Monday, October 31, 2011

Reformation Blues






"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them...Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called LEAST in the kingdom of heaven." Matt. 5:17-20

"A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit....Thus, by their fruit will you recognize them. Not everyone who says to me "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven." Matt. 7:18-23

"But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there are no law." Gal. 5:22 & 23



So today is Halloween. It's a great evening for kids to dress up like aliens, superheros, pencils, ghosts and zombies. For those who truly want to scare the dickens out of their neighbors, children will dress up as candidates for office, such as Rick Perry or Michelle Bachmann. Once said costume has been donned, the tots will then proceed to collect all manner of things to rot their teeth.

It's also a great night for really, really "Religious" people to get all bent out of shape, because as we all know Halloween is a thoroughly pagan day that belongs to Satan. So dressing as a pencil & acquiring hershey bars is evidence that you have bowed before the dark lord. Even worse, some kids might come to your door collecting donations for UNICEF!...which is a sign that they support a one world government.

Halloween is bad! It's completely pagan! It has no redeeming value...unlike that other holiday called Christmas, which obviously has no pagan influences what so ever, and is as pure as the driven snow that lights upon the evergreen (The symbol for eternal life in Nordic, Odin/Wotan worshipping cultures of N. Europe) that you will then cut down and place in your house so that the former Bishop of Turkey & his slaves can then have a place to lay presents...or coal...or simply kidnap naughty children. (Isn't that right, Santa????)

Many good "Christian" types simply shun Halloween all together and simply let Satan have it for his Wiccan bonfires and ritual sacrifice. Then there are others who seek to adapt the holiday just ever so slightly. The following is a fine example.

In case you're a bit dense, this is a spoof.



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Well, October 31st is also the day that Martin Luther nailed the 95 Theses to the Wittenburg Door back in 1517.

The following is actual video footage from that day...




And thus began the great Protestant Reformation. The next thing you know, there were Lutherans running about instilling passive/aggressive tendencies in Minnesotans. This was followed by Anglicans, so that King Henry could recycle through numerous wives. After that came the Reformed/Presbyterians, who were certain that they had been predestined to set up a theocratic dictatorship in Geneva, invent golf in Scotland, and wear odd hats in Holland until their numbers were strong enough to set up an Aparthied regime in South Africa.

In the mean time, the Anabaptists thought it would be a good idea to get politics out of religion altogether...and that it was probably a more biblical idea to wait until someone was old enough to make a public confession of following Jesus BEFORE they were baptized and told that, like it or not, they were now a "Christian." For there effort, they were promptly persecuted and killed by the other Protestants.

While all of this was happening, the Catholics decided to have a "Counter Reformation," and promptly began to slaughter anyone who disagreed with whatever the Pope was saying on any given day. In fact, numerous religious wars seemed like the best and most obvious way to settle biblical differences. Thus, through much use of State sponsored torture & bloodshed, Europe was assured that by the end of the 20th Century, most Europeans would want nothing what so ever to do with "Christianity,"...hence, why the majority of Europe is now referred to as a "Post-Christian" society.


And all of it was done in the name of Jesus!

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I came across a blog post the other day that really got me thinking. The article is on the history of John Calvin, specifically his actions, attitudes and behaviors while he was the dictator of Geneva. The article is HUGE, but give it a read when you get the chance. http://planetpreterist.com/content/right-heresy

Long story, short, John Calvin was a cruel, murderous tyrant. To be fair, he was also brilliant. But that doesn't wipe away the fact that he will have plenty to answer to when he stands before Christ. I really don't know of too many folks nowadays who would be interested in living in Geneva under Calvin. (Unless they are a really, really hard-core Fundamentalist...and even then...) I'm fairly convinced that I would either have been killed, or certainly exiled within a matter of months if I had lived there.

One thing that the article speaks about is how so many of Calvin's modern day followers seem to have a similar brutal attitudes towards approaching differences in theology as did their theological forefather. My friend Al, who is a fairly strong Calvinist, openly admits that "Calvinism" has a very bad reputation due to the perceived arrogance and condescension of these folks.

I think that this article might be more accurate than I care to admit on this point. I am fairly convinced that if certain famous pastors & preachers were given a chance, they would be putting other Believers in prison for not towing the Reformed line of thought...or worse.

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The fact of the matter is that most of these "Reformers" were really on to something. The idea that people should be able to read the bible for themselves, and in there own language, was incredibly freeing. The truth that we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus, and not by jumping through hoops and indulgences, was even more freeing...and biblically spot on.

Yet, so many of these reformer guys were also swine. They could be beyond petty and cruel. Oddly enough, for a group of folks who preached against "Works," many of them then turned around and installed a whole new set of "Works." Instead of physical actions, such as communion, bribing a priest, or praying the Rosary, this new set of works was all about the mind. You had to believe the right confession of faith. You had to intellectually embrace a particular doctrine. If you didn't agree, then you weren't a "Christian"...or at best, a second-class christian.

And the way these reformers so often treated their own, let alone others who were outside their group...


<--- "The Ineffable Name" was the last major bit of writing that Luther did before he died. It was essentially a angry screed against the Jews. He called them the children of the Devil and other pleasant things. He encouraged people to burn down their homes and synagogues. This tract was used by Hitler as one of many justifications for his persecution of Jews. In fact, it has only been translated into English by the American Nazi party.

After reading this thing, Philip Melanchthon, Luther's right-hand man, shook his head and said along the lines; "I can't believe that this came out of the mouth of a man of God."

The only way I can wrap my head around this is to note that in the last years of his life, due to intestinal and other physical problems, Martin Luther seems to have completely lost his marbles. But still...


I read this about Luther, and about the brutality of John Calvin and I really have to scratch my head. They "Said" the right things for the most part, but their public lives were not something to be emulated...and certainly not very Christ-like.

For the record, I never expect perfection out of anyone. We will struggle with sin until the day we die. However, there is a significant difference between a Pastor who struggles with alcoholism, an Elder who struggles with same-sex attraction, a deacon who likes to gamble a wee bit too much...and a church leader calling for his followers to main, burn and kill people in Jesus name.


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I chalk this up to the whole "Discernment of the Holy Spirit" thing, but have you ever just gotten a vibe off of a person in your church that made you think; "Hhmm, I wonder if he/she really is saved?" This person might say all of the right things. They might even be out "Witnessing" and sticking tracts in people's hands. But there is a part of you that is seriously questioning them.

I dunno. I've gotten that vibe off of some others from time to time. I guess it shouldn't come as a surprise that years later I discovered that many had long since left the faith. I'm not totally sure what to make of all of that, but I can't simply discount it either.


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Theology is great. It's how we give an answer for what we believe. It also helps guide us in our walk with Jesus. But at the same time, it ISN'T Jesus..."The author and perfecter of our faith." I see all the time how many pastors & teachers will elevate their theology over Jesus. It always ends up resembling a cult to me.

I think at this point, I would trust much easier a person with a simple, basic faith, than I would a "Learned" person. It seems to me that this simple faith allows the Spirit to do it's work much easier in that person's life.

Jesus didn't speak a great deal about complex theology. He talked about simply having a child-like faith in him. He also said that we would know who his real followers were by the fruit they produced. Paul expanded on this idea when he gave specifics as to what this fruit would look like; "Love, joy, peace, patience, etc." There simply were not complicated confessions to nod your head to.

Furthermore, it would appear that according to Jesus, there would indeed be those who were saved...and yet they did a terrible job at teaching other Believers. (Matt. 5:17-20) These teachers, though saved, would be called "Least" in the new kingdom. The only way I can understand this is to try and look, once again, at whatever fruit they may or may not be producing, and NOT their theological purity.

The truly scary part is that there will be plenty who stand in front of Jesus saying "Lord, Lord," and yet Jesus never knew them at all. Apparently, they never produced an once of that Fruit of the Spirit regardless of how much they knew the bible. (Fred Phelps, you are in big trouble, mister.)

_______________________


It would appear that the Reformation will never be truly over. Theology is a great tool, but that's about it. What every person needs is a reformation of the heart. Simply faith. Simple trust. To crawl up into the Father's lap and offer him a broken & contrite heart. I'm not sure if it gets much more complicated...or more better & beautiful, than that.




I dunno. It's just a thought.

Peace

Joe


Friday, October 28, 2011

Just "Be" who you already ARE!













"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to the whole house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven." Matt. 5:13-16

Care for a "Shine," anyone?




A couple of thoughts before I get going on this.
#1. Much of this will come off as a "Dig" against some of my fellow Believers. Some of it will be a bit harsh. (One guy TOTALLY has it coming.) But what I am really trying to do is to get anyone who reads this to think outside the ridiculously tiny box that we "Christians" in the U.S. have constructed for ourselves.

#2. The term for "Good Deeds" here in the Greek is not the word for good as in "Moral" or "Ethical" actions. It actually is better understood as "Attractive," i.e. "That shirt looks good on you! Where did you buy it, because I want one?" In other words, your good deeds should cause people to say, "Yeah, that looks good. I want to BE like that. How do I do it?" The end result is that even the unbeliever praises our father in heaven.

#3. Salt was, and still is in most of the world, a preserving force. It kills nasty germs on food and keeps it safe to eat.

#4. A light on a hill or in a house, is an attraction that cause people to move towards it so they don't fall in a ditch or snag their little toe on the edge of the couch. ("OWIE!")

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What I find the most fascinating about this statement from Jesus right after he finishes the Beatitudes is that he simply makes a declaration to anyone who is following him that this IS what they ARE now. He never says that they should try and become salt & light. He says they ARE...because HE says so. (Which is weird, because on most days I really don't feel like a "Salt of the earth" kind of guy.)

My first thought is that this ought to cause a good deal of humility on my part, and everyone else's. Jesus declaration stems from grace. And it comes right after he pronounces YHWH's blessing on all of the spiritual zeros out there. (Which is definitely me.) In other words, Jesus says; "Hey all you losers out there! I've picked you for MY team!!! And now I am making you the preserving force of the world. Yowza!"

Which also means that the church is God's gift to the world, and does not exist for itself. Instead, apparently we are supposed to radically give ourselves away just like Jesus did. (Which makes me rather uncomfortable a good deal of the time.)

So what does it mean to live as Salt & Light in this world?

Well, maybe I should start with what I think it DOESN'T mean
...and I'll offer some examples.

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It's not exactly a secret that most of what passes for evangelical "Christianity" in America tends to really bug me. For a people saved by grace, we are incredibly "Religious," and constantly finding various "Works" to do to show that we are born again. A classic example is "Being a Witness" to others, or how we share the Gospel...at least in so far as what I've seen in the U.S. (It's usually strikingly different in other countries)

I shall offer this well intentioned, yet completely misguided cartoon as an example...



Apparently, the authors of this cartoon believe that to "Be a Witness" or "Salt & Light" means to go up to others and point out what is wrong with them.

I am not inferring that this is not a portion of what being Salt & Light is, but it is certainly a complete mis-characterization of what Jesus meant when he said it. You don't have to convince me that people are sinful. But it really isn't your job to convince others either. That would be the job of the Holy Spirit. (John 16: 7 & 8) In fact, it really isn't our business to go around judging the sinners of the world according to 1 Corinthians 5: 12 & 13, either. Paul seems to believe for some crazy reason that this would be God's job.

I tend to hang out with more non-Christians than I do Believers. From what I've been able to suss out, most of them already have an inkling that they are messed up in many, many ways. The last thing they need is for some "Religious" person to come along and tell them what a turd they are, and that they need to be more like them. It's even worse when they are told, as I've seen a few famous pastors say, how much God hates them.

Let me give an example:
Say you are walking down the street. Some stranger comes up to you and begins to try to convince you that you ought to join their political party or club. They then tell you that if you don't, then you are completely on the wrong side of history and will ultimately be a failure for it. When you object or express surprise, this person gets even more adamant about it.

How would you feel about a stranger saying that to you???


Well for starters, if someone tried that route on me, regardless of the subject matter, I would take considerable offense. I don't know this person from Adam. Who are they to offer me advice about ANYTHING?

Now, if a friend, family member, or a person who I had an established "Relationship" with (Hint, hint!) offered me advice, that would be a different matter. I would understand their motivations. I could also evaluate their suggestions based on the pre-existing relationship. And I think that's the whole point...the relationship. (Jesus tended to be big on that.)

_____________________


Let's move on to something a bit more amusing. I call it, "How NOT to Witness to an Atheist...or anyone else."


<--- Todd Friel is the host of both a radio and TV show called "Wretched." The title is extremely appropriate.

Todd spends most of the show making fun of other christians who do not conform to his theological Jedi master, John MacArthur. ("Wise he is in the way of salvation through dispensationalized "Reformed" theology, yes.") Some times he is spot on. Most of the time, he is just mean spirited.

An example: For some odd reason, Todd chose to criticize Rick Warren for daring to use the Arabic name for Jesus (Isa) during his prayer at President Obama's inauguration. He said it sounded too "Islamic." (Honestly, criticizing Rick Warren for stuff is like criticizing Vanilla for being too spicy.)


Well, Todd likes to think himself a clever fellow. He seems to fully believe that the best way to get people into heaven is to berate and argue them into it. Often times a favorite trick (And I do mean "Trick.") among Todd and folks like him, is to try a little game called "What If?" Essentially you get into a semi-debate with someone and ask them "What if...there is a God, you've ever fallen short & sinned, etc." Your goal is to get them to agree with your line of perfect reasoning, and then at the end to be magically convicted & converted.


For the record, God uses anything he wants to use...even really bad evangelistic tactics and Jack Chic tracts. So this approach can actually work. However...


So Todd decides to play this game on his show with Christopher Hitchens. Hitchens is a militant Atheist who wrote the book, "God is not great." While I completely disagree with his militant Atheism, I respect him and also fully admit that he is brilliant man with a mind & tongue like a razor blade. Friel, on the other hand, seems to have a mind like a butter knife and a tongue like a spatula.

There is only audio to these two links. However, take a listen to what happens when a completely unprepared man, with a sophomoric approach to being Salt & Light goes up against someone who freakishly knowledgeable and actually prepared...






OUCH!!!!!!

You don't take on a man like Hitchens or Richard Dawkins...or even Penn Jillet, if you are not fully versed in your adversary's knowledge, tactics and abilities. Even with the best of intentions, odds are that you will look like a fool. Ridiculous word games come across as condescending at the best of times. I can't believe I'm defending a Atheist who has no love for me or my position, but what Friel tried was downright disrespectful of a man like Hitchens.

(Next time, maybe Todd will take Chris out for beer and a pizza, and try to get to know him first.)


Is this what passes for being "A Witness?"
Is this how were are Salt & Light in this dark world?

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Why do "Christians" so often try to become something that they already are declared to be? Actually, maybe it's more accurate to ask why so many of us try to be the salt shaker, or the one who is shaking it, instead of simply concentrating on being the salt.

It seems that we think it is our job to dump the salt on whatever piece of food is in front of us. Usually, we end up dumping way too much on that piece of meat and it tastes horrible. Too much salt is never a good thing, and we never seem to know how much so we over compensate. It isn't our job to shake the shaker.

Next time you get a chance, run out to your garden. Find a slug and empty your salt shaker on it and watch. You'll get the picture of what happens when we think it's our job to do God's.

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What a "Outsider" needs...in my opinion & experience anyway, is for a Believer to come along side them and just BE. That Believer should just be who Jesus declared them to be. By this I mean that the Believer should give themselves away to that person as a genuine friend with no ulterior motives. Don't worry about "Saving" them, which isn't your job in the first place. If your ulterior motive is to befriend a person so that you can "Save" them, then you are starting off on the wrong foot...and it's dishonest!!!

I know it sounds like some weird Zen-like statement ("What is the sound of one hand clapping?"), but if we would to just BE who Jesus declared us to be, then we wouldn't have to go to some On/Off switch and become a witness. Honestly, if you have to go out, flip a switch and get to work, then you are doing something that is unnatural to you.


Let go of that shaker. Let Jesus worry about how much salt a person in your life needs. Let go of that flashlight, and stop blinding people with it. Let Jesus worry about putting the light at just the right angle so it leads to him. Be willing to radically give yourself away in love. Not because you are trying to do or prove something to another person so they will bend to your will. Give yourself away in love with no expectation of return. Do it because you love Jesus more than anything else. Let go and let Jesus use you as he will, where he will, with whom he will...and in just the right amount. It's called "Faith."

Be willing to BE. Sit in the background as God does whatever it is that he does, and enjoy the mystery of it all.

Stop striving!
Stop "Working."
Just BE who you already ARE.




Peace

Joe

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Are you Experienced?















In the mindset of the ancient Hebrews, God/YHWH was not really meant to be understood. Instead, this God was meant to be experienced.






So, are you Experienced???









Sorry, but I can't resist...



Genesis 25:19 - 33:20 "The Story of Jacob"
"...So Jacob was left alone, and a "man" wrestled with him till daybreak. When the "man" saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob's hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the "man." Then the "man" said "Let me go, for it is daybreak."

But Jacob replied, "I will not let you go until you bless me." The "man" asked him, "What is your name?" "Jacob," he answered. Then the man said, "Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome."

Jacob said, "Please tell me your name." But he replied, "Why do you ask my name?" Then he blessed him there.

So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, "It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared."

The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip" Gen. 32:22-31


And so Israel limped until the day he died.

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Normally, the dude from the bible that I most identify with is Elijah. However, for a few weeks now, I have been fascinated with the story of Jacob, because in some ways it mirrors my own...at least in so far as that we both were/have been struggling with God but didn't really realize it at the time.

Jacob's story is one that could be talked or preached about for months. There are all sorts of issues in it that mirrors much of the normal human condition. The first thing that I find interesting is Jacob's name. It means "Cheater" or "Deceiver." Can you imagine parent's giving their child a name like that? (Could be worse. The two women that Jake marries are named Leah = "Cow," and Rachel = "Ewe.")

Long story short, Jacob really is a deceiver. First off, he's the original "Momma's Boy," from a very dysfunctional family. He repeatedly cheats his slightly older brother out of everything he was supposed to get, lies to his father...and then runs away. And while he's running away his reward is to encounter YHWH, the God of his ancestors, who then tells him that he will be with him where ever he goes. (Just plain weird.)

Jake ends up running smack dab into an alternate reality with his new in-laws where he is now on the receiving end of deceit and being cheated...for roughly 2 decades. Finally, he runs away again, back towards the land he originally split from, only to have his in-law's posse catch up to him. At this point, this little weasel of a man finally realizes that ranching for 20 years has caused him to grow a pair...and he tells his father-in-law off. (Obviously, I'm doing the extreme cliff notes version here.)

The crescendo of the story occurs at the Jabbok River, where YHWH himself shows up to have a wrestling match with Jake when he is all by his lonesome. (I'll leave it to the biblical scholars to go into the myriad of nuance & detail to all of this.) Suffice it to say that God let's Jake feel his oats most of the way, but ultimately gives Jake a "Silly Walk" to remind him of this night forever.


Oh, did I mention that during this wrestling match, YHWH changes Jacob "The Deceiver's" name to Israel? Israel means "One who wrestles/struggles with God."

Remember at the top, where I said that God was meant to be experienced? Well, the story of Jacob is EXACTLY that.

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I find it fascinating that the God of the bible actually wants to wrestle with us. I sort of grew up in standard, middle-class, American evangelicalism. We never openly said that christians would never have struggles. In fact, often it was preached that we would have hard times. But to my mind at least, there did seem to be the idea that God would be WITH us during these hard times, and not so much IN the very center of it all. To this day, I still see a lot of masks worn in churches that are meant to show that everything in that mask-wearer's life is hunky dory. Heck, if you go to one of those "Name It & Claim It" places, and they'll tell you that if you have faith, you shouldn't ever have a struggle. (Personally, I think that's pretty sick.)

I should state that wrestling with God certainly is not limited to experiencing some major tragedy or trauma. It would probably be more accurate to say that this wrestling experience occurs over a slow period of time, often over what are perceived as mundane things...but in the end turn into major character building triumphs.

I figure that the reason this wrestling experience takes so long, is that God is doing some deep work inside the very soul & psyche of a person. In Jacob's case, he needed to be confronted with the very essence of his character. The result was a complete identity change...as is evidenced by his new name.

Jacob walked in.
Israel limped out.

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So I've been going through a dark time for months. It finally seems to have ended over a week ago, when God showed how faithful he had been to me even when I didn't/couldn't/wouldn't see it. In all, it gave me a new sense of purpose, hope, and fresh and deeper understanding of God that I would have missed if I had not gone through it.

The ironic part is that right as I was feeling so good, a minor unfortunate turn of events took place. "Not to worry," I told myself. I now see how God is fully in control of the situation. THEN, just when I was feeling at my utmost, God revealed a deep wound that I thought had been dealt with a long time ago. To quote the God Father; "Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in!"

I won't go into detail, but right before I hit the sack the other night, a certain someone said something to me that they absolutely should not have. I felt a sea of rage & anger well up in me in an instant. (Yeah, that's always great right before bed.)

This incident tore off a bunch of scabs that I thought had healed a long time ago. I discovered that these scabs had been oozing for a long, long time and I had never bothered to notice the stains. I really had never dealt with them in the way that I should have. And the truth is, I don't really know how to deal with them...honestly, I don't...which might just be the point.

I came out here to the cabin to do some reading, thinking and writing. There were and are some issues in my life that I know I have to deal with. I sort of figure that this was what I would be doing during this week. It would appear that God had other plans. (Picture me dressed for a boxing match, when God shows up in Samurai battle gear, complete with both long & short swords...and a spear.)

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I've been at a bit of a loss as to know what to do since this revelation of my still festering wound took place. It's a good thing there are plenty of leafs that still need raking & burning.

At this point I can truly say one thing for sure; I am most thankful that God chose to reveal this fresh problem after he had clearly demonstrated his faithfulness in the other problematic area first. (I highly doubt that was an accident.) Now that I have seen his faithfulness, I do feel a bit more energy to face this new situation...because I know that he'll be in the middle of it all.


I realize that Jacob ended up having a substantial problem walking after his experience with God. I realize that some of the dumber things I have done in my life may very well have some consequences to them also. So, I do not say this lightly or flippantly, but I would rather walk with a limp and wait in anticipation for my redeemer, than to go back and not go through these various struggles with God. See, now I AM experienced...at least a little bit.


So Father, don't let me go...




Peace

Joe

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Who is my God?




<--- Now that's a funny picture. But it's often what comes to mind when I hear people try to explain God...or at least what THEY think God is.

Caveat: There will be people who will read this and jump to conclusions far more quickly than they should. There will be others who will take everything out of context and get their underwear in a knot. And then there will be those who simply "Cherry Pick" what I say, and reconstruct it to fit their pre-conceived notions. Please don't.
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Who IS my God?

Well, I've been thinking about this question for a long time now. I spent most of this day out at the cabin raking & burning leafs. While staring at the piles of smoking leafs, I found myself looking up at the sky every so often and asking, among other things; "Who ARE you, and who AM I?" I'm afraid that I don't really have a solid answer. At least not in the sense that it would satisfy people with a simply/simplistic answer. In fact, after dwelling on this subject for a long time now, the best I've come up with is who my God is NOT.

I guess I should start with some Scripture verses that I run to when I ask myself this question. So...

"I have seen the burden that God has laid on men. He has made everything beautiful in it's time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end." Ecc. 3:10 & 11

"Trust in the Lord (YHWH) with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." Prv. 3:5 & 6

"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts." Isa. 55:9

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Here is my premise: I believe in the God revealed in the Bible. Specifically, I believe in the God who became flesh, died on a cross for my sins, and then was resurrected. I do believe in that God. However, because I believe in THAT God, I also now conclude that this God is simply too big for me to ever fully grasp and understand. As such, this now leads me to reject much of what God has been turned into...especially by many who call themselves "Christians." To put it another way; I have to reject "god" to follow GOD.

So, this means that I should probably take a shot I who I now believe God is NOT.

____________________

In the "Secular" world:
My God is not the god of America. Actually, considering how many people in this country talk about god, you might conclude that they believe America IS god. http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2011/08/08/2947368.htm <--- Read that article from Australia when you get a chance.

My God is not the god os post-modern relativism, where god can be whatever you want god to be as long as you are nice to people.

My God is not the god of Conservatives or Republicans, who feel that Jesus only cares about tax cuts, a strong military, making sure marriage is only between one man and one woman...unless you get a divorce first, and that every pregnant woman gives birth. (At which point you no longer care about either the woman or baby, because being Pro-Life ends once the child pops out.)

My God is not the god of Liberals or Democrats, who feel that Jesus preached a progressive tax rate, anything goes when it comes to sexual behavior, and that we should all drive a hybrid car.


That was easy. So now lets go elsewhere...

____________________

I'll skip the "Religious" world, because I already stated that I believe in the God of the Bible, which means I do believe that Jesus IS God.

However, in the "Christian" world:
My god is not the god of "Liberal" theology, where god is reduced to being squishy, pliable and relative like the rest of post-modernism. (Like play-doh for the soul & intellect.)

My God is not the god of "Fundamentalists," who hide behind castle walls keeping sinners at bay with polyester suits, bad haircuts, worse music and a sense of purity & self-righteousness.


My God is not the god of Todd Friel...whose god is apparently John MacArthur...whose god is a package of Oscar Mayer Balogna, sliced into nice little pre-cut pieces of "Dispensational" theology ready to be set between two slices of WHITE bread. (Remember, Whole Wheat is the first bread on the slippery slope of regularity brought on by whole grains.)

<--- I believe this is the book jacket for MacArthur's next book explaining why everyone, who disagrees with dispensational theology is worse than Rick Warren and the Pope combined.



My God is not the god of the "Name it & Claim it" Prosperity screachers like Kenneth Copeland, Benny "The Beast"Hinn, Mac "Daddy" Hammond, or Kenneth Hagin who have turned Jesus into Santachrist, who want your money and blame you for a lack of faith if you don't give it to them. Neither is my God the god of Todd Bentley, who kicks women in the faith when Jesus tells him to.

<--- Actual Christmas photo of Kenneth Hagin, compliments of Rhema Bible School.



My God is not the god of "Calvinists"...not Hyper-Calvinists, anyway. My God is not to be reduced to a divine puppet master with a sadistic & narcissistic personality disorder. (Honestly, I think that if John Calvin came back today and saw what some folks are doing with a very basic theory that he had, he would be pulling his hair out screaming; "What the hell is wrong with you people?!?!?!")

But then neither is my God the god of some "Arminians" who believe that even though you are saved by God's grace and did nothing to earn it, you can somehow snatch that salvation out of God's hands and throw it away.

My God isn't any of the above, because all of those are simply man-made constructs. Some of them were constructed with selfish & foolish intent. Some of them were constructed with sincere hearts in an attempt to understand the God of the bible. However, in the end they all have inherent flaws and ultimately fall short.

____________________

So who is my God?
My favorite answer at this point is simply to use the name he gave to Moses, the name "I AM." That name asks more questions than it answers...but maybe that's the point. If the God of the bible were so easy to understand that we could actually reduce him to a formula in a book, then he wouldn't be much of a god at all.

I much prefer the idea of a God who is not "Safe." (Does being crucified & resurrected, and then asking your followers to be willing to do the same sound "Safe" to you???) A God who is untamed, radical, full of surprises, controversial and unapologetic all at the same time sounds much more appealing to me. And I think that might be who my God really is...



I came across this video a while back and posted it once before. Peter Rollins can drive many people nuts because he talks in parables and rarely gives a black & white answer. However, I think he might be on to something with the main point he is making in this video. (Don't get all hot & sweaty because he uses the term "Divine Atheism" for a big-picture approach to the God of the bible.)


I've heard many people say that to the ancient Hebrew mind, God was never meant to BE understood. THIS God was simply meant to be experienced. Which, in turn, leaves the human mind very, very frustrated...mine anyway.

However, I am coming to understand more and more how true that is. If we really believe that this God who chooses to reveal as much of himself as he wishes to in the recorded Scriptures...and then tells us in no uncertain terms that we will never fully understand him anyway ALSO desires a relationship with individuals, then it really is meant to be an "Experience" and not merely an intellectual comprehension.

____________________

I dunno. I was just standing there watching the piles of leafs I raked slowly burn. I kept looking at the wisps of smoke from those piles, the clouds passing, the sun slowly setting. I kept thinking until I had wisps of smoke coming from my ears too. I did enough talking to God that I'm glad the neighbors were not there to watch me. This was the only conclusion that I could come up with.

Well, that and one other; who ever my God really is...this God I can barely comprehend, I need to learn to lean on him and not on the lump of cheese between my ears. As such, I need to learn to let go and just trust him. (Not an easy task.)

If I can do that, then I can embrace this...



"Much dreaming and many words are meaningless.
Therefore stand in AWE of God." Ecc. 5:7

Peace

Joe

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

"The Story Isn't Over Yet."



<---- Spam Museum, Austin Minnesota.


"Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you." 1 Peter 4:12

"Jacob left Bersheba and set out for Haran...taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with it's top reaching to heaven...There above it stood YHWH, and He said "I am the God of your father Abraham and the God os Isaac...I am WITH you you and will watch over you WHEREVER you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will NOT leave you until I have done what I have promised you." Gen. 28:10-15


Have I got a story for you. Actually, it's a story within a story within a story...and so on.

The last ten days have been extremely interesting & exciting for me. God has allowed me to see his faithfulness on display in ways that I never really imagined, and also with the usual humor that he approaches me with. All of it has given me a new, and I hope, deeper, understanding of what it is to experience God. I have hope that this will cause me to trust him more, and walk closer to him...especially during the frustrating times. (Which, according to Peter, shouldn't feel all that strange.)

First, I need to set some stuff up:
#1. "Frustrating times?!?!" Anyone who knows me knows that I have been in a deep funk since July. I have been frustrated at the lack of any decent career paths. I have been criticized and condemned by well-meaning people for certain things. Most of all, I have been very frustrated in my life of faith. I long to feel the presence of God on a very real & tangible basis every single day. Yet, I rarely seem to feel much at all. In fact, it feels like I have been in a desert for months now. "I mean, Jeez-louise, God! Where the heck are you???"

#2. "I'm a failure!" Four years ago I left my last teaching gig. I was denied tenure by a person who told me that he & I were not a good fit. (The most honest thing that man ever said to me in 3 years...and I'll just leave it at that.) He made me feel like I was not good at a my job, and so I left feeling like I had let all of my students down. To this day, I still want to be a teacher. I LOVE it. But ever since then, I question myself over & over if I can actually do a good job, and I wonder if this is why I can't seem to find another teaching gig. (But I'll come back to this later.)

_______________________


So two Saturdays ago, my sister & I took a little road trip to S.E. Minnesota. Among the many sites we visited was the Spam Museum that you see pictured at the top. Seriously, it's so bizarre that it's well worth the visit. It's also terrorist-proof. The whole city is built on pork products. No self-respecting Jihadi would ever blow themselves up there.

ANYWAY...

So my sis & I popped in some podcasts to listen to while on the road. Turns out that the Imago Dei Community that I like so much are going through a series on the life of Jacob entitled "Wrestling with God." Surprise, surprise, this was exactly what I needed to hear.

I won't go into all of the thoughts that flooded my mind, but what dawned on me as I was listening was that God was very faithful to a plan that he had set in motion, that Jacob was central to...but that Jacob only had a very faint glimpse of. It dawned on me when Jacob first had an encounter with YHWH out in the middle of nowhere, it was another 20 years before he had another encounter that significant again. (Let me state that again: 20 YEARS!) Yet, God was still active, involved, faithful and WITH Jacob...even when/if Jacob couldn't figure that out.

Yeah, that kind of nailed me a bit. I've been frustrated for about 4-5 months...and I don't have Laban as my father-in-law. (Look up the info. on him yourself. This is my story.)

So, was God doing stuff all around me this entire time that I just couldn't see???


I thought a lot about that the rest of the trip. I am not satisfied with my current job. Yet, to be honest, there are a few people at that job that I have fallen in love with...and I mean that. I'm not talking about squishy, emotional, romantic love. I mean real, true Agape love. It didn't happen in a flash by any means. But little by little, Jesus has made me fall in love with them. I have to admit that when I actually pay attention, I can see the Spirit beginning to do what ever it is that he does in some of those people now. For some insane reason, Jesus decided to place me in this particular situation to be a sign post for his kingdom. I don't know if I am a very good one. But it does make me feel a bit more hopeful now that I see a purpose.

I could go on with this area for a long time,
but maybe in another post...


So the next day, I am at Living Waters for our service. Pastor Scott is preaching through the story of Joseph, and how God used everything, including the evil crap, to save not only Joseph, but many, many other lives. I've always been fascinated by what Joe tells his brothers after the death of their father. His brothers are worried that he will now seek revenge for all they did to him. (And they certainly did do evil to him.) Joe responds; "Don't be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives." Gen, 50:19-20

And that's when I saw it. (Here comes the "Joe is a crazy person" part) I didn't hear God's voice this time. Oddly enough, this time I saw a sentence written across my mind by him...yes, dummy, an actual sentence. It hit me like a wave and caused me to just shake & cry right there in my seat...

I just saw the phrase; "The story isn't over yet."

I think I can leave it there. You can probably figure out what it means as well as I did. (And I'm a natural Blonde!)

_______________________________


OK, so this next part will have more humor in it...I promise!


So my last year teaching at my school, I had the usual assortment off oddballs. (All At-Risk kids.) I genuinely care about all of my students, and like that vast majority of them. However, for some odd reason, there are a few students that my heart just gravitates towards. There have been actual times where I can honestly say that the Holy Spirit simply told me, "Go love that kid. They don't know what Agape is."

So it was with this one 14 yr. old boy. I had briefly met him the year before when a group of 8th Graders came for a visit. At that point, he was totally into the whole "Emo" thing. http://uncyclopedia.wikia.com/wiki/Emo <--- If you want a humorous look at that fad.) So I informed him that I would be out, and needed some fresh Emo flavor for next year. Sure enough, he came to our classes.

And now for the fun part where I tease him...

I shall refer to this student by a nickname I gave him, J.I.S. (He'll get the reference.) J.I.S. had these really funky eyes that could change color depending on the shade of his hair for that week. To this day, I'm not exactly sure what his real hair color IS. But I believe that through the school year, I saw it in every color imaginable except plaid.

Ooooooh, he's gonna kill me over this next part.



<--- This is a fine example of J.I.S. as a blonde...with semi-pink highlights. A good look for warmer weather when you have a tan.








<--- Here is a photo of J.I.S. showing off a more patriotic look. Blue hair, with some tinges of red.









<--- Finally, here is J.I.S. with black hair. In all three photos you will notice the importance of the hair sweeping across the forehead and over the eyes. This allows the bearer to achieve the maximum Emo-effect.

You might also notice that J.I.S. has "Snake Bites" in his lower lip. To my knowledge, he would pierce his own lips before school every once in a while. He would then proceed to my class and inform me that his mouth really hurt for some unexplainable reason. Naturally, we would both be baffled as to how this could possibly be the case.

For the record, I did try an encourage ALL students who were into piercing to try and set an even cooler fad with what I termed "The Spike!" All you need is a rail road nail and someone with a firm grip and large hammer. Pop that sucker from one side of your skull out the other, and you can tell everyone that you are far hipper & groovier than they shall ever be. (Sad to say, it never did catch on.)


ANYWAY...

This kid often drove me crazy. Sometimes, getting him to do his work was like pulling teeth. But I couldn't help but like him. One thing for certain is that I saw a whole lot more potential in him than he gave himself credit for. (And I hate wasted potential.) At any rate, J.I.S. had his share of struggles like most of the other kids. Among other things, I know that he was very hostile to God, and to Christianity in particular. I thought about and prayed for J.I.S. a lot...even after I was gone. But after a while, he kind of fell off my radar. I didn't know what had happened to him. (I'm goofy, but not stupid. I knew that he was into some bad stuff and naturally feared the worst.)


So a day after my sister's road trip...the day YHWH wrote that sentence in my head, J.I.S. got back in touch with me out of the blue. It's been 4 years since I had last talked to him. He said he really wanted to talk to me. So this past Sunday, I got to hang out with him and his new girlfriend. (Who I must say is cuter than cute...and makes me wonder if she has an older sister.) He told me that he was trying to find God, and he wanted it to be Jesus.

Whoa! I did NOT see that one coming.

So, was God doing stuff all around me this entire time that I just couldn't see???



And I thought; "I am WITH you and will watch over you WHERE EVER you go...I will NOT leave you until I have done what I have promised."



________________________


Apparently, I have a ghost, or at least a rather long shadow...and this IS the cherry on the top of the icing on the cake I have been eating these past 10 days. But first, I want you to think back to what I wrote near the top about me being a failure...


So I'm driving J.I.S. & his GF back home. J.I.S. tells me a story. It was the year after I had left. They had a whole new staff for our area. I didn't know any of them. They didn't know me. The only constant was that the less-than noble administrator who didn't think much of me was still running the show.

My former students were given a writing assignment for their English class. They were told to write an essay about their favorite teacher who had impacted & influenced them the most for their school careers up to that point. Apparently the teachers already knew something that I certainly didn't, because they also added to the instructions "And it CAN'T be about Mr. ------." (Which is ME, by the way.)

Woo-hoo-HOOOOOO!!!!!!


And I thought; "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go...I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised."

And I can't think of a more appropriate song to explain how I've been feeling during these last 10 days...



Peace

Joe

P.S. Guess whose coming to Living Waters with me this coming Sunday??? :)

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Plagiarisim for Jesus



Now that I am on my one week UN-Paid vacation, I am hoping to do a lot of reading & writing. However, this morning, as my brain slowly gains what will pass for consciousness, I thought I would cheat a little.

There is a blog I follow called "The American Jesus." It's mostly a humor sight that mocks a good deal of the junk that gets passed off as Christianity.

http://theamericanjesus.net/ <--- Click there for more.


So I wake up this morning and check the site out. I discovered a very well written post that was actually on the serious side of things. It's on how we are to read the bible. It also includes a video of N.T. Wright...who is always awesome. I liked this post so much that I thought I would simply rip the whole thing off and repost it. (Hey, at least I am giving credit to the author of this post...Zack Hunt.)

So without further ado, here is the post from "The American Jesus." (Video included)

___________________________

For my money, which isn’t a lot, you don’t get much better than N.T. Wright when it comes to understanding the faith and, in particular, the New Testament.

In this video Wright answers what I think is one of the most fundamental challenges facing the modern church or really the church of any for that matter: “How do you read the Bible?”

There’s not much I can add to his brilliance, so I won’t try. Just a couple of reflections to put this video in a bit of context.

Watching this clip I couldn’t help but think about the Mark Driscoll sermon clip we posted and discussed last week in which he declares that based on his word study of the Bible God hates people. I’m not going to pile on Pastor Mark anymore about that issue and this clip isn’t meant to be a direct refutation of his exegesis.

I post it because I think it speaks to and should challenge the way most of us read the Bible today.

You can criticize translations and packaging, but for me, one of the worst things that ever happened to the Bible was chopping it up into chapters and verses. Sure, as Wright points out there are clusters of scripture that naturally go together, like the Psalms, but when we just take snippets here and there we create at least 2 major problems.

The first, is what I want to call soundbite theology. When the Bible is reduced to a “verse for the day” or sporadic passages we’re supposed to memorize, then we miss what Wright calls “the whole sweep of Scripture”. In other words, we miss what the Bible is actually try to say. Instead, we reduce the Bible to a handful of easily digestible headlines or soundbites that allow us to “get to the point” and move on, regardless of whether or not what we think is the point is really the message at all.

When that happens it becomes very easy to make the claim that God is every bit as much a God of hate as He is a God of love. Buy a concordance, locate all the passages that mention the theme you are trying to establish, then list them all together and the Bible can be tailor made to fit any theological paradigm, Calvinism, Wesleyanism, Catholicism, Mormonism, Benny Hinnism, or whatever. You can quite have God anyway you want Him.

Which leads to the second danger of chapters and verses: the weaponization of Scripture.

This is something we all have experience with. We’ve all either used passages of the Bible as weapons to beat down our opponent and prove our point, or we’ve been the recipient of someone else’s Biblical attack when we did or thought something they were convinced was contrary to the Bible.

Aside from the obvious fact that the Bible isn’t intended to be a weapon, it doesn’t take much reflection here to see how dangerous, problematic, and even sometimes impossible it is for the Bible to really serve the purpose we want it to.

Take for example, the often used passage from 1 John 2:15 “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in them.” When this passages is ripped out of context and weaponized it’s easy to believe that Christians must hate the world and everything in it in order to be Christian. But, of course, this is simply not true.

For starters, if we contine reading the chapter, and don’t stay on this one verse, then we see that John is talking about something very specific in the world: lust. Without going into a long exegesis, John is telling the church to avoid the lust of the world that seeks to conquer, possess, and control everything. Or in other words, the lust that seeks to put creature in the place of Creator.

Likewise, it’s impossible to make the claim that John is calling the church to geniunely hate the world, when this same John (assuming as most of those who use this passage as a call to hate do assume) who also wrote one of the gospels also says, in the most famous passage in all the Bible, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

If you can’t love the world and love the Father, then Jesus himself stands condemned.

Here’s my point, as N.T. Wright brilliantly explains, the Bible can’t be read in isolation.

Particular passages can’t be read in isolation from an entire chapter or book, and we shouldn’t read the Bible in isolation from the church, thinking in effect that our interpretive abilities are superior to anyone and everyone who has come before us. To do so is both an act of great ignorance and great arrogance.

The Bible wasn’t give to “me” or to “you”. The Bible was given to “us”. It was given to the church and written by a whole host of God’s people. If we are to truly understand and makes sense of the beautiful diversity that is ”the whole sweep of Scripture”, it will only occur when we engage the entire story, not just a soundbite, and when we dialogue with the body, rather than decide for ourselves what the Bible says.

This isn’t easy, and in our on demand society something like this that takes a lot of time and effort isn’t appealing. But if the Bible is going to be anything more than a thought for the day or our go to weapon of choice, then, as Wright explains, we must find the time to be still and let it “wash over us” like a divine symphony.


_____________________

Well that was easy.

Peace

Joe