Monday, February 28, 2011

Dogma & Pony Show

God The Destiny Giver
Have you ever prayed for God to show you what His will is for your life? I have. Prayer meetings, day dreams, conferences, sermons and other spiritual “highs” all consumed by this burning question of “What is God’s great destiny for my life?” It’s like at some point in the late 80’s the American dream became homogenized with the Gospel and there’s a whole generation of Christians running around in desperate search for their “calling”.

It seems that while the ideal of “you can be whatever you want to be.” has remained, it’s application has changed. The dream used to be having land and a farm and raising a bunch of kids. If you were a homesteader you had arrived. For many it was trade labor. The dream was to be able to hang a shingle with your name on it. For others after the industrial revolution, the dream was to climb the ladder. Work hard for 25 years and retire on a nice pension. The cultural awakening of the late 60’s and early 70’s lead to a split in philosophy while many were still trying to climb corporate ladders, others were “sticking it to the man”. So by the time my generation came along, “You can be anything you want to be” Had drastically changed.

We all wanted to be rock stars, celebrities, rich or famous. Some of us wanted all of the above. I live in a town full of stardom seeking gen-x and now y-ers. All hoping to "make it". Most not even sure what "making it" means. Of course experts are now predicting this to shift again soon. Instead of rock stars they will want to be Steve Jobs, and Mark Zuckerberg. But the point is most of us were told we could be “great”. Our parents “believed” in us. No one mentioned that for every “winner” there are thousands if not tens of thousands of people who spend their life in discontent because their not “living the dream”. Just look at the American Idol auditions. Stadiums full of people wanting to be on top of the world. Hoping someone will know their name. One of the Idol winners from early on is close with a couple friends of mine. They all played in a club, in town, not to long ago, for about 40 people. No media coverage, just friends happy to be playing music together. The idol winner was singing backup and introduced simply by their first name. Many in the crowd didn’t even recognize them. No one tells you that even if you “make” it, it probably won’t last very long. And chances are you might end up back where you started.

Paul said, “I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.”
There’s this sense that contentment, as Paul describes it, has been sucked into oblivion by a black hole of ideals, and pop psychology self help dogma.

So then, is it any wonder, how so many of us in believerhood can be so lost as to what our “purpose” is? The problem is that we’re convinced there is a “great calling” in the first place. You know what scripture says about the “will of God”? Let me sum it up for you in three phrases.
1. Do Right
2. Do Right Continually
3. Continually Do Right as a member of the family of God

If you break down 1 Thess. 5 there’s a pretty good description of God’s will.

Appreciate those you work for, with, learn from, and have deep loving relationships with.
Live at peace with one another
admonish the unruly
encourage the fainthearted
help the weak
be patient with everyone
let no one repay evil for evil
always seek what’s best for each-other and for humanity
Rejoice always
Never stop communicating with the father
be thankful for everything

By the way does any of this sound familiar? It’s a lot like the “Love Chapter” isn’t it? One of my pastor friends often says, “if you want to know what God’s will is for your life, find something He’s already doing.”. Another pastor I know says, “Stop asking what God’s will is for your life and just ask for His will”. Allow me to add one thought of conjecture here. My goal is not to discourage you from having dreams and visions for the future. Or to have you loose all resolve for accomplishment in your life. I truly believe each one of us is designed with a unique deposit of God’s Image inside of us. That deposit holds gifts, talents, abilities, character traits and so much more. All of which must be explored and cultivated. As for greatness and fame, many will make an impact, few will leave a lasting impression. But it Christ we can show love to all that we might win some. I believe it's great to strive for excellence but maybe greatness belongs to God. And what of the stadiums full of people starving to be known. I'd say there is a God that is longing to know them. I've heard evangelists say there's a God shaped hole in the heart of every man. But have you ever considered the YOU shaped hole in the heart of God.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Bad Theology Flavored Popcorn

God the Redeemer
When I first got out of college I started working for a PR firm in Nashville. Publicist are known for having a certain way with words. Which is why they sometimes get labeled as “spin doctors”. Taking a hard truth and covering it with sweet sauce to make it not so hard to swallow. It’s essentially the same thing we do when we’re six and get caught pulling our sisters hair.

“why did you pull her hair?”
“there was something in it” (she’s wearing a hair-clip)
“what was in it?”
“it looked like a bug” (it was shaped like a butterfly)
“what did you do with it?”
“bugs fly away” (true but totally irrelevant to the question)

And this is how many of us are trained to deal with sin. With some sort of sterilized substitute for honesty and transparency we “admit to being sinners” but we downplay the struggle. It often comes across as if the “struggle with sin” was in a far distant land many years ago, before we “arrived” at the solid impervious faith we now maintain. And this is the bullshit that passes for “bearing one anthers burdens”.

In retrospect, the “outside in” approach to discipleship I experienced early on in my life is almost humorous. Well meaning believers love to string along pop-corned phrases from verses and hang them on a tree of “accountability”. I know because I was “that guy”. For example, growing up going to the movies was frowned upon, especially if there was a rated R movie showing at the same time. The argument was that a good christian, “is above reproach, and should abstain from the appearance of evil”.

Let’s take a min. and used my over priced theological training to do a little apologetic for my contempt of what the nerds would cal a hermanutical leap (pop-corning). I’ll start with the, “appearance of evil” line. How curious that a line often used as “loving correction” (which is spin for playing the roll of what a pastor friend of mine calls “HOLY SPIRIT jr.”) is preceded by five verses admonishing the church folk to essentially love each-other and get one-anothers back. Secondly the term “appearance of evil” is in and of itself a debatabley weak translation for the Greek in that sentence. Most translations read something more like, “avoid all types of evil” Which is reminiscent of what Jesus prayed, lead us not into temptation, deliver us from evil/ the evil one”. And thirdly even if “appearance of evil” was the best translation the verses directly preceding that phrase are about prophecy and misappropriation of the gifts of the holy spirit.

1 Thess. 5
12 But we request of you, brethren, that you appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction, 13 and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Live in peace with one another. 14 We urge you, brethren, admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with everyone. 15 See that no one repays another with evil for evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people. 16 Rejoice always; 17 pray without ceasing; 18 in everything give thanks; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 19 Do not quench the Spirit;20 do not despise prophetic utterances. 21 But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good; 22 abstain from every form of evil.

All of that to say this. Look at the verses following our now over dissected verse 22. Who is doing the sanctifying? God. Who brings to pass the preservation of our soul, body, blamelessness and the coming of Jesus? God.

23 Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.

Besides all of this, who decides what does and does not “appear” evil. The answer, in case you missed it, is THE HOLY SPIRIT. You know who didn’t “abstain from the appearance of evil”? Jesus.

33 “For John the Baptist has come eating no bread and drinking no wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon!’ 34“The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’

Okay, so how about that whole, “above reproach” thing?

Philippians 2.
... work out your salvation with fear and trembling; 13 for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.
14 Do all things without grumbling or disputing; 15 so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world,

The tendency is to assume that “above reproach” means “do nothing wrong” or at the very least have no appearance of doing wrong. Another skill Publicist have is interview coaching. So when the president of BP goes on TV to talk about all the good stuff the company is doing in the communities affected by the oil spill people genuinely like and respond well. There’s a fancy “industry insider” word we have for these moments. It’s called acting.

Is it possible that being above reproach is less about being perfect and more about being honest. What if we just focus on, “esteeming each other highly in love” and “living at peace” with one another. What if we stop trying to play the roll of “Holy Spirit Jr.” and allow God with love, goodness, and grace to “do a good work” in ourselves and each-other. There’s a fancy word for that one as well. It’s called redemption.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Nobility of a "mac and cheese" God

God as Defined by Love
“God is Love”...For many of us it’s a phrase we hear most of our lives. The confusion comes as to 1. why that’s important and 2. what does it mean? Agape, theGreek root used for this particular reference has connotations of benevolence and good will. But that still doesn’t feel like much of a personification. What about Paul’s description in His letter to the Corinthian Church? You know, the “love chapter”.

“Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, 5does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, 6does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; 7bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. 8Love never fails;...”

And slowly this broader picture of love starts to get painted on the canvas of our soul. For me it’s very easy to turn it into a mathematical equation. If A=B and B=C than God = patience, kindness, and behavioral to do list. But it’s not a to do list at all. It’s more like a wittiness giving a description to a sketch artist. A sketch is really important, because it tells us what where looking for.

Here’s the interesting part. This “sketch” of love isn’t just so we can recognize God it’s so we can relate TO God. What I mean is this. The “two great commandments” according to Jesus are Love God and Love others right? Well is it possible that when interacting with God we should, “hope all things, and believe all things, and keep no record of “wrongs” (if you’ve never felt wronged by God you are a better person than I) and so on. This is what happens
in a relationship. It’s give and take. When being love is abstract and just sits on the shelf of happy Sunday school ideas it’s not very effective in changing lives, including out own.

Someone told me recently that the most import precept in scripture is not the cross but rather the love of the Father.

1 John 4
7 Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has
been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

So the same God who is patient with us, who rejoices in the truth, and bears all things with us is the Father who gave up is most prized possession (his son). So that he cold have the opportunity to personally and intimately Love a human race that’s broken, dysfunctional, and so cautious with it’s spirituality it would rather keep God as “the big guy upstairs who blesses our mac and cheese”. The cost of grace is far greater than the price of our pride. and it is pride not nobility that keeps us from embracing HIS love fully.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Million Miles to Love

For many of us our ideology is rooted in God as a concept and not a person. At which point God becomes like a desk from ikea. There’s an instruction manual, a box full of parts, and a pretty picture on the front that shows us what the desk should look like. The problem is if we only read the instruction manual and look at the picture we’re missing out on the best part.
It’s when you actually begin unpacking the desk and utilizing the instructions, checking it against the picture on the box that the desk becomes real. You can interact with the desk, spend time with it and so on.

So is reading the instruction manual (Scripture) and studying the picture (Jesus) good? Absolutely! But there is so much more of God to unpack making God less and less like a concept and more and more like a person. You can be encouraged, enlightened, and uplifted by a concept But you can be consoled, comforted, and communed with by a person.

it's a constant process. So many times we get frustrated because we can't "see" God and so God gets mixed in with religion and it all becomes part of this whole cultural existence. The truth is we can "see" God if we are looking through the lens of the Holy Spirit...I can see Him in you, In the face of the poor and hungry, in the kindness of strangers, even in nature or unbelievers because they all carry traces of the Image of God

And the truth is getting to know God, and not just about God takes time. It’s like any other relationship. In the beginning all you have to build on are common interests, past experiences that are similar, and the weather. It’s fairly mechanical for a while. But then as the relationship progresses the “data” you’ve collected about each other starts to make way for a deeper connection. I cerebraly know you love sushi because we talked about it over coffee. I make us a dinner reservation at a Sushi restaurant and now we have a shared experience, which leads to learning more information and maybe that information touches the service of your emotions. And the cycle continues as long as the relationship does. So slowly but surely that concept of a divine being goes from being a million miles away to being The Father, Groom, Shepherd we know so well and so sweet we call Him by name “Love”.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

break it to make it better


"My son, don't take lightly the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when you are reproved by him;
For whom the Lord loves, he chastens, and scourges every son whom he receives."

The God I grew up with did not like me very much. Every time I screwed up he was there with a spoonful of guilt and a tall glass of shame to wash it down with. My faith was centered on behavioral modification. What I could do or not do to avoid divine disappointment? The problem with experiencing God that way is making punishment and discipline equal. And honestly the reason we make this synopsis in our brain is that it’s the reality we lived through most of our lives.

When you’re late for work and it affects your pay, that's discipline. If someone cuts you off and you tailgate them 20 miles out of your way just to make a point, that's punishment. The difference between the two is that punishment has no redemptive quality and is abusive by nature. God is not abusive in nature.

Recently my mom injured herself while working with her horses. She did some pretty nasty damage to her shoulder. My Mother is anything but a wimp when it comes to physical pain. Living with Lupus and Fibromyalgia for twenty some odd years has made her pretty tough. Unfortunately this time her stubbornness caused more pain than it was worth. The injured area that went untreated covered itself in scar tissue and made her arm nearly immobilized. A somewhat immediate surgery was called for which involved cutting through the scar tissue with a laser. The goal is to alleviate the pressure and help her regain some mobility. The interesting part is that the bodies resilience and propensity toward fixing itself is actually works against the healing process in cases like this.So every day, for a season, she has to rotate her body in such a way that it rips, tears, and breaks any connections the muscles are trying to make with the damaging newly severed scar tissue. She has to break it to make it better.

That word scourge in Hebrews 12 also had cultural significance to cleansing and healing. Which is why the passage that says, "by his stripes we are healed" is not so out of place. There was this cultural connection between discipline and healing. Does sin have consequence? Yes. Is that consequence anger and disappointment from God? I don't believe it is. 1 John 4:18 reads, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”
Fear has to do with punishment. Love has to do with discipline.

Sometimes the ripping, tearing, and breaking we feel are what's best for us. It's a way of keeping the scar tissue from immobilizing us. That doesn't mean it doesn't hurt violently at the time. But it is redemptive in nature. Brokenness, believe it or not truly is an act of love. So if your feeling the "scourging" let me encourage you and say, “welcome to the family.”