Saturday, October 30, 2010

Everyone's Entitled to My Opinion: About the Wisdom of the Saints

Above all the grace and the gifts that Christ gives to his beloved is that of overcoming ourselves.” ~ St. Francis of Assisi, born 1182.
‎"Educated Christians like myself expect God's grace to prefer people of greater natural ability, higher standards of behaviour, and superior education in the liberal arts. In fact God mocks my expectations." ~ Augustine of Hippo, born 354
C.S. Lewis - A Dead Guy
When I became born again in 1970, at the age of 14, It never occurred to me I was born into a family nearly two thousand years old. I figured it started with me. I was soon introduced to the works of C.S. Lewis--a dead guy! Lewis died in 1963, so at least we were briefly alive at the same time. This made him acceptably “modern.” Years later I discovered Lewis took most of his ideas from St. Augustine--who was even more dead.
I suspect many followers of Jesus, if they read at all, limit their exposure to names like Max Lucado, Philip Yancey, or Beth Moore. Christian publishers understand that “new” sells, while “old” is simply, well, old.
Augustine: Even Deader
So today’s mini-rant is in praise of our grandfathers. They have left us a legacy that rests among the weeds, awaiting rediscovery. They are not worthy because they are old, they are worthy because their instruction and encouragement is timeless. Nor were they born as saints: Augustine was a young man consumed with pride and lust; Assisi was a hipster in his day, in danger of wasting his life on passing fancies. They, and a cloud of witnesses more, have so much to say to us.
In my opinion, we all should make room for the old guys.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Covering Sin

From a very early age I’ve shown an ability to confidently assert an idea without having a clue what I’m talking about. Even as a teenager I could look you in the eye, give you my opinion--plus seven reasons why I was correct, and all the while remain clueless in my heart of hearts.

A long time ago, perhaps during the Gerald Ford administration, one of my best friends was having a difficult time finding rest in the grace of God. He was plagued by the memory of sin and plagued by the guilt he carried. He was a Christian--a committed Christian by nearly any standard--yet his heart was not at rest. I had no patience for problems like this. My approach was to confidently quote a Bible verse and move on to the next problem.

“Seriously man, give it a rest,” I said. “The Bible says ‘Love covers a multitude of sins.’”
“Yes, but how?”
“Who cares how? I’m just glad it does.”

I was selfish: my version of "the truth" conveniently served me. There seemed only one possible interpretation of this verse--God loved me, and he covered my sin. Like so many things in my life, I was technically right, yet completely missed God's heart.

But this one exchange, uttered over three decades ago, recently found its way to the surface of my thoughts again. How does love cover sin? Whose love? And why? It turns out that while I was correct in asserting the love of Jesus as adequate for our guilt and shame, it turns out I quoted a verse that has very little to do with the the sacrifice of Jesus. Here’s the actual verse in a slightly fuller context:
The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. (I Peter 4: 7-10)
Peter was talking not about the sacrificial love of Jesus but rather the love we are called to demonstrate toward others. Peter expected the imminent return of Jesus, so he instructed us to think clearly, act reasonably, and pray hard. The intended result leads us to love deeply; we can cover the sins of others. The Spirit of God, speaking through Peter, is calling us to do for others what Jesus has done for us.

I can still hear my friend’s voice, “Yes, but how?” While I no longer have the foolish confidence of youth, I've seen some serious demonstrations of love over the years, so perhaps it’s time to suggest three possibilities from Peter's words:
  • Love covers sin by filling the void: When we see the sins of others we have a choice; we can rush to expose the sinfulness we see, spreading guilt and condemnation, or we can rush to the aid of those who are the victims of that sin. The presence of sin means the corruption of God's best intentions. We can become God's police and blow the whistle on sinfulness, or we can become God's EMS and provide triage to the wounded. All sin comes with a price. Someone, somewhere is paying the price. I believe we are called to cover the losses left behind by sin: a husband leaves his wife and child--who will fill the void for a suddenly-single mother? A government exploits the people it should serve--who will serve the unmet needs of the people? We have a choice: crusade against injustice or love those in need.
  • Love covers sin by 'gifted service': In a practical expression of his grace, God himself lavishes gifts beyond reckoning, and directs us to employ his gifts in the service of others. Too many believers revel in the crazy generosity of God, assuming it's all about them: do we see God's saving action as a hand-out to us or an invitation to join him in his kingdom work? The way of the world is to receive a gift and enjoy it for our own pleasure. That's what consumers do. The way of the kingdom is ask the Giver, “what would you like me to do with this?” That's what disciples do.
  • Love covers sin by offering hospitality: God's love serves people, especially strangers. The New Testament word for “hospitality” suggests showing love toward the stranger, the foreigner, and the outcast. It suggests quite literally that we should make a place for others. It's not as if there are a limited number of seats at the Father's banquet table: by turning water into wine and multiplying food Jesus demonstrated that true hospitality will always be supported by divine provision. Our assignment is to joyfully welcome others. When we add another place at the table we are really looking forward to the day when the Father will say, “you really did it for me.”
It’s taken more than thirty years, but I’m beginning to figure out that whatever the Father has done for us, he encourages us to do for others. His gifts come with the empowerment for us to give them again and again. Jesus told Peter and the disciples, "freely you've received, therefore freely give"(Matthew 10:8) What if every benefit we have ever received from the Father is also an empowerment to give to others? It would probably cover a multitude of sin--but don't take my word for it, take Peter's.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday's Meditation: Learning Peace

Our age is characterized by activity, energy, and action. Peace, however, is not an attribute of our times. Jesus offered his disciples the yoke of discipleship, and under his instruction they would experience rest and peace. “Peace I leave with you,” he told his friends at the Last Supper. “My peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (John 14: 27)
He spoke about peace often: when he looked over Jerusalem he cried because the people of the city had never learned the things that would make for peace; when he commissioned his disciples to preach the Kingdom of God he told them to give their peace as a gift; when the resurrected Jesus appeared he greeted his friends with “Peace.” Peace is among the fruit of the Spirit. Peace is an attribute of believers even when they face persecution or violence. Peace is the fingerprint of Jesus upon the lives he has crafted.
Students of Jesus can learn rest and peace has they submit to his instruction in everyday life. There is a difference between finding peace and learning peace. He can teach us how to live a life of peace. The Apostle Paul, writing to a healthy group of believers in Philippi, gave these words as his final command:
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4: 6 – 7) These are famous verses. Perhaps you have heard of this incredible promise of “the peace which transcends understanding.” But has anyone taught us how to receive the gift of God, this perfect peace?
Monday’s Meditation is straightforward: how can I learn peace? We’ve all met people who have memorized massive chunks of the scripture, but still have no peace; people who pray constantly, but are still filled with anxiety; people who attend church regularly but live as if God is not involved in their everyday affairs. Where, then, can we learn peace? Let’s ask Jesus--I promise you he’ll answer, and it will come as no surprise that the answers can be found in surprising places.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Everyone's Entitled to My Opinion: About The InBreaking

Each fall my home church presents a worship and teaching conference designed to benefit everyone in the region: not just the folks in our church, but Methodists, Baptists, Catholics, believers, seekers, or unbelievers--anyone who is thirsty.

This weekend we're sponsoring four sessions with Jack Deere, an internationally known Bible teacher with an uncommon gift for plain speaking; The Embers, a worship band that refuses to settle for trite musical or lyrical expression of God's glory; and a gallery exposition featuring Eric Hurtgen, a graphic artist from Charlotte, NC. The local church saves it shekels and covers all the costs: the conference is free. The content finds it's way to our website and podcast.

This year's conference is called The InBreaking, which deals with the words of Jesus, "the Kingdom of God is breaking in." I love what we do, and this weekend everyone's entitled to my opinion: you should check out the good stuff from The InBreaking.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

The Lessons of Elijah

“Elijah was a man just like us.” James 5:17
In my experience many Christians consider Christlikeness impossible in this life, yet expect an almost magical transformation of their character and faith immediately upon entry into the next life. I wonder: why would God, who shows the utmost respect for our freedom of choice and personality while we live on earth suddenly take control of our faith and choices in heaven? Does that sound like the Father’s way?
Monday’s Meditation challenged us to consider James’ suggestion that if becoming conformed to the image of Jesus is unimaginable, perhaps we could set our sights lower--on someone like Elijah. The same Elijah whose voice and piety intimidated kings and queens, whose trust in God manifested in his personal control of the weather for three years, and whose appetite for the power of God called down fire from heaven. That Elijah.
Why would the scripture include such incredible stories of people like Elijah? How can his narrative impact our lives? One of my younger friends replied that we should not expect the same miracles as the life of Elijah, but he is included in the Bible so we might imitate his faith. For me, the message of Elijah is precisely the opposite--faith for miracles may be easier than faith to believe that God cares for us, or faith to hear his voice. Here’s what I make of Elijah’s example:
“Seize the prophets of Baal! Don’t let anyone get away!” (1 Kings 18: 40) Elijah used the astonishing manifestation of fire from heaven as authority to order the execution of 400 men. Wouldn’t that have been the perfect moment to invite the pagan prophets to abandon their false gods in favor of the one True God? Yahweh was a demonstrably better choice. Instead, Elijah appealed to an impressionable crowd of people--themselves wavering in faith--to execute a humiliated foe. Could the tacit lesson be that miracle-working faith does not guarantee we have God’s heart? Jesus suggested that very thing in Matthew 7: 21-23.
“I am the only one left” (1 Kings 19: 10) Even after winning a spiritual showdown of Olympian proportions, Elijah felt isolated and alone. This rings true in our day: internationally-known preachers and musicians display a public image of confidence and power but are privately ravaged by their relational poverty. Having become rich in faith--the currency of the Kingdom--they discover their Kingdom riches do not guarantee intimacy with the Father. I have no idea why this is true, but I have seen it time and again.
“After the fire came a still, small voice.” (1 Kings 19: 12) The Father’s voice is not a matter of power, but of intimacy. Elijah, the prophet of the grand gesture, gravitated to the fire, the earthquake, and the windstorm. Yet the Lord was present in the stillness, not the tumult. E. Stanley Jones described the authority of God’s voice in this way: “the inner voice of God does not argue, does not try to convince you. It just speaks. It has the feel of the voice of God within it.” Another way of saying this is, “the entrance of your word brings light.” (Psalm 119:130)
I believe James when he says Elijah was a man just like us. I am capable of mistaking the grand gesture for his voice and missing the stillness of his presence. I am capable of misinterpreting God’s display of power as justification for violent actions. I am capable of making God’s work "all about me," foolishly thinking I’m the only one when in fact there are thousands close by.
Yet Elijah’s example needn’t be a cautionary tale: his life is also a picture of how God comes close to the depressed and broken, choosing them to represent him. His life is a picture of how God provides for us even when we run from our problems and simply would prefer to quit. His life is a picture of God’s desire to work through men to accomplish His ends, and in the process shape and transform those men in their weakest moments. His life is a picture of an older man who chooses and trains another to take his place--choosing to share freely what was purchased dearly.
Elijah’s life gives me hope not only for the miracles, but for the friendship of God. It assures me that I do not have to choose between the two.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Monday's Meditation: Someone Easier than Jesus?

Followers of Jesus are called to look like their master. The amazing--perhaps incredible--testimony of scripture is that we should be conformed to his image. For many believers this seems too high, too difficult, just plain impossible to imagine.

If we are overwhelmed by the call to imitate the Lord himself, perhaps we could find a more accessible role model?  Could we choose another mentor, perhaps a pastor, a friend, or an older brother? The book of James had a remarkable suggestion: consider Elijah.  “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.  Elijah was a man just like us. He prayed earnestly that it would not rain, and it did not rain on the land for three and a half years. Again he prayed, and the heavens gave rain, and the earth produced its crops.” (James 5: 16–18)  James, the brother of Jesus, surely must have struggled with the disparity between his actions and those of Jesus, yet he closes his letter with a suggestion that would seem still unattainable by most believers today.  Who is greater, Jesus, or Elijah?  Of course, we know the answer.  So shouldn’t Elijah’s life of faith and practice be more attainable than that of Jesus? 

“Elijah was a man just like us.”  How many of us believe that?  True, he was subject to uncertainty, perhaps even bouts with depression.  While this similarity might resonate with us, he also miraculously multiplied food, called down fire from heaven, and raised the dead.  Elijah’s life story involves a supernatural prayer life capable of changing weather patterns.  Elijah was a man like us?  If James seriously attempted to lower the bar by suggesting a mere human as a mentor, we are still left standing and staring at the height of the bar.

It’s a mediation worthy of the week ahead.  May I suggest these questions: how are we to understand, interpret or adapt his life to our experience?  What would be the response of our family or friends if we maintained that we were just like Elijah? If transformation into Christlikeness seems impossible, does Elijah’s life seem any more attainable?

Thursday’s post will return to Elijah. But in the meantime perhaps your comments can stimulate the discussion. I’m curious to read your thoughts--see you Thursday.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Everyone's Entitled to My Opinion: About Wordless Prayer

True prayer is in the silent depths of the soul.” ~ Augustine

In his 1972 British comedy, The Ruling Class, Peter O’Toole plays a nobleman gone mad--he thinks he’s Jesus. His reasoning is simple: “Whenever I pray I have the most disctinct feeling I’m talking to myself.”

He’s not alone. We’ve been told from our very first days of following Jesus about the importance of prayer. Yet many (most?) believers find prayer burdensome and unfulfilling. Have you ever felt as if you’re talking to yourself? One path to prayer does an end run around the problem: it does away with words. Have you ever tried praying without words? Do away with them! Words spoken and words thought. 

Our contemplative brethren refer to it as “centering prayer,” in which it is enough to simply be in God’s presence. It’s true in everyday life: our deepest relationships do not require unending chatter. Being together is enough. It’s also true with our creator.

We are word-hardened, but the Spirit of God transcends our language and our thoughts. In my opinion everyone should practice centering prayer.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Relationship, not Proposition

The voice of doubt speaks loudly to our generation, but what about the voice of faith? Who speaks for faith, and how do we know the voice of faith?

Younger Christians are leaving the faith-expression of their parents because they have been  told faith means believing certain ways about certain propositions: theories of creation, definitions of gender roles, even specific political ideologies. But rules are easy, finding faith is hard.

Jesus criticized religious legalists because their expression of faith included rules and protocols for every facet of life--entering and exiting your house; the details of what to wear, even how far to walk on a sabbath day: “you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.”

One day a man brought his son to Jesus because the boy suffered from seizures:
“If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us."
" 'If you can'?" said Jesus. "Everything is possible for him who believes."
Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!"
The Lord responded with powerful grace: the boy was healed and the lives of the father and son were never the same again. I believe this account reveals something of how the Lord works: he asks for faith, but he also gives faith. This father was desperate to help his son. In the conversation it appeared Jesus asked of him something he did not have: sufficient faith. The father’s answer was instinctive and instructive, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” The father’s answer also revealed his posture: he leaned toward faith and away from doubt.

Jesus offered more than the help of healing. I believe Jesus helped establish a faith that would last a lifetime within that family. They saw firsthand the mercy of God meet their need. What if their greatest need was not healing, but faith to believe God knew them and loved them?

In John’s gospel Jesus tells us that the work God requires is to believe in him. (v 6:29) Unlike the legalists, though, Jesus does more than demand. He supplies. Jesus is not the kind of person unwilling to lift a finger to help us in our deficiencies. He bears our burden of doubt and demonstrates the Father’s heart toward his creation. The gospels reveal his method: Jesus celebrates faith, and provides faith to each of us like a host passing out party favors to each guest. We can come to the party just as we are, he will provide the proper attire.

Over the years I’ve heard people explain, “faith just doesn’t come naturally for me,” as if some are born credulous and others are more naturally incredulous. In truth I suspect we are all inclined toward doubt. We need to find the spring of faith and drink deeply because it is foreign to our nature. But lately we have been told by religious authorities that we are responsible to will ourselves into faith. We are told to get with the program, to give intellectual agreement to the propositions set before us as matters of faith. The only problem is, faith is in a person, not a proposition. Faith is relational long before it is intellectual.

Consider the famous faith-words in Hebrews 11:6, “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”  God invites us into a relationship directed toward him, filled with expectation that he responds.

I cannot imagine that God himself stands, clipboard in hand, checking off a list of religious positions we must hold. “I’m sorry,” he eventually says, “it seems we only agree on seven of the ten necessary positions required.” He closes the doors to the banquet hall and feasts only with those who agree with the required tenets of the correct religious group. No. I suspect God is confident that simply coming to know him more and more will put all questions to rest, and end the arguments among children who don’t understand what they are talking about. We argue about this and that while he says, “Come, get to know me.”

As we place our faith in a Person, I suspect he will love us into complete understanding. I suspect the Holy Spirit had it right when he inspired the words,
Where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
He is the object of my faith, and I simply want to know him more each day. Where does your faith rest?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Monday's Meditation: Discovering My Father

Once I read the Sermon on the Mount and tried to imagine I was one of the people gathered on the hillside. In my imagination I could hear his voice. I felt a breeze soothe the perspiration on my forehead, and I began to hear his words with new ears.

Jesus kept repeating two simple words over and over. When he talked about the light of the world, he used these words. When he talked about loving our enemies, he used these words. And as he moved on to generosity, prayer, and fasting, there again were these same words.

The words I heard over and over were simply, “Your Father. I began to sense that in addition to the substance of the message Jesus preached that day, he was also trying to plant something deep in my spirit: namely, the assurance that God Himself is my Father. 

Rembrandt's Return of the Prodigal
What happened to me as I read the passage and put myself among the listeners was something beyond an idea, beyond a theological construct. I heard his voice remind me again and again,  “You have a Father, a Father in Heaven. What’s more, your Father is within your reach. He’s able to find the most hidden place. He is actively involved in your day, your actions, even your thoughts, and this is a good thing, because he’s your Father.”

I went back to the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, this time with a pen in hand and made a list of affirmations about my Father and me. Alone in my office, I read each statement out loud. I heard the sound of my own voice speak the truth about God, who is also my Father. Of these things I could be sure:
  • My Father encourages me to love my enemies and pray for those who persecute me.
  • My Father wants to perfect me.
  • My Father does not reward “outward performance.”
  • My Father sees what I do in secret and will reward me.
  • My Father will meet me behind closed doors.
  • My Father knows what I need before I ask Him.
  • My Father forgives me when I forgive others.
  • My Father feeds the birds; He will feed me.
  • My Father knows what I need.
  • My Father gives me good gifts from heaven when I ask Him.

That day in my office was too good to keep to myself, so this week I wonder if you could meditate on the simple truth: you have a Father.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Everyone's Entitled to My Opinion: About Under the Tuscan Sun

Call me Nancy. Whenever I myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly, November in my soul; then I account it high time to watch Under the Tuscan Sun. It may cost me my Man-card, but I turn to Diane Lane and the unlikely family gathered around her to embrace again feelings of faith, hope, and love. Come with me.

Audrey Wells’ adaptation of the Frances Mayes memoir probably didn’t target the melancholy middle-age male demographic, but it hits he spot for me. It tells the story of an American writer who buys a broken-down Tuscan villa, even as she is recovering from a divorce, and engages on a restoration project. Both the writer and the villa are restored in due course.

Along the way we meet a real estate broker with the heart of St. Francis of Assisi, a gaggle of Polish construction workers in varied states of emotional distress, and a jilted pregnant lesbian best-friend--all of whom comprise the family gathered around Frances--herself a bit of a work in progress. It doesn’t hurt at all that Frances is played by Diane Lane, the thinking-man’s Hollywood beauty (I say this because I found a thinking man and asked his opinion). 

Spiritual references are added to the film like seasoning: nuns who toddle through various scenes like a waddle of penguins; the expressive silent icon of the the Blessed Virgin, and an Italian wedding scene beautiful enough to cause me to become Catholic (again).

This film portrays the frailty of life and the beauty of restoration. It is a relentlessly hopeful story that women of both sexes will enjoy. In my opinion the guys should bring the chocolate and peanut butter--and leave your Man-card at the door.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

What Are We Missing? Not Much, Only His Voice.

Two weeks ago I finally relented and allowed N.T. Wright to say a few words here at my blog. He did pretty well. Discussing the uniquely American debates regarding the Genesis account of creation he dropped these gems in our laps: “You can describe what it literally says but you don’t catch what’s actually going on.” ~ and ~ “To flatten [Genesis 1 & 2] out into ‘this is simply telling us the world was made in six days’ is almost to perversely to avoid the real thrust of the narrative.” I think the good Bishop may be on to something.

When earnest young believers discover the freedom to question the religious requirements of their elders, they sometimes revel in the freedom to doubt apart from the quest for the truth. The sad result is they simply shed one overbearing master for another, and place their trust in the authoritative voice of science because they no longer trust the voice of religious authority. I’d like to suggest a subversive question: what if both sides miss the point? We can argue the facts and miss the voice of the Spirit.

I’m tired of the debates over whether the earth is young or old. Both sides miss the wonder that the earth exists at all. I’m impatient with the struggle between whether the text is “factual” because neither side seems to be concerned with what the text says to every generation. Facts change from century to century; truth is timeless. I try never to confuse the facts with the truth. Orthodoxy is the settled opinion of whoever is in charge: the voice of the Spirit instead points to the One who is alive, who is loving, who is good, and smarter than us all put together.

Jesus does not submit himself to the latest round scientific discoveries nor to religious scholars who confer degrees. Instead, he comes with a simple offer to his disciples,  “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” He is speaking above the fray. 

To argue over facts is to miss the message of the Spirit. The One who brooded over the waters of chaos is busy revealing the truth about the world and all who dwell therein. To demand a specific interpretation of Genesis is to bottle up the Living Word. Don’t tell me “Aslan is not a tame lion” even as you try to back him into a religious corner.

What if we set aside both our doubt and our certainty, listening instead for the voice of the Master? I’d like to suggest that anyone smart enough to create and sustain the universe is smart enough to write a book that can last through the ages of scientific discovery. What if we are missing the banquet table he set for us? May I share just three appetizers of the meal that remains to be enjoyed in Genesis?

1). Genesis tells us all of creation is good: Science cannot tell us creation is good, it can only point to the obvious--that creation is. Have we failed to hear the voice of the Spirit affirming the goodness and wonder of all that we see? In whatever manner he chose to create, God has transformed his innate goodness into the air we breath and the earth we walk. What if we concentrated on witness of creation rather than the method?

2). God Himself rested: When we read that the Creator God rested on the seventh day from all he had done, we are invited to discover the mind-blowing possibility that by resting from our labors we can become imitators of God. The failure to observe the sabbath is not simply a transgression against some religious law but rather a missed opportunity for transformation.

3). One account is not enough: When we notice the distinctive difference in focus and tone between Genesis 1 and Genesis 2 (I know--it starts at 2:4b, actually) we discover the liberating reality that one account is not enough to describe the nature of God. Chapter One reveals an Eminence who creates from afar off--he spoke, and it was done; he commanded, and it stood fast. Power, glory, and majesty shine forth from this transcendent picture. But that is not enough: in Chapter Two reveals the tender mercies of the God who comes near. The Creator of the universe personally fashions the man and kisses the breath of life into his handiwork. The first picture leads me to trust in God’s power and greatness; the second assures me of his love and care. I am not forced to choose between a god of power and a god of love. He is both, and He is real.

These three ideas are merely suggestions, not definitive judgments on the “meaning of the text.” Yet suggestions like these have given me the freedom to listen for his voice instead of demanding an answer. Do we really imagine our intellect can contain his voice? I prefer to hike the trails in the forest of his revelation. Let the scientists and theologians both examine the leaves, I want to see the beauty of the woods.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Monday's Meditation: Indigenous Worship (dot com)

Today’s meditation is simple: it’s good to help your friends, and my friends have developed a new website!
Worship springing forth from local soil. launches today--a website dedicated to encouraging songwriting in the local church. Why not check it out each day this week as John Mark McMillan discusses songwriting and worship?

One of the downsides to our mass media-drive age is a dreary sameness in cultural expressions--movies, music, and books all begin to merge into one pale hue. But the Kingdom of God should blossom forth into a million blooms, each flower distinctive to the soil that supports it: that’s indigenous worship.

From nation to nation, region to region, even city to city--God should be praised in the idiom of the local people. The book of Revelation celebrates people of every nation, tribe, and tongue--wouldn’t it be a shame if our locality had no songs to bring?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Everyone's Entitled to my Opinion: About John Chapter Three

“Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1: 12 – 13) These famous words come from the opening of John’s gospel, the very same gospel from which we draw the idea of being “born again.”

John’s gospel is famous for the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus in chapter three. Jesus told Nicodemus that the born again experience was necessary to see the Kingdom of God (John 3:3). A more literal rendering of the phrase “born again” is actually born from above. Jesus said, "You must be born from above." Nicodemus understood Jesus’ meaning in terms of a second birth, as the context shows, but the author of the fourth gospel, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit chose his words carefully: while affirming the need for a spiritual rebirth, the words born from above point to the source of that birth—it comes from above. It comes from heaven.

Jesus, whom the scripture describes as “the firstborn among many,” opened the womb of heaven. Now everyone who is born from above has the life-giving Spirit of Jesus. The nature and the power of the resurrection dwell in each new child of God. This is no mere formality: the reality is that because the womb of heaven has been opened by Jesus each believer has the potential to bring heaven to earth. Those who are born from above carry heaven’s DNA with them here on earth, now.

If our view of the new birth in Jesus Christ is limited to going to heaven when we die, then the power of being born again is only effective when we die. If, however, we understand our new birth as being born from above, it means that heaven is breaking into earth as soon as we turn to Jesus. The presence of the Holy Spirit and the resurrection power of the Spirit are available to each new child of God right away. Is heaven breaking into your world?