Category Archives: bible

Discovery

Another eye for beautyPreaching is always autobiographical for me. Not that I talk about myself, but what I’m talking about is something that I am struggling with. I guess that if I don’t find the content for my message personally engaging and at least somewhat troubling, I keep looking for something more worthy of all our time. Sometimes when i’m preaching I get caught off guard by how personal what I have to say is for me. It happened today.

Our service at Jacob’s Well was starting off a series preparing for Christmas called “Missing God.” I am convinced that to know the heart of God is to know poverty. Not just people in poverty, but poverty in you. Obviously not just economic poverty either, but that fundamental condition of humanity of being in want.  Poverty is good, in fact beautiful, but that’s another blog entry, or perhaps listen to the message ( 11.30.2008 ) on our site. Our neediness is our open door for God. It is acknowledgement that there is a hole inside that someone else must fill for us. At the end of the service we invited people to write what was missing in their life, what was in want, on a sticky note and then to come forward and stick them on a big box.

I had to do it too, of course. I was surprised, at first, that even though I’d talked about this so easily and thought about the concept so long, that I really didn’t know what I would write on the note. But then when I began to put the pen on paper my poverty was so clear. I really didn’t have to think. It was clearly more obvious than I wanted it to be. God showed up. For me. I wonder why I find that surprising… shouldn’t I assume God will? I do, I guess, but it still amazes me when it happens.

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Punishment from God – part 1

Question marks

People give me great theological questions quite regularly, I suppose because I am a pastor and they assume I have some kind of answer.  Which I do, quite often… but I’d prefer to call them responses rather than answers.  Answers put an issue to rest and finish the inquiry.  Most of the really good and deep questions don’t work that way.  And I don’t know “The Answer” in that sense.  Hopefully some of my knowledge, experience and reflection can point towards something illuminating, but as I like to say, it is probably towards ‘a better question,’ not ‘the answer.’

The question this time was ‘Who goes to hell, and what could be so horrible that God would do that to someone?’ 

First,  I’ve noticed that whenever I get into these big quandaries about God and faith that just don’t seem to be so un-understandable I usually find I’m asking the wrong question.  It’s no surprise that we get no answer or the wrong answer when we ask the wrong question.  The problem here is that we are so trained to ask this question.  “Who’s in and who’s out?”  Undoubtedly the Bible encourages this type of thinking in places.  Jesus’ story of the separation of the sheep and goats (Matthew 25.31ff) is an example of this.  But there are other messages.

One of those is the Gospel Message of unconditional love and acceptance, of a God giving his life in Jesus as a sacrifice paying for our sinfulness precisely so we wouldn’t have to.

Another is the redefinition of obedience that God points to already in the Old Testament (Hebrew scripture), Jeremiah 31.31-34 for instance, and that Jesus seals.  That is the notion that putting ourselves right (translate as ‘righteousness’) doesn’t come from following rules or doing the ritual right, but from an authentic relationship with God.  That is the theme of our worship service the week after Easter (March 30) when we kick off our UnLearn series with “UnLearn Religion.”

My studied and experienced sense of God is that while God is all about discerning what is better from what isn’t as good, it is for the purpose of calling out what if best, not to catch us at the worst.  What I mean is that God isn’t out to get us.  Find our flaws and trip us up.  It doesn’t take God to do that; we can do it for ourselves and each other easily enough.  We are imperfect, unworthy and undeserving at a pretty obvious level.  Stalin’s secret police leader is famous for saying, “Show me the man, and I will show you the crime.”  God, the creator of all things who declared them good is about finding, uncovering, redeeming and reclaiming that which is good and noble and usable within us and our world for the building of the kingdom.  God is about saving, not condemning. 

“Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3.17)

The real question, the better question… I think it is something like this…

What is it worth to me to seek to know and follow God and live the way I am taught?

What is the cost to live trusting things that shall pass away, allowing the separation between God’s will and my reality to grow wider and wider?

The affirmation that I would add is this…

The more I learn and experience about God the more amazed I am.  And what amazes me is how good God is; graciously, unselfishly, extravagantly loving.  And if I could add to those superlatives, it would be that God does it with mind-boggling variety.  It is not one size fits all.  It is so creative that we often miss it.

So, who goes to hell and what could be so terrible as to deserve eternal punishment?  There are those who will give you the lists.  I’d rather not argue with them, but ask, “What will God’s love accomplish next, and how can I open myself to that love and show it to others?”  The former, to me, is a human question.  The latter, a Jesus question.  Let’s surround our lives with Jesus questions!

This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.”  1 John 4.10 (The Message)

 

Reading the Bible today

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I’ve had some great conversations with some folks lately. I am continually impressed with the questions and depth of personal investment people have in what they are struggling with. Most who meet me to talk over a cup of coffee or an email are thinking about faith, and one of the regular themes is the Bible. How do we understand, use, believe that book?

Clearly the way the Bible has been treated as an “inerrant and infallible” writing come from God isn’t working anymore. Is the Bible less than it once was? Or is it less to us than it is among some churches who cling to those claims? Wrong question!

Truth has a different role today. In a world that is as pluralistic as ours and where assumptions are not just challenged everyday, but dumped on their head, authority and absolutes just aren’t what they once were. Frankly, I think the Bible is becoming more alive and, theologically speaking, is becoming more powerful as it steps down from its ivory tower and starts living with us. Are there rumblings of Jesus in that statement?!?! Hope so…

Jacob’s Well was founded on the conviction that the Bible is not only relevant, but it is foundational. THE writing among many writings that have true spiritual strength. But it isn’t an instruction book. It’s truth is mined, not just spread like frosting. It’s truth is contingent on our willingness and ability to subject ourselves to it, and to bring our lives into the story. Indeed, without application to our lives there is no truth there at all. Just writing. Or as I like to say, the ‘book’ itself, white pages with black (or red, ugh… I am not a fan of red-letter Bibles… another blog…) is the dead word of God. The living word of God is embracing the people behind and before the story; the telling of the story around the fire at night 1000’s of years ago, the gradual recording of it, the editing, the compiling, the translation, the reading, the interpreting, the sharing of it. This on-going process is where inspiration happens, every step of the way. God’s word is alive when, and only when, humanity and humans engage and wrestle with the writing this way.

That means the Bible is contextual.  This is not its weakness but it’s strength and we live in a world today that is willing and able to see that!  I contend that it is comprised of universal truths (as far as human words speaking from particular contexts can express them) and the application of those truths. Our task, to read and apply the truths, and to learn from the application of truths (not to mimic them). That puts us in the messy situation of deciding which is which, but what about living by faith isn’t messy?

I read Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed (www.jesuscreed.org), when I have time (he writes a lot!). A week or so ago he blogged the notes below that are very interesting. They talk(in ‘theologian-speak’) about what Jacob’s Well is built on. These are six points that he believes characterize the emerging church’ s relationship with the Bible and “the Story” of what the Bible is pointing to. He seems to think they are healthy trends. I’d add that they are both healthy and inevitable. Deal with them! Interestingly they come from both sides, i.e. they show how post-modern culture is putting ‘religion’ in its place to make room for the Real World, and also putting ‘modernism’ in its place to make room for the Story. Here they are:

1. De-throning science as the sole Story.
2. En-throning a subjectivity as part of the real Story.
3. Embracing a local story as part of the real Story.
4. Epistemic (that means ‘intellectual’) humility about what one concludes from the Bible.
5. Acceptance of myth and fiction as capable of truth-telling. (I really love this one! Watch for a worship series on this before too long!)
6. Admission of cultural influence on all texts, even the Bible.

Any comments from wrestlers? Or from people who think we’re not supposed to be wrestling? I’d love to hear from either… just gives me another thing to wrestle with.

Guiding Authentic Spiritual Growth

I looked at the last post [“Which is the greater danger?  Heresy or Blind Compliance”] and I had to say, “Let people make mistakes.”  I completely agree with the concept of letting people take ownership of their faith even though they will and do make mistakes.  And that ownership only happens when people learn for themselves.  But that word “for” is a big one.  It is “for themselves” not “by themselves.”

That means I don’t think it is helpful or responsible to let people wallow around in sloppy thinking or fall prey to deceptive thinking.  It happens too easily.

I’m going to start sketching out a formula for what I try to do, and I hope others will add comments and ideas and raise up examples that others have come up with.

One – Pray – The is a holy process that God’s Spirit is involved with.  It starts here, grows here and ends here.

Two – Scripture – Model a balanced approach to reading the Bible (primarily) and other writings.

Three – Vision – Supply vision for the purpose of faith and what it means to be a Christ follower in your context.

Four – Groups – Create and support opportunities for individualized learning and conversation.  Give general guidance to these experiences, but don’t manage them.

Five – Service – Encourage and give opportunities to people to practice what they believe.

Six – Listen – Leaders learn from what the larger body is discerning.  This allows the body to mature spiritually.

Start process over…

This was just a quick shot at the process… It is an inexact process and certainly full of holes.  Help me with them.  But then… maybe the holes are the faith part…

Which is the greater danger?

Heresy or Blind Compliance

Which way

Last Sunday, in talking about what it means to know Jesus, I talked about the ways it happens. There are a few obvious choices; like worship, the Bible, prayer, community.  But I offered a small stretch in ‘nature,’ saying that God wove patterns into creation that remind us of God’s truths for us.  Often these expressions capture God’s truth better than our words.  Then I took it a step further and offered that we get to know Jesus through ‘other writings and teachings.’  I said that something doesn’t have to be stamped ‘Christian’ to teach what God wants us to know.  Indeed, it could be far from God’s truth and still bear have the label.

I expected some phone calls and emails for that and was pleasantly surprised that all I got was a few thanks for saying it.  It is very consistent with our Jacob’s Well core values, so I shouldn’t be surprised, but it may just mean no one was listening…

God’s truth is what lies behind and in all that exists.  As such it is so big we can’t hide it forever.  It oozes out of every pore in our world, often especially where we least expect it.  That doesn’t mean that all things are good or helpful.  Much is not.  What is so important is that we don’t need to be afraid.  We can look and learn anywhere and everywhere.  Let Christ be the filter.  Trust the Spirit to guide us, and to rescue us from our errors.  Keeping ‘in the box’ of Christian teaching has certainly never prevented heresy in the past.

The point isn’t that Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, humanism, etc. is right or wrong, but rather that God is so big that God’s truth can’t be hidden forever.  Different cultures, perspectives, languages, eras will inevitably express and hide God’s truth in ways that are novel to us.  Don’t be afraid, that’s the key.  Be humble, admit mistakes, don’t try to justify what isn’t working and keep the heart of the Bible at the heart of your searching.

Jesus is Unbelievable!

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Okay, so that title is a little flippant, but isn’t this whole deal? Staff writer, John Ewoldt, of the StarTribune (our local Minneapolis daily) brought this wonderful holiday gift idea to my attention in their 12/15 edition. The unbelievable notion comes from their assessment at the public’s interest in this 12-inch, $20 plastic Jesus doll that quotes Bible verses. I love the notion that these Jesus’ are “disappearing’ from shelves in Targets and Walmarts across the country. That sounds a little ‘Harry Potter-esque’ to me (do I hear an echo of ‘disapparating’?) but then what are we Americans great at except taking the best of various vaguely connected things and blending them together until we have a product with no integrity that we are all dying for? [pun intended] Even more fun is the observation that the consumer response to this version of Jesus is of ‘biblical proportions.’ Wow!

Will I be getting a Talking Jesus Doll? I won’t be buying one. (Although the truth is that I did buy a plastic action figure Jesus a few years ago. It’s on my desk. But it doesn’t talk…) Should one show up under the tree for me I’ll take it as a reminder that we followers of the one who inspired this toy need to be able to laugh at ourselves and not take ourselves too seriously. It will also be a reminder to look at my own “model” of Jesus. Have I made him in the image of something that I can handle and market, or am I allowing myself to be made me in God’s image?

I figure God has a much higher tolerance for blasphemy than many people think God has, and an even greater ability to use what we believe is unusable and to do great things with/through/despite it. Just take me for example – but that’s an entirely different story.

Merry Christmas. Jesus is coming! In more and different ways than we would ever expect.

10.10.10 Read Pray Quiet

Okay, so it isn’t the “real” thing, but it is something we can all start with. Yesterday at Jacob’s Well I talked about the non-negotiable dimension of faith that we call ‘grow’; it’s learning, discipleship, education, doing the stuff you need to do to mature in your spiritual life. We always have what our creative team calls a PAW in our services, that is a ‘personal act of worship.’ A PAW is something that people are encouraged to do that takes the good intentions that people may have in the service and has them make some sort of first step towards actually doing it. (I’ll have to blog about this PAW concept later – I think it is extremely important.)

The PAW this week was to ask people to be in one of the Groups here at Jacob’s Well or elsewhere, (but I’m not writing about Groups here) and to join me in the 10.10.10 – that is committing 10 minutes to reading the Bible, 10 minutes to prayer and 10 minutes to quiet every day. You can hear the message on our website, but I don’t think it is up yet. When available this LINK will take you to it.

Now I know that millions of people have resolved to reading their Bible and crashed and burned because they couldn’t make heads or tails of what they read. And I know that this simplistic 10.10.10 formula isn’t a magic recipe for enlightenment, but we need something tangible, somewhere to start. This little dip in these three spiritual disciplines (very close to lectio divina actually, another blog that needs to be written…) reinforced by the Group Life available here at jacob’s well, and some encouragement and energy from the church as a whole, can make this simple formula have real staying power. Also, like I said yesterday, these 3 components of faith, with the right support, can take on a life of their own in people who test drive them.

At the morning service I asked people to do it, but forgot (argh…) to ask them to let us know they were going to do so by indicating it on their Communication Card (one downside of preaching without a script…) so I have no idea how many people meant to try it. But in the evening I did remember and nearly everyone wrote the 10.10.10 on their card. I can’t believe it. Oops, of course I can, that’s a God thing… I just know I can’t be that convincing.

What did I learn? 1. don’t be afraid to ask people for meaningful commitment around things that make a difference in the lives they see God calling them to. 2. People are hungry for spiritual growth and want to know what to do next. 3. We have a big job ahead of us keeping people focused on this and helping them sustain the practice until it becomes a natural (not a simplistic formulaic) part of their walk with Jesus.

Want to join me on the 10.10.10? Comment here and let me know. We’ll try to support you. Got other good ideas or stories about how this has worked (or not worked) for you? I want to hear them!

Want to know more about the 10.10.10? Check out THIS ENTRY on our website and watch for updates on what to read and how to live out this piece of your spiritual growth.