the problems than I did:

I think the church-centered christian life (as opposed to a Christ centered christian life) that american protestantism has created in the last few generations is what is killing the church in america. and the new generations see it for what it is- empty activity that does little besides sustain itself for more empty activity. not that nothing good happens in local churches; far from it. but the abiding culture of complacency we've allowed to take over so overshadows the true mission of God's people that we risk losing it all.

we need corporate worship, we need corporate teaching, we need fellowship. But, we also need to get the heck out of the church building and live lives that show we care about somebody in addition to the people we worship with. we must address this corporate addiction to church that we ourselves have created. call it a church intervention, maybe. and if we succeed, the withdrawals will be ugly, angry, and very messy. If we don't succeed, thousands of local churches just like ours will be gone in 20 years or less. I'm not even sure if that isn't what should happen.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

A Wrinkle in Time

Every once in a while my daughter will hand me a book she has read and say something like, "Dad, you'll really like this one." The latest one that she handed to me was 'A Wrinkle in Time' by Madeleine L'Engle. This book was originally published in the early sixties as a story that was intended to contrast state mandated uniformity (Communism) and individual rights (Democracy), and to bring to light the tyranny of conformity. I, however, felt that the story could be applied in much broader terms (as if my choice of picture didn't give that away). In the story you see unity, diversity, love, and relationship in the Murray family that is contrasted against the uniform cold efficiency of a planet called Camazots where "individuals have been done away with. Camazotz is ONE mind. It's IT." IT is the mind that thinks for everyone on Camazotz. In the story one of the children, Charles Wallace, falls under the control of IT, and shows the others how they deal with trouble on Camazotz:

"Now see this," he said. He raised his hand and suddenly they could see through one of the walls into a small room. In the room a little boy was bouncing a ball. He was bouncing it in rhythm, and the walls of his little cell seemed to pulse with the rhythm of the ball. And each time the ball bounced he screamed as though he were in pain.
"That's the little boy we saw this afternoon," Calvin said sharply, "the little boy who wasn't bouncing the ball like the others."
Charles Wallace giggled again. "Yes. Every once in a while there's a little trouble with cooperation, but it's easily taken care of. After today he'll never desire to deviate again."

In the end, Meg was able to save her brother who fell under the control of IT by using the one thing that IT didn't have. This is a children s book, but it is an excellent one none the less. If you haven't read it before, I would highly recommend it.

If you liked the image, you can find more like it at the blog: The Ongoing Adventures of ASBO Jesus -- Image 388 was a close second for this post, oh and 317 too! check em out!

Tuesday, April 08, 2008


My 9 of Spades is a book called Adam by Ted Tekker. This book is a particulary dark story of a FBI agent on the trail of a serial killer known as 'Eve' and while I enjoyed the book, I don't think I would go see it in a theater -- I'm not into scary movies.

A few of the interesting subjects in the books that Dekker addresses are Near Death Experiences, the nature of evil, and demon possession (This book is refrenced in Adam).

Eyes to See

Eyes To See which is a collection of short stories is my eight of spades for the year. In the introduction the book made a steep promise that these are the kind of stories that will leave you changed; I would have to say it fell short in that regard. However, I still enjoyed reading most of the short stories in this book.

My favorite short story in the book is called 'What men live by', by Leo Tolstory. I feel that if I say very much about the story, I may end up giving it away and ruin the experience for anyone else who may want to read it. I will say that reading both Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky in this book left me with the impression that life in Russia was very difficult for the average family during the 19th century.

My least favorite story in the book was called 'A Good man is hard to find', by Flannery O'Connor. Somehow this story is supposed to show that grace is available to all -- but I didn't get that at all from the story. The feeling that the story left me with was that life was random and meaningless. I suppose that one thing I am thankful for in the story is that she doesn't create any really likeable characters. That may sound odd but if you read the story, you will understand what I mean when you get to the end.

Overall, I enjoyed the book and was happy to get exposure to a wide variety of authors.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Traveling Mercies

To be honest, I've read several books since I've read this one, and have forgotten to post on any of them. Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott, I would characterize as the story of her faith journey. She is very forthright in this book, you get to see the good and bad in her life and she doesn't candy coat any of it. This is definitely not your typical Christian Bookstore fare (Some of the four letter words probably got it banned). I personally could relate to much of her background, given my background and family, so I really enjoyed the story of her faith journey, and enjoyed reading about some of the insights that she gained along the way. Life can be hard, and Anne definitely has been right in the middle of some very painful situations. A close friend dying of cancer, and one of her son's playmates diagnosed with Cystic Fibrosis just to name a few.

There are a few quotes in the book that she is known for. One of them being, "Unforgiveness is like eating rat poison, and waiting for the rat to die". Beyond that, I think I'll leave the rest for you to discover for yourself, should you dare to read it :-).

Tuesday, March 11, 2008


OK, you probably aren't going to believe me, so start reading. What are you not going to believe? Just this -- that sin and holiness are not opposites. OK, go back and start reading again. Did you notice that lots of places and inanimate objects get called holy? Can inanimate objects sin? So if inanimate objects can't sin and yet they can be holy, then holiness must be something other than some sort of moral, or personal character trait. I know that some of you do know the answer to what holiness is already don't you. You know that holiness is about being separate, distinct and, in the case of items, set aside for special use by God. And when the angels cry "holy! holy! holy!", the are proclaiming Gods special uniqueness. The only uncreated, self-sustaining, truly independent being that exists. We are made of the stuff of this universe (atoms if you like), God is not.

So are you wondering what is the opposite of sin? Well if sin is breaking the law, and love (agape) fulfills the law then it would be love wouldn't it? Or since the law points us to the greater reality of love, then you could say that to sin is to break agape, or to not love.

Well, I hope that is a big paradigm shift for you (unless you already knew this), it certainly was for me :-)

Friday, February 29, 2008


I may get in trouble for admitting this, but I have some confessions to make. First, I still attend a local congregation with my wife and kids. Second, I teach 10th grade boys during 'Sunday School' (God help them). Third, I try my best not to listen to the sermon. Usually, I crack open my bible and begin reading in an effort to tune out whoever is speaking. I have to do this for the sake of my sanity, really. If you read my previous post, you can understand why I don't want to go back to that kind of thinking, and much of the time the god that many a preacher presents sound downright mean and nasty, like he keeps a flamethrower handy to toast anyone who steps out of line.

This past Wednesday, however, I heard a pastor say something that smacked me in the forehead and helped me to see that I can sometimes still read certain passages with my old religious lenses on and not even realize it. I'm talking about Romans chapter 1, where it talks about the 'wrath of God being revealed against all unrighteousness'. Now, I shouldn't be totally surprised that he said something this cool and amazing, because he is a good friend who is on a journey of his own with God -- away from the traditional religious view.

So Wednesday night, during the Q & A time someone asked him if AIDS was God's punishment for homosexuality, and I believe that they made a reference to Romans chapter 1; this is a typical fundamentalist take on AIDS. His answer was an unequivocal no. And then he said that if you pay attention to the passage it says 'God gave them over' not 'God punished them with or for' and that often sin is it's own punishment. That's when I heard the smack on my forehead. Sounds like something I read in 'The Shack' which I knew from life experience was true, but didn't realize there was a Scripture to back it up. I had to go read it for myself to be sure, which is funny because I am quite familiar with this passage but all those years had been reading it wrong. That is a very different kind of wrath indeed, not the god with the flamethrower, but the Father who lets the prodigal go hoping that he will learn that what he is wanting will destroy him. And, once he has learn that, turn back toward home.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Jesus Loves You

Every morning I board the commuter bus to downtown Houston. Most days, I take a book to read while on the bus. I've found that riding an adult bus isn't nearly as fun as the bus rides I remember during my school days. Back then, you talked to your fellow bus riders to pass the time. Most days on the bus, nobody talks to each other, so I've taken to reading.

Lately I've been reading 'Traveling Mercies' by Anne Lamott; it's a good read, and I'm nearly done. Today, however, I reached in my laptop bag and found that the book was AWOL, probably hiding in the backseat of my car. Since my reading plans had been thwarted, I decided to pull out my ipod and listen to some music and podcasts.

So there I am, happily listening to a podcast and looking out the window while the bus carries us to our downtown destinations via the HOV lane when a hand painted sign in the middle of an empty field catches my eye. The sign said 'Jesus Loves You'. Now, you must understand that had I seen that sign 2.5 years ago when I first moved to Houston, my first thought would have been "Yeah! Right!", thought in a very sarcastic way of course. I know this for a fact because, at the time, there were huge billboards all around the city that were put up by the local christian radio station that had the words 'God Listens' in black on a plain white background (maybe they should have bought the red-letter edition billboards). I hated seeing those billboards; things were falling apart around me -- finances, family issues -- and I didn't see any answers (no, no one sent me a check for $50,000 to solve all my financial woes). I had even called that radio stations 'prayer line' only to get the standard 'God Listens, we will pray for you.' Anne Lamott says that the 2 best prayers she knows are 'help me, help me, help me' and 'thank you, thank you, thank you'. I was definitely praying the 'help me, help me, help me' prayer back then. I can admit now that, for the first time in my life, I began to contemplate how to best end my life; pills? plastic bag? high speed car accident? That's when I got an answer to my 'help me, help me, help me' prayers in the most unusual way. Somehow, the book 'So you don't want to go to church anymore?' ended up on the results of a google search, and that book lead me into a place where I could breath again and begin to see God's Love for me afresh.

So today when I saw that little sign in the field, with the words 'Jesus Loves You' written in red, I smiled. Something has definitely shifted inside me because I believed the words. I don't know how to explain it; my eyes must have been playing tricks on me because I could have sworn that the sign materialized right in front of my eyes as I was looking at the field, and I felt like I was meant to see the sign. Just think, if my book hadn't been misplaced, I would have never seen it. All I have to say is 'Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!'

Friday, February 22, 2008

God slipping us messages?

Jim Palmer, in his book 'Wide Open Spaces' has a chapter titled 'Could God be slipping us messages through Netflix?'. Tonight I went to the local cinema and watched a future Netflix title called 'U23D'. If you are a fan of U2 this is definitely a must see. It was filmed at a stadium concert in South America in 3D of course.

The main reason for me mentioning this however, is because it was contained the same theme as many of the Books, Movies, and even people who have crossed my path at this season of my life. That theme could be easily summed up in Jesus' words -- "Love God, Love your neighbor." I once heard a guy say that we often miss God speaking to us because we are looking for burning bushes; we have forgotten that Jesus has eye color and speaks to us in very human terms. Maybe this is part of what he meant. I used to think that I had somehow accidentally gotten a womans intuition, because my intuition is pretty reliable, that is unless I have a personal stake in the issue. Then my intuition may be masked by fear, greed, or some other blinding negative emotion or thought. But lately I've been thinking that this intuition thing really has been the Holy Spirit all along, and is something that I learned to listen to. Funny how the Holy Spirit never got upset over me not realizing this before now :-).

Rob has entered a season of skepticism and wonders in a recent post if attributing such coincidences to God may be simply reading God into nothing more than a coincidence. I'm definitely prepared to accept that as a possibility. I may be backwards from everyone else in the world, but science has always pushed me toward a belief in God, and Religion has often pushed me away from that belief. Weird huh? I keenly remember sitting in my college biology class learning how the helicase and polymerase enzymes replicates DNA, and realizing the immense complexity of one life and incalculable odds against life ever coming into existence on it's own. It seemed like a spiritual moment to me, even in the midst of a professor who daily espoused a belief in evolution and natural origins. That pattern continues to this day. I watch the Discovery Channel, and I see miracles everywhere (much to the chagrin of the Discovery Channel producers I'm sure). Then on any given Sunday, I'll walk into a local church and see a manifest absence of the miraculous.

Can all these things be explained naturally? I suppose so, but I keep coming back to the statistical possibilities (this may be a curse of being a computer geek). The coincidences are like flipping a penny and coming up heads 50 times in a row. I'm just not that lucky. And the fact that we are all here living and breathing is like coming up heads 12 billion times in a row. So for now, I'm sticking with that intuition thing and saying that yes God is slipping us messages. Just don't ask me that on Sunday morning ;-).

Wide Open Spaces

My 5 of spades was Wide Open Spaces by Jim Palmer. An excellent read if you get the chance to read it. One of the questions he poses really hit home with me. I'm sure you've heard the quote often attributed to John Wesley that goes "in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity". In the book, Jim discusses this quote, which typically refers to the doctrines you believe, and he poses the possiblity that we have been getting the essentials wrong. 'What if the essentials are love God, and love your neighbor?', he asks. Launching from this question, he takes you along with him on a voyage into freedom. He also makes the suggestion that when you experince love for your fellow man, you are infact experiencing God himself. Through the rest of the book Jim shares his story of how he is learning to do what love would do and ends the book with another question 'Where have all the little Christs gone?'

A friend loaned me this book, but I thought is was worth purchasing for myself (which I plan to do this weekend.)

Friday, February 01, 2008

Escaping the Matrix

Well, I expected to fly through the next couple of books because they are all fairly small, but my 4 of spade's isn't the kind of book you can go through in a day or two; it's called Escaping the Matrix: Setting Your Mind Free to Experience Real Life in Christ by Greg Boyd and Al Larson.

I picked this up at the local bookstore's bargain table for a whopping $2.50 mainly because I'm intriuged by the idea of the 'Matrix' as a metaphor for how we are often trapped in systems without recognizing that we are trapped. From the title, I didn't know where the authors were going with this, but having read about half of the book so far, the are limiting the scope of the book to what you might call a psychological matrix. The book helps you to understand how your mind processes the information it recieves, how to explore the nature of thought, and the patterns that are impressed upon you from others. There are also some exercises that can help you to become a 'detective of your mind' if you wish; this is the big reason why the reading is going slower than expected. I decided to give thier little experiments a try, otherwise I wouldn't know if they were really talking about something useful.

One of the things that I never thought about before is how we 'do thought', and for this alone the book has been insightful to me. Here's a quote:
Most of us haven't paid attention to Aristotle's insight that 'the soul never thinks without images.' Most people assume that they think with conceptual information -- which perhaps explains why we tend to trust conceptual information so much to transform us, despite our uniform experience that this trust doesn't usually pay off. We just haven't known there was anything else to go on. Why have we missed this?

Escaping the Matrix, p. 58-59

They go on to explain how we re-present or re-experience the things we thinking of in our minds, but this usually happens so fast that we don't realize what's going on. The goal of this book is to find out, which re-presentations, or re-experiences are based on lies, and work to remove those faulty 'neurochip' as they authors call them. I'll probably write a few more times on this, and let anyone know if it's worth the read or just some more psycho-babble :-).

Thursday, January 24, 2008


My 2 of spades for this year is 'Chosen' by Ted Dekker. Oh what a tangled web Ted is weaving. If you haven't read any of Ted's previous books, then this probably isn't the best book to start with. The story intersects with several other of his books including 'The Circle' trilogy, 'Showdown', and 'Skin'.

Chosen takes place on another world, during the equivalent of our 'Old Testament' period, that is fairly important to be aware of as you read this book. The book is the first in a planned series of seven, two of which are already out. I not sure what I think about this series right now. In 'Chosen' the main character, Johnis, is chosen by God to go on a mission to recover seven lost 'Books of History'. At one point I was quite upset and about ready to put the book down, because he does take up the mission, does what he was asked to do and is promptly tortured and nearly killed. I finished the book and was OK with how it ended, but now I'm onto the next book in the series and, by chapter 4, I'm already wanting to quit reading the series again. This time the main Character is planning something counter to his mission, and I just can't get on his side. If I can't identify with the main character, it won't be an enjoyable read. I am intrigued by Ted's theme regarding 'The Books of History' and that is the only reason I may continue reading; but as of now, I'm leaning towards aborting my plans to read this series. Sorry Ted....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Blink of an Eye

I'm going to borrow an idea from a friend and use a deck of cards as bookmarks to keep track of the books I read throughout the year. The goal is to read one book a week or 52 in a year. I won't have any angst about not making it, but it will be interesting to see how many I've read by the year's end.

My first several books are already lined up. I had asked for a book by Ted Dekker for Christmas and ended up with 3. So my first 3 books will be fiction books, the first of which I have already completed. So the Ace of Spades for me was 'Blink of an Eye'.

Ted Dekker holds a special place in my life because it was through his writings (the Circle Trilogy) initially that I started to see that I was a bit like the Pharisees -- following a set of religious rules and calling that a 'relationship'. Ted also tends to have his main characters overcome antagonists by unconventional means. The main characters may initially combat evil with the same weapons or skill, and may even be skilled at doing so. However in the end they usually learn that the only way to defeat their opponent is by Love or Truth.

'Blink of an Eye' does not disappointed in the regard. I was going to quote part of the book to give you a taste, but alas I loaned the book out just a few hours ago. At any rate, blink is a story about a man, Seth, who finds out that he can see possible futures. These futures depend in part on his choices and in part on the choices of others. He ends up using this gift to help a Saudi Princess flee an arranged marriage. Seth initially believes that his gift proves that there is no God, since there is not a single set future that he sees. There is something that happens that ends up changing his mind about that, but I will not spoil that for you should you decide to read it. I definitely found it stimulating to think about what 'determines' the future, and what does God know about it. It is also worth mentioning that the subtitle to the book is "Love Changes Everything". That thought is covered well in the book. At one point the Princess tells Seth that he has relied upon his intellect, but in the end he needs to rely on Love. I'm not sure that blink will really rank as high as the Ace of Spades for the year -- only time will tell, but it certainly wasn't a bad book. If you like action, suspense, and thinking about the impact our choices have in history then this is a good book for you.

Oh as a side note, I have to share my bus story. I ride a commuter bus to and from work every day. It's a 45 minute ride, and it is where I get most of my reading done. Anyway, on my way home Friday I was reading a particularly suspenseful part of this book on the bus, and I kept hearing someone saying "Sir!". The book was so good however, that I was able to effectively tune them out. The next thing I knew someone was waving their hand in front of my face. "The nerve of some people!", I thought, "Can't they tell I'm reading!" I looked up and the bus was completely empty -- the hand and voice belonged to the bus driver that was trying to get my attention. She asked, "Are you really wanting to go back downtown?" I was surprised that I hadn't noticed everyone getting off the bus. Embarrassed, I thanked the bus driver for checking on me and quickly got off the bus; she could have just closed the bus door and headed back down town. That was the first (and hopefully last) time that has ever happened to me. Oy Vey!

Thursday, January 10, 2008


I know this is random, but hey I did call this 'Rick's Ramblings'. Anyway, we managed to procure a Wii that we gave to the kids (ages 16,10,6, and 2) for Christmas. They have all enjoyed playing it immensely and my 2 year old really enjoys watching the older kids play.

Here's the catch. The kids went back to school, my oldest son and my wife went to Thailand, I'm home watching the 2 year old, and the DVD player broke this week. So whenever my 2 year old points at the Wii, guess who 'has' :-) to play the Wii? That would be me. I have been surprised to find out that you can actually break a sweat playing that thing, especially playing the level 1600 tennis opponents. Both arms are now sore (I've had to alternate arms) and I think I've lost a few pounds! Well, the wife gets back on Sunday (hurray!) and it will be back to the old desk job for me. Right now the kids keep me busy and worn out, maybe I'll be able to do some more posting after I recover.