Projects and Promises

“God, if You don’t want to control everything I do, and I can’t control what You do, then what is our relationship good for, anyway?”

Controlling God.
I was pondering how my prayers don’t really tend to impact too much what God does. That after I prayed that the cold would stop. (I woke up this morning to a day that never pulled its way above freezing.) It occurred to me that a lot of my prayers seem to go unanswered. So many have come true, though.

Imagine. “Prayer coming true.” What a phrase. It’s almost like a wish. I used to know kids who would start their prayers with “I hope…” instead of “I ask…”. I tried to explain that they were using the wrong format; you don’t tell God you hope He does something; you ask Him to do it. But maybe that makes the disappointment easier to handle – you told God you hoped He’d do something, but He doesn’t.

Instead of asking God straight-up, we tell Him how we hope things will turn out. That way He’s not obligated to accept or reject our requests, and us with them. ‘Cause let’s be honest, we all have at least one thing we asked for that God answered no. Suffice it to say, our prayers don’t control God. Continue reading

Be Better.

As a culture, Americans aren’t very nice to ourselves. We have a million self-improvement classes, we go to school to get grades, and we measure our value by the numbers on our paycheck and 401k, the words that are or are not in front of and behind our names (PhD, President, etc). We judge ourselves by the cars we drive, or the cars that other people drive and we can’t, the houses we live in, the houses we don’t live in. The college we get accepted into, our GPA, how beautiful or handsome or rich our spouse is, how respected we are, or aren’t, or how famous we are. Or how our bodies look.

As Christians, we’re not much better. And we’re more committed to our self-improvement. No gym memberships for us, we go to church. We worry if we don’t spend an hour every day in devotions. (Some of us get so discouraged at being unable to spend an hour that we don’t even spend five minutes). We worry about our prayer life, then feel guilty about worrying because Jesus told us not to. We measure our value by whether we’re called, or (some of us) whether we speak in tongues, or tithe, or how much we tithe, or how much we volunteer. Whether we’re good people. Continue reading

Value

I posted this to my Intro to DMA blog back in Fall 2009. I felt like it needed to be reposted here… 🙂

Have you ever noticed that in some films there is a message, intentional or unintentional, that value is dependent upon certain things? For instance…

You’re valuable…

  • if you’re beautiful (think every Disney Princess movie)
  • if you’re strong
  • if you’re clever (MacGyver. etc.)
  • if you become famous
  • if you succeed
  • if you get married or get in a relationship

But then there are other movies where you absolutely fall in love with the people and they are valuable whether they succeed or not, though they may not be beautiful, clever, famous, successful, married, or even in a relationship. Their value doesn’t come from them HAVING something. It comes from them BEING something.

And in a sense, I feel like a lot of Christian-esque films are even MORE guilty of making “you’re valuable IF” statements than “world-esque.” We just have a different list. Continue reading

Fire

You just can’t sit still, can you?

I was taking off my shoes in my apartment when this thought hit me.

There are some people who just can’t sit still. There’s this fire deep inside them, something that refuses to sit down and shut up. They can go do stuff they don’t care about for a while, but eventually the fire will burn a hole in them if they don’t do something they care about. It’ll move them to leave jobs to go do something “important,” and then leave the something important because there’s something more important. Everything is an emergency, everything is priority. These people give themselves 200% when they care, and 50% when they don’t. Feed that fire, and they will be the best workers you’ve ever seen; ignore it, and they will eventually leave. I am one of those people.

If I don’t think what I’m doing will matter for eternity, I get restless. I have to have a God-project, something that I think God wants to have done. I had a long, passionate conversation with one of my friends about that – kept him up ’till about 1:30 one night figuring it out.

I came into my apartment and took off my shoes, and as I did, that thought materialized in my mind.

You just can’t sit still, can you? You always have to have some project, a something burning in your soul. Something central. That fire is meant for Me, not for any of your goals.

It was true. Whether it was God talking or me imagining what He’d say, it was true. So I wrote it down in my prayer journal and hopped in the shower, where the thought continued.

You haven’t been given a mission because you can’t handle a mission. You would worship the mission and not Me.

Busted. Every time I get something that looks like a mission, I turn that fire in my soul on it. I let it take over my life. I might even destroy it, or myself, or others, for the sake of the mission. I let myself run to the point of exhaustion. The fire is meant for Me. I realized that sometimes I let my mission take priority over loving others. I know it. In letting the mission take center stage of my life, I let God slide off center stage. And that’s a dangerous place to be.

God is the only safe containment field for that fire. He is the only safe fuel. The fire was meant for passionate love for Him.
It was not meant for accomplishing His goals.
It was not meant for completing His missions.
It was meant for Him, and Him alone.

That’s my explanation.

What’s yours?

if You ever gave up on me

If You ever gave up on me
decided my fragile sinner’s heart
wasn’t worth the effort
that the diamond underneath
was really only dirt
and finally ran out of endless grace
if one day my sins hit four-nine-one
if one day your endless grace was gone
and You told me it was too late,
I could never again find redemption, well
…welcome to hell.

It would kill me; I would die
I’d quit on life
’cause I couldn’t be alive
or I’d wander the streets
weeping redemption
telling them not to take Your grace
so loosely
like I did
before it’s too late for them too.

It’s the prophets with the end ripped out Continue reading

Preach

I learned during my very formative years that the world was largely filled with people who were going to hell because they didn’t believe in Jesus. I also learned that my primary job as a Christian is to get other people to believe in Jesus so they will go to heaven and not go to hell.

I heard sermons telling me that on God’s final judgment day, I would see every person I had ever met and not told about Jesus and heaven and hell and they would ask “Why didn’t you warn me?” I even heard a story about a man who had “seen one person saved per day.” For years, he prayed with at least one person who wanted to accept Jesus every single day.

I was raised roughly Arminian, I think, which is to say that I believed that people had choices about whether they would become Christians or not. Being raised Arminian is pretty rough, because you believe two things: Everyone in the world has a choice about whether they’re going to accept Christ, or reject Him, and it’s your job to tell them. Matthew 28:19 was often called “The Great Omission” because every Christian was supposed to go make other people accept Jesus, and so few actually were. It never occurred to me that Jesus has been saving people without my help for over 4,000 years.

I always had a hard time with that because I was selling other people something I hadn’t actually experienced for myself but believed was true and couldn’t prove. Life-after-death fire insurance. Also, I was taught in church was that accepting Jesus and living for Him means accepting a boring life where one gives up anything that is remotely fun in exchange for what is spiritual. In a paraphrase of Rob Bell’s words, “Religious people don’t throw very good parties.” And so I’ve lived most of my life with a screaming in my heart that says that I have to get other people to accept Jesus. And I’ve had jobs where I’ve woken up every morning with a profound sense of emptiness because I wasn’t getting other people to accept Jesus through those jobs.

Then I heard Mark Driscoll talk about how only the “elect,” those God chooses, are going to heaven, and everyone else is going to hell, and how that’s completely fair because God *should* send everyone to hell, and the elect will become Christians when they are preached to. From that perspective, if I don’t preach to someone who is elect, then someone else will and they will become Christians anyway because they are elect, so that takes a little bit of the pressure off… but it still makes God seem kinda mean because he chooses some people to go to hell, no matter how you frame it. He’s just and fair, but kind of mean to everyone he doesn’t choose to be gracious to.

So when Love Wins came out, and Rob Bell said that maybe people who don’t “receive [Jesus] by that name precisely” (Athol Dickson‘s words) may find their way into eternity with God, I almost cried when I got to the end because of three things (I didn’t quite realize what they were until I had had a few months to process it and read other books):

  1. Maybe I don’t have to go out and sell everyone on what I was raised to believe was “the gospel” (that everyone was bad and going to hell and Jesus came and died so they wouldn’t have to).
  2. Maybe God is more gracious than I first thought.
  3. Maybe there is indeed something about Christianity that is worth sharing that isn’t guilt, condemnation, and fear of hell.

The first has been discussed already, so I’ll grab the other two.

If God is, in the words of Paul in II Corinthians 5:19, “…reconciling the world to Himself, not counting men’s sins against them,” then that could truly be good news! Maybe people don’t have to believe that they’re evil and God is angry with them for their sins to be reconciled to God. And maybe those who have been harmed in Jesus’ name may one day be reconciled to God in spite of their inherent distaste for the name they believe to be responsible for their wrecked lives. Maybe some people who haven’t heard about Jesus may still be counted righteous. Maybe the doors of heaven are open to more people than we thought.

I have not become a universalist. I still believe that “no man comes to the Father except through [Jesus]” (John 14:6). Like my facebook post said the other day, “Jesus is the front door to the dining hall, and there are no other doors.” But haven’t you ever been somewhere and not known where you were or quite how you got there? Tell me you’ve never had someone ask, “Did you come through the foyer?” and said “What foyer?” They pointed back where you just came from and said, “That one.” I’m beginning to suspect that people may be able to come to the Father through Jesus without necessarily realizing it.

There are some who have said that if God lets people in who haven’t accepted Jesus by that name precisely, then that makes Jesus death, burial and bodily resurrection irrelevant. I don’t understand how that logic even works (though Ree tried to explain it to me). If God accepts more people, it can only be by Jesus’ work on the cross, thus making Jesus work on the cross more effectual, rather than less!

But these are rabbit trails. The real discussion I wanted to start was this:

What would you do with your life if you stopped believing that the eternal destinies of other people lay in your hands?

Because I really don’t know what I would do.

I posted my question on facebook and got no responses from the usual suspects. Nobody touched it. But this is hugely important for me. I’ve lived my life with a screaming inside of my soul that won’t sit down or shut up, telling me that people are going to hell, and they need to accept Jesus, and I need to tell them about Him, so they can stop having “fun” to have “real fun” which is usually… not really fun.

But if Rob Bell is right, and if Jesus was right and being a Christian means living life to the max (John 10:10), then maybe I can live my life with arms, eyes, mouth, and heart wide open. Maybe I can live free like the birds who don’t have to worry. Maybe I can live righteously and feed the poor and be delighted in giving (because I have experienced that! Giving is fantastic! It’s way more fun to give money to someone who needs it than it is to use it for yourself!) Maybe I don’t have to feel guilty about enjoying the good gifts that God has given to me.

And maybe I can tell this screaming voice inside of me to finally shut up… because voices that scream aren’t Jesus. He whispers.

On the other hand, maybe it’s the Holy Spirit, and it’s actually a consistent quiet whisper. Because I still need to do work that feels meaningful, work that actually translates into things that are good. Maybe that’s why I like Jumonville so much. I haven’t had to tell anyone that they need to become a Christian. I’ve told them they’re beautiful unrepeatable miracles. I’ve told them that Jesus loves them. Some have accepted Jesus during Wednesday Worship… but there isn’t this compelling to tell them.

And never once have I woken up wondering why I do what I do.

So now I’m trying to figure out what I like to do. What work it is that makes me wake up in the morning with the sense that this is what I was made for? What has God made me for? How can I be a part of God’s good and creative work in the world?

A lot of my life has had to do with affirmation – having people pat me on the back and say “Good job, kid.” I’m a pleaser. I want people to be happy with me and what i’m doing. …So largely I end up not doing what I want, but doing what I think will make other people happy. Ree asked me what I do when there’s nobody to please, nobody watching to say “Good job.”

…And I told her that I don’t know, because i’ve hardly ever had time like that except when i’m completely by myself, and then i’m usually bored and watching movies or something… because I’m alone.

What would you do?

Reflections on the Holocaust

Not for the weak of stomach. Exit while you can. Written on a sheet of notebook paper and transcribed.

I’m sitting outside of chapel, They’re doing praise and worship inside, and I can’t go in. Not yet.

We just watched a holocaust video. For the first time, I cried over it. The inhumanity. This must have been what YHVH saw when He sent the flood. I can’t go into chapel. I need to process this.

God, You let the human race go on? After such inhumane, abominable atrocities? There are no words, no adjectives, to adequately describe the horror, the revolting… the camera pointed at a corpse on a man’s shoulders… and stayed on him, and so many others. To run the camera, and not point it away because the world needs to see it. Why? I don’t really even know. Because it’s true. Because it’s terrible. You want to cry out “NEVER AGAIN,” but it has ALREADY happened again. And somewhere in the world, it is probably happening now.

Thousands of dead
starved beyond recognition as humanity
tossed – unceremonious – into mass graves
calloused guards, uncaring citizens
bulldozers, and a sign:
__“Grave No. 3, No: 5000” on the grave.
Typhus, lice, starvation
Blood crying out from the ground
__Am I my brother’s keeper?
Human skin, cut off, and used
__as lampshades.
This is what Elie Wiesel saw.

Beware of lies that poison the soul
calling any less than human.
Auschwitz’ sign, a stark bleak warning:
“Do not repeat this desolation.”

Continue reading

Instructions for Living in the Empire

There are a few “fringe theologians” who disavow friendship with the United States of America. Some, like Shane Claiborne, refer to the USA as “Empire” and disavow it, trying to live “off the grid,” away from the realm of America. The idea that the church is this Kingdom of God that will never be destroyed or conquered, and that all other kingdoms will crumble into nothingness (Daniel 2:44) and that, as Christians, we should live away from it and wait for it to fall. It makes sense in some ways… which is why it’s such attractive heresy.

Last night, I was reading in Jeremiah 29 from The Message and found a few lines that were, at least for the moment, more fascinating than verse 11:

This is the Message from God-of-the-Angel-Armies, Israel’s God, to all the exiles I’ve taken from Jerusalem to Babylon:

“Build houses and make yourselves at home.

Put in gardens and eat what grows in that country.

Marry and have children. Encourage your children to marry and have children so that you’ll thrive in that country and not waste away.

Make yourselves at home there and work for the country’s welfare.
Pray for Babylon’s well-being. If things go well for Babylon, things will go well for you.” (Jeremiah 29:4-7, MSG, emphasis mine) Continue reading

Saviour, renamed.

So I was reading Numbers a week or two ago and I came upon this odd little verse tucked away in chapter 13:

“These are the names of the men whom Moses sent to spy out the land; but Moses called Hoshea the son of Nun, Joshua.”

Why, I wondered, did Moses change Joshua’s name to Joshua? What did his other name, Hoshea, mean? I looked them both up in my strong’s hebrew reference. Here’s what Hoshea means:

Howshea, from the root yasha, meaning 1) to save, be saved, be delivered, to be liberated, be saved, be delivered, to be saved (in battle), be victorious, to save, deliver, to save from moral troubles, to give victory to.

Well, that’s pretty clear. Hoshea’s name meant saver, deliverer, liberator, victor… savior. But what about Joshua, the new name?

The Hebrew for Joshua is YÄ•howshuwa. It’s a blend of YÄ•hovah and Howshea. Yehovah. That’s the word most English bibles translate “the LORD” with LORD in all caps. It’s God’s holy name. It means “The Eternal One,” “The Existing One.”

So Joshua is a mix of two words: One, the name of our Lord, and the other, Savior, redeemer, rescuer. What just happened here?

Here’s what I personally believe: Moses needed Hoshea to know that he is not the savior. God is. So Moses changed his name to “God Saves.” It was a reminder that no person gets to be savior – God does. I wrote some of this down in my notebook. Hosheas must be renamed to Joshuas before they can be of any use to God. Before we can be of any use, we must be renamed from “I save” to “God saves.”

And then over the past couple weeks He’s been showing me how desperately I try to be the savior. I use Him for my plans to save people, instead of allowing Him to use ME for HIS. Last sunday in church I hit my knees and repented. I’m praying now…

God, I’m not the Savior. You are. I don’t want to use YOU as a part of my plan, but instead I want YOU to use ME as a part of YOURS.