Jesus fields a question about what happens to people when they die. It’s a theology question. About other people. Jesus’ answer burns away the arm’s-length safety of the question and reframes it in a way we can’t ignore. Instead of answering “How many will go to heaven when they die?” Jesus requires each of us to ask, “Will I go to heaven when I die?”
Everybody dies. The door to heaven is narrow. We all live on in eternity, but not everyone will be in heaven with God, enjoying His favor forever. If you hope to make it into the Kingdom of God – through the narrow door – you must enter alone before God. We come one at a time.
What about you? Here is the GOOD NEWS. There is a Door. And it’s still open. Right now.
>> This message is found in Luke 13:22-30. You can read it online here.
When you boil your goals and values and priorities down to the very core, and you strip away all the non-essentials, can you identify your ONE THING? Cut through the clutter and see what it is that you’re really living for.
>> Please follow along in Luke10:38-42. You can read it online here.
This July, 1,800+ souls gathered together for a week of worship and Bible study and relational bonding at the YMCA of the Rockies camp up in the mountains of Estes Park, CO. This was FLY 2013, the Association of Free Lutheran Congregations Youth Convention, held every two years. My wife Amy and I were grateful to be asked to speak this year on July 4, for the Thursday evening services. As I spoke to the men and boys in the Longhouse, Amy had an opportunity to speak to the girls in the Assembly Hall just up the hill. The theme of the convention was “Broken,” taken from Isaiah 53. The text we focused on for the evening was Isaiah 53:10-12.
Last night I watched “Blue Like Jazz” for the first time. It would be accurate to say I am a fan of Donald Miller, although I have to qualify that statement. I appreciate the ART of Donald Miller because it is honest and insightful. I do not look to Donald Miller for theological profundity. Likewise I found “Blue Like Jazz” the movie to be beautiful in some ways, because it was honest and insightful, but not because it was theologically profound.
So people are asking me what I thought. I’m conflicted.
Here’s what I like…
“Blue Like Jazz” tells the truth. “Christian” art (a label I am rapidly liking less and less) doesn’t always do that. In fact, much art slapped with a “Christian Art” label tries to paint a picture (in some case, I mean this quite literally) representing a sanitized world, safe for church people to enter without feeling too threatened or having their feathers ruffled out of alignment. Thomas Kinkade is perhaps the poster-boy for this kind of art, which looks one the one hand to be deemed “safe” for Christian consumption, but on the other hand, is actually very dangerous in its “sanitization” of our condition. In a brilliant critique of Kinkade’s work (read the whole article here), Daniel A. Siedell writes:
“The Edenic world Kinkade projects is pretty much the fallen world without the dirtiness of the city and the inconvenience of other people, a weekend getaway in the country. All we need to do to return to Eden is get our lives in order. Kinkade’s much ballyhooed ‘light’ merely adds atmosphere and glow, a pleasant touch to an already charming scene. And because it makes us so comfortable, it is a very dark light indeed.
Kinkade’s work is the meticulously painted smile on the Joker’s disfigured face. It refuses to deal with the fallenness, brokenness, sinfulness of the world. And more troubling, it enables his clientele to escape into an imaginary world where things can be pretty good, as long as we have our faith, our family values, and a visual imagery that re-affirms all this at the office and at home.”
This is a problem. Art has power to disrupt and challenge, but the Christian marketplace comes with its own set of rules designed to protect us from offense. Therefore, “Christian” art is almost never provocative to the degree that it might lead to actual life-change. It sooner leads us to be comfortable, while reaffirming our faith. And we need encouragement, us church people.
But don’t we also need to be disturbed and broken-hearted? God is in the business of redemption through the ongoing process of death and resurrection. The death part… it doesn’t look like a Kinkade painting.
Neither does “Blue Like Jazz” the movie.
In fact, “Blue Like Jazz” shows us the yucky side of churchiness without the transformative power of a life rooted and abiding in Jesus Christ. It shows the carnality and brokenness and narcissism of young adult lives given over to the pursuit of pleasure and identity and meaning when God has been rejected wholesale. The movie is dark and sad and tragic if you consider the eternal ramifications of the sea of lives surrounding young Don Miller. If you are planning to see this and expect it to have the feel-good (albeit disquietingly “safe”) vibe of “Facing the Giants” or “Soul-Surfer,” you might find “Blue Like Jazz” disturbing. Reed College is full of substance abuse and profanity and emptiness and sex. Lots of it. “Blue Like Jazz” isn’t unnecessarily graphic, but neither does it pull many punches.
I’m sick of Kincade. In this, “Blue Like Jazz” was a refreshing change. It shows brokenness. It made me hurt for the broken people, and hunger to be bolder as an image-bearer for Jesus. Broken people need Jesus. I have Jesus.
“Blue Like Jazz” wasn’t written for the “Church” market, so if you are looking for a movie that is, consider yourself warned. Instead, Taylor and Miller seem to be telling a story for spiritually curious people who want to know if God is real when the world is such a mess and the churches in many neighborhoods look more like social clubs for hypocrites than beacons of light and hope.
Here’s what I didn’t like…
“Blue Like Jazz” embraces a metaphor, woven throughout the narrative. “My dad says jazz is like life, because it doesn’t resolve…” Like much of Donald Miller’s theo-philosophical ponderings, neither does “Blue Like Jazz.” And I understand that we are works in process, and that art is often more effective when it leaves some questions unanswered. This leaves room for the consumer to wonder, and think, and search. But it is unsatisfying in a movie that asks out loud, “Where do we find meaning and purpose in life?”
There ARE clear answers to many of the questions Miller and Taylor are asking, but it is cooler to leave them unanswered. It is cooler to leave us to ponder on our own.
** MINOR SPOILER ALERT **
Sure, by the end of the film the young, restless Don Miller comes to some kind of ambiguous belief that God is probably real, and this Jesus stuff… he buys it. But there is little power in his transformation, because it is very hard to see what this transformation actually looks like. Except, of course, for a compulsion not only to ask forgiveness for his own hypocrisy and lack of courage, but also for the many failings of the Church, writ large. That may be cool, and more palatable to the jaded (or wounded) spiritually-curious viewers. But my heart aches for them to hear a better story.
A better story starts with an all-powerful and very present God Almighty, who is not only Sovereign and perfectly Holy, but full of mind-bending LOVE that obliterates our best attempts to understand it. That perfectly pure One created every soul who ever lived to be in a mutually joy-giving relationship with Him. But we, the creatures, spat in His face because we thought we knew better what would satisfy. We died that day. And every day since, man clamors to find identity and meaning and lasting pleasure, but none of it really satisfies us. Reed College exhausts us, and we feel the shame of it.
A better story would speak the truth of the Bible, that JESUS CHRIST came to save SINNERS, even the very worst. That He offers HOPE and JOY that really is lasting and satisfies our longing for identity, meaning, and pleasure free from guilt. This is THE true story the world needs to hear.
I don’t mean to saddle “Blue Like Jazz” the movie with the calling of the Church. God did not call Steve Taylor and Donald Miller to use this movie to make disciples. He calls me to do that, and you, too, if you love Jesus. But I sense a missed opportunity here. That’s all I’m saying.
“Blue Like Jazz” is smartly written, well acted, and cleverly rendered. It works. I see the need for movies and more art in general to explore faith while looking honestly at brokenness, although I remember the words of Paul to focus our minds and hearts on “whatever is true, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) In order to focus on what is true – on the life-transforming power of the GOSPEL – allow “Blue Like Jazz” to do the work it is intended to do. Let it disturb you and stir compassion in you for the brokenness we live in.
Then get in the Word, read the Gospel, and do something.
Tears are running down my face now. My sides hurt. Make it stop!
“Brace yourself! It’s coooommmminnggg!”
I’m sucking air. I haven’t laughed like this forever. It feels good. It’s therapy.
“I couldn’t help it man. I went down. The dude in front of me weighed, like, 250. I didn’t wanna do it. I’m so ashamed…”
My cousin is in storytelling mode. He’s recounting the time he and his brother-in-law went to a Benny Hinn event. Live. For them it was more like a trip to the circus than a trip to church. Benny was in rare form. Waving his arms and knocking down the crowd in waves of the, um, Spirit. They were determined to remain standing as the crowds of devotees around them were “slain in the Spirit” or “blown away by the wind of the Spirit” or “succumbed to the onslaught of hot air coming in waves from the platform” or whathaveyou. It was all going so well, too, until the six foot four linebacker directly in front of them surrendered to the bologna and went down. On top of them. Alas, try as they might to literally stand their ground on behalf of rational believers the world over, it was to no avail. They were slain in the Spirit. Forcibly.
See, that there is funny.
My question du jour is this… When it comes to all things religious, does having a sense of humor diminish our reverence in some way? In other words, if we laugh at the charlatans and jesters, instead of responding with somber judgement, are we making light of the faith we claim – or worse… are we treating the reputation of Jesus and His church with irreverence? It’s a serious question.
When charlatans and jesters dabble in the arena of religion, and if said charlatans and jesters are truly funny…is it OK to laugh? Or is it playing with fire?
Today is one of those days when I don’t necessarily have a hard answer. I’m curious to see what you think about all of this. I’m trying to find that nebulous middle ground… in the place where freedom and license mingle. I’m open to correction, or at least to refining, because you guys might have a perspective I haven’t thought of yet.
Two people have prompted this post. First of all, Benny Hinn, the TV “evangelist” from the dark side. Second, Niko Alm, the Austrian “Pastafarian” who recently won the right to take his driver’s license photo wearing a pasta strainer on his head as a religious head covering. We’ll get back to Niko and his dual-purpose head gear in short order. But first…
Benny Hinn. It is appropriate to write this post today immediately after writing about my distaste for snark in the Church, because it allows me an important clarification. I stand by my conviction that sharp, pointed, sarcastic characterization of other people is almost always ugly and unnecessary. Nine times out of ten, I think Christians should err on the side of kindness. And yet, I don’t feel any contradiction in calling out wolves among the sheep… if they really are wolves. I’m not talking about character assassination – and often that happens between brothers who disagree on some point of doctrine or methodology. But this is something else, I believe. There is a time to call out the phonies who use the name of Jesus for personal gain. There is a time to call a fool a fool.
Benny Hinn is no brother in the Lord. Benny Hinn is a dangerous charlatan who has HARMED the cause of the Gospel of Jesus, using His name to bilk people of their money, providing staged “healings” and ridiculous false “Holy Spirit power” to literally knock people over… for what reason I don’t know. So I have no problem calling him out. I do think he may actually wield some spiritual power… just not God’s power.
With that in mind, please enjoy the following. This makes me laugh every time…
Good times. Now, a great friend of mind posted this video clip on Facebook earlier this year and the response was… surprising. Really surprising, to be honest. He was raked over the coals for “mockery” and an unkind spirit toward Benny Hinn. The comment thread was LONG and pointed. My response… “That is funny. It’s OK to laugh at funny. Benny Hinn is a baffoon, and he does not speak for Jesus or His Bride. I have no problem laughing at that.”
I’m curious. Does that put a bad taste in your mouth? I’m not judging the laughers or the non-laughers among us. But I’m curious. Are there some of you who feel the same as those who criticized my friend? Is this kind of humor below the holy standard of the children of the King?
For those of you who are unaware of the growing Pastafarian movement, here’s the 411… Although the church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster (a.k.a. “Pastafarianism”) claims to have existed underground for hundreds of years, it really came to the forefront with the publication ofthis letter to the Kansas School Board by one Bobby Henderson in 1995. In response to their inclusion of Intelligent Design theory into the public schools as an alternative to Darwinian theory, Bobby proposed inclusion of the Pastafarian theory of creation, involving the Noodley Appendage of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, and of course, propagation of the inverse relationship between the number of Pirates and global warming.
Of course, it’s full blown mockery of the one true God. So when Niko Alm, a devoted follower of FSM (that’s code for “Flying Spaghetti Monster”) was victorious in the Austrian court system and won the right to sport kitchenware on his cranium for his driver’s license photo, I felt a twinge of inner conflict.
But, truth be told, I laughed. Out loud. I lol’ed. ‘Cause that right there is funny.
So here I am, a voice to the Church for freedom and joy. I really believe that in the eyes of the world, it doesn’t do the message of the Gospel any good when His followers refuse to acknowledge the funny amidst the irreverent. Funny is funny.
Or am I off base here? Part of me wonders, literally, what would Jesus do? Forgive the cliche… but I honestly wonder. Would Jesus laugh at Benny Hinn using the force? Would He see the humor in the straight face of Niko the strainer-adorned Pastafarian?
There was a time Jesus wept for the lost souls of Jerusalem. I’ve honestly wondered how, knowing with perfect clarity the eternal fate of those around Him who chose not to believe – not to follow… How could Jesus have walked among them without weeping all the time?
And yet, he didn’t. He mourned the consequences of sin at the grave of his friend Lazarus. He got frustrated with the stubborn hearts of the people he taught. He grieved. But he also sang hymns and shared jokes with his disciples and he laughed.
God is the author of humor. He wired us to recognize it – to respond to it. He created us to laugh. In fact, I’m walking proof of His sense of humor. My foibles are epic-making, and He’s still trying to use my life. So I look to Him as a Father I can trust to be good and who will respond to me in love.
And I fear Him as a Father who is not to be taken lightly. He is a Father to be revered. To be loved and adored, yes. But respected and revered as the Holy One.
I walk in balance here. Joy and freedom, yes. And reverence. They are not mutually exclusive. But they do live in tension sometimes.
The truth is, seeing anyone choose to align themselves with the Flying Spaghetti Monster, hoping to be “touched by his Noodley Apendage” is two things at the same time… tragic… and funny. They are clever in their irreverence. They do not hurl venomous insults at the Church. Instead they subvert Christianity (and all organized religion, I suppose) with parody. But it’s funny. I’m torn.
Benny Hinn – especially Benny Hinn with a light saber – is two things… tragic… and funny. He is a wolf, not a brother, as far as I can tell. And the staggering cost of his perverse “ministry” is hard to calculate. But watching him flail around like a clown and shoot people with lightning bolts… I find it hard not to laugh.
God will be the judge of Benny. God will be the judge of Niko. One day every knee will bow and acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Both the sinners and the forgiven sinners. Benny and Niko and yours truly all need Jesus. I’ve prayed for the three of us. Unless my life situation somehow puts me direct contact with either of these two men, I don’t see how my laughing at their antics has one iota of impact on their eternity.
But for the sake of the name of Jesus, should I be laughing at all?
Today, for the sake of transparency, I’ll own it. I rever the Lord of Heaven, and I am passionate about His reputation. But I’ve been redeemed for freedom, and He knows my heart. And doggoneit… I feel free to laugh.
I was 11. I heard this word more than any other word during my Little League days under the summer sun in Bemidji, MN. Coach Whitey Anderson could say HUSTLE more times in a minute than anyone I’ve ever known. I loved baseball. Still do. In large part, thanks to Coach Whitey.
“Skogerboe, you’re a ball player, son. You’re a ball player. You can play this game right here. Yessir. Skogerboe’s a ball player.”
Coach Whitey was like encouragement on steroids for a young second baseman who otherwise wouldn’t have considered himself much of a ballplayer. I was moderately athletic, but overshadowed by the up-and-coming superstars. I could hold my own in the field and maintained a somewhat below average track record in the batting box, but I kept in the game year after year, growing better in my skill-set and deeper in love with the game. Coach Whitey fueled me to keep getting better, to learn why “hustle” had more to do with a healthy competitive attitude than just physical “hurry-up,” and he helped build into me a deep love of baseball that has never gone away.
Now I have a 10-year-old out there under the lights. I see his coach picking up the mantle from Coach Whitey for the next generation. I see him FEEDING encouragement and high expectations to the young men under his charge. And the boys are thriving. When Isaac talks about baseball, his eyes flash. Coach Haberlie is not just getting the bases covered, and he’s not just getting results… he’s building baseball lovers.
I just got an email from Coach last night, asking me to encourage Isaac, that he was so proud to have Isaac on the Team, and he is consistent in saying, “He is made for this game.” I hear echoes of Coach Whitey… “You’re a ball player, son. Skogerboe’s a ball player.”
These guys are both great leaders, and I hold them both in high regard.
The consistent ingredient in great leadership isn’t enthusiasm. It isn’t deeper, better, higher knowledge. It isn’t the ability to control outcomes.
The consistent ingredient in great leadership is this: INFLUENCE.
Coach Whitey literally changed my life. My childhood years are full of great memories, and I was a ball player. I believed it to my core. And now I see Isaac out there making plays, wrecking the knees of his baseball pants, and it’s better than the Twins. He’s hungry for baseball. Isaac’s gone from casual to passionate. THAT is INFLUENCE. And Coach Haberlie has been clear from the beginning: His goal is to help shape these boys into young men of character first, great athletes second. He’s not only influencing the boys… he’s influencing their dads. That’s great leadership.
All kinds of people read this blog. Friends and family, Pastors, Ministry leaders, Worship leaders… All kinds of people in all kinds of leadership roles. Here’s where ball meets bat, rubber meets road, hammer meets nail on the head… LEADERSHIP = INFLUENCE.
This has implications for two groups today.
First of all, if you don’t consider yourself a “leader,” you are WRONG. Think about your circle of relationships. Certainly among those relationships are a handful over whom you have some kind of influence. If you have influence, you have leadership. You may lead badly, of course, and influence those around you to make bad choices, to turn away from God or from wise counsel. But make no mistake: if you have influence, you are a leader. Lead well.
Secondly, if you THINK you are a leader, or if you are a leader by position, this is a good measuring stick for you. Are you herding a group, or are you leading? Are you steering outcomes, or are you leading? In other words, are you truly INFLUENCING the lives of those you lead? If you are in a position of authority, take a cue from Coach Whitey and Coach Haberlie… don’t just steer. LEAD. Don’t just point people. INFLUENCE people. Stop, pray, and think about how you can not just get the job done, but how can your influence lead to changed lives. If you are a leader, then LEAD WELL.
The consistent ingredient in great leadership is INFLUENCE. If you don’t have influence, you’re not really leading. And if you think you don’t have a role as a leader, invest in those you have influence over.
We only get one life. Wield some influence and change some lives, because time is short. And in the spirit of Coach Whitey… HUSTLE.
Perhaps there’s hope. He’s only seven. So I figure I have 11 more years with him under my roof, where his very food and shelter may be leveraged in the shaping of his character.
Levi Kyle is our precocious, out-spoken, Type-A+, heart-on-his-sleeve, leader-in-training, seven-year-old tornado-on-wheels of a boy. He says what he thinks. All the time. I love that kid so much.
Where little girls (from what I’m told) only ripen into ever-increasing layers of complexity and emotional nuance, we are the parents of BOYS. There’s not so much nuanced about their snips and snails and puppy dog tails. And Levi has been endowed with an extra measure of boy-ness from His creator. What Levi thinks comes out his face in a rush. We’re working on it.
One of the blessings of people with a Levi-like personality is the immediacy with which you know exactly what they are thinking. Whether solicited or not, you will get their opinion on the matter. Whatever is the matter in the moment. So listening to Levi as he grows up is an open window to his character development. It’s fascinating. Equal parts thrilling, comedic, and on occasion… a little unnerving.
“Dad, I want a credit card.”
“You have to be older. They won’t give you a credit card. It’s a big responsibility.”
“What’s the big deal? You just give people your credit card, and they give you whatever you want. Easy.”
“Right. But then you have to pay for that stuff.”
“WHAT?! It’s NOT FAIR.”
Not fair. Nice. I’m a failure.
I’ve written before about Levi beforeand one of the most important values we are trying to instill in our kids… GRATEFULNESS. I firmly believe that beyond a dynamic relationship with God through Jesus Christ, the most powerful indicator of happiness through this one go-round we have on the planet is the degree to which we embrace and practice the value of gratefulness. Or thanksgiving. Or gratitude. Call it what you will, but that right there is at the top of my list as Dad. I want to raise sons who are deeply grateful – for their life and breath, for their freedom, for the forgiveness of sins and the inheritance in heaven which we don’t deserve, for their future spouses, and for every cookie and every cup of coffee and every soul with which we have the privilege of interacting. To embrace life to the full (John 10:10) and to be joyful always, full of thanksgiving. For EVERY good thing. THAT is what it means to live truly deeply profoundly happy. And I want that for my boys.
“When you get your driver’s license , do they give you a free car?”
“No. You have to buy it.”
I’m failing here. See, the opposite of gratefulness isn’t indifference. You might think that. How many people do you know who walk around and breathe the air and take in the sunsets and drink their coffee and haul their kids to soccer practice without a shred of “thank you God for this moment”? Honestly, how many times has that been ME? How many times just today?
But that kind of non-acknowledgement isn’t the opposite of gratitude. The opposite of thanksgiving is ENTITLEMENT.
He’s only seven. I’m going to cut the kid a lot of slack. For now.
But Levi, and the rest of us, need to constantly be reminded that every blessing is a gift. And there is a Giver. And the Giver pours out blessing like rain upon the redeemed, the searching, and the hostile. Even more, he has given us energy and creativity and the freedom to EARN even more blessing – like that shiny new car Levi expects to be granted unto him with no real investment of time or sweat.
Well dude, I’ll give you some grace. You’re only seven. But we’ve gotta get a handle on this entitlement stuff. From now on, you will understand the value of that PBJ you ate for lunch and the IKEA bunk bed in which you wrap up at night. According to a June 18 US NEWS article, the cost of raising a child to age 18 is roughly $222,360. If I’ve done the math correctly, in your seven short years you’ve already cost us $86,473.
I’m not linking to a hundred blog posts. I’m not starting another op-ed column. Because this post isn’t about Rob Bell. Or Hell.
If you haven’t seen for yourself what has the Christian subculture all stirred up, watch this… …
So Rob Bell’s upcoming book may or may not suggest that there’s no Hell. Or nobody is in Hell. Or they won’t be. Or not for long. We don’t know. The book comes out March 20 something. But his publisher (HarperOne) says that Rob is (among other things)… “arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering.”
But this post isn’t about Rob Bell… or Hell. To the point then.
Culture shifts. It swings like a pendulum. I often find myself looking at the pendulum of cultural ideology with a mix of fascination for the psychology of it all (like watching people you don’t know in the airport) and concern for souls (like watching a family member get on a plane to fly somewhere far away… maybe for a long time). I carry a mix of modern-age cultural realism and heart-ache-inducing care for souls. Always there. Watching culture swing.
Watching Rob Bell, whom this post isn’t about, I was reminded again… and then again by the Twitter explosion last Saturday… and again and again by a dozen and a half bloggers in rapid response…
One thing this current parabolic shift in Christian evangelical sub-culture has embraced that we can be sure of is… we can’t be sure of anything.
I don’t mean to use hyperbole. We might embrace mystery. Wonder. We might say we just seek Jesus. Or we want to live like Him. But we don’t really want anyone to tell us what that means.
Relevant Magazine (giving voice to the twenty-something generation at the intersection of Christian faith and real life) just published their list of “50 ideas that changed everything.” Number 19? Yep. “Nothing says FAITH like DOUBT.” Then they sucker-punched me in my email inbox with this excellent article about “Why Doubt isn’t a Dirty Word.”
One of the many blogs that was sent to me on the whole “Hell” debate, which this post isn’t about, was from thirty-something faith-life observer and Christian sub-culture Pocket-Guide author Jason Boyett, whose latest book is titled “O Me of Little Faith: True Confessions of a Spiritual Weakling.” (Which, by the way, I think you should buy for the cover art alone. Genius.)
In the Christian realm of conversation “relativism” is frowned upon, even by those of us who have grown up steeped in post-millennial stew. We know enough to reject “relative truth.” Right? I mean… right? I think the postmillennial babies that are now emerging (some pun intended) in the life of the Church as young adults believe that there are some things that are just unshakably true… if they are pressed. But we aren’t supposed to press, as far as I can tell.
The truth is, doubt is cool right now.
In fact, doubt is seen as a sign of true humility, honest faith, open-mindedness, reasonableness, approachability. Questions are hip. The guy this post isn’t focusing on asked 25 of them in his two and a half minute video above. But that’s OK. Questions make people think. It’s just that while questions foster exploration of the possibilities, clear statements made with conviction don’t leave that kind of creative space. Conviction communicates faith in absolutes. And absolutes are exclusive because they rule out other options. And if you’re reading this right now, and that leaves a bad taste in your mouth… exclusive, absolute, clear-cut conviction… I’m asking the question today: why is that?
Somehow, conviction has become equated with haughty self-righteousness and narrow-minded mean-spiritedness, pride, vulgar stubborn offensive… conviction is a lesser value.
My heart breaks.
Who will write the book, “My Faith is Strong, and I Know in Whom I Believe”? What has happened to the William Wallaces, crying “FREEDOM!” against the odds? Is it no longer admirable to take a stand for a belief, or is it only admirable to take a stand for somebody else? I know, that’s a false dichotomy. But it has some teeth.
I think the next generation Church would readily embrace the poor and broken and marginalized in our communities – take a stand for LOVE – and that is commendable. New passion to be Jesus-with-skin-on in a way our parents often weren’t. In a way I haven’t been. God bless those who LOVE in Jesus name.
But will this generation also take a stand for TRUTH? Is it admirable anymore to hold to ideals even when those ideals may be unpopular, or uncomfortable?
If someone you love is on a self-destructive path, what is the most loving thing to do? Comfort does not equal compassion. the Bible isn’t clear about everything. But many, many things are ringing with clarity and urgency. There is a life and death reality that follows every soul, every heartbeat. Even among the hostile and the apathetic.
Church! For Christ’s sake – decide what you believe! Stand for it. Live it out. Doubt is acceptable as a process – a pathway to further understanding. But I don’t believe it is a virtue as a perpetual excuse to substitute personal experience for higher ideals.
Doubt may be the new faith, but I have greater respect for those who can humbly, respectfully, but unflinchingly demonstrate that they believe something to their core, and they are willing to rise or fall on that conviction.
Now to the passionate, to the men and women of conviction, the the truth-tellers and safeguards of Biblical inerrancy… please love people. It is rare to see someone stand for the Word with an iron will and the patience to engage in respectful discussion. We have a responsibility to be Christ-like, which is impossible. So I ask the Holy Spirit to keep shaping me, that I can be a man of great conviction and great humility.
There is this huge part of me that wants to tell you what I think about Rob Bell. I know his book isn’t even out yet. Certainly the world will be in a better place to have that discussion freely after four hundred bazillion of us buy his book on March twenty something. Congratulations HarperOne. There’s this part of me that wants to talk about hell – about the hundreds of references to this place of darkness and pain and fire spoken of in plain language in the Bible from cover to cover – and laced through Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom like a stubborn thread… making people uncomfortable.
But this post isn’t about Rob Bell… or Hell.
It’s about the value of CONVICTION. And the necessity of HUMILITY.
“When my mother was pregnant with me, they did an ultrasound and found she was having twins. When they did another ultrasound a few weeks later, they discovered that I had adsorbed the other fetus. Do I regret this? No, I believe his tissue has made me stronger. I now have the strength of a grown man and a little baby.”
So good. And a ripe metaphor for the picking. Win win.
I am really uncomfortable right now. It has nothing to do with the hastily consumed lunch I ploughed through on the way to work. This is a soul-deep intellectual wrestling match… with myself. I have run headlong into a theological discovery/problem/question that doesn’t seem to square up nicely with what I’ve been taught… my whole life. And now I’m a Seminary student in a conservative Lutheran Seminary. And there’s this thing. This problem.
It’s like a little baby. In my brain. Growing, forming, stretching my mind. Kicking. Elbowing me in the brain. Taking shape. But not yet ready to be born.
I’m really uncomfortable. And that’s so good.
I know… you want me to let the cat out of the bag… or the baby out of my brain… or the idea out of my face. But this post isn’t about the idea/problem/question itself. It’s about having an idea/problem/question at all.
Frankly, I’m a little scared that I might believe something here that most of the people I’m in class with don’t believe. I’m a little afraid I might need to change my theological presuppositions. I’m afraid of the birthing process. It might be messy.
And yet, I LOVE THIS. I am energized and fueled by the reality that I’m growing, and thinking, and interacting with a living God… and all the while this idea is nudging me and kicking inside my head, wanting to be let loose. Do you know this feeling? The seasons in life when a really big piece of your philosophical or even theological grid is in the process of being formed, and you just know that at the end of the struggle, something new will be birthed in you?
So someday (before too long, I hope, because man… I am REALLY uncomfortable here) this idea/problem/question will make its way out of my face, out of my brain, and onto this blog, I’m sure. But it’s not fully cooked yet. It’s not fully formed. Still premature.
Whatever it is… this question I have for Him… He’s big enough for it. He knows me already, and he knows that kicking baby of a thought in my brain. I think maybe He planted it there, after all.
And this kind of uncomfortable lets me know that I’m ALIVE. I thank God I’m disturbed. My faith is strong, not the weaker for my questions. I hope I never stop thinking, pressing in, birthing new ideas and deeper understanding. I don’t mean inventing new ways of understanding the Bible… I mean plumbing the depths of what He’s already given us all the more. Because a mature faith isn’t one in which we stop asking questions. On the contrary.
Ask your questions. Dig in. Press hard. Sweat. Lose sleep. God loves you. He allows His children to ask. He’s letting me be uncomfortable right now for my own good. He’s reminding me of His sovereignty and goodness, and birthing new ideas in me… painfully, slowly, both carefully and recklessly. But these uncomfortable times are so, so good. They mean growth. They mean my faith life has the strength of a grown man… (wait for it…)
…and a little baby.
What ideas/problems/questions are keeping you up at night?Kicking you in the brain?
WOW!You can see forever up here. Looking down on all the little people. I love it up here.
Man, this seat of scoffers is comfy, too, the way it cradles my hind end. Like it was built just for me. I had it custom fitted here on top of this high horse. Which is awesome. I love getting up on this baby, and then we stand up here… on top of this pedestal. Good times. So glad I hardly ever sin anymore. That makes it way easier to judge all of you without feeling guilty. This works out great, too, because from up on this here high horse, on top of the pedestal I’ve erected, my very vantage point makes it impossible to even see you people without looking down on you. So that’s working out sweet.
* insert prolonged barfing here *
To my non-Christian friends, can I just say that if I’m ever up on my high horse, hair blowing in the breeze (like Fabio), pecs bulging and loose fitted oxford unbuttoned to mid-sterum (like Fabio), you have permission to hit me in the face with a goose (like Fabio). This is all going to tie together into one glorious metaphorical union in a few paragraphs. I promise.
I’m not afraid of heights, per se. It’s more like a fear of falling from high places. And honestly, it’s really more about the landing than the falling, to be specific. But even with my weebers about falling from high places, I DO enjoy the occasional adrenaline rush of a good rollercoaster. Oh man. The higher, the faster, the gut-wrenching-er the better, baby. There’s nothing like the crushing g-force shift of being perched on top of the world, taking a leisurly perusal of the neighboring states, and then hurling over the drop at 90 mph into the abyss. Adrenaline junkies, can I get an AMEN?!
And as much as I love a great rollercoaster ride, it is possible that I love the ironic happenings of March 27, 1999, even more. There sat Fabio. Front row. Hands alternately behind the safety bar, waving to fans, and flipping that cascading golden mane. In all of his pectoral glory. It’s the inaugural run of the new “Apollo’s Chariot” roller coaster in Busch Gardens Williamsburg. During the first drop over the 210 foot descent, Fabio Lanzoni killed a goose. With his face.
I’ll never forget hearing the news later that night. Picture me eating pizza with friends… “So. Did you hear Fabio killed a goose with his face on a rollercoaster today?” Now picture me with Diet Dr. Pepper shooting out of my nose. That’s pretty much how it went down.
Might be my favorite news item of the 90’s. I mean, it probably would have killed a regular guy – probably would have taken my head clean off. Thank goodness that goose connected with the regal countenace of the iron-necked wonder.
But all of this reminiscing has a point, after all. And I mean to say this for both my non-believing friends who are sick of feeling the judgment of the church folks you rub shoulders with, and for my fellow Christians who have gotten comfy up here, looking down on the little people from our lofty vantage point…
The truth is… WE ARE JUST LIKE YOU. I’m not talking to sinners and non-sinners, here. I’m talking to sinners… and other sinners. We’re all just sinners. NO ONE is entitled to a comfy ride on the their high horse. NO ONE has earned the right to look down on the regular people… we’re all regular people.
Psalm 32 (written by David, one of my heroes) starts like this…
“Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.”
Thank goodness he didn’t start with, “Blessed is the one who has never sinned before,” or, “blessed is the one who will never sin again.” I’d be OFF that list. And so would you. In fact, Jesus is the only man who would make the cut. But it doesn’t say that.
Martin Luther writes about this Psalm and notes that even the saints are sinners. They can’t become holy, forgiven, and reconnected with God without acknowledging that fact before the Lord. Apart from our best efforts (which can’t get us anywhere with God), Jesus alone covers our sin. Luther writes…
“In short, our righteousness is called (in plain language) the forgiveness of our sins… All the saints are sinners and remain sinners. But they are holy because God in His grace neither sees nor counts these sins, but forgets, forgives, and covers them. There is thus no distinction between the saints and the non-saints.”
Did you catch that last little bit? NO DISTINCTION. We’re all sinners. We’re all regular people.
“They are sinners alike and all sin daily, only that the sins of the holy are covered not counted; and the sins of the unholy are counted not covered… both of them are truly wounded, truly sinners…”
So, um, I’m gonna just get out of this comfy seat up here, and climb down off this here high horse and, um, take the zip line down from this here pedestal. Because the only difference between me and my non-believing friends is JESUS. Still sinning. Don’t want to. But when it comes to my relationship with God, and he look at me, JESUS has covered my sins, and the Father doesn’t see them at all.
To my unbelieving friends… please give me a smack if I ever come across as if I’m on some higher plane than you. I’m not. You and I BOTH need Jesus. And this isn’t to say that sin doesn’t matter. Quite the opposite. But we can’t fix it. Only Jesus can cover, remove, clean up, and remake us. From this eye-ball-to-eyeball vantage point, I’m asking you to talk to me about why Jesus matters. But it’s not because I’m any better than you, or that my sins are any less significant than yours. I’m just forgiven.
And to my fellow Christians…If you survey your surroundings and realize you’ve been looking down on all the little people below you, surveying your surroundings from the top of the coaster… the High Horse Express…it’s time to come on down. And if you’ve gotten a little bit too cozy in that custum made seat of scoffers, God has a way of humbling the proud. I’ve seen the forecast. It’s going to be thick with geese all week.