Archive for the 'Church and Society' Category

I doubt I’ll ever forget the day.  There are a series of days burned into my memory. My wedding day. Graduations (both mine and friends). My kids birth. The phone call from my dad telling me that my mom had died. The day Rob put his hand on my shoulder.

It was dark in the shed. “I come to the garden alone…” was being sung by pastors all over. I had prayed 30 minutes before that I needed some confirmation from God about the direction I thought He was taking me. I knew there were dark nights ahead. My soul lanquished inside of me. Raw wounds stung my heart and bled all over the place.

My wife and I had been at our current church for 18 months. They had lied to us throughout the process until we moved there. My wife was hurting. My bloody soul was literally in shock. I felt used, abused and betrayed by the church, Christ’s bride. Now, I was going to move my family to Michigan without a job? And I was going to have to tell people that we moved because God told me to do it? To say, I didn’t trust the church would be an understatement (and this was before I knew about angry “christian” bloggers).

So I prayed, “Dear God, I’m going to do what I believe you are telling me to do one way or another but I need a sign. I know it’s weak to ask for a sign but I need one. I need one for the cold, dark nights of doubt that I am sure are coming. I need one because my faith will be tested. If You would, I’d like to ask…I mean, I was hoping…Here’s the thing God, I’m going to go up on that stage and I’m going to pray right at the foot of that cross. I’m going to pray and if I really am hearing You, would you have someone from staff here touch me? I don’t care if it’s a preacher, or a janitor. I just need a ‘I asked the LORD and He answered me’ moment, if you know what I mean God.”

Then I went and prayed.

As I was getting ready to get up and call it a day. I felt a hand on me. I looked up and it was Rob sitting there just offering me comfort. God moved in my soul at that moment. That was January. We moved to Michigan in April. It has been the best decision we ever made. We’ve since left Mars Hill so that our family could worship in the community in which we actually live. We want to give our kids roots and Mars is about 40 minutes away.

But man, the things I learned while I was there! The healing that occurred in my life. I am not sure I can do it justice. God used Rob and Mars to bring healing to my life, and that of my family. He Rob and Mars to help me get over my hurt with the church. Rob taught me the best way to answer your accusers because he did exactly what Jesus did and ignored them. Rob taught me that Love Wins. Rob preached three of the best messages I have ever heard on forgiveness.

Sure, he preached things I didn’t agree with all the time. He said things that made me stop and scratch my head once in a while. He also taught me that it’s OK for people to disagree. We can disagree and still be brothers and sisters in Christ. Being creative doesn’t mean you hit a home run every time. You know you have really good material when the stuff you’re cutting out and leaving on the floor is really good.

He also taught me that we can have real live humans that we look up to. Before Rob, I used to say that my heroes were all dead, that way they couldn’t let me down.

Rob taught me that you can be a flawed human, with a wealth of insecurities and still change the world.

Man, I’ve debated writing this post because I am sure that people are going to read it and want to attack him. There are going to be people who say that God didn’t really talk to me that day. I may actually lose business over this post. I’ve decided I don’t care. If it were not for Rob’s influence in my life, I might not be in church today. God used him in my life in a might way.

So like John Piper once famously (or infamously said), “Farewell Rob Bell.” I would add, “I and my family will miss you.”

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It’s been a while since I had anything to say or anytime to say it. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or a bad thing. I’m not even sure I have anything to say now. A lot of things have changed since I last posted here or there or anywhere (0ther than Facebook) for that matter. I’m not even sure I remember how to do this blogging thing.

Many things have changed since I last posted here or there or anywhere. I have had a lot of time to think about a lot of things and I hope to explore some of it as I slowly begin to work my way back into writing about things like church and people like Jesus and books like the Bible. In some ways many of my thoughts on such matters haven’t changed a bit, but in other ways my thoughts, and perhaps more importantly, my actions, have changed drastically. There might be time to share thoughts on such matters later.

One thing that I hope to write about is how the Episcopal Church confiscated the building and property of the congregation we have worshiped with for the last nearly 3 years. They did so after a rather lengthy court battle which saw a judge scarcely even hear the argument before deciding against us and for them. (I hate using ‘us’ and ‘them’. It sounds so archaic and anti-everything Jesus came for.) They did so because we decided that the Episcopal Church is theologically wrong on certain issues. (They believe we are wrong too; a judge agreed with them.) Unfortunately, ‘they’ have more money than we do.

Another thing I hope to write about is my evolving relationship with Jesus–yes, that Jesus, the one who has been particularly and conspicuously quiet in my life for a while now. And yet, too, periodically, he has made such loud statements in the life of my family that I have had to run for cover for fear that it might be an archangel blasting his trumpet announcing the end of days. I still love Jesus, but it’s a different kind of love we have now. I’m not even sure I have words for whatever it has become.

Still further, I might tell you about my former church which has, for all intents and purposes, lost its identity. I amazed that so many of those who were confident the Lord had told them to remove me from the pulpit have, now, themselves, left the church. It’s a very strange irony and one that perplexes me greatly. There are a lot of things that perplex me these days not least of which is what it really means to be a christian and what it really means to belong to the church.

Church is a strange thing, a strange creature. It has been a funny thing doing church from the other side of the pulpit. If my relationship with Jesus has evolved, my relationship with the church has gone through two or three evolutionary cycles as my wife and I have tried to come to grips with the fact that we are, for all intents and purposes, orphans. (We love the Anglican church we worship with, but we also know that we are passing through there for a little while and that we really miss ‘our’ church.)

One thing I do know is this: when I start writing again on a more regular basis, I will be writing as someone who has embraced a career outside of the church. I will also be writing as someone who has been crushed by the church, hurt in ways that I wish I couldn’t describe, abandoned by a denomination that had little use for me and my family. My relationship with the church has changed drastically. This might be a good thing; it might be a bad thing. I’m not sure what sort of thing it is. All I know, at this point in my life, is that I’d like to think I am a gracious enough person to forgive the church and embrace the church, but I realize, truthfully, that the bottom line is that I am more blessed that the church continues to forgive and embrace me.

It seems to me that is what makes a church church.

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Steven Furtick’s church has made a movie about their experience in NC. It’s been being dismantled online by various *discernment* ministries. Personally, I like it. Yes, Furtick features prominently in it.

But come on, the guy moved his entire family and a core team to a city he didn’t know and planted a church because he believed that God called him to do it. And it appears that God is moving there.

Now, I don’t know anyone who would actually pay 30 bucks to watch it but hey, what do I know?

Click here for the link. (You have to pay after this weekend)

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Photobucket(Note: I read the Kindle version of the book, so I haven’t tried to reference page numbers here.)

If you have any connections to the world of evangelicalism, you’ve undoubtedly heard of the controversy surrounding Rob Bell’s book, Love Wins. The reactions of the book have ranged from somewhat gentle critique and interaction (see Ben Witherington III, Roger Olson, or Scot McKnight) to people calling Bell a false teacher (see, Mark Galli, Al Mohler, etc.). In addition to countless blog posts, tweets, and Facebook meltdowns no less the half a dozen (and counting) book have been released or are going to be released in response to Bell.

Now personally, I’ll start be laying my cards on the table. I read Love Wins the day or two after it was released. I liked the book quite a bit. But, honestly, after reading I couldn’t see what all the hoopla was about. Bell explores the concepts of heaven and hell, the Kingdom of God, and salvation in a way that is pretty much consistent with his earlier books and his sermons. Now, I shouldn’t say I was totally surprised by the reactions – after all, hell is sort of the third rail of evangelicalism. People approach the subject at their own risk. But there wasn’t really anything in the book that people like C.S. Lewis, N.T. Wright, Brennan Manning, or other writers have been saying for years. Bell’s popularity certainly surpasses theses writers in the general church-going crowd (With the exception of maybe Lewis), but still what is the big deal?

Enter Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle and their book Erasing Hell. I had heard this book was coming out not long after reading Love Wins. Chan is somewhat of a rising star in evangelical circles. He’s about Bell’s age, and he’s written a number of books that have sold well – Crazy Love and Forgotten God. I have not read Chan prior to reading Erasing Hell, and my only experience with him was when he led our “small” group at one of the Passion conferences a few years ago (small being around 600 or 700 people). Given Chan’s ties to Passion and some of the neo-Reformed movement folks, I’m not surprised to see that he has a problem with Love Wins.

As far as the book, Chan (and Sprinkle – it’s not always clear who is actually writing) begins the introduction by stating how important it is that we get the doctrine of hell correct. He says multiple times that it’s something that we can’t get wrong. Getting it wrong puts us at risk of sending others to hell or even puts us at risk. To his credit, he also states that we can’t let tradition or our feelings dictate what is right as far as what Scripture says about hell. Personally, I find fear-based or slippery-slope framed arguments to be inherently weak. Yes, there is an element of pragmatism that guides the formulation of doctrine, but it simply doesn’t seem to me to be a fair statement that a Christian’s walk or zeal to evangelize is ultimately driven by what they think of hell. If it is, then I think there are other bigger issues that need to be flushed out.

Read the rest of this entry »

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I have been on this crazy bender lately–listening to 3 or 4 sermons a day for the last several days. Last night I was listening to an older sermon Tim Keller preached concerning the Church, the culture, and how Christians fit into these worlds and so on and so forth. You can find the sermon here. (It’s not so much a sermon as it is a lecture, but it is worth the effort and time, and it is a little older, but it is still quite relevant with, perhaps, a few tweaks.)

As Keller spoke, he mentioned, near the end, a definition of salvation and what the ultimate purpose of salvation is. I wrote it down because it was so powerful and compelling:

“The ultimate purpose of salvation is a new heavens and a new earth. This world is not a theater, temporary theater, for the salvation of individual souls who get converted and then leave. Our individual salvation is a means to an end. The world is not the means and our salvation the end. Our salvation is the means and a brand new material world is an end where music is perfect, where farming is perfect, where there is no disease, where there is no death.”

This is just wonderful.

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Yesterday I held a newborn boy.  He was nearly perfect.

I also took my daughters horseback riding at a farm where a little five year old boy lives. He’s dying. There’s a good chance he won’t see the end of next month.

Last night I found out another little baby boy died. He was still born. His parents have been trying to have kids for years. They buried him on his due date.

Life is hard. I’ve had my share of hard times. Compared to kids dying though, they seem like nothing.

It seems that it’s always a matter of perspective. I mean, have you ever just asked yourself, “Who Cares? Who cares about this whole stupid mess?” Certainly the Psalmist did time and again.

Then of course there is the issue of Theology. There’s the issue of people who have no idea what to say, feeling like they have to say something. There is the issue of what is said usually being not all that helpful.

I’m convinced all of our stories were meant to be told together. We need each other.

And yet people hurt us.

There’s so much hurt and anger in this world of ours. So much about life that doesn’t make sense. Can I be honest with you? I think one of the biggest problems we have with God is that there is a lot to Him that we can’t understand. Oh we want to. We rail and scream against our lack of control but at the end of the day we simply cannot wrap our brains around this Divinity.

I think that’s the problem. We refuse to admit there is some ambiguity. We want certainty where God demands faith and obedience. One of my friends lamented to me that there is just sometimes where God doesn’t make sense. I couldn’t agree enough. We can’t see God. We cant’ touch God. I think that’s why God tells us we need each other.

Sometimes, we simply have to trust in God’s character, not our ability to explain Him. More often than we do currently we need to make room for disagreements. We need to make room for people to experience Grace. We need to remember that Jesus came so we can have life

together.

The apostles didn’t all share the same ideology. They did all share a relationship with Jesus. May we all be able to say the same.

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In his book The Difference Heaven Makes, Christopher Morse notes that, among other things, heaven in the Scripture is conceived of as Community. This is a community that includes angels, beings, and the Host of stars and suns. It is, in fact, a politeia.

But that is not all. Heaven also includes us. We are a part of what Morse calls the ‘commonwealth.’ Paul the apostle announced that our ‘citizenship is in heaven.’ Here’s what he writes:

Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:19-21, my emphasis)

Is Paul saying that we have already gone to heaven? Do we already live there? Well, yes and no. I do think there is more to come, but in the meantime we have tasted. Morse goes on to offer salient comments relevant to this passage of Scripture. His comments are pointed and get to the heart of what the church seems to have missed in her longing for better days in some mystical heavenly place where float on clouds and play harps.

“For example, the announcement that ‘our commonwealth is in heaven’ sounds as if God’s dwelling, or, so to speak, God’s whereabouts, is not in isolation but with a blessed company of creaturely wellbeing whom God chooses not to be without. This is similar to the communal note of the Old Testament texts that tell of a heavenly host. In this instance, moreover, what is added is that those addressed by Paul’s announcement are told that they themselves, at least in some respect, presently belong to this heavenly commonwealth. Furthermore, the announcement that ‘our citizenship is in heaven’ extends the metaphorical import of this reference to include news of where the current rights and responsibilities of the hearers in their earthly situations now come from. The hearers’ right to exist on earth, the legitimacy of their being who they are and where they are as God’s creation upon the earth, is said not to derive from any earthly authority but from an authority coming from heaven. A somewhat similar note also occurs in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, where those faithful to the Gospel are told that their true freedom currently derives, not from any authority exercised, or status conferred, by the present, earthly Jerusalem, but from ‘the Jerusalem above.’ This community of a heavenly Jerusalem that, like Sarah, is said to engender and legitimate a faithful following of God’s promise now on earth is in this second instance referred to by Paul as ‘our mother’ (Gal. 4.26). One may conclude that any listeners, then or now, struggling for survival, whose legitimate right to exist is being denied or seriously questioned by the principalities and powers of the present age, might receive this announcement as good news. (18-19, my emphasis)

It’s a long quote, yes, but it is so important in helping us understand the why and how and what of our lives. Our citizenship is in heaven and that is good news. God himself has something to say about our lives and our safety and our purpose and our very right to live and breath and have our being. Our rights are guaranteed not by force of political action or by the might of military power or by the force of human rhetoric. Nor can they be taken away by such either. Our legitimate right to exist comes from a heaven–that one place in this created order that no man–no matter how powerful or wealthy–will ever corrupt or defile or consume.

And I do believe this is news that we should proclaim loudly–especially among those whose right to exist has been denied or questioned by the principalities and powers of this present age. I suspect there are many folks for whom such a life is a daily existence. It’s not wonder then that Jesus spend so much time on the periphery, the edges. I think Barbara Brown Taylor’s complaint is justified:

If I developed a complaint during my time in the wilderness, it was that Mother Church lavished so much more attention on those at the center than on those at the edge. (Leaving Church, 175)

The offer of the Gospel is the offer of a citizenship in a new kingdom–a kingdom of justice and love; a kingdom, again, uncorrupted by the principalities and powers of this world. And those on the edges are the very ones who are likely to be most receptive to the announcement of a citizenship whose legitimate rights cannot be co-opted, corrupted, or defiled.

The news, whether we may view it as credible or not, becomes that our help is in the name of the One who does make any situation we face on earth, however threatening or devastating, to be without the overarching forthcoming of an unimpeded dominion of love and freedom. (Morse, 17).

Citizenship indeed. Jesus has the power that enables him to bring everything under his control. And here is where I will let Morse have the last word because what his writes is not without power and beauty and should challenge every idea we have that heaven is simply a place we go at some point later in life or death. Heaven is too important to wait, its power too massive to control, its concern for justice too overwhelming to wait for us:

Running through all these varied references to heaven as a community is a recurring not heaven’s proximity to what is currently happening on earth. This should not go undetected. Contrary to more conventional projects of a ’sweet by and by’ reserved for later, it sounds as if a company of heaven is somehow involved, even indispensably involved, in what is actually taking place here and now. (Morse, 20)

Kind of gives new meaning to the prayer we are to pray: On earth as it is in heaven.

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So much conversation in today’s marketplace of ideas. There’s more drama in the church nowadays than there is in the L-B-C. I wrote yesterday that, frankly, I’m bored with the entire conversation. This is mostly because it doesn’t really seem to be making any progress or leading any place in particular. Given some of the conversations that exist in the Church today, I am cautiously skeptical that we are making progress; I am recklessly hopeful that in some way Jesus will redeem them.

Seriously, what progress are we making in world missions with all of the conversation about heaven and hell and who is and who is not saved? Do I really need Seven Reasons not to believe in Hell in order to be a good decent Christian? And if not, do I need to know another person’s reasons? What progress are we making for the Kingdom of God by continually engaging in conversations seemingly only meant to prove one side is right or that the other side is wrong? Are most of the conversations even necessary? Would these conversations even be happening if the blogosphere didn’t exist? For example, does contending for a ‘biblical’ view of gender (a term traditionally applied to nouns) have much to do with contending for the faith? Do conversations about whether or not we (as Christians) should or should not watch Harry Potter films or read the books help feed a starving child in our neighborhood? (I know, it’s an illogical, false comparison.)

How are we supposed to have any idea what we are to believe? How are we supposed to have any idea what to say to others who ask us about our faith (1 Peter)? How are we to contend for the faith that has been delivered (Jude 3) when there are so many ideas floating around? It is some sort of Cornucopia Christianity and everything must change. How can there be one body, one faith, when there are so many clinging tenaciously to things other than Jesus (Ephesians 4:3-6)–like opinions, ideas, politics, and so on and so forth.

(I’m guilty too since I cling tenaciously to the idea that Scripture is not as vague as some think it is. But I do wonder, seriously, about the effects these conversations have on people who are not part of our tribe. That is, many of these internal conversations that end up external seem to me to raise more doubts than they do faith. They do this among the church too. Frankly, there are days when I simply have no idea who is telling the truth, who to believe, or who is really a wolf in sheep’s clothing.)

Maybe when I go out I can tell people about God’s love. Maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I can mention hell, maybe I shouldn’t. Maybe I should speak of a creation made by God in six days–as a foundational element of Gospel proclamation, maybe if I do I will be laughed at or ridiculed by other Christians. Maybe I can make my arguments from Scripture, maybe I should not (see in particular comments 14-17 in the comment thread). Maybe I should talk about Jesus, maybe I should talk about other Christians who talk about Jesus. Maybe holiness matters, maybe the journey does, maybe both.

Maybe the problem is that we have set up too many dichotomies in our conversations.

I’m not saying any of these conversations are necessarily wrong. What I am doing is asking a question: Are they helpful? Are they vital to the cause of Christ or are they culturally mandated and distracting and beside the point? Are they producing fruit in keeping with repentance or are they educated (or uneducated, as the case may be), lengthy ways of asking ‘Did God Really Say?’ Are they keeping our eyes off of the greater purpose for our existence which is, it seems to me, to know God and love him? Or are they helping us forward as we slouch closer and closer to Gomorrah?

I fully realize that what I am writing here will not be enjoyed by all because it will seem I am missing the point of the conversations, stereotyping others, that I am hopelessly naive, or that I am playing a significant role in helping perpetuate the very dichotomies I am so opposed to. I’m OK with that as long as someone in the world helps me get to the bottom of this problem. Accuse away! But please, help me understand what point we are trying to make and if we are saying things that, in whatever ‘end’ we may conceive, God will say, “Well said good and faithful blogger. Enter into the joy of Technorati Authority ratings.”

Maybe it is seriously time for Christians to stop fruitless conversation (1 Timothy 1:5-6) an ask the following questions: Is this conversation helpful? Am I helping the cause of Christ? Is my work advancing the Kingdom of God in a thoughtful, forward direction?

Or am I just trying to be right and out-shout the other person for whom Jesus died?

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Well, actually two lines; but you get the point.

“The supremacy of Jesus Christ as our sovereign and exalted God is our authority for mission. There is no one inch of creation, on culture or subculture of people, one lifestyle or orientation, one religion or philosophical system that he does not possess full authority over and command to turn from sin and glorify him.”

–Mark Driscoll, The Church and the Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World in The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World, 133

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In the past day or so, I’ve had a friend who sent me a couple of links to articles on Cracked.com (Warning: NSFW language) with some interesting observations.  His first was this one, based on this Cracked article:

I was reading an article about how good news no one talks about is out there. One of those was about the gulf’s recovery from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. It made this point:

“What we will talk about is how no one expected fish, crab and shrimp catches to be average compared to past years or that oil chomping microbes would go to town feeding on our disaster. And more importantly, the Loop Current that was on track to carry the oil to the Florida Keys just broke. As in, it broke off into a big swirly hilariously named Franklin Eddy, which unexpectedly contained the oil in a tidy circle of cool. We’d like to think of Franklin as a bongo-playing beat poet who doesn’t have to play by your current rules, maaan.

Had it not been for Franklin, the oil would have hit the Keys and made its way up the East Coast, and there wouldn’t have been a whole lot we could have done to stop it. Thanks to Franklin, which no longer exists, much of the Florida coast was spared from the oil altogether.”

I don’t really have much of a point except to say maybe the hand of God is was in this. Its nice to remember this when life fights dirty.”

I found this profound for a couple of reasons: First off, it is a demonstration of how God is such an awesome engineer (says the professional engineer), who has contingency plans within contingency plans within contingency plans for when we make things go awry. Secondly, it just reminded me how negative I sometimes feel when I listen to too much news – because bad news sells, so we rarely hear good news (or Good News) from the news media.

The second article, 7 “Ancient” Forms of Mysticism That are Recent Inventions, made me laugh even more:

Yoga as we know it today — a set of postures (asanas) combined with breathing techniques — dates back to around the grand old year of 1960. In other words, yoga is as old as Bono.

So all of the Yoga wars that have been fought “for God” by Johnny Mac an others are all just pretty much (as previously noted) bunk.

So, maybe quoting Cracked.com from time to time is a little bit like quoting Cretin poets.

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