Sunday, May 22, 2011

Thinking "Hellish" thoughts



"Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.

"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways," declares the Lord. "As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:6-9


Anyone who has been paying attention knows that there was a raging debate going on in the American church this past late-winter over the subject of hell. Calvinists and other Neo-Fundies were having seizures over the book "Love Wins" by Rob Bell. On the other end of the spectrum, those who enjoy a very liberal interpretation of scripture, were rejoicing because they believed that someone famous was now backing a type of Universalism that they hope for. In the middle was everyone else, from moderate Calvinists to "Emergers."

What I thought to be almost completely lacking was any type of civil tone. (And I'm as guilty as the next person for getting a bit emotional and stirring the pot.) I had more than a few friends lash out savagely at John Piper for some of the ridiculous things that he said. (Honestly, one would think that a man as obviously gifted and bright as he is, would wait and actually READ a copy of the book before tweeting out "Farewell, Rob Bell." Talk about putting your foot in it.)

To sum it up, most of us were behaving badly...and still are to some degrees.


This is a serious subject that we need to try and get right. We shouldn't be basing people's ultimate destinies on wishful thinking or "I don't think God would do something like that..." Nor should we be so arrogant to assume that we have God all figured out because we have a Doctorate in Theology, and can reduce him to a statement on a piece of paper.

Whatever our views, we had better approach all of it in a humble manner. Yeah, I know, not the strong suit of most Americans...let alone American Christians.

I'll shut up now and just let you watch the video. I think that Francis Chan nails this whole issue perfectly.



I want to thank Margaret for linking this video on FaceBook today. I thought it was excellent.


Peace

Joe

P.S. Can't wait to get a copy of this book. (I wonder what John MacArthur will say?)

Friday, May 20, 2011

Uncomfortable food for thought.





"Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals - one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."


I don't often think all that much about that statement by Jesus. I've never had to face that type of injustice. But if you DO dwell on it for a while, it's a pretty amazing statement for a guy being brutally murdered.

This morning, I woke up to some stuff on the net that stuck in my brain for the rest of the day...right up to this point.

Think back to the night when we found out that Osama bin Laden had been killed. I was pretty appalled by some of the drunken rejoicing that I saw. But I also fully believe that Osama needed to be held accountable for the choices that he made to murder so many people.

I am NOT a pacifist. I fully believe that people have to stand up and protect the innocent, the widows & orphans, and others who would be preyed upon by those who would seek to harm them...even if that means killing them to stop them. But at the same time, I am extremely uncomfortable with the majority of my countries militaries adventures.


SO, this morning I wake up to a few posts by friends & others of Bill Maher speaking on his cable show a bit ago. Maher makes no bones about his dis-like of any type of religion. Most of the time, he makes me plug my ears. But this one really stuck with me. I have no answer for him, other than to say that I agree with his basic premise. There are A LOT of truths in what Maher says that I deeply agree with, even if he says it in a flippant manner...and it makes me squirm. (I think it would make most honest Believers squirm, too.)

Many people who call themselves "Christians" in the U.S. need to re-think what they call themselves. It's easy to slap a label on yourself. It's a bit harder to live up to that label.

I'll just let you watch the video and let you stew in it for a while. Any thoughts would be welcome. (Be forewarned, there are more than a few "Blue" words in this.)



Peace


Joe

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

More.



"I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full."
John 10:10

One version of that passage says "I have come that they may have life, and to have MORE."

I remember that it was my Senior year at Bethel College. I was in the locker room after working out with my friends. I started asking them what they thought this verse could mean. (Obviously, it was Jesus talking about himself...but what exactly did he mean?) None of us were exactly sure. But I recall thinking to myself, "Whatever it means, I WANT it." And it's safe to say that nothing has been the same for me since then.



I had made a commitment to Jesus many, many years previously. But I guess my curiosity got the better of me as it usually does, because I really did want MORE. MORE than what passed for a pasteurized, "Americanized" religion. MORE than the boring faith that I often saw displayed by people with copious amounts of head-knowledge, but little actual, practical experience of living by faith. (To be fair, I was in the same boat as everyone else. I just wanted out of that boat.)

I had no idea what I had just asked for,
because I got it...in spades.


Today is my birthday. When people ask me how old I am, I say "A million and six." Somedays it feels that way. Other days, I feel like I am still 19. Most of the time I feel like I am at least 10 years behind my actual age, which is...


So anyway, today I got to reflect a little on my life. (Which I tend to do pretty much non-stop anyway) I thought back to that night in that locker room. Jesus took me at my word, and gave me MORE life. But not in most of the ways that I was expecting.

Following Jesus is not an easy thing. To be honest, it's actually quite scary and nerve wracking a good deal of the time. ("Religion" is easy. If you like your world cut & dried, stick with that.) Faith is hard. It requires giving yourself to the unknown, based on a promise made by someone that you generally can't see. But I will tell you this; If you want an adventure that will last your whole life, then stick with Jesus and jump into the unknown. I have discovered that he really does keep his word.


Now for the record, I'm about as imperfect as you can get. I've made enough mistakes in my life that I doubt I'll ever run for public office. I also fully expect that I'll make plenty more before my time is up. But one of the benefits of following Jesus is that he already knows all about that...including the incredibly stupid things that you will do down the road. He isn't shocked or surprised by them. He also doesn't really care too much about them, because he's already dealt with them, and will use all of your stupidity to make you walk closer with him and to learn from them.

I won't bother going into detail about my stupidity. Anyone who knows me can attest to it in all it's glory. I'm also not going to go into detail about all of the amazing things things I've learned, or the weird, freaky, horrible and beautiful things that Jesus has shown me.

Suffice it to say, that on my birthday today, as I look back over these million and six years, I have learned that God is incredibly faithful, gracious, loving, has a wicked sense of humor, an impeccable sense of timing, and has more surprises up his sleeve than you could possibly imagine. (He only has a British accent when he is doing impersonations, too. Despite what you may have learned from the movies.) If you really & truly want life, and to have it to the full...to have MORE, then take the plunge. Trust him.

There will be times that are scary. There will be times that will be filled with doubt. There will be A LOT of times filled with confusion, and no answers to be found for quite a while. But you will certainly not be bored. You will have MORE.

And a few years from now, you will look back and realize that you are not the person that you were. You might not be everything that you hoped for at that moment. But you will feel a strange sense of gratitude for who you are becoming. I can't fully or properly explain it. I can only say that it really and truly is MORE.



Happy Birthday to me.

Peace

Joe

P.S. In the interest of others like myself who would like to stay young forever, but to still have all of the life experience and perspective that we now have, I give you Joe Jackson.




Sunday, May 8, 2011

Mules...and their "Subjective" Doubts



Today is Mother's Day. In celebration, the whole family went out to the cabin to get it opened up for the season. Unfortunately, the weather had other ideas. It was nice when I left town this morning, and nice when I got back to the Twin Cities. However, it rained on us the entire time we were at the cabin.

Even if it had been decent, I'm not sure how much work we could have done on the dock and boat launch. The ground was so soaked that even the grass was like walking on a squishy sponge.
Such is life.

Actually, for my family, that seems to be the way life is a lot. We get close, but then someone moves the goal posts a little farther away. (Long stories in that statement. Maybe for another time.)

I have a saying about my family; "We make lousy thoroughbreds, but excellent mules." For some reason, we just keeping going and never quit. Perhaps our collective DNA is simpley not very bright.


On the way out to the cabin I listened to one of my favorite podcasts over & over at least 4 times. I've titled it "Congratulations," and it is Rick McKinley preaching on the first four Beatitudes from a sermon he did last summer.

I've been fixated on the Sermon on the Mount for over two years now, and the Beatitudes in particular. Normally, I gravitate towards the Poor in Spirit portion. But for some reason, this morning I began to meditate on the aspect of hungering & thirsting for righteousness. I'm STARVING for a taste & sip of that.


I often think that "Belief" is an easy thing, but "Faith" is very hard. I'm full of doubts most of the time. I doubt everything, but mostly myself. I even doubt my faith quite often. It's easy to have an "Objective" concept & understanding of scripture. I can explain logically plenty of stuff. I can write it all out for anyone to see and nod their heads to. However, feeling & understanding it all on a "Subjective" level is another matter. I think that anyone who is honest with themselves would agree with that.

Sometimes God feels so close to me that I can feel his breath on my neck. More often then not, it feels like he is just around the corner hiding and waiting for me to catch up. As soon as I round the corner, he runs off to the next one.

I don't understand it. I don't get it. I can't grasp him.


I was born with a chemical imbalance in my brain. It causes depression from time to time. Also, the older I get, the more I realize how affected & effected I am by the weather. Apparently I'm pretty high on the scale of that whole "Seasonal Affected Disorder" thing. (Makes me question why I stay in Minnesota.) So, I have to take into consideration how that impacts my relationship with God. Maybe many of my doubts, issues and frustrations stem from my weird brain.


Then there is the other matter of when God draws so close to you that you can barely take it. It's not a matter of doubting at that point. It's more a matter of being overwhelmed. A little over a year ago I wrote this post about something that actually DID happen to me...


Yeah, that's right...I heard the God of the Bible actually speak to me. "See," is all he said. What I've learned over time is that it wasn't merely the invitation for a moment in time to see things the way he does, it actually became a command to my spirit.

I've always tried to be a good observer of the people & things around me. But what I have noticed is that ever since that day, I am seeing people in a way that I never knew before. Lucky me, I get to see people's pain. (Which, I think, is our existence at our deepest level...and also what God tends to see when he looks at people stuck in their own sin.) I can assure you that this is as much a curse as it is a blessing. It's not much fun to be talking to someone and be able to see their agonies, fears and torments...especially when they are in full-scale rebellion against God.

Let's not forget, if I see others that way, then I also see the same sins in me.

"For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out...So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me...What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God -- through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin."
Romans 7:18-25

Where I teach at the moment, there is a great deal of poverty, broken homes, and all the other joys that so often come with the inner-city. There are kids there who you can look right through. You know how their movie will most likely end, and it wont be a happy one.

I don't like seeing that every day. It takes it's toll. But then again, if your eyes are open, you can see that sadness everywhere. Like I said, it takes it's toll.

I have learned that I have four prayers that I repeat more than any others. The first two are the most common for everyone: "HELP ME!" and "Thank you." But I have two more. The first is in response to my own UN-understanding of how God goes about his business of interacting with people. I just say, "Father, do what ever it is that you do..." (I kinda like that a lot because it really takes the pressure off of me, and puts a little more faith in the mystery of God.) But the last common prayer for me is one that I say probably more than any other; "Jesus, please come back soon. We need you right now, because I can't stand seeing this anymore." (Or some variation on that theme.)


I don't know when Jesus will return and set everything to rights. I hope it's sooner rather than later. Until then, I say that "Help me" prayer a lot. I need his help. I don't have the strength to make it everyday in myself.

Still, for some reason, I seem to muddle through. Maybe I do have a level of faith deep down that sustains me. I really don't understand most of what comes my way when it first confronts me. However, I can honestly say that when I look behind me, I can see the clear hand of God having worked his will for his good purpose in all of the mess that is my life. That goes a long way in keeping me going every day.


"...and he began to teach them, saying:
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they WILL be filled.""
Matthew 5:2-6


Thoroughbreds are beautiful horses. They are flashy and great for a show. They can ride like the wind and win races worth a lot of money. However, they are not very good at pulling a plow or doing messy jobs that need doing. For the dirty jobs, the yucky work, the task of hauling crabby campers and their whiney children up and down the walls of the canyon on tiny trails in the blazing hot sun...for that kind of job you need a mule.


My family? "We make lousy thoroughbreds, but excellent mules."


Keep the faith...even when it's not subjective.


Joe

P.S. The church in America has a lot of thoroughbreds...especially on the T.V. & radio.
The early church was full of mules.

Jesus wants more mules. They know how to follow.




Sunday, May 1, 2011

Dead Man






As I write this, I am listening to the President speak about the U.S. militaries' successful attempt to finally kill Osama bin Laden. It was amazing to see how quickly Facebook filled up with the news of his death. It would be fair to quote Monty Python on this phenomenon when they said "And there was much rejoicing."

I'm NOT happy. But it's not because a guilty, murderous bastard is dead. No. I'm not happy precisely because so many people ARE happy...even though most of the people rejoicing made no sacrifice what so ever in this so-called "War on Terror." I'm not happy, because another person is dead and will not get another chance to repent. (Despite what Rob Bell hopes for.) I'm not happy, because no matter how happy people are at the moment, they will forget about it in a few weeks...or less. No, I'm not happy, because there will be many others who will rise up to take bin Laden's place. NO, I'm NOT happy, because as human history has shown, we really won't learn much at all from any of this.

For some reason, the book of Ecclesiastes popped into my head as I was watching the scroll on Facebook.

"Meaningless! Meaningless!" says the Teacher.
"Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless...

What has been will be again,
what has been done will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun...

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:
a time for love and a time for hate,
a time for war and a time for peace...
Whatever IS has ALREADY been,
and what will be HAS BEEN before;
and God will call the past to account...

Guard your steps when you go to the house of God.
Go near to listen rather than to offer the sacrifice of fools,
who do not know that they do wrong.

Now all has been heard;
here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the whole duty of man.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
wether it is good or evil."

If it's true that Solomon wrote this book, then, since he is considered the wisest man who ever lived, that's quite a statement.


Just some thoughts on this breaking news:
* It's estimated that over 300,000 vets from the wars in Afghanistan & Iraq now suffer from P.T.S.D.

* These two wars, one a war of necessity which we seem to be losing, the other, a war of choice that we almost lost due to a complete lack of preparation for occupation, have already cost over a trillion dollars. (But let's not worry about the national debt.) Say what you will about our two wars, at least during WW1 & WW2...and EVEN Vietnam, we imposed a tax to pay for them. This one we put on a credit card who's bill has come due.


I'm not a pacifist. I'd like to be, but I'm not. However, the older I get, the more skeptical I become of "war being diplomacy by other means." I'm tired of politicians spending the lives & bodies of young men and women. It rarely accomplishes a settled goal for peace.

A few years back, I saw an interview with a missionary in South America who's plane was shot out of the sky by a CIA enhanced air force. (They mistook his plane for a drug runners.) He said into the camera that until people repent and turn to God, this type of thing would continue forever. "Nothing new under the sun," I suppose.


An acquaintance on Facebook posted a question wondering what a Christian's response should be to something like the death of bin Laden. It made me recall something Dietrich Bonhoeffer said about his joining the plot to kill Hitler. He said something to the effect that he felt it was necessary, but that it was still a sin. That pretty much sums up my thoughts on ALL war...including the "Good" ones.

"Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when he stumbles, do not let your heart rejoice, or the Lord will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from him."
Proverbs 24:17

I don't think that God delights in the death of anyone, even incredibly horrible people. Even the worst person is made in God's image, and God loves them as much as he does a Billy Graham or Mother Theresa.

Osama bin Laden was a stone cold killer. He murdered in the name of God. I think that God is saddened by his death, because now Osama will stand in judgment before this God and answer for his sins. Osama never repented. I haven't killed anyone, but when I look in my heart I understand rather quickly that I am a guilty man who deserves judgment as equally as does bin Laden.

I made the decision many years ago to place my trust in Jesus and his kingdom. Now, in his eyes, I am made righteous...despite my incredibly sinful tendencies. Osama never placed his faith in Jesus. He rejected him. I think that God mourns the death of this evil man.


Jesus taught his followers to love their enemies. He asked his father to forgive his executioners. The bible teaches us to pray for those who persecute us. Maybe the proper response to something like this situation is something along the lines of this: http://atfp.org/
I saw that right before I went to bed, so I haven't had too much time to check it out. However, it does strike me that this is exactly what Christ called us to do. Think what an amazing testimony it would be to see a terrorist come to faith in Jesus.

In NO WAY does that mean that we should not seek justice for people who commit crimes. The bible is clear that law & justice must be upheld. However, shouldn't everyone have the chance to receive the Gospel?

In all seriousness, how often do we actually pray for our enemies? I know that I rarely do.



American's get all giggly over war. Young men think it is a video game.

Violence and blood are real...and very ugly. My friend John was blown up twice by IEDs in Iraq. (I've seen his leg.) Now, along with over 300,000 other vets from our newest wars, he suffers from PTSD. It's heart breaking and very, very ugly indeed...and it doesn't look like a heroic video game.



I think that the Kingdom of Heaven looks very upside down when compared to this world and what it has to offer. Every day I pray to God that he would return immediately and make all things new. I really don't like seeing the things I have to see everyday.

Someday, things will be very different.

"Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and first earth had passed away...And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.""
Rev. 21:3 & 4

Eden restored? Someday, things will be very different indeed, and THAT will be a day on which to rejoice.

The death of Osama bin Laden was necessary. But I won't rejoice. I'll save that for the day when I am back where I belong.



It's just a thought.

Peace

Joe

P.S. There IS a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.