Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Old Professors can still learn New Tricks.




















This post might not be the best for most of my normal readers, because it may very well cure their insomnia. However, what I am basically copying & pasting is something that I wrestle with on an almost weekly basis. This is NOT because it is an issue for me, but because far too often I watch "Believers" allowing Theology to become a new form of Idolatry for them. (In other words, the given theology that they embrace becomes more important than simply falling in love with Jesus.)

I had a very great and gracious man as a Theology Professor when I attended Bethel College about 279 years ago. His name was Roger Olson. If you would ask him where he stands with the whole "Free Will" VS "Predestination" debate within Evangelical Theological circles, he would say that he is an Arminian. (Not to be confused with people from the country of Armenia, or their kin in California whose names end in "GIAN.") They merely emphasize humanities free-will when it comes to Biblical stuff. Look it up online if need be.

SEE, I told you that it might be stuff to put average reader to sleep!!!

BTW: If you want me to choose between that whole debate...by that I mean, "Does God in his infinite knowledge choose YOU before the beginning of time," OR "Do you have free will and at some point in your sinfulness, God gives you the chance to follow him and you say yes to him," well, just ask me.


My answer will simply be "YEP!!!!"


AN-E-WAY!

Dr. Olson...I'll just post this stuff from his blog and leave it at that, because I thought it was very interesting AND I agreed with his attitude. After all of these years I still admire him for being faithful to following Jesus into his kingdom.


So here goes...

Why can’t we all just admit our theologies are flawed?


I admit it. I am a fallibilist–with regard to human beings (except when being infallibly inspired by God). My definition of “theology” is human reflection on God’s infallible revelation. (Or, in the case of philosophical theology–human reflection on God insofar as unaided reason is able to know something about God.) In other words, I assume that all theologies (outside Scripture itself) are fallible because they are created by finite and fallen human beings.

Unless a person is quoting Scripture in the original language, he or she is humanly interpreting Scripture. There is no such thing as a statement about the meaning of Scripture that is not human interpretation. “It’s interpretation all the way down” applies to every theological system and doctrinal statement.

That is not to say all theologies are equal; surely some are better interpretations than others. Some are simply incoherent and others (or the same ones) have little or nothing to do with the actual import of a passage. Still, even the best theological systems are someone’s interpretation of Scripture (and possibly of human experience of God) and not God’s Word. And yet, especially conservative evangelicals have a tendency to forget this and treat some system or tradition as functionally infallible and thus equal in authority with Scripture itself.

I am often puzzled by this habit of the evangelical mind: Two declarations about Scripture and doctrine–1) all doctrinal statements are true and authoritative only insofar as they faithfully reflect Scripture’s meaning (sola or prima scriptura) and 2) some humanly devised statement of faith or theological system (e.g., Hodge’s systematic theology) is beyond questioning.

Some years ago a leading conservative evangelical college president declared in writing that if a faculty member has mental reservations about any part of the college’s statement of faith he or she should resign. Yet, during that president’s own tenure at that college someone found a serious flaw in the college’s statement of faith and the president and board of regents revised it. To the best of my knowledge, that college president never learned a lesson from that or at least didn’t allow that incident to affect his conviction that any faculty member who hold mental reservations about the statement of faith should resign.

I hope you see the contradiction there. IF one holds to sola or prima scriptura (the Scripture principle) and believes only Scripture is infallible and at the same time treats a statement of faith or creed as incorrigible there is a contradiction. I was taught at an evangelical seminary that all creeds and confessions of faith are secondary in authority to Scripture itself and open to revision whenever they can be shown to be inconsistent with Scripture. Very seldom have I witnessed a conservative evangelical organization actually practicing that Protestant principle. Instead, they tend to elevate doctrinal statements and systems of theology to a level functionally equivalent with Scripture itself. (Admittedly conservatives ADD TO their statements of faith but that is not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about correcting them.)

My question is why can’t we all (evangelicals) just admit that our systems of theology and statements of faith are fallible and keep examining them for possible errors and revising them in light of fresh and faithful interpretation of Scripture? That means creating some method by which a sincere Christian faculty member (for example) can question some part of the statement of faith–from Scripture–without fear of being fired. The same would hold true for denominations and churches and all Christian organizations.

Now, applying that to our Calvinist/Arminian debate. As a classical Arminian I freely admit that my theological system is human (not a “transcript of the gospel” as Spurgeon famously described Calvinism) and therefore fallible and probably flawed. But I have never yet encountered a theological system that did not have unresolved and possibly unresolvable problems. In my opinion, anyone who claims to have such a system is coming close to idolatry.

Part of intelligently deciding which of many competing theological systems to believe is deciding which problems you can live with and which you can’t live with. Take for example Calvinism and Arminianism. In my opinion (and also in the opinion of a leading Calvinist theologian I know) BOTH systems can build strong cases from Scripture. BOTH have problems (which is to be expected as they are both humanly devised). The question is WHICH ONE’S problems can I live with? For me the answer is simple.

What would happen, though, if both sides of this evangelical debate openly admitted that their systems are fallible interpretations of Scripture and not “transcripts of the gospel” (which is the same as to say equal with Scripture in authority) and that adherents of the other system are not wrong-headed or insincere or stupid or whatever but people sincerely seeking to trace out the meaning of Scripture where it is not as clear as we would like it to be?

I think there are adherents of both theologies who show such humility, but the problem is there are adherents of both who don’t show such humility and argue their system’s superiority AS IF it were the case that anyone who disagrees with it is simply not honoring Scripture. Swiss theologian Emil Brunner called that “theologismus”–confusing theology with God’s Word itself.

What would happen is humility and peace and brotherly cooperation and reconciliation would break out all over the place! Why don’t we do it? Because we have so much personally invested in our theological systems? Because we have made idols out of them? I think the answer is some of both.

Am I advocating an indifference toward doctrine and theology? Not at all. I can advocate my beliefs and argue against others’ without implying that mine is tantamount to God’s Word while theirs is stupid or heretical. (It isn’t often said quite that bluntly, but one gets the message when a leading Calvinist says that non-Calvinists are not “honoring God’s Word.”)

Let me step out and dare to name a problem with Arminian theology and then challenge a committed Calvinist to do the same. One thing I wrestle with about Arminianism is the mystery of free will. I don’t know how it works. There does seem to be an element of uncaused effect in it. (I don’t think that’s a contradiction, but it is a mystery.) And I’m not sure how God foreknows with absolute certainty libertarianly free decisions that haven’t been made yet. That does seem to be a mystery and therefore a problem insofar as I would very much like to have an answer for it but don’t. These elements of classical Arminianism cause me some cognitive dissonance. I can live with that–at least more easily than the problems I see in competing theologies.

It's just a thought.

Peace

Joe




Monday, September 27, 2010

Wholly, Wholly, HOLY




"As a deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" (Psalm 42)

"Great are the works of the Lord; they are pondered by all who delight in them. Glorious and majestic are his deeds, and his righteousness endures forever. He has caused his wonders to be remembered; the Lord is gracious and compassionate...The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding. To him belongs eternal praise." (Psalm 111)




Yesterday we had communion at Living Waters. Pastor Scott decided to work the service a little differently, so we sort of had the communion portion in the middle of the service instead of the end. Scott wanted us to focus of two ideas as we contemplated what the bread and the cup represent. He said it was to be about "Gravity & Gladness."

Scott is correct in pointing out that our body has a pretty easy time with the whole "Gladness" part of worship. We are a happy bunch most of the time. I'm unconvinced that many mighty-tighty Fundamentalists would enjoy being around most of us.

But Scott was also correct in pointing out that when meditating upon the God of the bible, we ought to do so with "Gravity." (And I'm not talking about the things that keep you attached to the planet.) The God portrayed in the bible is a very joyous being, but he is also a very holy being, too.

Which is an odd choice of phrasing, because you can't really be very holy. You are either holy or you are not....like being pregnant.

God's state of holiness is so completely different and "Other" than our state of being, that I'm certain that we can't really get our minds around it. Chip Ingram has a great book out called "God as he longs for you to see him." He goes off on a tare about how different God and his holiness is from us and our brokenness. He is just so completely unique and different, that it is too much to fully comprehend on an intellectual level.

Ultimately, God must be experienced
and not merely jotted down on a piece of paper
as an intellectual exercise.


When God says that we are to fear him, it is not the type of fear that people usually think of. There are those who assume God to be some cosmic grouch who is always looking to bring the smack down on us. But that isn't biblically accurate. In fact, a portion from Isaiah 8 that Scott used in the service yesterday illustrates that point.

"Do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it.
The Lord Almighty is the one you are to fear,
and he is the one you are to dread,
and he will be a sanctuary."

Now THAT'S an interesting turn. If you fear God, he will be a sanctuary, a place of refuge...your protection?!?!


Sometimes when I think of fearing God, I think of an electrical socket. I do not run in terror every time I encounter an electrical socket. However, neither do I walk up to it and stick my tongue in it. I have a healthy sense of respect for the power that can come out of that little 3-pronged hole. Maybe that is what God is getting at when he says we should fear him.


It's always interesting to me to see how people in the bible react when ever they have an interaction with the "Holy One." It generally consists of an immediate realization on the part of the human that they are about as worthy as a sly pimple on the buttocks of the universe when compared to YHWH. Then, there tends to be some form of cardiac arrest, seizure or various forms of passing out. Finally, God in one manner or the other has to tell the person to relax, chill out and NOT be afraid...which is easy for him to say.

It gets to the point where you would think that God would simply hand out a flyer prior to coming near to a human, with the various instructions as to what was about to happen and how the person could prepare a head of time with a pillow or mattress conveniently placed near by.

I can only speak for myself on this matter, but encountering God is not that unusual. However, it also seems like it comes at different levels of engagement. The times, and there have only been a few of them for me, where God has drawn close to me in a big way, have been so overwhelming that I could barely handle it. Almost devastating...in a positive way, if that makes sense.

This is why I am naturally so skeptical of some of these weirdo preachers out there who seem to talk to God...with God audibly responding back on a regular basis, while said preacher is shaving in the morning. If I tried that while shaving, and God spoke to me out of the mirror, I would cut my nose clean off.

This is why I think that God is very delicate about interacting with people. He knows what affect he can have...and he is not merely being a Drama Queen, either. I also fully believe that this is why he took on human form as a servant. (That would be Jesus, kids.)

Yet, when you think about how Holy, how "Other" the God of scripture is from us, and that this being would have a deep and passionate desire to be in a relationship with us, it really gets mind blowing. King David once asked God why he was mindful of humans. God never answered him on that question.

I heard a sermon once on God's love for weak, fallen humans. The speaker pointed out that Jesus never spent much time explaining the "Whys" of God. In his parables, Jesus never gives an explanation as to why God heals, blesses and loves. God just does so because that is a central part of who God is. He can't seem to help himself. God is just a generous being. Maybe John put it best when he said, "God is love."

I think it breaks God's heart that so many people will turn away from that kind of love...that kind of sanctuary.

Peace

Joe



Sunday, September 26, 2010

Living Waters








Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters. Living Waters.


If you are curious as to why I repeated the same words over & over again, well I'll tell ya.

This morning, at LIVING WATERS, I got into a conversation with my friend Dan. (That is his photo showing off his buff-ness after a successful bowling game...apparently.) He runs our web page, and he did some type of management thing on it this past week. I have no idea how something like this works, but he did some sort of search thing and found out that my blog is in the top 10 sites that direct people to our church. I think he told me #6 actually.

Well, that simply will not do. I have to be in the top 5 at least. So I figure that if I simply saturate this post with the name, the Google search engine will push me up there. (I am a vain, vain man.)


Actually, talking about a particular church that you may or may not go to is a funny thing. First off, no one can actually "Go to Church." It's not physically possible. The bible makes it clear that the church is not a building. The church is actually the various Believers when they are grouped together. So, you can't really GO to something that you already ARE.

It makes it difficult often when in a conversation and this subject comes up. However, just as an experiment, try it some time. See what happens when you use the word "Church" in it's proper meaning, and just call the building a building.


Anyway, I will now say something that you don't often hear: My Church Is FUN!

Shocking, I know, but it's true. Living Waters is a fun group of folks. Sunday mornings there is my favorite time of the week. You don't often get that when people talk about going to a particular worship service. Usually, people get the impression that a church service is boring at best. Often it is extremely formal and stuffy. This is particularly odd to me, because if you actually bother to study the life of Jesus, he was anything but dull, formal or stuffy. People really liked to hang out with him.

Isn't it interesting that it was the professional religious class of people that had the biggest problems with Jesus? There's a lesson in that if you think about it for a bit.


Well, if you are ever in the Twin Cities area, and you want to start your Sunday with some fun, fellowship and group of folks who have fun with each other, feel free to swing by Living Waters.

If you are a decent person, Dan's daughter, Cassie, might even make you a name tag.

Peace

Joe

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Joy of Heresy





















































My friend Tom told me this past Sunday that there is this temporary book store selling all sorts of overstock "Christian" books at Eden Prairie Center. The magic word was that all the books were $5 a piece. WOOT! And off I went.

I've really been wanting to get a version of the bible that is called...I think it is anyway, "The Archeological Bible." It's an NIV version, and has all of the various historical & archaeological findings that occurred around the times of the various biblical books. Turns out that books like that were a little more expensive. (Poop!)

Still, they did have plenty of others. So here's what I picked up:

#1. Shane Claiborne's "Jesus for President."

#2. Brian McLaren's, "A Generous Orthodoxy," "The Secret Message of Jesus," " Finding our way Again," AND "Everything must Change."

#3. Last but not least, Luis Palau & Zhao Qizheng's "A Freindly Dialogue between an Atheist and a Christian."

Even though there were plenty of other books, those were the only ones that really caught my attention. (Honestly, there are way too many "Christian" books out there that are merely one step up from those Harlequin Romance novels. GAG!) I could have poked around longer for some other titles, but I had just finished up at the gym, and my odor was most likely NOT an enticement for others to come on into the store and shop.


So anyway, for those of you who don't know, Brian McLaren is quite the lightening rob among "Christian" oriented people...especially if you group yourself into the "Reformed" tradition camp. I guess that he is the Grand Poobah of the whole "Emergent" wave. Being that I still do not know a great deal about all of that, I figured that I ought to engage my brain and do some studying instead of relying on "Solid Hear-Say" from others.

Shane Claiborne, on the other hand, is not controversial for his theology so much as he is for his Orthopraxy. He actually LIVES the Gospel. (Kind of a very dedicated, Jesus-lovin', modern hippie with Acts 1 & 2 communal living tendencies.) I'm still working my way through his book, "The Irresistible Revolution," which I would happily recommend. Shane can rub people the wrong way, because he actually takes living out the gospel, and participating in Christ's kingdom extremely seriously. He makes Middle-class christianity and it's adherents rather itchy, because as we all know Jesus grew up in the suburbs and drove a sensible car.

Luis Palau would not be considered particularly controversial at all. (I don't think so at any rate.) But he does dare speak with Atheists, and we can't have that now can we? I suppose that I could throw rocks at him because doesn't use the King James Bible, but my arms are too tired.


A few days ago I stumbled across another blog that was highly critical of one of the Christian Thinkers that I really like. As usual, it was a series of nit-picking complaints, and words taken out of context.

I suppose that it is a natural tendency for people to try and get their beliefs so in order that they can fit neatly into the form of a recipe or shopping list. That way, we can wrap our brains around the Infinite God of the universe and rest comfortably in our absolute understanding of him. The only problem is that God tends to be a bit bigger than we are.

For the record, I am almost certain to find areas with the writers where I disagree with them. In fact, there is a good chance that I will say to myself somewhere a long the line, "WHAT?!?!?!" But for myself, I am not the least bit afraid of controversy...in fact I enjoy it. More importantly, reading something I do not see eye to eye with does not threaten my faith. If it did, then my faith would have been pretty wimpy from the start.

Even more important then that is that I need different perspectives of Jesus. It gives me a fuller picture of just how big he is. The moment I assume that I have him totally figured out, I am in serious trouble. What I can rest in with complete assurance, is that even when I can't figure him out to my %100 satisfaction, I CAN know that he is the lover of my soul, and that he did the work that brought about the possibility for redemption for humanity.


In the mean time, what I will be very careful about is labeling anyone a "Heretic." That word really is pretty vulgar. Pastor Mark Driscoll, out in Seattle, says that when we call someone that, we might as well call them a "Rapist" while we are at it. It is strong language, and we should not use it loosely.

For myself, the proof will always be in seeing any Fruit of the Spirit in a person's life. Without that, what you profess to believe really doesn't impress me all that much. If your beliefs do not actually translate into a way of living, and seeing Jesus living through you, then you are just a Head-Knowledge phony.


OK, here's an invitation. If anyone reading this has read any of the above titles, feel free to give me a brief critique or review. I'm up for it. Just do not get on a high horse and start telling me what foul, doomed-to-hell, apostates any of these guys are because they don't line up with your little shopping list of necessary-to-be-acceptable opinions. Leave that to Jesus. (Also, if you do, then you'll spoil the endings for me.)


Finally, since I always try to find a video to illustrate my post for the day. Here is a scene taken directly from ***************** Universities' School of Theology, as they question the merits of an author who dared to think outside the box.



Peace

Joe



Tuesday, September 21, 2010

"Creech Creech!"


I stumbled across something rather cool the other day. Back in Bethel College I had a professor named Roger E. Olson who taught theology. He was little guy who looked very much the part of a true Intellectual. (Not sure if that is a compliment or an insult.) He also happened to be a very, very nice guy who was quite approachable.

I don't remember the entire context, but one day we got on a discussion of meaningless words & phrases. He made the statement that using a nonsensical phrase or argument was the equivalent of saying "Creech, creech" to people and expecting them to accept it as valid.

Somehow, we managed to slide that into a brief discussion on the Ramones, and their use of the term "Gabba, gabba HEY!" (It's been a long time, so forgive my lapse in perfect recall.) At any rate, I do recall that we drew a cartoon bubble on the chalk board with "Creech, creech" in the middle. Dr. Roger posed next to it as if he were speaking, and we took a photo of it. I still have that picture somewhere. I should try and dig it up one of these days.


SO ANYWAY, the other day I read a book review on the Imago Dei blog about a book titled The Mosaic of Christian Belief. http://www.imagodeicommunity.com/blog/community/book-review/ It's about the commonality of beliefs that the church has embraced throughout 2000 years of it's history...despite the ridiculous theological spats that we allow to divide us. (Calvanist VS. Arminian, for example.) Lo & behold, it was written by my old professor. Obviously, I have no choice but to go out and find this book now.

It turns out that my old Prof also has his own blog site that I have, of course, added to my own. Feel free to check it out. http://www.rogereolson.com/


Unfortunately, Dr. Olson did not stay at Bethel College. A while back, our denomination and college had a bit of an UN-Civil war. Greg Boyd, a pastor at Woodland Hills and teacher at the college wrote a book espousing "Open Theism." John Piper, also a local pastor and professor...who is a hyper-Calvanist, was so incensed by this that he sought to have Dr. Boyd expelled from the college. Dr. Olson resigned in protest, sighting that such an issue is hardly a matter of salvation, and that of all places, an evangelical college ought to be open to civilly discussing a third or forth level of importance issue such as this.

I have not thoroughly studied Open Theism. From what I do know of it, I can't say that I agree with it. But what I DO know...for a fact, is that Dr. Boyd loves Jesus zealously and jealously, and is an excellent apologist for the Christian faith. It's just a tragedy to me that this is not good enough for many.

I should also state that I have immense respect for John Piper and have seen with my own eyes how much he loves Jesus with a burning passion. I attended Bethlehem Baptist (Where he preaches) for many years while in college. I ended up being extremely dissatisfied with his emphasis on Predestination above all else. Especially after he preached a sermon on how everyone is predestined before the beginning of time to either heaven or hell...and then asked for more support for Missions. (You HAVE to see the irony in that.)


I wish that my fellow Believers would come to understand what really matters in God's kingdom, and what is merely a great topic to discuss over beer & pizza.


Well anyway, check out Dr. Olson's blog, and maybe his book too. In the mean time, in honor of my old professor and his connection to the Ramones...in a VERY round about sort of way, I now present:



Dr. Olson, you still rock!


Peace

Joe

P.S. What the heck. How about one more on this lovely, sunny Autumn day?



Monday, September 20, 2010

In the company of men.




"Better a close neighbor than a distant relative."
(Prov. 27:10)

"Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honor the king."
(1 Peter 2:16 & 17)

What an interesting day it has been!

This morning I was on the phone with a fellow who is starting up a small, Christian liberal arts college here in the cities. He will have all of my information tomorrow, and hopefully we will set up a time to meet in the next week or so. It's way too early to even count eggs, let alone chickens. But it's the first real glimmer of hope that I have had in ages. (I won't go into any detail, because it just feels like I will jinx myself by doing so.)

I went over to Best Buy early this afternoon, to return some computer stuff I didn't need. Low & behold, I ran into a friend of mine that I had been hoping to get together with for a long time. He is an Iraq war veteran who was hit by an I.E.D. He has been out of the army now for a year, and has been struggling with PTSD ever since.

We went over to a bagel shop near by, and for the next 40 minutes he talked non-stop about some of the horrible things he saw over there. He told me stuff that made me cry, but he told it almost without emotion on his part. He said that other than talking to Army Shrinks, he hadn't even told that stuff to his family. This guy needed to talk! (I hope he starts blogging about his journey, too. I think it would do him a world of good.)

Once again, it caused me to question the wisdom of politicians who are often too eager to spend the lives of young people for some grand geo-political strategy. Hey, last count there are at least 300,000 vets with PTSD from our two wars.

It also continued to make my gut gnaw at me over all of the former students I know who signed up in search of glory & honor for king & country. War is certainly not the video game that it is often portrayed.

This afternoon, before I left for a BBQ, I was contacted on FaceBook by a kid from my former school. I barely know this kid. He was never in any of my classes. I think he only knows me through being a friend of some of my actual students. This kid wants me to help him with his driver's permit!?!?!

Aside from that being a rather large responsibility that I am not sure I want to take on, I can't figure out why he would pick me of all people. I wont tell you specifically what he said in response to that question, but suffice it to say that after sliced Wonder Bread, I am apparently the next coolest thing. (Which is great for my ego, but hardly gives me any solid, logical reasoning.) I guess I must have done at least a couple of things right at that school.

I still have to think that one through, though.


So finally this evening I end up going to a Dude's BBQ for the men at Living Waters. It was at Shorty's house out in the sticks of Lakeville. I will confess that he has one cool pad. It's more hobby farm than anything else, from it's appearance. I am of the opinion that he should take up bow hunting because of all the wildlife that passes with in yards of his deck. (He would never lack for fresh venison.) I would be more than happy to purchase a silencer for my rifle, if it would help.


God designed the brains of men and women differently for a reason. We were designed to compliment each other. I listened to a podcast at the gym today on divorce. Rick McKinley got off on a tangent about how the marriage of a man and a woman is a portrait of God in many respects. It is an illustration of how things are supposed to be when his Shalom is in it's proper place.

Still, there is a necessary place for men to simply hang out with other men. (Admit it. We need a place to fart as loudly & joyously as possible, and to have that gaseous serenade appreciated for the fine art it is.) Guys need other guys for reasons that women will often not fully comprehend. But I suppose the same could be true about women hanging out together, too. ("Ding, dang ol talkin' bout HER NEEDS!") Anyway, there is a place for the sexes to be separate for a time. It is how we often re-energize.

I'm still single. I still do hope to get married someday...if Jessica Alba or Alicia Keeys will say "Yes" at some point. I am of the opinion that I will treat whoever she may be like a rare jewel, because I figure I am the luckiest bastard on the planet to have her have ME! I love the quote from Paul Newman when asked about cheating on his wife. "Why would I go out for a hamburger when I have a steak waiting for me at home?"

In the mean time, I get to watch the other guys.

I will admit that it is funny to see how grown men will regress to one degree or another when it is just other guys around. It's like Peacocks showing off their plumage. One guy at the BBQ had a tendency to through golfballs at the other guys in jest...but also with plenty of force. I will confess that I am glad he didn't do that to me. I may have thrown something back that was on the end of my arm and was clenched.

There is a book by John Eldredge called "Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secrets of a Man's Soul." I have it, but have yet to read it. My friend Tom swears it is awesome. Essentially, the book asserts that men need to be MEN, and not the sissified & neutered creatures that our post-modern culture often turns us into. This does not mean that we are to be chauvinistic brutes, who treat women like meat. (Our culture perverts that enough as it is.) But it does assert that guys are hard wired to be a bit of a dare devil and danger seekers. Without an "Out" for that longing, we get a bit stir-crazy.

I don't know enough about it all to offer an informed opinion, but it probably does go aways in explaining why I always wanted to slay dragons and other monsters as a kid. I loved hearing Viking stories, and myths about Thor and such. What little boy doesn't want to grab a big, old broad sword and slice & dice the neighbor kids to pieces? (Oh wait. Pretend I didn't print that. My former therapist might be reading this.)

ANYWAY, it was a fun evening just hanging out with the guys from church. Actually, I guess to put it biblically, they weren't from the church. Where ever two or more are gathered in his name...they ARE the church. And this church digs bonfires, brats, and a full moon rising slowly over the trees.

Peace

Joe

P.S. Since most guys do wish to be a Knight in Shining Armor at some point in their existence, I give you tonight's video illustration.



"But what about YOU? Who do YOU say I am?"





































The three final pictures in that set are murals of sorts that you can find in the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth, Israel. The Catholic church teaches that this is the traditional site where the angel told Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah.

It's pretty neat, actually. Various Catholic communities from around the world have done portraits of "Madonna & Child." Naturally, they have recreated the images in light of their own cultures. Japan has Jesus in a kimono. Thailand has the whole "Baliwood" thing going. I couldn't find shots of the African or Arab Jesus, but I remember that they looked pretty culturally proper for their respective communities.

The church is a very interesting building to visit if you ever get the chance. Most of the "Jesus Movies" are always filmed in some desert-like country. So going up into the mountains around Nazareth is cool, because you get a more proper perspective of what it would have been like for Jesus as a kid. (Yes, they even get snow from time to time.)

I really don't have much of a problem with a religious site doing something like that. I "Get It."People naturally want to wrap their heads around something so significant and big. Unfortunately, humans also have a tendency to take to take an idea like that and really start to run with it.

The French philosopher and religious thinker Blaise Pascal once made a statement that I love, because it is something that we are still doing to the is very day. He said, "God made Man is his own image, and then man promptly turned around and repaid the compliment." In other words, humanity has been trying to recreate God in OUR image since time began...and we still are.


Two Sundays ago at Living Waters, I was talking with my friend Zach about the usual stuff. We ended up speaking our frustrations over the various views of Jesus that are floating around out there. It's as if there is a whole brigade of cloned Jesus guys running about, and being shoved into various incarnations so as to fit what ever need seems to arise in a person's life. We need Jesus to do something for us, so we recreate him in what ever image we need and shove him in that hole whether he fits into it or not.

Let's take a look at the list, shall we?
1. Many politicians turn Jesus into their running mate. Jesus blesses whatever cause they are espousing, because Scripture teaches that Jesus favors lower taxes, free markets and bombing countries that won't do as we say. Of course, Scripture also teaches that Jesus likes progressive taxes, punishing the successful, and that condoms should be handed out like candy. (Take your pick. I'm sure you can mash Jesus into that little sound bite.)

2. Many so-called Preachers turn Jesus into their cosmic concierge. Jesus will bless them with untold health and wealth, because they have their litany of bible verses yanked completely out of context that they can then hold over Jesus' head to force him into compliance. If anything is clear from Scripture, it is that when a "Gift of Faith" comes upon you, you can tell Jesus to tap dance to Jimi Hendrix's version of All along the Watchtower, and HE'LL DO IT! (Remember, if he doesn't, it's because YOU lack faith.)

3. Many Americans have turned Jesus into a good, mid-western boy...with medium brown hair and germanic facial features, who will sit down around the camp fire, crack open a Budwiser with you, and decry the loss of the White majority to all of those illegal brown people who flood across our borders to receive all the free welfare that the government hands out...fake I.D.s, too.

4. Others have turned Jesus into a Leftist revolutionary who will throw a Molotov cocktail through the window of a Starbucks. I mean, somewhere in Habakkuk there is a clear verse that states that the local barista is a class enemy. So, "Burn baby, burn...in Jesus name."

5. Then, there is the majority culture that has reduced Jesus to a squishy, feel-good kind of dude. Jesus loves people so unconditionally that he will ignore our problems, give us a big hug, a thumbs up and then ignore that fact that we are giving him the finger. Jesus wouldn't "Judge" anyone, cause that's not very loving, is it??? You see, somewhere near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made the statement "Anyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice...well, it's all good. Whatever you want. This was all just a suggestion anyway."


What is even more interesting than looking at the way Jesus is portrayed in American culture, is the way he is viewed by other religions. Islam views him as a prophet. Judaism views Jesus as a nice Rabbi gone bad. I have heard Hindus claim Jesus as one of the many gods in their massive pantheon. I have heard some Buddhists claim Jesus as one of their enlightened souls. In a suburb to the west of me is an Eckankar temple that claims Jesus as an Ek Master.

(Folks who attend this temple like to Astral Project themselves out of their bodies and float about the room. I would think this would cause a good deal of crowding in the worship service. This also leads to the obvious and age old question: If one astral projects themselves to the Bahamas, when your soul returns to the body does the body also get a tan...or just the soul?)

At any rate, it seems that almost everyone tries to lay claim to Jesus in one form or another. I find that fascinating. It would appear that even to those who pay little attention to christianity as a whole, Jesus seems to stick out as being important in one way or the other.


It's just a thought,
but it might actually be helpful
to hear what Jesus had to say about himself
if we are to get an accurate idea of who Jesus is.

In both Matthew & Mark, Jesus asks his disciples what folks are saying about him. The disciples told him that people were saying all kinds of things about him. Most of it rather flattering, but none of it completely accurate. But when Jesus asks the disciples what they think he is, Peter gets it right. "You are the Messiah, the son of the living God." But that was only the beginning.

It's really interesting to me to hear what Jesus had to say about himself. He took the most sacred name of God and claimed it as HIS name. "I tell you the truth," Jesus answered, "before Abraham was born, I AM!" (John 8: 58.) When Jesus made the statement, "I and the Father are one," the religious leaders of the day knew that Jesus was claiming to be God...and they tried to kill him because of it.

Probably the most arrogant and exclusive statement ever spoken in history came out of the mouth of Jesus. "I am THE way and THE truth and THE life. NO ONE comes to the Father except through ME." Try as you might, it is very difficult to misinterpret that statement. I think that's why most people who come across that line simply choose to move along quickly. After all, Jesus is saying that he is it. There is no other way to salvation.

If you think I am mistaken in that assertion, then allow me to quote Peter before the Sanhedrin. Peter understood fully who Jesus claimed to be when he said to the religious leaders, "Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved." (Acts 4:12) Furthermore, Paul states this about Jesus, "He is the visible image of the invisible God." (Col. 1:15)

All in all, Jesus and his disciples understood the central role that he plays in human history. This leads to difficult question as to what to do with such claims. Is Jesus and his initial followers just a bunch of nut jobs spouting messianic nonsense? Is Jesus just an arrogant weirdo?


It seems to me that we try to reduce Jesus all the time to fit our own selfish ends. I know that I often do. The problem is that Jesus never fits very well into the preconceived notions or boxes that we make for him. I am also of the opinion that Jesus gets annoyed and squirmy every time we try to stuff him into one of those.

I'll tell you this much, because I am more and more convinced of it every day, that there will come a day...a beautiful, amazing, and terrifying day "that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus, the Messiah, is Lord."

I figure I'm better off letting him define himself. So that's who I say he is, anyway.

Peace

Joe


Sunday, September 19, 2010

Matthew



It's really strange when something that you take for granted completely poops out on you. This is essentially what happened to my computer earlier this week. My modem gave up the ghost, and I spent 4 days feeling cut off from the world. The truth is that it was probably a good thing to be cut off from the internet. It forced me to do some thinking that wasn't connected to a DSL cable.


ANYWAY.

So this past Friday I drove up to Lake Itasca in north-central Minnesota and walked across the Mississippi River. (You can do that there, because where the Mississippi begins is only about 6 ft. wide) It gave me a chance to see some nature and just clear my head. I seem to feel closer to God when I am surrounded by his creation. (Go figure) On the way up I re-listened to a bunch of podcasts on the Sermon on the Mount.

I realized on the way up something rather interesting. It was almost exactly a year ago that I first even bothered to download any podcasts of any kind Being a guy who isn't satisfied unless something is controversial, the first podcasts I subscribed to were from Mars Hill in Michigan, where one of my favorite heretics, Rob Bell, preaches. One of the first sermons I listened to was the beginning of their series on the Sermon on the Mount, and it was "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit." I can truly & honestly say that that sermon changed my life for ever. It made me cry my eyes out. I had never had anyone explain that verse like that to me before, and it absolutely blew me away.

If you are interested in their podcasts, click this link. http://marshill.org/teaching/podcast-info/

Then, earlier this past Spring, Imago Dei Community out in Portland began to teach through the Gospel of Matthew. Right now, they are piggy-backing on the Sermon on the Mount. So it's great to hear different perspectives on the same subject matter. Most of the teachings are pretty similar, but it is fun to listen to the different speaking styles and to the different bits & pieces that different speakers pick up on. (Plus, the fact of the matter is that Rick McKinley, the pastor at Imago, is just one very cool dude.)



I have been itching to get back into teaching in almost any way, shape or form. This morning at Living Waters, one of the elders came up to ask me if I was still planning on teaching class. I have been talking about doing one on Matthew now for over a month. So now it would appear that I have no excuse other than to get off my sorry but and put it together.

The reason I picked Matthew is because of these podcasts I have been listening to for all of this past year. Jeez Louise, I could probably do half a years worth of sermons from all of the information these podcasts have pumped into me...and I think I would only put a third of the listeners to sleep, too.

But it struck me this morning how nervous I am abut doing any of this. I have no formal outline, per say. Nor do I have worksheets of any sort. My idea of a class is more of a discussion group. I have a big sketch book that I am filling up with notes and doodles. (Seriously folks. That IS how my brain processes info.) I would just like people to read and re-read an assigned passage or section everyday for a week, and put their thoughts down in a journal. Bring all of that to the Sunday School class, and lets just talk.

Needless to say, my teaching style is a little out of the box.

Anyway, I have noticed my nervousness increase through out the day. First off, I feel like a fraud. I mean, who am I to teach people anything, especially something this important? Also, what if I am dead wrong, or way off base? Worse then that, what if I am RIGHT, but their are some folks who think I am way off base?

Honestly, sometimes Christians have the most hostile & judgmental attitudes of anyone. That's what caused me to fall into rebellion all those many years ago. I love Jesus, but it still takes quite a bit of work for me to "Love" most people who call themselves Christians...at least in America. (Seriously, the American church is so messed up. You'll notice that pretty quick if you hang out with Believers in other countries.)

I know right now that their are folks at Living Waters that don't like a lot of the folks I listen to and read. What's going to happen the first time I quote Rob Bell or Shane Claiborne? Will they run to Pastor Scott and ask that I be burned at the stake? (Ummm, if you take a gander at church history, you will notice that people who call themselves Christians are pretty good at killing their fellow Believers in order to protect God...because God obviously needs as much help as he can get.) So, can I expect a bunch of flack like that?

Oddly enough, I kind of want there to be a bit of controversy. No fist fights. Just some honest, humble and serious minded searchers asking themselves and me, "Well, I never thought about it like that before. Have YOU ever thought about it like this?" Different perspectives are good. I think you get a richer and fuller picture that way. I also want Believers to understand it's OK to disagree as long as Jesus is kept in the center of it all. Without him, we have no common ground at all.

My main reason for wanting to teach on Matthew is because of the very importance that Jesus holds for all of humanity. I am more and more convinced every day that Jesus must be looked at fully. He is the ultimate revelation of God. Well heck, he IS God. Brennan Manning made the statement, "The question should no longer be asked, "Is Jesus god-like? But is God Jesus-like?"" And I agree 100% with that statement.

Jesus has been so warped in the minds of so many people. The Bible gets taken so out of context, and Jesus so distorted, that people walk away thinking that they know enough about him without actually studying that they might as well call themselves Hindus for all the good it does them.

The Sermon on the Mount is the center piece of what it is like to follow Jesus into his kingdom. I really want this class to wrestle with the painful, difficult, and amazingly hopeful words that Jesus speaks in this sermon. You could go for years just studying through that one sermon of his. It's incredibly confrontative, but it is also beautiful. I just don't want to muck it up.

Also, what if I try to teach this class and I just plain SUCK???

I don't know, I guess I'm just a lot more nervous then I thought I would be. Pray for me, please.

Peace

Joe

P.S. I found a couple of relatively new songs that I have been listening to at the gym recently. I figured I would put them up for any reader. As is par for the course, the videos are fairly lame. However, the tunes are great. Enjoy.








Friday, September 10, 2010

Jesus, Islam, and loving your neighbor.


















WARNING: The following post could easily be taken out of context and twisted to fit an individual's pre-conceived notions & agenda. If you are such a person who processes the world through emotions, and not careful and deliberate thinking & reasoning, please leave now and go ingest at least 3 bowls full of high fiber cereal so as to clear out your mind.


I'm sure that unless you have been living under a rock this past week, you have heard about Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center. He is the so-called pastor down in Florida who plans to burn copies of the Quran tomorrow. As I am writing this, he is still waffling between burning and not burning. Either way, he seems to truly be enjoying the spot light.

Anyone willing to do a modest amount of research can easily find that Pastor Jones is not the most honest of men. And it would appear that this book burning of his is little more than a way for him to gain international attention for himself and his massive congregation of 50. He seems to show little interest in the fact that he is directly putting the lives of U.S. Service people at risk with this media driven stunt. I also hope that no one misses the irony of his church using the word "DOVE," a symbol of peace, in it's name.

Anyway, all of this got me thinking about how little "Christians," and Americans in general know about Islam. So I thought I would do a primer, comparing Islam to Christianity. This will hardly be exhaustive, but I think it's a decent start for those who actually want to be somewhat informed before they begin spouting off.


But first...
A True Story:
It was about 5am in May. I was sitting on my suitcase in the dark at the bottom of the hill from our school by the Old City in Jerusalem. I was waiting for a taxi to take me down to Tel Aviv so I could catch a flight back to the U.S. (The taxi never showed, but I made it home anyway.) I remember sitting there all by myself in the rather cold mountains of Judea, staring at the moon thinking how beautiful it was glowing over West Jerusalem. I was wondering how much of my experience I would remember, and how vivid those memories would be. All of a sudden, I heard a sound wafting through the Hinnom valley and from the walls of the Old City behind me.

And it sounded like THIS:



OK, maybe that's not the prettiest sound to some people's ears, but I thought it was pretty cool. Plus, it really caught my attention sitting there in the dark.

That video is taken from the Grand Mosque in Mecca, as worshippers pray before the Ka'aba, the holiest site in all Islam. Where as Jews use shofars, and Christians use bells to call people to worship, (Before noise ordinances, anyway.) Muslims use the human voice to sing people to worship. (You don't have to agree with it to appreciate the beauty of the grand spectacle.)


State of Confusion.
The Western understanding of Islam is really confusing. American Relativists will say that all the world's religions, Islam included, are actually all the same. Reactionaries will say that Islam is a religion of violence at it's core. Some in my family, and many others I know will say that Muslims are moving to America to take it over and turn it into an Islamic State. So please allow me to poke all three of those voices in the eye with my index finger.

#1. All "Religions" are NOT the same. To say so is actually quite an insult to those faiths, because there are massively significant differences between them. Jews, Christians & Muslims are Monotheists. Mormons, Hindus, and animists are Polytheists. If I were a Buddhist, and therefore believed in reincarnation, I would be insulted by someone from the JC&M group that told me there was only one life to live. What ever you choose to believe, at least show respect to someone else's faith by acknowledging it's uniqueness.

#2. NO religion is inherently violent! (OK, the guy at my store who is a neo-nazi and worships Odin & Thor? His is violent. He needs to wield his sword so as to get into Valhalla and such.) I think that history has demonstrated that any charismatic freak can twist any text, sacred or otherwise, to encourage his followers to commit violent acts. Before Christians point the finger at Muslims, we had better consider what many who have called themselves our "Brothers in Christ" have done to sully Jesus' name through acts of violence.

#3. I can't speak for every Muslim's motivation as to why they moved to the U.S. I'm sure that there probably are more than a few who entertain wet dreams of turning America in a new Caliphate. However, the ones that I know and work with will be the first to tell you that they wanted to get the hell out of their former countries because of the Islamic crazies back there. In fact, I read in the paper about two weeks ago of a Muslim man, and member of the Republican Party, in Burnsville, Minnesota, who was on one of Gov. Pawlenty's commissions. He said he moved here precisely because of our freedom of religion, and the last thing he wants is some form of freaky Sharia law.

Hhmm, now that I think about it, there was this guy who graduated from Jefferson S.H. a few years ago who is a refugee from Afghanistan. I know him, and he is a L.A. Lakers fan. He could be a terrorist as a result.


Jesus & Islam: In a nut shell, here is the Islamic view of Jesus.
Similarities :)
#1. Jesus is mentioned in the Quran/Koran 25 times...more than Mohammed.
#2. Muslims believe that Jesus was born of a Virgin.
#3. Jesus is a Prophet.
#4. Muslims believe that Jesus will return for Judgment Day.

Differences :(
#1. Islam teaches that it is the successor to both Judaism and Christianity. (Kind of a God 2.0 thing)
#2. Jesus is only a Prophet. He is not the "Son of God, I Am, the visible image of the invisible God." In other words, where as Jesus taught that he IS God, Islam teaches that he is not.
#3. Jesus was never crucified...which means he certainly wasn't resurrected. In fact, Islam teaches that God merely yanked him back into heaven, pulled the old switch-a-roo, and Judas Iscariot got the Roman treatment instead.

SIGNIFICANT!!!
That part three is the most crucial difference between the two faiths.

The crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is the most important aspect of Christian belief. The bible teaches that Jesus' crucifixion was absolutely necessary. Jesus bore the sins of all humanity, so as to satisfy God's wrath and judgment. Jesus' resurrection was his defeat of death, sin and Satan once and for all.

In fact, if none of that happened, then the bible clearly states that the entire system of Christianity is a joke. "And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith...And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; and you are still in your sins...If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." 1 Cor.15:12-19

So, there is the crux, the wedge, the final straw between two world views and systems. In no way do I disrespect my Muslim friends, but only one of these systems can be true. You simply cannot be a Post-Modern Relativist and proclaim both to be true and equal. Both claim to be THE truth. As the Highlander said, "There can be only one."


Just a thought.
I am absolutely convinced that when Jesus said "I am the way, the truth and the Life. No one comes to the father except through me, " that he wasn't making a joke. If he is who he claimed to be, then he is humanities only option for hope and salvation.

So what do I do about Islam? How do I interact and be a faithful sign post for Jesus' kingdom towards my Muslim neighbors?

Well, my first thought is to stop freaking out about Muslims taking over America and forcing hummus down my throat. (I like hummus anyway...Turkish coffee, too.) Do I have faith in Jesus or not? Do I take him at his word, and trust that he knows what he's doing, and that his kingdom will prevail over ALL of the world's systems? Or do grab my guns and begin hoarding supplies for the final countdown? Which might be the proper way to participate in God's Kingdom?

Actually, the other evening at the store, I noticed more than a few "Large" people waddling about with some less-than-attractive tattoos displayed in less-than-attractive places. I thought to myself, "Hhmmm, that whole veil & Burka thing does have it's merits. I wonder if we could apply it to men, too?"

My second thought was that Jesus seemed to have this strange habit of getting to know folks before he judged them...unless they were the professionally religious. (That crazy Messiah!) Maybe I ought to develop a genuine relationship with some Muslims. You know, actually become a real friend who cares about them as a human being, not just a statistic? Maybe then I could actually enter into a dialogue with them about our faiths. Maybe, MAYBE THEN, they might actually be open to hearing about my beliefs about this Jesus guy. Also, if I actually get to know them and listen & learn about their faith, I won't sound like such an ignorant putz when I open my mouth. (I'm pretty good at doing that all on my own, thank you.)

Anyway, it's just a thought.


Ooooo! I just realized that this is the end of Ramadan, with it's big Eid ul-Fitr celebration. For those who don't know, it's a big deal in Islam. Folks fast from sun up to sun down...they can't even drink water!...which must be brutal if you live in Alaska and the holiday hits in the summer. I guess the custom for Somali Muslims in Minnesota is to head over to the Mall of America and chow down and hit the rides. (A messy combination if you ask me.)

Still, I hear that there is more than enough free food. I think I'll take a little trip. :)

Well, A-salam a-lakem.

Joe

P.S. Here are two videos of the same song. Peter Gabriel produced it for the Soundtrack to the Last Temptation of Christ. Every time I think about my experience of hearing the Call to Prayer while sitting on that suitcase in Jerusalem, this song comes swirling about in my head. So enjoy.

BTW: The second video has some decidedly UN-Islamic pictures in it. (Giggle) You'll know them when you see them.