Thursday, April 26, 2012

LIFE WITH GOD


This is the final installment of the dialogue on the book "WITH" by Skye Jethani.  His four postures have demonstrated all the ways we misunderstand our relationship with God and how we in turn interact with our misunderstood God.  The second half of his book focuses on a fifth posture from which the book gets its title.  Life "with" God is what a healthy understanding and a healthy interaction with God is meant to be.  Jethani states that Relationship is the core of the very purpose of God.  God did not create anything so that creation or us could live under, for, from, or over God but rather in intimate relationship WITH God.  God did not create and step back from creation but instead has been intimately involved WITH it from the beginning and remains so now.

God is meant to be our treasure, not a tool we use to accomplish a noble cause.  In order for God to be our treasure, for us to live WITH God, then we must stop settling for anything less than God's self.  Not simply acknowledge God's movements, praise for God's gifts, or in awe of God's creation, we must seek to walk in the very presence of God and allow God to journey with us.  Jesus demonstrated this type of relationship when he said, "The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works.  Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me." John 14.10-11  Granted Jesus is God so that is a little unfair to say he and YHWH have the same relationship we could with God.  However, Jesus also says, "Abide in me as I abide in you." John 15:4 and "..the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all I have said to you." John 14:26

In other words we have an intimate relationship WITH God, Son, and Spirit: the Triune God.  How amazing is that!  It is not about doing for God, placing ourselves over God, using God to get stuff from him, or even placing ourselves under his laws.  It is all about relationship.  That was the great thing that was severed in the Garden of Eden.  God would walk WITH the people prior to their desire to be equal to God.  And that is the great reunion in Revelation when, "...the home of God is among the mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples and God himself will be with them;...See, I am making all things new...no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.  And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and the lamp is the Lamb" Rev. 21:3, 5, 22-23

There are practices, rites, prayers, scripture readings, and other spiritual exercises and disciplines that can aid you in being more aware of this relationship.  But none of them are the relationship itself.  Life WITH God is simply that, being WITH God.  May it be so.  Thanks be to God.

WEBLINKS


Green Thumb?
Interested in environmentalism or just learning more about good creation care?  There is an ecumenical group called Green Faith offering free webinars on the topic.  Check em out.

Also Rachel Held Evans has a great series called, "Ask a..." where she asks different people to explain their beliefs via questions posted by here readers.  She is currently asking an environmentalist.  To follow this conversation click here.


Practicing Resurrection one park at a time

Shane Claiborne might be one of the most down to earth leaders in the church today.  He and his community The Simple Way are building green spaces in northern Philadelphia.  "It used to be easier to get a gun than a salad in this neighborhood."  Read this article.

Where do "Biblical Views" come from?
This is a must read article! Because it asks a great question, where do Biblical Views Come from?  Quotable:
"In 1979, McDonald’s introduced the Happy Meal.Sometime after that, it was decided that the Bible teaches that human life begins at conception....
That year, Christianity Today — edited by Harold Lindsell, champion of “inerrancy” and author of The Battle for the Bible — published a special issue devoted to the topics of contraception and abortion. That issue included many articles that today would get their authors, editors — probably even their readers — fired from almost any evangelical institution. For example, one article by a professor from Dallas Theological Seminary criticized the Roman Catholic position on abortion as unbiblical. Jonathan Dudley quotes from the article in his book Broken Words: The Abuse of Science and Faith in American Politics. Keep in mind that this is from a conservative evangelical seminary professor, writing in Billy Graham’s magazine for editor Harold Lindsell:
God does not regard the fetus as a soul, no matter how far gestation has progressed. The Law plainly exacts: “If a man kills any human life he will be put to death” (Lev. 24:17). But according to Exodus 21:22-24, the destruction of the fetus is not a capital offense. … Clearly, then, in contrast to the mother, the fetus is not reckoned as a soul.
Christianity Today would not publish that article in 2012. They might not even let you write that in comments on their website. If you applied for a job in 2012 withChristianity Today or Dallas Theological Seminary and they found out that you had written something like that, ever, you would not be hired.
At some point between 1968 and 2012, the Bible began to say something different. That’s interesting."



read the rest by clicking the link above.



Young Adults and Finances
USA TODAY's cover story from Tuesday was titled, "The Cost of Financial Illiteracy" and it discussed the way millennials (18-29 year olds) are poor with finances, buried under college debt, and are leading the trend in unemployment at 12.4%.

Student loans interest rates might be on the rise.  But President Obama to demonstrated his passion for keeping loans low by slow jamming with Jimmy Fallon earlier this week.


Dealing with Online Criticism
So if you have posted on a social media site or blog, you have probably encountered criticism for your comments or thoughts.  Sometimes these are friends keeping you in check or even a "frienemy" who you went to college with and seems to spend all their free time finding ways to start arguments with you.  Or if you blog it could be a complete stranger.  Here are some steps at dealing with online criticism.

Where do you read the Bible?
here is a cool article about finding new places to read scripture to help you get out of a rut and engage the scriptures in new ways.

Mark Driscoll is a Wrong!
Blogger Joshua Case shares the ways that Scripture and Faith are deeper than single conservative issues.

The Mystery of Forgiveness
Episcopal Priest and former college president and former baseball coach who wishes to be known online simply as 4peregrini has a great blog that shares his journey of faith.  This weeks post is on the mystery of forgiveness.  Check it out.





Thursday, April 19, 2012

Weblinks 2-19-2012

There has been so many good articles written this week it is hard to filter them all out.  Enjoy.

Biblical Commentary
Students of Jesus site posted a good piece on Jesus being friends of Pharisees.  We often point out how much time Jesus spent with the poor, prostitutes, and various other scaly wags we forget some of his biggest interactions were with the religious elite of his day.

Faith and Politics: Why speaking out and keeping silent can both be wrong
Here is a little reflection on keeping silent vs. speaking out during an election year.

Want to increase the sell numbers of your magazine?  Put Jesus, an angel, or Mary on the cover.  It is a proven fact this will immediately double circulation.  Here are some responses to Newsweek's most recent cover story on Jesus and the Church.

Facing the Fear Factor in Faith

Thoughtful


Technology and Ministry
There's an app for that!  Well at least there is according to the Technoholic Pastor.  Check out this blog for all the ways ministry and technology mix!

Downside to Cohabitation
Lots of people live together before getting married these days.  Most of them young adults.  One of the most common reasons is to "feel it out" before committing to a marriage.  Well a recent NY Times article thinks this might be a mistake.

Interesting
After suffering a miscarriage a couple went about their grief differently.  The wife went to church, the husband chose to learn from every 12 different religious settings.  Here is his story.

Funniest:
Many of my friends are huge fans of Pinterest.    Here are 13 signs your addicted to Pinterest.  #6 two words: Electronic Hoarder For those who don't know Pinterest is essentially a giant digital cork board for you to post all your favorite things from the web.  You can see your board and view the boards of others...sort like Facebook without the hassle of having to actually interact with anyone!

Links within a Link
 here are some of Steve Thorngates favorite links this week.

For would be Bloggers
Ever thought about starting your own blog?  Here is some encouragement from one of the best named blogs ever, People I want to Punch in the Throat


Monday, April 16, 2012

Life For God

We are almost done with our conversation on Skye Jethani series "With"  Today's topic is Life for God.  This position is just like it sounds.  Living a life "for" God to the point of it being unhealthy for self, others, and just a down right misunderstanding of what God actually wants from us as followers.

So far we have looked at three positions Life under God tries to manipulate God through obedience to secure blessings and avoid calamity.  Life over God uses him as a source of principles or our favorite doctrines. Life from God uses him to supply our material desires.  Life FOR God might be one of the most toxic and one I have seen personally more than any other.  Life for God seeks to use God for his mission and gain a sense of personal self worth through doing "work for Jesus."

I attended a conservative Christian college and a less conservative seminary.  Both places were filled with people who sought to do great things for God.  This is in itself noble really in my opinion. But in the Life for God posture something gets warped along the way in one of two ways.  Both seek to find self worth and personal value in the amount and kind of work they are doing in the name of Jesus/God/Church.   In college I experienced what was described to me as "unhealthy holy guilt."  I didn't grow up going to church every Sunday or anything too dramatic, but somewhere in high school I got involved in the local church, went through a  spiritual awakening of sorts, and felt called to the ministry (this is all very Baptist language. For those unfamiliar with such language lets say, I fell in love with the Church and felt led to be a member of the clergy.).  I wanted and still want, to do great things with and for God.  However at some point I realized I was full of sin.  Not even "huge" sin just run of the mill teenage/young adult sin...lust, envy, selfishness, vulgar language, etc.  I believed that I could not possibly be of any value to myself or to my God if I continued to allow these sins to keep creeping into my life on a daily basis.  I didn't believe that God loved me in spite of my sin but only loved me in the moments I conquered it through will power or a lucky break.  I would pray and struggle and cry out to God and friends and ask, "How can I possible by a minister if I have this sin or that sin in my life?"  I think many people struggle with this.  They want to do great things but feel they are completely worthless until they achieve some sort of puritan work ethic that is completely sin free.

The other possible out come I noticed more in seminary.  This type of person was not so much guilt ridden with sin, but instead over compensated with doing good ministry.  I mean really good things.  There were some students who decided a downtown area needed a more Christian presence, so they bought/rented a home in a dangerous part of town filled with theft, prostitution, drugs, and the like.  They decided to befriend these people and actually made some head way into the community.  Others worked in youth programs, started theater groups, preached in rural areas, worked with a local homeless shelter, and the list could go on.  On the surface this all seemed like we were all super Christians doing amazing things for God in our city.   The issue became in our conversations when we began to wonder if "the ministry" was for us anymore.  We began to pull away from lives of prayer.  We only read the scriptures to find passages about social justice and to shake our fists at those who failed to see them.  We had gone the other direction.  No longer guilt ridden by sin, but instead driven to do more.  More ministry, more homeless needs met, more youth preached to, more social justice, more prostitute pancake breakfasts, more backyard bible clubs, more mission trips, more, more, more.  Until by the time we got to our final year of seminary we all wanted to just quit everything.  We had all experienced burn out and we had not even been hired yo our first full time church position yet.

This is a skewed version of what God wants for us.  Life for God is like the good son in the prodigal son parable. He did everything the father asked and felt jaded when the father wanted to celebrate the prodigals return.  He complained and the father, true to his character reminded this "good" son that he could have spent everyday WITH him but instead had just as damaged relationship as the prodigal.  The prodigal took his inheritance and ran off and squandered it.  No relationship there.  But the good son was just as bad spending all day in the fathers field farming, all night in the fathers barn yard tending the sheep, and slept but a few hours.  He did all this for the father, instead of doing it WITH the father.  If your a thousand miles from the father or just a stones throw away, if you don't journey WITH the father your both wrong.  For the father what matters to him most was not the disobedience of the one or the obedience of the other, but he simply wished to be WITH them.

Only two more posts to go and we will discuss what LIFE WITH GOD looks like.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thursday Links and Life From God

It has been a week since my last post and I failed to offer any links during Holy Week.  So below are a few links and part 4 of the interaction with Skye Jethani's book With.


Voltaire is believed to have said, "If God made us in his image, we have returned him the favor."  In an inkblot test patients are asked to share what they "see" in the random inkblots. The response is said to be a reflection of what is going on the persons own mind.  We sometimes like to give God a makeover.  When we ask others "What is God like?" it becomes a religious inkblot test.  We tend to project onto God our own identities, values, and biases.

Our modern American world is driven and defined by consumerism and constant consumption.  So much so that our recent economic downturn caused by overspending and runaway debt, was attempted to be cured by stimulus money that would "jump start" the economy.  We overspent, we are in debt up to our eyeballs, and the only way we can think to fix it is to spend our way out of it.  This reveals more than an economic system but an entire core of beliefs system.

Two images...consumerism and the tendency to turn God into ourselves. This is what drives the "Life from God" posture.  The belief that God exists to satisfy our consumer desires to meet only what we need or desire. The extreme position on this is the "health and wealth" gospel often promoted from televised pulpits and radio shows.  It is appealing because it does not ask us to change.  What we desire, what we seek, what we do, and how we live--all shaped by selfishness and consumerism--are projected onto God and incorporated into our religious systems.

Let's be honest God does wish to provide our needs. We know every good gift comes from God.  Jesus tells us to ask God for whatever we need.   All things that have life and breath come from God.  However when we become focused on this one aspect of God we lose sight of what he is actually about.  Besides all of these things are centered around need not desires, wants, or a life of ease.  Our consumerism tendencies make us believe that God and everyone else revolves around us. God is seen as a commodity like any other good in our marketplace.  When God is delivering we praise him, we add value to his stock, and tell others about this Great God that helped me get my new favorite whatever (good family, big house, nice car, flat screen tv, good friends, or the job of your dreams).  When God stops "paying off" we walk away.

The word Amusement means, "not to think." Part of our consumerism is built around our desire to be entertained.  To silence out the fears, struggles, and pains in the world.  We have adopted this into the church.  Give me better music, a better youth program, a nicer building, and if you can't I will go someplace where I can.  The effort is to not actually interact with a powerful God, but to drown out our pain and the world around us.  As though we are placing noise reducing headphones on our heads once a week.  In a world with more Christian programming like radio channels, tv shows, and internet sites than ever before why are people walking away at a faster rate than ever before? Because drowning out the pain doesn't make it go away.

Life from God is like the prodigal son who took his fathers wealth and then lost it all.  He got all he wanted from his father, went off and used it up.  When he ran out he humbly returned to his father for a job.  But the father demonstrated his great love running out to meet his son while he was a long way off.  Are we ready to run back to father and meet his outstretched running arms?  Or are we still trying to pay the slot until it pays off?

Links


  1. Here is a series of articles about the Women who played such key rolls during the Passion Week.
  2. A perspective on "What's Keeping Young Adults Out of Church"
  3. 2012 College grads might have better job opportunities and higher incomes than previous grads.
  4. Burma now mostly a democracy?
  5. Living a life of Resurrection.  A good article at Christian Century.
  6. ABC USA Missionaries safe in India after 8.7 earthquake.

Best Quote of the Week from Andrew Sullivan at the Daily Beast
This Christianity comes not from the head or the gut, but from the soul. It is as meek as it is quietly liberating. It does not seize the moment; it lets it be. It doesn’t seek worldly recognition, or success, and it flees from power and wealth. It is the religion of unachievement. And it is not afraid. In the anxious, crammed lives of our modern twittering souls, in the materialist obsessions we cling to for security in recession, in a world where sectarian extremism threatens to unleash mass destruction, this sheer Christianity, seeking truth without the expectation of resolution, simply living each day doing what we can to fulfill God’s will, is more vital than ever. It may, in fact, be the only spiritual transformation that can in the end transcend the nagging emptiness of our late-capitalist lives, or the cult of distracting contemporaneity, or the threat of apocalyptic war where Jesus once walked. You see attempts to find this everywhere—from experimental spirituality to resurgent fundamentalism. Something inside is telling us we need radical spiritual change.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Conversing "With" Skye Jethani pt 3

This is the third installment in a series titled, "Conversing 'With' Skye Jethani" where I discuss his book With and his four postures.  Having already discussed "Life under God" today we move on to "Life over God."

I want to start by restating the question that ended the last post.  What if your system is perfectly designed to get the results you are experiencing?  In other words what if the reason so many people are leaving the church is because we have not taught, preached, and thought about God well.  What if the models of Christianity we have presented to a generation of people have actually led them to believe the Church is useless.  What if it is not about music, cool coffee shops, and more relaxed attire for service.  What if young adults are not so shallow that a building remodel, a new praise band, and a cool tattoo are all one needs to attract them to Christ.  What if they have seen the theology and practice of Christians in the Church around them and found them wanting.

This leads us to "Life over God."  This posture can be traced back to the Enlightenment period in history.  A period when we began to scientifically reimagine the way we view our universe and our daily lives.  Make no mistake at how powerful this thinking still shapes our everyday world.  The universe is no longer a mysterious thing that we have to keep in delicate balance by appeasing a fickle God like "Life under God" but instead a law or machine that can be analyzed and actions predicted.  The extreme of this view is of course atheism.  There is no need for God or religion because we can figure it all out on our own.  Simply study the laws of nature, physics, and math and you can eventually figure out the world around you. Gain control over it and subdue it.

I am personally less concerned about atheism and more concerned with how this plays out in the hearts and minds of Christians and the Church.  Because while belief in God remains high globally how we relate to God has changed dramatically since the late 17th Century.  While atheism might be the extreme on one side within the world of those who at least acknowledge that God exists we have what has been called Deism.  Deism is the idea that God does exist but he is not intimately involved in his Creation.  He sort of created everything then stepped back and just sort of watches us fight it out to the death.  Christians may not openly hold this view or be aware of it but it certainly creeps into our thoughts.  This is the type of person who does not allow God to have a direct impact on their daily lives, but deeply desires "Godly principles" to rule the day.  Think to all the debates over displaying the Ten Commandments.  This type of person seeks to display them because they believe these laws should be a guide for civil authority however they may have no actual personal relationship with God on a daily basis.  Any popular culture issue from the past two decades; prayer in schools, abstinence vs. sexual education, definition of marriage or creation vs. evolution are all rooted in two very predictable camps...Life over God vs Life under God...basically two skewed views of God, neither being right.  Because whether it's deism, secular humanism, or even atheism, none of them leave much room for God.

For me this can be a very tempting view of God.  It would make my life a whole lot easier if I could just say, "Okay God you exist.  You left us some good principles to go by.  Now let me run my business, run your church, and run my family as I see fit.  Thanks for being the big man upstairs but please don't meddle in my daily life."  In reality we often do this, even if it's unintentional.  For others it's more intentional.  I would call it evangelical biblicism.  The idea that we dive deep into scriptures to find 6 principles on how to have a healthy family, 4 keys to dealing with money, 3 tips from the book of James on how to be a more inviting church, or the 8 things Moses did as a leader.  I don't want to down play scripture this blog is titled "Shaped by the Story" after all. But it is not the fourth person of the trinity either.  The problem comes when we have a better relationship with the Bible than we do with the God of the Bible.  We get more wrapped up in the Word than we do in the Word who was from the beginning and was made flesh to dwell among us.  We use the ten commandments, the creation stories, random OT verses, and some commentators insights into biblical leadership and raise them up as our model but have no relationship with the Author and Perfector of our faith. We are not called to love the Bible, we are called to love God with our hearts, mind, soul, and strength and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  To do the former and ignore to latter is to be a Pharisee. To do the latter without the former is to be a social worker only.  We must have a balance.  Life over God is not that balance.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Life Under God

This is part 2 of a series I began earlier in the week, "Conversing "With" Sky Jethani.  Today we take up his posture, "Life under God."  

Jethani, states that a life is dangerous, people naturally live in fear of that danger, and that in order to feel safe we seek control over the more unpredictable elements of life.  This cycle of danger, fear, and control feed the first posture, "Life under God."  Throughout history many have claimed this posture to be the primary reason for the existence of religion in general.  The idea that a deity must be appeased in order to avoid calamity.  And very near to it the idea that if you obey a set of religious laws, rules, traditions etc, that said deity would reward you with blessings of food, good weather, health, children, a parking spot close to the store entrance, whatever your particular need may be that day. The counter is of course if you do not receive such blessings then you have somehow offended the deity or failed to obey all the laws correctly.

This is the most basic understanding of what "Life under God" looks like.  The irony of this position is that we seek to gain control OVER an unpredictable God/world by placing ourselves UNDER the rules, rituals, and practices that will make God do our bidding.  Through our faithful worship, daily bible reading, and righteous living we expect to place God in our debt and thus to do our bidding.  Much like a marionette trying to control God in order to control our unpredictable world, this "Life under God," seeks to get God to perform like a puppet on our stage of life.

This type of theology has been taught, preached, and given examples of timeless numbers of times in our churches.  The rub comes when a young Christian follows every law, restriction, and moral code and they don't get what they want. Their attempts to control God through a strict adherence to Christian rules and practices still leaves them single into their late twenties, not getting into their college of choice, not getting job they wanted or the promotion they needed to pay the rent, or still have a child with a handicap.  Or worse yet they realize they have no chance of fulling living out the laws and rules so they just give up all together.  This posture has left many tasting a version of Christianity that tastes bitter and requires a lot of work for very little in return.  The quid pro quo has failed.  So they leave the church or fall into another weak version of Christianity.

Like many of you, I have had seasons where I viewed God in this way.  For me my most "Life under God" season was during college.  I came from a pretty conservative background.  College is a time to not only grow academically but to develop as an adult and an individual.  However, my view of God was skewed.  The main area of ethic that was emphasized of course for college students is sex and academic integrity.  Don't cheat and don't have sex.  Don't think about either.  If you obey these rules then you will have a rewarding college experience, develop friendships that last a lifetime, get a great job, find a hot wife and [insert your dream here].  Of course this is completely false.  I have a friend who never even kissed another girl before he met his college girlfriend who became his wife, only to have her put him through a painful divorce seven years later.  I know people who were examples of academic integrity and mental acuity only to be jobless and broke even now 10 years after college.  I also know of cheaters and horny students who have families and successful businesses.

God is unpredictable...think everyone's favorite C.S. Lewis quote from the Narnia tales. God is not safe.  Jesus even turned this belief on its head when he pointed out seemingly blessed people like the wealthy and said they were far from the Kingdom of Heaven.  For me this posture only led to guilt. Guilt I could not live up to God's laws and standards.  Guilt about being mad when I didn't get something I wanted even though I had a quiet time everyday for a month and didn't have sex. Guilt when I sinned and a feeling like I could never do enough to make it up.  It is a wonder I stuck with my faith for so long living under this posture.   Life under God is a narrow and one dimensional and useless way to look at the Creator of the universe.  But many young adults believe this because it is what has been taught to them.

Jethani was once asked to think on this question.  What if your system is perfectly designed to achieve the results you're experiencing?  Maybe it's not an anomaly but rather the way you [teach, preach, lead, think about God] is achieving their natural ends.  It would seem to me if this is the primary view of God, the Church, and Christianity, that others have been exposed to, it is no wonder they are walking out the door as quickly as possible.  There is no life, no relationship, and no hope in such a posture.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Conversing "WITH" Skye Jethani

A while back I stumbled across a powerful speaker/pastor/author named Skye Jethani.  Skye is the teaching pastor at Blanchard Alliance Church in Wheaton, IL and serves as the managing editor of Leadership Journal's Out of Ur.  He is also a regular contribute to Relevant Magazine and the Huffington Post. Skye is the author of two books The Divine Commodity a conversation around the consumeristic tendencies of the Western Church and With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God.  

For the next few weeks I am going to interact with With because I think it gets to the foundation of why so many young Christians are walking away from the Church.  In my very first blog post I mentioned the reasons why I have chosen to stay in the church even though it is common knowledge the Western Church is shrinking. This series of posts seeks to identify some of the reasons people are leaving and what can be done to turn the tide.  No book or blog can possibly accurately identify every single reason any one person or group of persons chooses to leave a church, walk away from a life of faith, or convert to another faith.  However, it is good to talk about just them same with those who seem to have a pulse on the situation.

Through With Skye Jethani shares his belief that there are four main reasons people are leaving the church.  He believes that those who are actually leaving, not those who have never been a part, have become inoculated by a completely powerless faith.  The four postures he proposes are warped versions of the Christian life, that left unnoticed or unidentified will continue to cast poor visions of Christianity that once tasted will leave one feeling unfulfilled if not cheated by the Christian life.  The four postures are a life under God, a life over God, a life from God, and a life for God.  Each one has a merit of truth to it, but each one is really a weak, one dimensional, useless version of what real Christian is about, a life with God.  Hence the title of the book.

So if you want to learn more about all the four postures and my take on them, follow along the next few weeks as we discuss With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God.  Each post will focus on one of the four postures, then we will conclude the series by examining his four solutions life with God, life with faith, life with hope, and life with love.  Below is a video that summarizes his four postures.