Thursday, August 6, 2015

God & Gardens

Then Elohim said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule"... Elohim blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over..."
Gen. 1:26 & 28

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created.  When YHWH/Elohim made the earth and the heavens - and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for YHWH/Elohim had not sent rain on the earth and there was no man to work the ground...
Gen. 2:4-5

That weird looking plant to the left is an "Ebony/Rose" tomato plant.  It sits outside my townhouse in a planter that is supposed to have flowers like all the others.  However, my neighbors were nice enough to let me do something different with it.  In that pot, along with 2 tomato plants are chives and hot peppers.

I also have a clove of garlic in there.  Not so much to actually grow a full head of garlic, though.  Mostly to keep any meandering deer at bay.  They don't like the smell. (Which, thankfully, humans can't detect.)

I had never seen an Ebony/rose tomato before.  I saw some seedlings at my store and decided to give them a try.  They start out green, slowly turn black, and then get a faint hint of red on the bottom.  They are somewhere in size to a large cherry tomato or a small Roma.  They have a nice, sweet flavor to them.

I also have 2 "Illegal" gardens out back.  Illegal in the sense that that area is a common yard for all owners.  No one has complained yet.  They attract butterflies and humming birds.


I grew up in Sacramento, CA.  The yards there are very small by Minnesota standards.  My folks took our backyard and turned it into the Garden of Eden.  They essentially put a giant "U" in the middle.  Inside the "U" was the grass.  Outside the "U" was the garden.  We had a grapevine, a grapefruit bush (Yuk!), a lemon bush, a plum tree, two orange trees (One bloomed in the summer, the other in the winter), a strawberry bush, and tons of tomato plants.

We don't get them here, but there was some kind of green worm/caterpillar that liked to eat tomato leafs in Cali.  I thought they were nasty, little monsters as a little kid.  My dad used to chase me around the backyard with them when he could find them.  I'm certain it left irreparable damage to my psyche.

When I was a kid, I didn't like those gardens.  I hated weeding them.  Too much work for a 10yr old.  Now that I am older, I LOVE gardens.  Come January, I start planting seeds in peat pucks and begin the process with my singular grow lamp.

I built two gardens at my folk's place, both roughly 6x6.  One contains a massive Raspberry bush.  the other contains tomatoes, radishes, hot peppers and rhubarb.  We also have planters elsewhere.  Dad said that this year, we have over 30 tomato plants going.  That's a lot of BLTs!


 Recently I finished "The Lost World of Genesis One."  I burned through it in 2 days.  I thought it was absolutely brilliant.  I am now half-way through "The Lost World of Adam and Eve."  It's taking a bit longer, but is just as brilliant.

The writer is Dr. John Walton, formerly of Moody, now at Wheaton College.  He goes deep into the cultural context of these ancient stories and really works over the Hebrew words.  It makes me regret that I lost the ability to read biblical Hebrew, because it is just so fascinating.

There is soooooooo much going on in the Old Testament, and it is so easy for us "Moderns" to miss.
When you let go of the Americanized world view that so much of the American

church has and actually read scripture in it's cultural context, you can really plunge deep in to the Bible.  If you allow yourself to look at it through the eyes of the ancients, it absolutely explodes with deep beauty.

Needless to say, guys like Ken Ham hate him and calls him a false teacher.  I can completely understand Ken's perspective, though.  Nothing good can happen when you use actual scholarship.  I mean, if you actually bother to respect the bible enough to read it in context, then you can't force it to say what you want.  And if you can't force, cherry pick and twist scripture in to saying what you want, how will you get any money for Ark project???

Shame on mean, old John Walton and his expertise in ancient hebrew and biblical culture!!!


"Bara"= to create, cause to function, etc.

The main argument that Walton makes in his first book is that the story in Genesis 1 is NOT a story of material origins, but instead a story of functional origins.  It's the story of God ordering a sacred place, a cosmic temple, for him to dwell in.

Americans are very materialistic.  So it's only natural for us to thing of creation in terms of making something.  But that's not what was important to the ancient Hebrews.  They viewed function as being the primary issue.  If they held an object in their hand, they could obviously tell that it was a material object, but that wasn't what was relevant to them.  "What's this thing supposed to do?" is what they would want to know.  Purpose and function was of primacy.

I rather like that idea.  Maybe we enlightened westerners should start asking that question.  We hold dear to the idea of acquiring more and more.  And it's usually junk we don't need

True Story: My last year of teaching, I had an advisory class once a week.  In it, I had a 15/16yr old boy who desperately wanted to be "Cool."  So one day, he comes into class wearing a Grill.  I'm not talking about the thing you cook burgers on.  This is a mouth a retainer.  However, these will be encrusted with gold and jewelry.  I guess it gives you street cred in lieu of actually being able to read at your grade level.

I asked him if he could eat with it in?  "No."  Could you chew anything?  "No."  Could you kiss?  "No."  I noticed that he had to take it out so as to speak.  So I asked him if there was really anything "Functional" that he could do with it?  "No.  It just looks cool." (I resisted the temptation to ask if he was certain about that.) I then asked him how much he paid for that grill.  "$350."

You see why I gravitate towards the ancient Hebrew's concept of what is important...

So anyhoooo, to the ancients what mattered was purpose and function.  Think of it this way; you buy a house from the previous owner.  OK, so the "House" exists...but it's NOT your "Home," yet.  Your "home" does not yet exist.  SO, you begin to move furniture into it.  You assign various rooms with names that declare their purpose.  "Billy's bedroom," "Den/Study," "Dinning room," Family room," "Secret gun closet behind hidden door to hide weapons in case of either Zombie apocalypse or to thwart the creeping socialism of the Federal government."

You get the idea.  It may have existed as a house, but it doesn't become your home until you assign the names and functions to it.  What's the last thing you do?  You move yourself into it to take up running the place.  Ta da!!!!!  Now you know what God did on the 7th day.  By "Resting," he ceased giving functions to his cosmic temple and moved himself in to get on with running the show.


Last post, I touched on what it means to be made in the "Image of God."  I went pretty broad with it's implications.  However, if I want to be specific and stay within the context of Genesis, then I have to stick with the immediate implications.  Genesis 1 gives specific "Functions" to humans.  I wont go deep into detail on the meanings of the words "Subdue" and "Rule over," but essentially ALL humans are called to be God's representatives/co-regents on this earth.  That's our task.  That's our function and purpose.

You can see how the second creation story in Genesis 2 piggy-backs on that idea.  The story says that God held off on making plants until he made a human to do stuff with them.

"and there was no man to work the ground..."


So where am I going with this?

What is it about human beings that we are all so deeply tied to the beauty of the created world?  Why do so many people find it therapeutic to take a walk in the woods or a park, to plant flowers, to make things grow?  I find it fascinating that many prisons use gardening as a form of rehabilitation for convicts.

And even if a person isn't necessarily into plants, they still have a desire to create and be creative.  For some people it's music, for others it's painting, writing, art, cooking, etc.  For some people, their creative abilities might be working on cars, writing computer code, building houses.  We have a desire to be creative, and I've seen more than enough examples of people popping bolts, or going bitter, when they don't find outlets for that desire/urge.

Awhile back at work, we got a nice, new food processor.  Our boss brought it in and set it on a work table.  My friend Jordan looked at it and I actually watched his eyes get bigger.  I thought I might need to get him a bib because I was concerned that he was going to start drooling.  He is very serious about his his food skills.

Why is it that humans are so hard-wired to have this desire?  It's deep in our collective bones.  Where does this desire come from?

I think you already know the answer.

And odds are, as you've been reading this, you've been asking yourself about your own desires to be creative.  :)  I hope you find it, harness it and be what YHWH/Elohim calls you to be.  I'm gonna go pick some tomatoes.



Another resource for you...

Friday, July 24, 2015

I's & the Image of God

Then Elohim said, "Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness"...So Elohim created mankind in his image, in the image of Elohim he created him; male and female he created them.
Gen. 1:26 & 27

"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these bothers of mine, you did to me..., 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me."
Matt. 25: 40 & 45

With our tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness.
James 3:9

This past week I got upset.  I don't recall the last time I got upset quite like that.  And by "Upset," I mean angry.

A fellow at work had made some very derogatory and vulgar statements about women in my presence, and it caused me to get rather upset.

I'm not going to go into detail about what he said, but there is a story with in a story with in another story in all of this.

A friend of mine asked me a long time ago if I get offended easily.  The answer is "no."  I told him that I do get offended, but that you have to put some effort into it.  I'm not going to expend the energy it takes to get worked up over a half-hearted effort.  It's not worth it.  Everyday I see and hear things that I don't like.  It's part of living in a fallen world.  It rarely surprises me anymore, nor do I bother to get all bent out of shape because there is only so much I can do about it.

However, I have my share of buttons to be pressed.  Being crude about women is one of them.  In fact, it isn't just women.  It tends to be people in general and "The least of these" in particular.  Those our society deems to be of lesser value, the weak, the marginalized.  When they are abused, even verbally, it makes me "Upset."

True story; many years ago, God cursed me with a blessing...or blessed me with a curse.  Read it for yourself when you have the time...

Suffice it to say that ever since that day, I've seen people differently.

The world has all sorts of definitions for people.  You are Liberal or Conservative, Gay or Straight, this, that or the other things.  I think those labels are stupid, and it bothers me when Christians embrace them.  They are stupid because they are The World's labels.  As such, they are as flawed and fallen as the world, and as flawed and fallen as the people who invent those philosophies and the labels that go with them.

I'm pretty sure that God looks at things rather differently, and expects his followers to do the same.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  
Romans 12:2

The bible has many different ways of labeling and defining people, and none of them fit the stupidity of the world's labels.  It begins with the poetry found in the first creation story.  There is A LOT of depth to that poetry, and to what it is to bear God's image just in that passage alone.  Suffice it to say, all I want to focus on is initial glance at it.

...So God created mankind in his image...

To be an image bearer is where all human value, dignity and worth are found...simple as that.  It is irrelevant who you are or what position in society you have.  You bear His image.  You have value because of it.

It has been said many times, that The Kingdom is upside down compared to the values of this world.  What we deem valuable, God deems as trash.  What we deem as trash, God deems as most beautiful.  In fact,  that which is "Less Than" and "The Least of These," it would almost appear that Jesus deems to be more valuable than someone like myself.

That homeless guy, the junkie, the prostitute, etc., I am convinced based on the character displayed by Jesus in his earthly ministry, he has a special heart for them.  To look down your nose and despise, degrade and dismiss them is to do that to Jesus. (How well do you think that will work out?) And that is the real reason I got upset about my co-worker's words.

I tried to explain a bit of that to my bosses.  I told them that when I hear words like that, I actually feel physical pain.  It actually burns my very soul.

But then I went on to say that if this is true about being an image bearer, then it is also true that all of us need a great deal of Grace, Mercy and Compassion...including the person who made these remarks that "Upset" me.


A few days later, this individual who upset me, confronted me.  He had figured out that it was me that had got him into a bit of hot water.  However, that was not what caused him to confront me.  As it turns out, I had actually "Upset" him the previous day by greeting everyone at work except for him.  He took that as a personal slight.

I hadn't even realized I had done that.  I just assume that I say hello to everyone I see when I get to work, and then get on with it.  But I had legitimately hurt his feelings and didn't realize it. (You see the story with in the story now?)

I apologized earnestly, and we had a talk for awhile.  I explained why I didn't like his choice of words, and he explained a bit about his side.  Without going into detail, he has his own pain, struggles and frustrations that he has had to, and still is, deal with.  He needs mercy and so do I.

It was a good and productive talk.


I like narrative theology.  I like it because life is a story, and so are people.  We are all walking narratives.  I like to hear a good story.  And I like to hear the story of a person.

Christians have a duty to stand up for what is right and wrong, but it is more important for us to actually live it.    It is dangerous for any follower of Jesus to wander into the area of judging other walking stories.  God doesn't share his power in that way.

I think it wiser to have good eyes and ears.  To look at another person and see God's image staring back at you.  To listen to their story.  You will see things differently when you do that.  You will hear things differently when you do that.  I don't understand much of the "Whys" of this life.  "Why does God allow this, that or the other thing?"  I don't know.  Sometimes I "Get it," but usually if I get an answer at all, it's in the form of a surprise.

I'm thankful God answers in those ways. 

If it's true that the Bible is the story of God's pursuit and relationship to fallen humanity, then God likes a good story, too.  I think that if you start looking for his image in this world, and in the people he sends into your life, even if only for brief moments, you really will see and hear differently.  

And you just might hear his voice singing in the background.



Friday, June 26, 2015

The Original Sin

"They're selling postcards of the hanging, they're painting the passports brown.  The beauty parlor is filled with sailors, the circus is in town.  Here comes the blind commissioner, they've got him in a trance.  One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker, the other is in his pants.  And the riot squad they're restless, they need somewhere to go.  As Lady and I look out tonight, from Desolation Row."
Bob Dylan, "Desolation Row."

"Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition." 
Alexander Stephens, Vice President of the Confederate States of America.

This post isn't so much directly related to the bible or Christianity, per say.  It's just something that has been weighing on my mind for a while.

I live in Minnesota.  From May through October, it's a great place to live.  It's a fairly Liberal State, which has it's good and bad sides.  It has more lakes than you can shake a stick at.  Great medical and education.  Over all, it has a great quality of life.

It also has a dark past.

That photo at the top?  That's from Duluth.  Duluth is Minnesota's answer to Portland and Seattle.  In June of 1920, there was a traveling circus in town.  Those black men hanging in that photo were accused of raping a white woman on the circus grounds.  They were arrested.  A mob formed.  They broke in to the police station.  Etc.

They made postcards of the occasion.

The city tried to forget about it.  

Unfortunately, Bob Dylan wrote a song about the cities collective memory.

Minnesota also celebrated another sad event a few summers ago.  Government agents had been cheating the Dakota indians out of food and money for a long time.  This led to an uprising among the Dakota indians along the Minnesota river.  When it was over, Minnesota had the largest mass hanging in national history.  We then enacted ethnic cleansing, and pushed that particular tribe out of the State, with death being the punishment if they ever returned.


My father is the son of Norwegian immigrants.  My mother is the granddaughter of Swedish immigrants.  There is a lot of racial tension in our family.

My folks are proud of their heritage.  We love the Minnesota Vikings, pickled herring, all manner of Scandinavian pastries, and Ikea.

Take a wild guess what my ancestors used to do?  That's right, they used to sail up and down the coasts of England and France, raping and pillaging.  Monasteries were easy targets.  Nun and monks were usually unarmed.

Those Vikings were tough and brave.  I don't brag about that, nor do I carry a broad sword around in public.


I know of an army that was one of the best in the world.  The soldiers were very brave.  Their officers were much better and smarter that the U.S. officers.  They were fast, efficient, tough...and God was on their side because their belt buckles said so.

Unfortunately, they fought for a lost cause.  Their leaders at the national level were evil.  The brave soldiers who fought and died were used as pawns for an evil game.  They were the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany.

Those who survived would often get together to remember how brave they were. (Just like our guys at the local VFW.) I doubt many of them like to think about what they were fighting for in the end.


So last week there was a terrorist attack in South Carolina.  A white supremacist murdered 9 worshipers during a bible study.

Jon Stewart is often a "Prophet Outside the Church."  He had this to say...

I hope he's wrong, but I feel that he is mostly right.  Americans wont learn much at all from this event.  We love our guns more than we love each other.  We love our violence.  We love our "Freedom." (What ever that exactly means)

And I say that as a guy who has owned guns since I was 14, and I also love Tarantino movies.

Last Friday, I was driving in St. Paul.  The BBC was on the radio.  They were playing the brief speeches that the survivors were saying to Dylan Roof, the killer, as he was being arraigned in court.  Every single one of them that I heard offered forgiveness to him.  One of them, I don't recall his name, told him that he needed to repent, and "Give your life to the only one that matters, Jesus."

I had to pull over to the side of the road because I started bawling.  I don't think I have that kind of grace or mercy inside myself.

So maybe there is some hope.  At least for those with eyes to see and ears that will hear.


Alexander Stephens was the Vice President of the Confederacy.  He is rather famous for his giving the "Cornerstone Speech."  He never bothered to write it down a head of time.  He spoke from his heart.  He told the world exactly what the new Confederate nation was all about.

"Our new Government is founded upon exactly the opposite ideas; its foundations are laid, its cornerstone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery, subordination to the superior race, is his natural and normal condition."

There is a lot of talk about the confederate flag being flown by certain states.  It represents that states heritage.  It represents a southern man's heritage.  Please read that snippet of speech again.  Is that a heritage to be proud of?  What would that new nation have been like if it had gained it's independence? Would that have been something to be proud of?

The sad fact is that in most respects, the confederacy DID win.  In 1876, the federal troops were pulled out of the south.  The same old leaders came back into power, and Jim Crow laws were put in place.  America had it's own version of Apartheid.  Is that a heritage to be proud of?

Many people like to pretend that America and other countries are "Christian" countries.  There are some people out there that like to think that the Holy Spirit helped write the Constitution.  America enshrined slavery in our Constitution.  Is that a heritage to be proud of?

It strikes me that repentance is a central part of following Jesus.  
You need to confess your sins.  
You need to turn away from them and go the other way...
because that is the direction that Jesus is going.  

That is a heritage to be proud of.



Thursday, May 14, 2015

The death of the "American" church.

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.  By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?  Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’"
Matt. 5:15-23

"My kingdom is not of this world..."
John 18:36

Syncretism is the combining of different, often seemingly contradictory beliefs, while melding practices of various schools of thought. Syncretism involves the merger and analogizing of several originally discrete traditions, especially in the theology and religion, thus asserting an underlying unity and allowing for an inclusive approach to other faiths. Syncretism also occurs commonly in expressions of arts and culture, as well as politics.

Sectarianism/Sect is a subgroup of a religious, political or philosophical belief system, usually an offshoot of a larger religious group. Although in past it was mostly used to refer to religious groups, it has since expanded and in modern culture can refer to any organization that breaks away from a larger one to follow a different set of rules and principles. 

How's that for some 50 cents words?

When it comes to the church and missions, what those terms mean in English is that Syncretism occurs when the church is co-opted by the greater culture around it, and becomes virtually identical.  Sectarianism occurs when the church self-segregates into a fortress and/or ghetto of it's own design.

Like this...

Both are really, really bad!!!

A day or so ago, this story ran on NPR.

The Pew survey found what anyone paying attention already knew.  America is becoming more and more secular.  People identifying as "Christians" are on the decline.

This morning I woke up to some interesting responses.  The first post is written by a fairly conservative evangelical.  The second is from the perspective of someone a bit more liberal.  I like them both.

America is no longer a "Christian Nation."  

I would argue that this is great news for the church in America!

And in a little bit, I'll explain why...

Before you are inclined to hit me with a bat, let me make a few things painfully clear; I LOVE this country!  I am fortunate and blessed to have been born here.  I've lived in and visited other countries, and I understand very well how good we have it here.  I believe that America is largely a force for good in the world.  Like I said, I love this country.


America never has been, nor will ever be a "Christian Country."  It is not biblically or theologically possible for any kingdom of man to be a "Christian Nation."  It is irrelevant what any founder of any country thinks or wishes.  There is only one "Christian Country," and that is Jesus' kingdom.

The various countries of Europe thought that they were christian nations.  That's why they tied the various denominations to the power of the state.  Then they promptly persecuted and went to war with those who were of different denominations.  Hurray!!!

The result today is that Europe is, at best, agnostic, if not down right atheistic.  I lived in the Czech Republic for a while.  It was there that I met my first real atheists. (I'm used to the pop phenomenon brand of atheism in the U.S., and I find it to be not very well thought through.) The Czechs bore a huge brunt of the various religious wars back in the day.  When the Hapsburgs ruled them, they used the catholic church as enforcers.  So, is it any wonder that the Czechs would be a bit skittish about religion?

Here in the U.S. I hear people say that the Fathers of our country founded America on biblical principles.  I think that would come as a surprise to Thomas Jefferson and the rest.  While a few of them certainly were Believers.  Most of them were simply Deists/Theists.  That was the school of thought at that time.  "Sure, there is a god.  He got everything going and is now off doing something else."

The Founding Fathers were products of the Enlightenment.  That's what they based the Constitution on.  Not the bible, I can promise you that.

But a lot of people like to pretend.


Getting back to Syncretism and Sectarianism; usually those two are the opposite ends of each other when it comes to the Gospel.  You either sell out to the general culture, or you separate yourself.  However, the "Americanized Church" has figured out a way to do both at once. (BTW: There is a massive difference between THE church and the Americanized church.)

The Americanized church has bought into the mythology of this being a christian nation.  As a result, it has allowed itself to be co-opted by secular, more often than not Right-wing, politics.  Politicians aren't always stupid.  If they can get votes by spraying a little Jesus-gloss on their platform, they'll do it.  And the sheep will follow.

So, the Americanized church sells itself to the idolatry of a national myth and has achieved synchronization with the general culture.  Now that it has sold itself, it then goes in to a form of sectarianism and creates an Us vs. Them mentality.

I can't even remember how many times people assume I am a far-right, so-called Conservative simply because I am a Christian.  I've seen more than a few stunned looks when I tell them I am strictly independent.  Even more when I tell them that I kinda like President Obama.  "I thought you Christians hated his guts.  I've seen your T-shirts calling for his death."

< - Like this one.  Makes me wonder who's making a few bucks off of that in the name of Jesus.

They're correct about praying for our leaders.  But I could think of some better verses to cherry pick.

When people automatically make those assumptions about Christians, something is terribly wrong.  That is NOT good news for the Gospel.  The Good News of Jesus must speak into every situation and culture, including this one.  It is the salt and light of the world.  It must never allow itself to become mired in the fallen cultures of this world.


So why is all of this good news for the church?

The Americanized church is dying!!!!  That is great news for the body of Christ.

I have friends, and have talked with many others, who are deep into the Americanized church.  One of them gave me a 6 page screed on why Jesus wants us to own assault rifles in case we need to overthrow the government, based on the most bizarre interpretation of Luke 22:36 I've ever seen.  Others seem to think that Ted Cruz and the TEA Party will help us "Take back" the country. (I'm never sure who/what we are exactly taking it back from.)

What I find fascinating is that due to them being so deeply involved in this type of synchronized sectarianism, they can't see that they have rendered themselves and the Americanized church largely irrelevant.  At best, they can preach to the choir.  But they can't speak into the culture at large.  No one is interested in what they have to say because they already know what it is.

The simple fact is that the Americanized church IS irrelevant!  And that is wonderful news for the Gospel.

Christians have always been, and always will be a minority in any and all countries.  You can splash all the magic water you want on a person.  You can vote for the approved candidate.  You can sit in a pew and sing all of the gospel songs you want.  You can even be born in a "Christian Country."  None of that means you actually follow Jesus!!!

If it is not a position of your heart, rejoicing in the grace and mercy that Christ has extended to you, then it doesn't mean a thing.

The church IN America understands that.  The true church is too excited about the kingdom of Jesus crashing in to this fallen world to let itself get overly concerned about any given fallen kingdom of man.  Now that it has tasted the mercy of the Savior, it is delighted to show it to others.  The true church is a happy church, not a church based on fear. (If you watch the pundits on FOX news, you will see quickly that the Americanized church is all about fear.  Because that is how FOX makes it's money.)

As the Americanized church continues it's slow, noisy death, the true church will continue to overcome the gates of hell.  It is an offensive force.  It does not cower behind political platforms, and it does not submit itself to any nation.  The Americanized church lost the culture wars when it fired the first shot.  The body of Christ is already victorious.

It is well beyond time for Christians living in America to take the blinders off.  We have always been a minority.  Stop worrying about the secularization of the U.S.  It's always been a secular country.  Stop worrying.

Instead, know who you are.  We are children of the victorious king.  We start as sinners saved by grace.  We end as the righteousness of Christ.  Our mission is to spread that news as an invitation to everyone.

That's the Gospel.  That's good news.

So is the death of the American church.



P.S. And now a song for the death bed...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Gospel of Addiction...

"I don't trust Christians who haven't been broken."
Jason Grey

"Livin' on the edge of night.  You know the sun won't go down slow.  You don't know which drug is right.  Can't decide which way you wanna go.  I feel the way you feel, 'Cause not so long ago
It had a hold on me.  I couldn't let it go.
It wouldn't set me free."

Neil Young, "No More."

"The agony of God is flowing from heaven on to all of the godlessness and idiocy of humanity who suppress the obvious by their stupidity...For since the beginning of creation up to this very moment, the very nature of God has been screaming forth from all that He has made, so that no one has any excuse...For even though their very hearts knew God, they turned their backs to Him...Therefore, God said, "Well, if that's what you really want, have at it." Sin took them to a whole new level of depravity and perversity.  They exchanged the beauty of YHWH for false gods who wish to kill them; such as politics, sports, money, sex, and drugs...lots and lots of drugs to kill the pain of the new reality.  And the Creator -- who is forever praised, wept and wept and wept."
Romans 1:18-25 (My edit)

If anyone ever writes a biography of me, 
it's going to to be one the the weirdest adventure story EVER.

I woke a little before 6AM to a phone call.  A former student/friend of mine was calling from the bus station in downtown Minneapolis.  Near as I can tell, he had walked out the hospital and now wanted a ride home.  Why was he in the hospital?  Drug use.

Last summer I had reconnected with this guy after more than a few years.  He had developed a heroin problem.  As I understand it, various Mexican cartels have been flooding the Twin Cities wealthier areas with cheap, excellent quality heroin to create a ready market.

Earlier this week, he had contacted me and wanted a ride to a detox center.  He was on something called Ketamine, which I was later told is used as a horse tranquilizer.  I didn't take him to the detox center, but I did pick him up from it on Tuesday.  Obviously, it didn't last very long.

I understand addiction.  Many, many years ago I had an anxiety breakdown of sorts.  I liked the first one so much, I had another one 6 months later.  Up until that time, I had to self-medicate to get to sleep.  I had wound myself up so tight over worries, cares and all sorts of things that didn't matter, that my bolt finally popped.  I spent over two years on the therapist's couch. (While I would prefer not to repeat it, it turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.  Ooh, I'm not exactly recommending this idea to any readers, either.)

Anyhoo, so I understand addiction.  But I still can't wrap my head around the truly evil shit that is out there now.  I've been told that meth contains battery acid and bleach.  Delicious!  Let me put that in my mouth.  Horse tranquilizers?  I've been told that it produces the most amazing hallucinations...while you sit motionless on the floor and drool on yourself.  Heroin?  As I understand, it fools your body into thinking you need it just like you do air.

Thankfully, I am still quite cowardly around needles.

I know myself well.  I know my level of curiosity.  I am truly thankful that ecstasy and raves were not around when I was in H.S. and college.


My friend had a lady friend with him.  While they both denied being high, they obviously were.  Addicts lie.  They have to.  I got an earful of many varying stories from him.

I took them both to breakfast.  
It was interesting.

Neil Young - 02 - No More - 1989 by DumpsDailyDump

So why do I put myself in these situations?  

When I was younger, I was often an arrogant jerk...especially when it came to following Jesus.  I remember taking a class on drugs and alcohol in college and thinking, "Disease?  That's stupid.  It's not like you walk out the door in the winter and catch alcoholism."  What did I know?

Here is a truism; Jesus has never, ever given up on me.  If I were him, I probably would have and should have.  But he hasn't.  Perhaps stubbornness is another divine attribute.  At any rate, if he is the one I want to follow into the kingdom, then he is the model I must follow.

So I enter these see what HE will do.

I am no longer shocked or offended by what I see around me.  Should I be surprised by what sin can and will do in this world?  I simply no longer have the energy or interest in getting all worked up over the things I have little control over.  It's much easier for me to just show up and see what the resurrected  Christ will do. (And it's almost never what I expect.)

When I was younger, at any sign of trouble, I wanted to "Save" that person, people, that situation.  I think that is a nobel impulse to have.  But it's a mistaken one.  I can't really save anyone.  Only Jesus can.

Many Christians think that they have to "BE" witnesses to the world.  We need to "BE" salt and light.  This assumes that God needs a bit of help, because he can't do it on his own.  If that is the case, then this God is in serious trouble.  I think that the response of Jesus is to tell us simply to "Be."

Jesus declared "you ARE" my witnesses.  You ARE salt and light."  It's all grace.  There is no working, no "On and Off" switch.  Jesus declares it.  Just be.

The God of the bible needs nothing from us.  He can spread the Gospel all on his own, and does so.  The God of the bible needs nothing from us, but he invites us in on the action because it is the ultimate thrill ride.  He wants us to partner with him so that we can see what he is already doing.  That's what it is in a nutshell.  And at the end of the age, it's all that really matters.  It's about the relationship.


Jason Grey said that he doesn't trust Christians who haven't been broken.  I understand what he means. Grace is cheap and mercy is easy when you don't need it.  Most people, Christians included, spend a good deal of their life thinking they don't need it.

When I was younger, I was very secure in my faith.  Faith is easy...and simplistic, when everything is hunky-dory.  It isn't until you run smack dab into the reality of this fallen world in one form or another that you realize what a desperate situation we are all in.  I call that "God's Boot Camp."  Once you've experienced that, you tend to see the world and people a bit differently.

We tend to live this illusion that we are all we need.  I am more and more convinced that this is exactly why God allows terrible things to happen to us.  The original sin was wanting to be like God.  We still want to be God-like, but we're not.  The horrible things that come our way are there to remind us of that.


"Makarios" = Blessed, happy, to have the favor of God extended to.

Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their schools and churches, preaching the good news, and healing all of the horrible things that people suffered from.  News about him spread all over the place, and people came from everywhere with all of their problems.  Massive crowds of Jews and non-jews, very, very religious people, skeptics, agnostics, pagans, clean and unclean people followed him.

Now when he saw this mishmash of humanity, he hiked up the side of a mountain and had a seat.  His students came to him, and he began to teach them and all the others, saying;

"I have an announcement. the worthless, the thieves and whores, to the nobodies, to the addicted, to those who can't stay away from certain web-sites, to those who couldn't tell the truth if their life depended on it.  And to those who fail at everything they try, and fall flat on their face every morning.  Congratulations, because you're the ones I want.  I pick YOU...and all that God is, and everything he has, is all yours. those in pain, those who suffer, those who's eyes are burned red from tears.  I will comfort you, and everything bad will come un-true. the ignored, the little person that no one pays attention to, to those who never got off the bench, went to the prom, and were laughed at by the other kids.  The Revolutionary and the Entrepreneur who build this world don't understand.  Private property is an illusion.  It ALL belongs to me.  I can give it to whom ever I choose, and I choose YOU.  They will just hand you the keys. those who are soaked in sin, those starving for a taste of righteousness, whose mouth burns for an ice, cold glass of redemption and eternal second chances.  I have a feast prepared for you.

Congratulations to all of you, because God is on your side."

And the people said, "Wow, that really is good news."
Matt. 4:23-5:6. (My edit)

Now my car smells like cigarettes and aged socks, but I am extremely curious to see what Jesus is going to do in my friend's situation.



Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Bible is a messy thing

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord.
Isaiah 55:8

So I was driving to the gas station yesterday, when I got a call from my dad.  I don't drive and talk on the phone at the same time, so I had to pull into a parking spot to chat.  Dad had a question about something he had heard his pastor say in church the other day.

"So Pastor Bob was reading along and he mentions that at the moment of Jesus' death, other tombs in Jerusalem opened up and dead people came back to life and wandered around the city.  I don't get that at all.  It's only mentioned in one place in the entire bible.  Plus, what happened to them after that?  Did they go back to their homes.  Did they die again later?  Did they just go back in their tombs at the end of the day.  What do you think?"

Dad was referencing Matt. 27:52-53, and yes, it's the only mention of that account in all four Gospels.  I told dad that I really had no clue as far as what to think about that aside by Matthew.  I looked in my own study bible and noticed that the editors conveniently skipped making a comment on that bit.  I also tried looking up some answers on Google.  Not much luck their, either.  So I'm left with this answer; I have no idea what to think about something like that.

And I'm fine with that.


Meet Alex.  At the ripe age of 11 (I think), he can do a spot-on British accent when reading verses from the bible.  It would appear that both he and his other siblings are all talented in the theatrics department, and all are extremely curious for kids their ages.

This is largely due to the fact that they have some great parents who "Get it."  By that I mean that they are not clingy, over protective parents who shield their kids from every thought and deed that is not approved of by a narrow, fundamentalist mindset.  Instead, they encourage their kids to ask questions and explore.

Anyway, last Sunday in Sunday school, we were looking at some of the stuff in the book of Judges.  The Israelites had rejected God as their king and wanted to be like the cool kids around them with a human king.  At the end of the lesson, I encouraged the kids to read the last few chapters of Judges.  I told them that it would shock them and curl their hair. (It's very much NC-17 literature.)

Afterwords, Alex and I were sitting at a table talking.  I told him that the bible is quite a mess if you read it for all it's worth.  Alex asked me why that was.  I said "Because life is a mess.  The world is a mess.  If the bible read like a Disney story, all sweetness and light with a happy ending every time, I wouldn't trust it at all.  Reality is not like a Disney movie.   Reality is messy, the bible reflects that.  Because it's messy, just like me, I trust it."  Alex seemed satisfied with that answer.

BTW: I don't trust christians who aren't messy.  It's been my experience that the very formal, tight and "Proper" christians are almost always hiding something.  Messy christians aren't afraid to admit it, and hand it over to Jesus. 


There is stuff in the bible that I don't get at all.  Some times skeptics will ask me about the contradictions in the bible.  My normal response is to ask for an example.  19 out of 20 times that will shut them down because they don't actually know of any, they have just heard that there are.  Call me a dirty heretic, but I will then give them examples of actual contradictions that are, indeed, in the bible.  Sometimes they are sitting right next to each other.

My favorite example is Genesis 1 and 2.  There are many (Generally more traditional/conservative, fundamentalist types) who believe that all of the stories in Genesis are historically and scientifically dead on.  Well, in Genesis 1, the writer clearly states that plants and animals were created before any humans.  However, Genesis 2 clearly states that plants were created after the first human male, and even hints that animals were made after the creation of the first man.  So which one is it?  You have a serious problem if you are a fundy.

The most interesting thing for me in this instance is that those stories are sitting right next to each other. It is highly, highly doubtful that the writers and compilers of the Old Testament didn't notice this problem.

But they clearly didn't care.

So why didn't they care?!?!  What else is going on that I am missing?  I'm an American!  I need detailed and specific answers that I can measure and weigh.  Shame on the biblical writers for not thinking like an American.

You want some others? "Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself." (Prov. 26:4)  "Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes." (Prov. 26:5) Right next to each other.

If you want to have even more fun, and assuming that you need a cure for insomnia, try digging through the Levitical law.  In Exodus, it says that Hebrews can own other Hebrews as slaves, but males only for 6 years.  In Deuteronomy, it says they could own slaves, but both men AND women could choose freedom after a time.  THEN you have Leviticus, which says there ain't no way you could own a fellow Hebrew as a slave.  So what's a good, orthodox Jewish boy to do when trying to obey the law?

Believe me, there are many, many, many other examples of this.


I got this book for Christmas.  I highly recommend it.  The author is Dr. Peter Enns.  In it, he digs deeply in to the ancient cultures in which the bible was written.  I've heard it said from a few scholars that we know that we have to translate the languages of the bible so that we can read it, but we forget that we have to translate the cultures, too.

The bible was NOT written TO us.  It was written FOR us, because it's God's word.  However, unless your name is Timothy, and you are pastoring a first century church in the city of Ephesus, 1st and 2nd Timothy were not written to you.

The mistake that I see so many American christians making is that they will read the bible through the eyes of 21st century American culture and thought.  The result is making the text say things that it never, ever meant. (This includes the 3 different creation stories, pretty much all of Genesis before the call of Abraham, and even well into the New Testament.) No wonder we get some of the goofy theologies that are out there.


Like I said earlier, there are things in the bible that I don't get at all.  I know that the way the ancient Hebrews thought of numbers was very different than the way we do.  I'll read some of these ancient genealogies, and I get thoroughly confused with the idea that some people lived 600, 700, or 800 years and more.  Is this real?  If not, what do these numbers mean in the context of the ancient world?  I don't know, and I'm fine with that.

Or what about the story of Noah?  In Genesis 6:3, God says that humans were getting on his nerves, so he clearly states that no one would get to live longer than 120 years.  Yet at the end of the flood story, in Gen. 9:29, Noah lives to be 950 years old.

Oooooh, and if that isn't enough, check out Gen. 6:6.  In that passage it says that "The Lord was grieved that he had made man on earth, and his heart was filled with pain."  Wait a minute!  God is sad that he created people???  God made a mistake?!?!?!?!?!?


For the record, I don't think God makes mistakes.  I think there is more to that story...and many others, than meet the eye.  Also, you throw in God's foreknowledge, and you get the idea that he pretty much knew all of this in advance.

But, again, something's going on in that text,
and I don't get it.
And I'm perfectly fine with that.

Here's a truism.  We like our gods nice and domesticated.  We like our bible that way, too.  We like them that way so that we can control them and make them do our bidding.  Here's the problem with that, if you actually read the bible for all it's worth, you figure out pretty quickly that both the bible and God will almost never do what you think they should do for you.

It's almost like being given the divine finger.

I try not to read the bible anymore.  I prefer to swim in it.  More and more, I see scripture as an invitation to a wrestling match with God.  It's thick with multiple layers and nuance.  Sometimes there are stories with in stories with in even more stories.  There are multiple parallel stories scattered all over the place.  Those confusing areas of the bible?  They just get my curiosity revved up and hungry for more.  Sometimes, reading the bible is like trying to swim against a stiff current.  It can exhaust you both mentally and physically.  I love it!

I understand how for many people, the confusing portions of the bible might be a threat to their faith. (If this story isn't 100% historically and scientifically accurate, can I believe in the resurrection???)  I also understand that it can give ammunition to skeptics.  I would say two things about that.  #1. Don't worry about the skeptics.  Don't let them intimidate you.  If someone doesn't want to believe and follow Jesus, it's not your problem.  No amount of arguing, yelling or screaming is going to change any of that.

#2. Don't be afraid of the confusing stuff.  OWN it!  Embrace it.  "Trust in the Lord with all your heart, do not depend on your own understanding." ( Prov. 3:5) Understand that you will never, ever fully understand either God or the bible. (Seriously, if you could actually reduce this God to a formula on a piece of paper, he wouldn't be very impressive.) This God doesn't want or care if you can totally figure him out.  He doesn't have self-esteem issues.  He doesn't need group hugs or the latest hair style.  He doesn't want you to hold his hand, he wants to hold yours.  He doesn't want to be understood.  He wants to be trusted.

I am more and more convinced that the confusing stuff is in the bible for a very specific purpose; to keep us off balance.  It forces us to be humble.  It forces us to admit were don't actually know everything.  If we are honest, it forces us to stand in the knowledge that we very finite, indeed, that we don't have all the answers, but Jesus does.

So like I told Alex, the bible is a very messy thing, and that's why I trust it.



For some resources that will help you to understand much of Genesis in it's ancient cultural context, I provide to following links.  Do yourself a favor and look up the various commentators in these videos.  Most of them walk in the halls of geniuses.

I find this one to be the best overview of Genesis 1 I've ever heard. (Ken Ham really needs to pay attention to this.)


Thursday, March 5, 2015

Fear & Loathing in "Christian" bookstores.

"Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
2 Tim. 2:15

Sometimes I dig a little King James version.  You just never know where it's going to shew up.

So anyway...

Last month I went over to Lifeway near a mall by me.  If you didn't know, Lifeway is a "Christian" bookstore.  Before it became Lifeway, it was Northwestern books.  I was looking for some books by a theologian I enjoy.  Turns out, they didn't have any of his stuff.

They did, however, have just about everything that John MacArthur has ever written.

I've always been a little uncomfortable about "Christian" bookstores.  It's not that I don't appreciate a one stop shop for all of my evangelical needs.  It's just that I'm not a fan of self-imposed ghettos.

We have "Christian" bookstores that sell "Christian" music, "Christian" books, "Christian" coffee mugs, "Christian" T-shirts, etc.  Some of them have baristas so that you can get "Christian" coffee in your "Christian" mug, which was probably grown by a "Christian" in Central America using "Christian" beans.  If you ask nicely, you can get a dollop of cream on top that was certainly taken from a "Christian" cow.

When I am in a store like this, I appreciate the fine selection of pictures of Jesus that they normally carry.  It's good to be reminded that Jesus is very white, like me. (Sometimes he even has blue eyes, which I'm sure is straight out of the book of Revelation.) Jesus also has a full head of hair, which is normally styled a like a good mid-westerner from Iowa of Nebraska.

I have also noticed the wide variety of bibles available.  They have sports bibles, with handy sayings for your team to quote.  They have bibles for hunters and other outdoorsy activities.  They even have a "Patriots" bible, with verses taken out of context and highlighted so that you can prove that America is Jesus' favorite country at your next NASCAR rally.

They also have a John MacArthur study bible...

Back when Lifeway was still Northwestern books, I went in and noticed that they were selling books by Rush Limbaugh and Dr. Laura.  I found that odd since neither of them are Christians.  But then I remembered that to follow Jesus properly, you must partake daily of the sacrament of FOX news.

Actually, to their credit, Northwestern carried a rather wide variety back in the day.  They had books by prosperity preachers, which I completely disagree with.  They also carried books by Brian McLaren and Rob Bell. (Guys I enjoy, but have some very profound disagreements with.) So they were all over the map.

Once Northwestern became Lifeway, that all changed.  I remember the first time I went in there after the new owners came in.  Holy moly, the variety was out the door.  White Jesus was still there, but now  the amount of John MacArthur's works had quadrupled.  There was a noticeable increase in other Dispensationalist authors, too.


Now I know that Lifeway is owned by the Southern Baptist Convention.  The SBC is lead by Albert Mohler.  Al isn't known for being the most open minded guy.  This may explain a great deal.


BTW: Please don't think I am picking on John MacArthur.  Most of his stuff is good.  However, you have to realize that he views the bible and everything else through the lens of Dispensationalist theology.  Dispensationalism has some merits, but can run into some pretty goofy stuff.  In a nut shell, they have sliced and diced the bible into pieces like a loaf of bread.  Most of modern American evangelicalism has this as it's foundation without most people being aware of it.  Certainly when it comes to understanding eschatology. (End times stuff.)

If you are a fan of those "Left behind" movies, that's all based on Dispensationalism.

I like a lot of John MacArthur's stuff.  However, he and his followers also believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are not applicable to today. (And, boy, is he adamant about that!) This would come as a surprise to a few missionaries I know.  I think it would come as a surprise to the Holy Spirit, too.


I think it's a really bad idea to only read/listen/learn from people you agree with.  That's why I like to get a variety of opinions when it comes to following Jesus.  My opinion is that way to many American evangelicals live in self-imposed bubbles.  This renders us virtually incapable to speaking into the broader culture, unless it is to condemn.

I don't think I would really know what I believe and stand for unless I took the time to hear as many sides as I can.  How can I be articulate to someone when I don't know their side of the story?  I don't have to agree with them.  That's not the question.  I think the question is wether or not I will be well-rounded and properly informed.

It seems to me that too many Christians are afraid of asking questions.

I really love Rob Bell.  Now, before you burn me in effigy, let me explain.  I think that in the past few years, Bell has gone off the reservation.  However, I also think that evangelicals are partly responsible for this.  I remember the big stink when he published "Love Wins."  Since it was controversial, I naturally had to read it.  Over all it was good, particularly the last chapter which read like a Billy Graham alter-call.  However, the weakest link was the very chapter that got Bell into trouble.

Bell wondered if God might give people second chances after thy die.  That was it.  Rob asked questions...and we can't have that.

Rob left the reservation.  But we are extremely guilty of pushing and shoving him along the way.  In fact, a few weeks ago a friend of mine stated that she had kicked Bell to the curb a long time ago.  I noted that we American christians are really good at kicking people to the curb.

I like Rob Bell because he makes me think.  It is irrelevant wether I agree with him all of the time, because I don't.  He makes me think!

This past year, Mark Driscoll lost his entire ministry for being a tough guy, hard ass.  Guess what?  I like Mark Driscoll, too.  I like John Piper, Rick Warren, Greg Boyd, Rob Bell, Mark Driscoll, Peter Rollins, Roger E. Olson, etc.  I have yet to agree 100% with ANY of them!  But they make me think!!! (I do not care for Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland.  They give me itchy, burning hives.) Heck, I can't even agree with myself a good deal of the time.

Too many Christians lick their lips in joyful anticipation when a leader falls from Grace.  I'm much more interested in seeing the restoration of guys like Driscoll and Bell.  It seems to me that the only prominent Thinker who got the Bell broohaha right was Francis Chan.  In response to "Love Wins," Chan wrote "Erasing Hell," which was an excellent book.  He didn't condemn Bell with silly tweets.  He engaged him politely and out of love.


In my last post, I said that American Christians have a lot of fear.  I still think that's true.  But I also think it's nonsense.  Of the few things that I am certain about in life is that Jesus always wins...ALWAYS!  If that's true, then what is there to be afraid of?

My faith isn't the least bit threatened by some dumb plan or law the government might be working on.  It's not threatened by Islamic militants or Right-Wing kooks.  It isn't threatened by secular music, or some evil song by Marilyn Manson or Bette Middler.  It isn't threatened by my fellow Believers who deny science based on their own misunderstanding of Scripture.  And it certainly isn't threatened by questionable ideas put forth in a book sold in a "Christian" ghetto...I mean, bookstore.

I would prefer any day, a "Christian" bookstore that carried everything, including the works of those theological masters, Joel Osteen, Robert Tilton and "Dr." Mike Murdock, than I would one that sells only the "Approved" ones.  I trust Jesus enough that his spirit will guide me through any of that.

Since I've never been one to shy away from the heretical, I'll leave you with a quote from Rob Bell that I actually DO agree with 100%; "I'm not afraid of people who ask questions.  I'm afraid of people who don't."



P.S. Peter Rollins is a Christian philosopher from Belfast.  I have some profound disagreements with him.  But surprise, I like him because he makes me think.  Here's a bit of his that I actually think is profound and brilliant...

Divine atheism from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.


Just for farts and giggles, here's a little Bobby Tilton fo ya...

It just gets better.

And last but not least...