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Curb Your Dogma
17 minutes | Dec 2, 2018
The Hard Road from Church to the Kingdom of God, Part 3 (The Way of Love)
A Way to Live Jesus taught the way of love. He told stories. At the center of these stories was a God of love and people in need of love. Jesus’ stories did not focus on belief but on behavior. Jesus had only two rules for life: Love God. Love your neighbor. He said if you did this, you would automatically get everything else right. Following Jesus is the way of love. What Is Love? Love is the superpower we all possess. It is faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, able to leap tall buildings in a single bound. Love will save the world. Love is acceptance. In Jesus’ day, to sit around the table and eat with someone conveyed acceptance. Jesus was not picky about who he ate with. He ate with tax gatherers, prostitutes, religious leaders, lepers, and Samaritans. He would eat with anyone. He would eat with you. People were scandalized. “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them!” (Luke 15:2) Jesus told a story about a father who welcomed his prodigal son back to the table. He said that is how God treats screw-ups. Jesus didn’t see lines between people. He treated a Roman Centurion, a synagogue official, a Samaritan woman, a tax collector, and a Pharisee all the same. He loved them all. But there was one point of conflict. Jesus’ Conflict In Jesus’ day, as in ours, there are those who reject others on the grounds of religion, social status, gender, ethnicity, and morality. If you are grossed out by the people who sit at God’s table you will not find a seat there. This is why Jesus insisted on the necessity of forgiveness. It’s also why he had such harsh words for the religion-makers of his day. They said God drew lines that gave them an inside track. They even said God rejected certain people. This made Jesus angry. Love and hate are like light and darkness. They cannot coexist. If you reject a single person, you banish yourself to outer darkness. This is not because God is angry. It is because God is love. When you fail to love, you experience the pain of being separated. A seat will always remain at God’s table for you. God will leave the light on for you. Eventually, you’ll come home. No one can live outside forever. But why wait? The Way of Love The life Jesus taught can be summarized by three truths. God is love Life is growth Everyone is family These are three streams, flowing from the heart of God to you and through you. Because God is love, you love God. Because life is growth, you love life. Because everyone is family, you love your neighbor. The way of love is not a philosophy or a religion. It is a way to live. Behavior is primary. Belief is secondary. Love will guide the way to truth. Here is a simple way to get started. Focus for a week on each statement. After three weeks, combine them. Eventually you will go much further than these first steps. You will never outgrow them. Week #1 God is Love—I Love God! Every day, make the first words out of you mouth, “I love you.” Say this out loud before you get out of bed. You will be amazed at what three simply words, expressed honestly, will do. Don’t worry if you don’t feel anything at first. It’s okay if you are mad at God. It’s okay if you’re not even convinced there is a God. Just say the words, as genuinely as you can. “I love you.” You may find that these words lead to further discussion. “Are you really up there?” “Why aren’t you taking care of me?” “Why is life so painful and meaningless?” Go ahead and have those conversations with God—or with the ceiling if that’s all you can manage to believe in. When you are finished, say the words again. “I love you.” The way of love is not an answer life’s mysteries. It is the Presence of God in the mystery. Just say the words. The practice comes first, then the feelings. If you wait for the feelings you will never begin. As you go through the day,
39 minutes | Nov 17, 2018
The Hard Road from Church to the Kingdom of God, Part 2
My Two Big Questions Now that I lived on the outside of church, two questions mocked me. The first was how to explain all the good things and good people in church. This was a problem for me because leaving was the kind of extreme step that would be in order if I had been protesting something awful, like Hitler’s Germany or something. But church is not Hitler’s Germany. In fact, it has many admirable features. Why not focus on the good? Do I expect church to be a utopia? Thousands of people see the problems I have pointed out and stick with church because there is so much good. Why can’t I? My second question was equally difficult. What kind of egomaniac am I to question twenty centuries of tradition? Let’s start with the first question: Why did I go to such lengths to withdraw from an institution filled with so much good? Church Is a Mixed Bag—But That’s Not the Point We can all name good-hearted, churchgoing people who are standup citizens. We all know of churches that do great things in this world. Of course there are hypocrites and bad churches too. Welcome to humanity. Why get so exercised over the fact that church isn’t perfect? Who said it would be? Why not grow up, enter the real world, and accept the good with the bad? Here’s why. Because the issue is not whether church is good or bad. The issue is whether the church is what Jesus intended. Did Jesus Intend to Replace One Religion with Another? Jesus was deeply spiritual but he had constant friction with religion. He broke the rules, often in calculated, public ways. He disregarded the sabbath. He refused to ritually wash his hands. He was friends with people his religion said to avoid: outcasts, immoral, unclean. He ate with them and touched them. He told stories in which Samaritans and tax gatherers were heroes and the religious leaders were the villains. This didn’t win him any friends in the religious community. In fact, as you read the gospels you’ll see that nearly 100% of Jesus’ conflict was with religion. The so-called cleansing of the temple is the most pointed example. The event is misnamed. It was not a cleansing. Jesus wasn’t tidying up his religion to put it back in order. The cleansing of the temple was a prophecy of its destruction. In 70 C.E., Rome made the prophecy a reality. Think about it: Does it make sense that Jesus came to reject one religious institution and set up another? Did he think that by replacing Jewish elders with Christian elders all would be well? Did he assume that if he swapped a Jewish temple for a Christian cathedral, the problem would be solved? The Kingdom of God Is Not a Religion The Kingdom of God was not an attempt to reform Judaism. Neither was the goal to establish a new religion. The Kingdom of God was, and is, a way of life. It is how people behave when God is King. It is love, not hate. Forgiveness, not retribution. Truth, not lies. Generosity, not greed. Hope, not despair. Joy, not sorrow. Health, not sickness. Life, not death. The Kingdom of God is the way of the Garden, in which each woman and each man walks with God in the cool of the day, the law written on his or her heart. It is a world in which “behold, the Kingdom of God is in our midst.” Every human organization is a mix of good and bad. This is true of every church, hospital, bank, government and girl scout troop. They are good to the extent that God’s Kingdom has come. Swapping the Substance for the Form The Kingdom of God is not the dough. It is the yeast within the dough. It is the invisible force that changes everything. It works its way into our world and transforms it. It changes everything we do, everything we say, everything we are. It makes us breathe easier and sleep better at night. The kingdom of God transforms things. But it must never be confused with the things. When a thing—any thing—is held up as the Kingdom it becomes an idol and sets itself up as the enemy of God’s Kingdom. American Exceptionalism
21 minutes | Nov 4, 2018
The Hard Road from Church to the Kingdom of God, Part 1
The Mysterious Presence Ever since I was a little boy, I have felt a mysterious Presence. I felt it traipsing across the hills of the Palouse with my dog, Brute. I heard it in music. I felt it in my family. I touched it in the wilderness of Idaho, where I spent summers backpacking with my dad. I called this mysterious something “God.” God was the most real thing in the world to me. I wanted God more than anything. This hunger led me to become a pastor, start a church, to get a Ph.D. in New Testament, to learn to read the Bible in Greek, and to become a seminary professor. Surprisingly, all this didn’t make God more real. It turned God into a ghost. My First Clue Something Was Wrong My first clue that something was wrong came almost immediately, at my first job in a big church as a youth pastor. This was my first look at behind the scenes of a church. I was shocked. The whole thing was put together with duct tape and baling wire. There was a sense that at any moment it might come crashing down. It reminded me of a hastily constructed Hollywood set. The polished front, on display on Sunday mornings and in all the materials, featured love and inspiration. Behind this false front was turmoil. Some people didn’t like the pastor. Some people didn’t like each other. They disagreed about their beliefs and questioned each other’s salvation. They fought over how things should be done and who should do them. As I said, this was my first look behind the scenes. I assumed it was an anomaly. But over the next decade I encountered the same thing in every church I was a part of: the front did not match the back. Okay. So church wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. So what? Jesus was the path to God and church was path to Jesus. The only thing to do was make the best of it. In my youthful arrogance I figured when I was in charge, I could fix this. Things would be better. I was eager to try. My First Church At age 29, I became the pastor of my very own church. I went in determined to wrap my arms around everyone. I would make the front side match the back side if it killed me. It nearly did. After a short honeymoon, the church became polarized over the issue of abortion. If you had shown up on a Sunday morning you would not have known this. You would have seen people smiling and greeting each other. You would have sung about the love of God and heard an inspiring message. Someone would have taken you to lunch. We kept the front side tidy. Behind the scenes was a sharply different reality. The head deacon, who smiled and led the singing and made everyone feel like his best friend, was a master manipulator. He could talk about the love of God while simultaneously stabbing you in the back. When he decided the church would be better off without me, it took him just three weeks to put me out on my ear. He played me like a violin. In the aftermath, the church went through a split that ripped apart families and ruined lifelong friendships. I vividly remember sitting on my in-laws couch on the Christmas after it happened, my stomach in knots. How could such good intentions have led to such terrible results? It wasn’t just that I failed at my first church. My whole existence had been undermined. Church turned out to be a nightmare. But God and church came in a the same package. To question church was to question God. I had dedicated my life God and spent the last ten years training to serve the church. So there I sat, out of a religion and out of a job, with no idea how I would support my newly pregnant wife. New and Improved? A group from the old church wanted me to come back and start a new one. I hesitated. Did I really want to go through this again? But maybe I wouldn’t have to. Maybe things could be different. I had been studying Rick Warren’s new church model. With a blank slate and a new approach, maybe church could be salvaged. We became a “Purpose Driven Church” and prided ourselves on not being like the other churches with their stuff...
19 minutes | Oct 21, 2018
The Apostate & the Infidel, Part 2
In this episode, we turn our attention from the infidel to the apostate. Strangely, these titles were the result of seeking God together. We invite you to join us in the pursuit of God.
21 minutes | Oct 7, 2018
The Apostate & the Infidel, Part 1
Both Jim and I have experienced a deep crisis of faith. In the midst of going through this together Jim started calling me “The Apostate” and I began to call him “The Infidel.” In this episode we explain why, and how our experience changed the way we think of our lives and of God. Mentioned in This Episode Richard Rohr Peter Enns (Click images below to view on Amazon) Tribe, by Sebastian Junger Educated, by Tara Westover Room (the movie)
27 minutes | Sep 22, 2018
A Tree Planted by the Water
Last week I painted a picture of the Mountain of God. On this mountain we are warmed and energized by the same light. On this mountain, we move closer to God, closer to each another, closer to truth. There is no “us” and “them.” There is room for everyone. The mountain of God is not a religion. It is the end of religion, the triumph of the Kingdom of God. The essence of the this Mountain is four relationships. The relationship between you with God. The relationship between you and your close friends. The relationship between you and your neighbors. The relationship between you and your world. It all starts with you. The Mountain of God Begins with You As a teenager, the image of a tree planted by the water spoke to me. He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, Which yields its fruit in its season And its leaf does not wither; And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:3) I wanted to be a that tree. I wanted roots that went down deep into God. This was intensely personal. The mountain of God begins with the individual. It is Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus. It is Matthew leaving the tax booth. It is a widow, grasping Jesus’ robe to be healed. It is Thomas proclaiming, “My Lord and my God!” There is no universal adaptor for making a connection with God. Each connection is unique and corresponds with the nature of the person. I can’t tell you how to connect to God and you can’t tell me. Your soul’s connection with God is a sacred secret, “a new name written on the stone which no one knows but he who receives it” (Revelation 2:17). Be Thyself The only way you can experience God is as yourself. Nature shows the way. Trees don’t try to be colorful like wildflowers. Stones don’t try to flow like water. Bears don’t try to sing. Birds don’t try to make honey. Nature’s glory is in the fact that everything is exactly what it is made to be. By being true to itself, every created thing, from the tiniest bug to the tallest mountain, becomes a brush stroke in a Divine masterpiece. The most important thing you can be is yourself. It’s Not Easy Being You Being yourself is not as easy as it sounds. Human architects are everywhere, each one seeking to cram you into their design for the universe. If you don’t fall in line, you’ll ruin their picture. Living on the mountain of God means regarding these human blueprints as the scribblings of a lunatic. It means refusing to be a brick in someone else’s wall. It means being true to your nature, which turns out to be the same as being true to God. Don’t expect this to be easy. Religion Never Fits Religions can’t make room for so much variety. They regard uniqueness as chaos. Only square bricks fit the design. You are given instructions for making a connection with God. The beliefs and behaviors that validate the connection are spelled out for you. The result of this mass-produced, artificial connection with God is a mass-produced, artificial religious community that feels curiously like a modern shopping mall. Like malls, religious communities rely heavily on illusion. They are mostly false fronts. But You Have a Home on God’s Mountain The mountain of God is solid through and through. This is no mass production. There is not a single duplication. There is no illusion. The mountain of God is as wild as nature herself. Religion, with its static ideas of God and rigid blueprints, will never fit. Read the gospels and notice something: The only conflict Jesus had on this earth was with religion. It was religion that killed him—or thought it did. Nothing on the mountain of God can ever die. The Mountain of God is both free and orderly, both wild and harmonious. No human architect could fabricate such a wonder. It is a mountain whose architect and builder is God. The mountain of God begins with each individual relationship with God. We must each learn to make this connection and be what God made us.
28 minutes | Sep 8, 2018
The Mountain of God
Question Anything But Church In case you missed it, I am making an outrageous claim. I am saying that the church is not a natural extension of the message of Jesus but a radical departure from it. If you haven’t questioned my sanity, I question yours. I am taking a swipe at one of the fundamental building blocks of western civilization. People have debated the tenets of Christianity for ages: the nature of God, the divinity of Christ, what happens when we die, how to be saved, the right way to be baptized and take communion… These issues split us into camps but leave us under the broad umbrella of Christianity. There is one aspect of Christianity too sacred to be questioned: the church. It’s fine to revive the church, to reform the church, to modernize the church, to despise the church, and even to leave the church. What is not acceptable, not ever, not under any circumstances, is to question the church. The Unimaginable World Without Church Church is the child of a marriage between Christ and Constantine. It bears little resemblance with the teachings of Jesus. But it has been around since the fourth century, claiming to be the embodiment of Christ in this world. It is as much a part of our universe as the sun and moon and stars. A world without church is a world in which we can no longer find our bearings. We can imagine a world without God. We could never imagine a world without church. Leaving church was the most distressing and disorienting experience of my life. I was a lost soul, awash in a sea of questions, without rudder or compass. Leaving church didn’t just force me to make a few adjustments. It blasted a gaping hole through my whole existence, both as a Christian and as an American. The Hole Where Church Used to Be It wasn’t inspiration that I missed when I left church. I felt closer to God in the Sierras than in church. I like to take long walks on Sundays and spend time in my books and Bible. This is far more nourishing than sitting through a church service. When I look around Sundays, it is obvious that I’m not alone. Of course there is always that lady on the second row, lifting her hands, dancing to the music. And there is always that man who “Amens” every point of the sermon and laughs at every joke. But if you take a general survey the faces in the room, you’ll find most of them vacant. They look like a crowd at the airport waiting for a delayed flight, checking with their watches to see when they can go. No, it wasn’t the absence of inspiration that hit me like a Mack truck when I left church. It was the loss connection with other people and a defined path to God. When I left church, I lost both my friends and my way. Ecclesia: Filling the Hole with a Mountain After four years, I am starting to recover. I’m finding new friends whose love comes without creedal requirements. I’m getting reacquainted with a God who is wild and mysterious and unpredictable. As difficult as my transition has been, I wake up every morning and bless God for it. Throwing rocks at church is easy and ordinary. Why would I do that? Church is a shadow from my past. Ecclesia is the light ahead, bright as new creation. Ecclesia is not a theory. It is a way of life, as gritty as the dirt beneath my fingernails. In these last five episodes, I will bring Ecclesia down to earth. I want it to be so clear that a child can understand. Indeed, if a child cannot understand it, I have badly missed my target. “Let the little children come to me,” said Jesus. “Do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.” (Luke 18:16) I’ll start today by painting a picture. In the weeks that follow, I will focus in on the pieces of that picture. As we go, you will see that Ecclesia does more than fill the hole left by church. It rises to become the Mountain of God. Religion: Molehills of Men To see the dizzying glory of Ecclesia, it is necessary to clear away the underbrush of religion.
18 minutes | Aug 24, 2018
A Kingdom Manifesto
Free at Last! Free at Last! I am free in a way that I have not been since high school. I’m not going to strip clubs, or drinking heavily, or driving down the wrong side of the road. I remain happily married to my wife. It is not my behavior that has changed. It is the world around me. It’s suddenly gotten bigger. God is no longer a small certainty but a vast mystery. I love questions for which there are no answers. I stretch my arms and wiggle my toes. I am becoming my uninhibited, undiluted self. My new freedom has changed the way I see others. I don’t look at people cautiously anymore, sizing them up, wondering about their political or religious views. I see every person as family. I have a strange urge to throw my arms around them and hug them. I feel no compulsion to hammer people into shape. I love them where they are, as they are, knowing that if they need any fixing, love is the one thing I can do to help. This bigger world came at a price I nearly refused to pay. My old world may have been small, but it was safe. Every question had an answer. God was dissected and laid out before me. If I had questions, I consulted the religious experts. They gave reasoned answers and assured me all was well. I took their word for it. But all was not well. Religion Is Like Communism My tiny world was like being under a Communist regime. In exchange for my freedom, I was guaranteed my next meal. Never mind that it was cabbage and water. It was food and it appeared on schedule. Fear kept me in my place. I was taught that outsiders were dangerous, that God was dangerous. My religion would protect me. This system was fragile. Cracks in its logic were cracks its walls. Endless energy was poured into shoring up the walls. This was always done in the name of defending the truth but it was really just strengthening the fortress. Contradictory views were considered only before being put in front of a firing squad. Mine was a small world, but it was safe. Leaving it is by far the hardest and best thing I have ever done. Land of the Free As Julie and I traveled the East Coast this summer, I felt a kinship with those who left Europe and came to America. I thrilled to the words of Thomas Jefferson, inscribed inside the rotunda of the Jefferson Memorial, “I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” Our ancestors fled the tyranny of church and state to find freedom. They left houses and lands, fathers and mothers, and friends and neighbors to risk carving out a new life in a hostile wilderness. Why go through all that? Freedom. They wanted the right to be themselves, to think their own thoughts, to worship their own God. They were willing to risk their lives for this. The spirit of dogma came over from Europe on the ships too, but this spirit did not prevail. The most incredible thing about America is that she did not fight a war to decide whose God was the real God. Instead, she proclaimed herself, “land of the free.” I get goose bumps thinking of it. Freedom Is No Joke Political and religious systems may put you in chains but they feed and protect you. If you leave, you must stand on your own two feet. It’s terrifying. You are like a bird that has lived its entire life in a cage. Do you know how to fly? Can you even feed yourself? For me the answers were, “No,” and “No.” When I stepped out of my religion, I promptly fell to the ground and began to starve. I limped along for months. When I tried to fly, I crashed into trees. Freedom is no joke. I have the bruises to prove it. When you give your life to a political or religious system you don’t have to lug around your own soul. “They” carry it for you. Moses goes up the mountain and meets with God. You sit in the valley eating Doritos, watching Netflix, and scanning your Facebook feed. Thinking is unnecessary. When I tell people the world would be better without religion, they say,
32 minutes | Aug 11, 2018
Breaking up with Church Is Hard to Do
Buried Alive! I used to wake up from a nightmare in which I was buried alive. If it were just a matter of dying, suffocation would be no worse to go than many other ways. It’s wasn’t the dying that scared me, It was being confined to a small space, unable to m ove, running out of oxygen, alone in the darkness. This dream was no accident. Several years ago, my world started to shrink around me and start to choke me. I didn’t understand this. I had a great family, a nice house, a loving church, good friends, and a secure future. If I was trapped, I was trapped in paradise. But I could not deny what I felt. I was like a scuba diver overcome by panic. I tried to stay calm and breath, but I couldn’t. I tore off my mask and swam for the surface. Never mind if it was rational. Never mind if it was safe. The compulsion was too strong to resist. I am finally starting to understand why I felt the panic. Imagine that you had been born and raised indoors. To you, the heavens are a layer of sheet rock, eight feet over your head. But somehow you had a sense that there is more. You feel suffocated but can’t explain why. This is what happens when you feel the narrowness of your world and desire to open your mind to the vastness of the universe. First there is a terrifying feeling of suffocation. You feel desperate to escape. When you break free and step outside, the first reaction is terror. There is no ceiling. It just keeps going up and up and up. But it’s also exhilarating. The world is much more wonderful than you ever imagined. After this episode, I will focus on the wide world that the Bible calls the Kingdom of God. But in order to enter God’s infinite space, you must leave the safe, narrow confines of your present world. It won’t be easy. Today I’ll share my story and explain why breaking up with church is hard to do. I will describe the three pieces that make up a world. Then, I’ll tell how mine came unglued. I’ll go on to explain why the world feels so strange to most people today. Finally, and best of all, I’ll begin to describe a world we can all live in, what Jesus called the Kingdom of God. The Three Pieces That Make a Coherent Cosmos Beliefs You were born into a world you did not make or choose. You open our eyes, look around and start asking some basic questions like, “Who am I?” and “Where am I?” In answer to “Who am I?” you are given a name. You are ________. In answer to “Where am I?” You are given a family. Your family is your world. In it you learn what to expect from life, how to behave, and what you must do to survive. Welcome to the world. You accept all this. You’re just learning to walk. This is no time to question the ground beneath your feet. The beliefs you learn as a child are deeply imprinted on your psyche. They can be changed, but it takes a lot of work. Lifestyle Based on your beliefs, you go out and build a life. This lifestyle is a logical extension of the beliefs. As you think, so you are. Friends Based on the lifestyle you build, you make friends. As you grow, you notice that not everyone lives in your world. They don’t act like you. They don’t think like you. They don’t get you. It’s as if they grew up on another planet. Their customs aren’t the same. They speak a different language. They are strangers. You can be polite. But drawing close to people from another world is like trying to establish a deep relationship with your dog. You can love them and admire them and appreciate them, but you’re simply not on the same wavelength. You are missing a tail and don’t know how to bark. My Birth World Beliefs I was born into a world where God was real. Some of my earliest memories are of my mother playing Chopin etudes on the piano as I drifted off to sleep. I heard God in the notes. My mother read the Chronicles of Narnia to me at bedtime. We discussed C.S. Lewis as we did the dishes. My dad was a rock. We had as good of a father-son relationship as I’ve ever heard of.
39 minutes | Jul 28, 2018
Baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and Other Power Plays
Introduction It was five years ago when I first realized I had to leave the church. It’s hard to describe how completely devastated I was by this. The church defined my whole world, everything from my weekly activities, to the origins of the universe to the meaning of my life. All of this was shattered when I left the church. I tried not to. I thought that if I stepped back for a season, I would be able to step back in. Maybe I was just burned out. Maybe I was just misplaced. But when I stepped back, it made things worse. I realized that I wasn’t burned out and that no tweak to my role would make a difference. Of course, I had my gripes about the church like everyone else. But this wasn’t about a few personal grievances. I knew to my toes that something was fundamentally off with church. This was like having a bomb go off in my face. All around me were pieces of my former life and my own face, and none of them connected anymore. Nothing made sense. You might say, “Of course your world didn’t makes sense. You were a pastor. You drank the Kool-Aid. You went too far.” But if you’re listening to this podcast, your world doesn’t make sense without church either. The church and western civilization have gown together for so long, that there is no separating them. Whether you like it or not, your life is a product of the church. I felt this weird mix of church and culture when people came to me to ask me to perform their wedding ceremony. They didn’t believe the things I believed. Honestly, it made about as much sense as me going to a Buddhist monk to be married. Why did they do it? Because a church wedding is a cultural tradition. It’s just what you do. I suppose people want God’s blessing and thought maybe I could give it to them. I always felt like a prop, like the little man on the wedding cake. The same thing happened at funerals. People called out of the blue to ask me to do a funeral. I would stand by the graveside, waxing eloquent about the sure hope of the resurrection, looking out on a sea of puzzled faces, knowing most of them didn’t buy a word I was saying. And then, for me, leaving church left me tied up in knots about baptism and the Lord’s supper. These belonged to the church. How could I participate? And if I opted out of these sacred ceremonies wasn’t I opting out of God? These questions were so hard because they are bound up with a fundamental mistake that has been a part of our lives for centuries, one that has come to define our whole existence. To abandon these traditions is to saw off the branch we are sitting on. It’s hard to get people excited about this. But I am excited about this. And I want to warn you about today’s podcast. The things I am about to say are hard to deny. But they may create a sense of free-fall in your life, just as they did in mine. I began by tugging on a few loose threads of my religion and the whole ball came unraveled. The same thing will happen to you. Listen at your own risk. Today I will investigate how we came to this strange, untenable place. I will start by asking what Jesus actually taught, then describe what happened instead. Finally, I will tell you what has to change. What Jesus Actually Said Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God was the announcement of the love of God calling all things to oneness with Himself and into harmony with each other. That’s what ecclesia is. Jesus kept the good news of God’s Kingdom carefully separate from any nation or human government. This point is stressed repeatedly. For example, In the wilderness, the devil offered absolutely control of human government to Jesus. To this, Jesus replied, “It is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God, and serve Him only.’” When Jesus announced his ministry as the fulfillment of Isaiah’s good news for the poor, the people of his home town rejoiced, but when he went on to say that the message wasn’t just for Jews, they tried to kill him. The separation between the Kingdom of God and human government cou...
25 minutes | Jul 21, 2018
If Church Is So Bad, Why Is It So Full of Good?
I began this summer series by giving seven reasons why I found it necessary to leave the church. Then, two of weeks ago, I showed that the word “church” is a very good word not found in the Bible to describe an institution not found in the Bible. Last week, I offered a definition of ecclesia that I consider in line with Jesus’ intent. If you haven’t picked it up already, I am conflicted about church. I would have no problem if it was all bad. I would kick it to the curb and move on. But it’s not so simple. Church has been the source of great blessing in my life. For example… Christian Heritage. Church is an important part of my family identity, going back as far as we can see. Friends. I made my closest friends in church. These are exceptionally good people. They are my high school and college buddies. Music. I love church music, everything from Palestrina, to Bach, to Rutter, to the old hymns. Education. I owe my education to my denomination. Income. For twenty years, my church fed my family and paid my mortgage. Cathedrals. When Julie and I visited Italy, the cathedrals made my heart soar. As we drive through the southeastern United States, I am the steeples that dot the countryside inspire me. Charity. Earlier this summer, when I was bit by a tick, I went to a church hospital. So when I talk about leaving church, I get a knot in my stomach. How can I throw all this away? Church may not be a perfect vessel, but it carries the holy. Surely, I shouldn’t throw out the baby out with the bathwater. But in this case, the bathwater has been mixed with the baby for so long that it’s hard to tell the two apart. In fact we don’t even call it bathwater anymore. We call it holy water. But bathwater is not holy, and babies were never meant to live in bathwater. It is meant to be drained, and regularly. Unfortunately, we haven’t had a good draining for centuries. The water is so polluted it’s choking the baby. If ecclesia is to thrive in the new millennium, we must find a way to separate the two. But is it possible to separate good things like I described from church? Yes. In fact, they will be stronger without it. These good things were never the product of church in the first place. They are ecclesia. The church is like mistletoe. It has attached itself to God’s ecclesia. and so completely covered it that we think the church is ecclesia. Today I will focus on the seven things I mentioned above: Christian heritage, friends, music, education, income, cathedrals, and charity. I’ll take them one at a time, seeking to separate the baby from the bathwater. 1. Christian heritage Maybe you’re a first generation follower of Jesus. If so, it might be easy to dismiss church. But for me and many others, Church is part of a family heritage. To leave church doesn’t feel like draining the bathwater. It feels like spitting on the graves of your ancestors. I love my family and am proud of my heritage. My great grandparents were homesteaders in New Mexico. They packed up everything and headed west. When they reached their promised land, the first thing they did was build a church. My own dad followed suit. When we moved to the Pacific Northwest, the first thing he did was help build a church. This faithfulness to church filtered down to me and my own children. Not to attend church feels like a rejection of my family. It helps to remind myself that what I love about my family is their faith. Frankly, my ancestors wouldn’t recognize a modern church service. About the time the drums and electric guitar kicked in they would run screaming for the doors. You see, it is not the form of their faith that is sacred but the substance. And there was substance. They were honorable people who loved God and were good neighbors. They embodied ecclesia. This is what I cling to and honor. I honor the courage it took to pack up everything and leave for parts unknown. I honor their grit.
29 minutes | Jul 13, 2018
Ecclesia Is Everyone
The Rise of the Dones Good people are leaving church. They’re not leaving one church to look for another. They’re ditching the whole institution. It’s easy to write these people off as whiners but it goes deeper than this. In his book, Church Refugees, Josh Packard shows that these are not fringe people with petty gripes. They are pastors and staff, deacons and elders, ministry leaders and board members. People who have given their lives to church. They don’t leave easily, but when the do, it’s for good. Potato Salad I am an eternal foe of potato salad. But when I tell people I don’t like potato salad the response is inevitably, “You haven’t tried my potato salad. It’s not like other potato salad.” They don’t understand. I don’t avoid potato salad because I dislike a particular form. I avoid it because I gag on the whole idea. Similarly, when I tell people that I’ve given up on church, they say, “But you haven’t tried my church. Our pastor is different. Our organization is slicker. Our people are different. It’s not like anything you’ve ever seen.” They don’t understand. I don’t avoid church because I reject a certain form. I am through with the whole idea. I’m a textbook Done. Being a Done Is Depressing But being a “Done” is depressing. Okay. I’m done. Now what? Do I just plop down and announce, “I’m Done?” I can’t imagine Jesus doing this. I insist that my life be defined by positive things I am doing, not by what I’m done with. In other words, now that I’ve determined that I’m a “Done,” I must figure out what to do. Sometimes people think that I left a traditional church to start a newfangled online church. They see me as whipping up a “new and improved” potato salad. To me, this would be like breathing into a CPR dummy and hoping its heart would start to beat. I have no desire to revive the church. Neither do I wish to beat up on church. I’m simply done with church. My attention has moved on to something new: ecclesia. The Definition of Ecclesia The meaning of the Greek word ecclesia is straightforward: A call goes out for people to gather. They gather. For example, if a hurricane was threatening and your town and the City Council issued a call for people to meet and discuss the situation, that would be an ecclesia. A biblical example is the meeting called by the silversmiths of Ephesus to decide what to do about Paul (Acts 19:32, 39, 41). You can get at the meaning of the word by breaking the word into its parts. Ek (ἐκ) in means “out of.” Klēsis (κλῆσις) means “invitation.” So ecclesia means calling people out, inviting them to gather. In the New Testament, ecclesia is not a human gathering but to a divine Gathering. The call comes from God. The place of gathering is before our Maker. Ecclesia is God the Father, welcoming every prodigal daughter and son home. So here’s my definition of ecclesia: Ecclesia is the love of God, calling all things to oneness with Himself and harmony with each other. This definition as deep as the heart of God and as wide as the heavens. For any group or human organization to claim to be God’s ecclesia is idolatry because it substitutes something infinite and divine and with the work of human hands. Ecclesia is the Great Commandments Notice that this definition is the same as the great commandments (Matthew 22:37-40): Ecclesia is the love of God, calling all things to oneness with Himself You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. and into harmony with each other. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Ecclesia is God re-creating the world, calling all things out of fallenness and into fullness. Now let’s loot at this definition, one phrase at a time. The Motive Behind Ecclesia: God’s Love Ecclesia is the love of God, calling all things to oneness with Himself and harmony with each other. God Loves You?
30 minutes | Jul 7, 2018
Church: An Odd Translation with a Sketchy Past and an Outrageous Claim
“The contempt which I had to fear because of the novelty and apparent absurdity of my view nearly induced me to abandon utterly the work I had begun.” —Nicolaus Copernicus Shifting the Center of the Universe In the 16th century, Nicolaus Copernicus shook the world by demonstrating that the earth was not the center of the universe. Copernicus was a devout Catholic and knew his ideas would not go over well with the church. He was smart enough to publish them on his deathbed and avoid martyrdom. For a long time, I have felt like my my faith was orbiting a false center. I was afraid to talk about this, partly because I wanted to remain true to my vocation as a pastor and partly because I was afraid. I hate conflict. I’m a middle child. I make peace, not waves. That’s why it has taken my years to work up the nerve to say what I will say in today’s podcast. With fear and trembling, here goes: The false center around which Christianity revolves today is the church. Some might say that God, or Christ is the center of Christianity today. I wish it were true. It’s simply not. Church Is the Center of Modern Christianity One way to see that church is the true center of Christianity is by the strong emotions wrapped up with church. The closer something is to the center of our convictions, the stronger the reaction when it is challenged. If one of the orbiting planets in our solar system shifted its course, it would affect the other planets so some degree. But if the sun were to shift, the entire solar system would be in an uproar. Shifting the center is like poking a bee hive. People will give you a pass for having odd ideas about God. You can follow any paths of discipleship you choose. But if you challenge the legitimacy of the church, the bees come after you. I saw this illustrated in a TV interview. Pastor Chris Sonksen wrote a book titled, “Quit Church: Your Life Would Be Better if You Did.” I was intrigued. “Finally!” I thought. “A person brave enough to tell the truth and challenge the status quo.” But when I watched the interview I was bewildered. Sonksen’s version of quitting church was to be more committed to church than ever. The interview went like this. Interviewer: But if you don’t go to church, who is out there to remind you to be better? Sonksen: Let me be clear: I’m definitely telling people to go to church. Huh? Why is the title of the book the opposite of its content? The interviewer was lost. So was I. But there was something worse. It was a sentence Sonksen threw in as an aside. “I’m not telling people, ‘Hey, stop going to church.’ I’d be crucified!” Crucified? Exactly. Crucifixion is the punishment for blasphemy. And in tdoay’s culture, failure to make church the center of your Christian life is blasphemy. Christ is the True Center of Christianity My first experience of God was one of unconditional love. I felt forgiveness. I felt safe. I was happier than words could express. As I read about the love of Jesus in the gospels it all made sense. Jesus had come to conquer the world with love. I had been conquered. I used to love to go to church, especially on Sunday nights with my dad. There, I found others who shared similar stories of God’s love. I felt accepted. We sang songs and praised God. It was amazing. A lifetime of this sounded like pure bliss. I signed up. But when I “surrendered” (the word is apt) to the ministry, something began to shift. My living connection with God slowly moved to a human institution. It was like having the oxygen taken out of the air. Eventually, I could no longer breath. Partly because I was completely bewildered by this and partly because I had no desire to disrupt other people’s lives, I quietly withdrew. I resigned my church and left my post at the seminary. I Lost My Center! Without church, I had no gravitational center. I was lost in space! Christianity without church was like ice without water—an impossibility.
20 minutes | Jun 30, 2018
Seven Reasons I Left the Church to Follow Jesus
Introduction Why Church Can Never Be Fixed For as long as I can remember, people have been trying to fix the church. The idea is that if we find the right formula we can get things back on track. We modernize the music, reformat the service, put a finer point on the theology, change the meeting place, make it harder, make it easier, make it sexier, make it stodgier… In spite of endless tweaking, the statistics all point in the same direction: church is dying. The reason why no modification of church can fix the church is that church itself is the problem. Church is a human institution born of marriage between following Jesus and political power. It is the triumph of Rome, not Christ. It is almost exactly like the Pharisaic Judaism that Jesus opposed. It is sustained by tradition, rituals and creeds, not a living connection between the soul and its Maker. Ecclesia, not Church To modern Christians, these words are heresy. We are so steeped in church that we can’t imagine anything else. Jesus comes in one form, and one form only: church. To reject church is to reject Jesus. To be out of step with church is to be at odds with God. This assumption has no basis in the teachings of Jesus. The word translated “church” in the New Testament (ekklēsia, ἐκκλησία) does not refer to the human institution that developed much later. Ecclesia is God drawing all things into oneness with himself and harmony with each another. It has no borders, no creeds, and no religious rituals, no Pope, no clergy, and no buildings. It could never marry Caesar. Ecclesia is an ocean, a sky, a universe. It is free. It cannot be contained. It releases people to be fully themselves. In the years immediately following Jesus’ death, ecclesia transformed the world. In the fourth century, Rome harnessed ecclesia for power. By the fifth century the marriage was complete and ecclesia became church. But ecclesia cannot be stopped, not by Rome, not by anyone. It continued, both in the church and out of it. This summer, I will show the difference between ecclesia and church. My goal is to return to the glory of ecclesia. Today I’ll give you seven reasons why I had to leave the church to follow Jesus, but first, allow me to share a bit of my personal journey. Why I Went Into Hiding As I write, Julie and I are living in a small travel trailer we call “Peregrino” (Spanish for “pilgrim” or “wander”). Two years ago, I left my job as a pastor and resigned my post as a seminary professor. To most people, it appeared that we had retired and set off on permanent vacation. But we’re not on vacation. We’re on the lamb. One of the things I most dislike about church is that you can only be close with people in the church. Those outside of church are always some kind of missions project. I was aware of this. I knew that by leaving church, I was changing my status from “friend” to “missions” project. As hard as that was, there was something worse. Church had defined my life. Now what? I felt like the people on Wall-E who can barely walk after being cared for by machines for so long. I was wobbly. Disoriented. I went on a spiritual walkabout—to be more accurate, a spiritual wobbleabout. I tried being an agnostic. I meditated on the Bhagavad Gita. I strained to follow the Buddha and detach. I tried being an atheist. This journey was rich in discovery but I kept missing Jesus. I realized I’m stuck being a Christian. I decided to take a second look at my faith. For two years, I have been rebuilding from the ground up. Part of this is rethinking my beliefs. I am sharing that journey here on Curb Your Dogma and at my blog. Also, since my lifestyle was no longer defined by church, I had to discover what it meant to follow Jesus. The result was Anchorpoint, a way of life based on the seven core teachings of Jesus. So my beliefs and way of life are taking shape. But what about relationships? In Search of Friends
24 minutes | Apr 22, 2018
Habit 7: Rest
Why God Took the Day Off In the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Steven Covey recommends “sharpening the saw.” The idea is that every now and then you need to take some time off to refresh. This will make you more effective than if you keep sawing away and never take a time to recharge. It’s good advice with which I wholeheartedly agree. But it has nothing to do with God’s rest. God did not rest to “sharpen the saw.” God rested because he was finished. God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day (Genesis 1:31). God rested not only because the job was done. God rested because creation was perfect. No further action was necessary. The seventh day is not a God’s day off. God would not need to pack a lunch and head back the job on Monday. The job was complete. That is why the seventh day never ends. It is the eternal state: perfection. What About the Fall? “But wait!” you say. What about the fall? Didn't Adam and Eve destroy this perfection? Didn't God have to get out his tool kit and start all over? Sure, things were perfect for a blissful moment, but Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. It’s back to the drawing board. God had to move on to Plan B. Our world is a do-over and it’s far from done. the four living creatures kept saying, “Amen.” And the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:12-14) This is a description of the child to be born, the New Creation. It’s not the story of a God who loved a perfect world, but a God who redeemed a broken one. For there to be a new creation there had to be an old one. The transition from old to new is painful. We who are in the midst of this transition cry out, “How long, O Lord?” The glory to come will outshine the suffering and make it all worth it. Because of this, both of the following statements are true: The world is not as it should be. The world is exactly as it should be. Our world not as it should be because the prodigals have not yet returned. It is exactly as it should be because they will. This is as certain as the death and resurrection of Jesus. We live in the seventh day, the day of rest, because the end is present from the beginning. This confidence makes it possible to avoid two extremes: apathy and fanaticism. Rest Is the Antidote to Apathy and Fanaticism Many look at this world and throw up their hands in despair. As the Cat in the Hat put it, “This mess is so big And so deep and so tall, We cannot pick it up. There is no way at all!” Or, as an old friend used to be fond of saying, “It’s all gonna burn.” Given a world without God, apathy is inevitable. Even if by some miracle we survive our own stupidity, eventually the sun will go supernova and blow us to bits. Why recycle? Why save the whales? Why fight human trafficking? It’s all gonna burn. Fanaticism takes the opposite path. Our species is out of control! Our planet is dying! We have to fix this. Now! The problem is that the way to fix things is hotly debated. Democrats or Republicans? Capitalists or communists? Science or religion? We are distracted from the world we are trying to save by the ignoramuses who oppose our strategy. We forget about saving the world and turn to fighting each other instead. Redeeming love presents a third option. Not apathy. Not fanaticism. Participation. We participate in God’s work of new creation. We trust that God is at work in the world even though we often can’t see how. Jesus showed the way. People said a lot of things about Jesus but no one accused him of apathy. Neither was he a fanatic. Instead, he participated with a whole heart in the Father’s work of new creation. He welcomed outcasts, healed the sick, and forgave sinners. Christ's victory was unlike anything the world has ever seen. He conquered the world with love. In a world at war, love is a good strategy for getting yourself crushed—which is exactly what happened to Jesus.
24 minutes | Apr 15, 2018
Habit #6: Shine
This week is pure fun. Shining is not a chore. It’s not a task on your to-do list. It’s not cranking up a factory to produce something. It’s more like breaking up a log jam to let a river flow. The first five habits are about breaking up the log jam. When you practice them, it is impossible not to shine. Let’s review: Habit #1 Make brokenness a door You admit your need. You don’t pretend all is well. You declare bankruptcy and throw yourself on God’s mercy. Habit #2 Trust Jesus You take Jesus’ hand and follow. You still have a lot of questions. You might be suffering. You may feel angry. It’s okay. You feel Christ’s presence. Slowly, you learn to trust. Habit #3 Hope in God Where is Jesus taking you? In a word, life. He called it the Kingdom of God. God’s life is bigger than death but you don’t have to wait until you die to enter it. You don’t deny the groaning of this world but you see hope poking through everywhere. Habit #4 Let God love you You discover something wonderful: God loves you and is working in all things for your good. God is making you something wonderful—your true self. Habit #5 Love everyone Your experience of God’s love changes the way you think of others. Just as God is redeeming you, God is at work in everything he has made. You feel connected with other people—in fact with every created thing. The entire universe is part of the same great story, being made new by the same love. Habit #6 Shine You are being made new! This is not up in the clouds. It is your way of life. You dance to heaven’s tune. You delight in the unique expression of God’s glory that you are. You shine. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. (Matthew 5:14) Our world is pretty good at convincing us there is nothing special about us. You may feel about as exciting as oatmeal. Here are seven ways to overcome that lie and to allow God to shine through you. 7 Ways to Polish Your Shine 1. Embrace your purpose. My favorite thing in the whole wide world is to put on my backpack and head into the wilderness for a week of solitude. The further I wander from the trail, the better I like it. It’s like getting in on a secret. I see alpine lakes that few eyes ever have. I soak up shooting stars and fiery red sunsets. I admire wildflowers. I have a free ticket to the greatest show on earth and have the whole theater to myself. But what kind of a lunatic would put on such a show, knowing that most of it will go unseen. Would I devoted my life to a work of art and not tell anyone about it? Why the wasted glory? It is not a waste. We think the world that exists solely for our enjoyment and that the human audience is the only audience that matters. We forget ourselves. Our world was made by the love of God for the joy of God. The fact that human beings can share this joy is a great gift. It does not make our appreciation essential in order for a thing to have value. What about you? Does anyone take delight in you? Does anyone even see you? If no one notices you, do you exist? Yes. Emphatically, yes. You exist as an expression of God’s glory, made by the love of God for the joy of God. Even if every other human being ignores you, God doesn’t. When you express yourself as unfiltered you, you feel God’s pleasure in you. Like the high mountain lake, the wildflower, the mountain peak, you know why you exist. You are an expression of God’s glory. When you feel this, you know the meaning of your life, though you may not be able to put it in words. 2. Point to sparkly things. One effortless and satisfying way to shine requires nothing from you at all. You shine when you point at other shiny things. With nature, this is hard not to do this. If you spot a bear by the side of the road you blurt out, “Look!” If the sunset lights up the sky with purple and orange you point and insist that others see. Why? Why is it so important to share these things with others?
20 minutes | Apr 8, 2018
Habit #5: Love Everyone
Rejected! How the Grinch Stole Christmas is the best Dr. Seuss movie ever. In the 2000 version with Jim Carey, the Grinch lives in exile and on a snow-covered mountain. Every day he wallows in his hatred for the people of Whoville. How did this situation arise? Rejection. The Grinch was different from the other kids so they were cruel to him. He packed his bags and went into exile. The story is about how a little girl named Cindy Lou softened his heart with love and brought him back to Whoville. Love boils down to something very simple: acceptance. Love is acceptance. It feels wonderful to be accepted. Hate is rejection. It is the deepest pain we can feel. Looking back, I see that most of my life has been spent in search of acceptance. It’s why it was so important to be good at basketball. The day the coach benched me wasn’t just the end of my basketball career. It was my expulsion from Whoville. I turned to music and found acceptance as a french horn player instead. If that hadn’t worked I would have tried something else. I might have wound up behind the school with the stoners. One way or another, I had to find acceptance. Acceptance is why falling in love is so intoxicating. We are loved by an angel! Falling into the arms of God couldn’t be better. It’s also why breaking up is so devastating. Our language reveals our pain. We got “dumped.” We feel like garbage. We’ll do anything to be accepted. It’s why Facebook “likes” mean so much to us. It’s why public speaking is one our greatest fears. If you stand up in front of a crowd and say the wrong thing, they might reject you. The thought of all that rejection is more terrifying than falling off a cliff. Religious communities, which are always talking about love, can be the worst. When you get rejected by a religious community you aren’t just cut off from human relationships. You are expelled from the love of God too. If you feel like a reject, it might encourage you to know that you are in good company. Jesus was “despised and rejected by men” (Isaiah 53:3). God has a special place in his heart for rejects. The problem is that most of us do not feel we have a place in God’s heart. We think we have to earn God’s acceptance just everyone else’s. Rejected People Reject People When we are rejected we reject back. It’s as natural as swatting a mosquito. Our world is filled with rejection. God can break the cycles of rejection but only if we believe in a God of acceptance. Sadly, this is not the God most of us have been told about. The story goes something like this: God created a perfect world in which we were accepted and loved. We got things off track by rejecting God. God’s reaction was to strike back by cursing us and casting us into hell. The good news is that there is a way to be accepted again. We can transfer God’s rejection from ourselves to Jesus. This isn’t much of a story. Its God isn’t very loving, even by human standards. I have three kids. Let’s say they each do something awful. I love them but I am a stickler for justice. I resolve my internal conflict by locking child #1 and child #2 in a torture chamber. This satisfies my need for justice. I express my love for child #3 by torturing and killing my wife, venting my wrath on her. When my anger has run its course, I am cooled down enough to love my remaining child. This is not glorious. This is horrific. It gets even worse. Imagine that I defended myself by pointing out that as their father I have the right to do whatever I please with my kids. Then, when you protested, I justified myself by saying you just don’t understand. My ways are higher than yours. This is the story that sent me on a quest for a new religion. I eventually wound up back at the feet of Jesus, but with a very different understanding of God. Before we go there, let’s think through how we will treat other people if we believe in the rejecting God I just described. The Result
29 minutes | Apr 1, 2018
Habit #4: Let God Love You
Dueling Billboards As Julie and I travel around the country, we see many billboards and church marquis. Most of these say in one way or another that God loves us. But along with these glad tidings of a loving God stand others, which tell a very different story. One of these, for example, has a picture of glowing clouds on the left and wicked flames on the right. It read, Where will go when you die? Heaven or Hell? An 800 number was given to find out. Another warned in giant, capital letters, “REMEMBER HELL” (Matthew 25:41) Matthew 25:41 says this. Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41) Does God love me? It depends on which billboard you read. This confusion is not just on billboards. The Bible seems to contain a conflicting messages as well. We delight in John 3:16-17. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. (John 3:16-17) No judgment? Eternal life? That sounds like a God I can come to! But a few verses later we read, He who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” (John 3:36) What happened to the God who loved the world and wouldn’t condemn? Could I be one of the disobedient ones? I certainly can’t claim to always obey Jesus. Will God’s wrath abide on me? Evidently, God has a good side and a bad side. He is a loving father, ready to throw his arms around me but also an angry judge, ready to throw the book at me. The standard way to resolve this is to say that God’s love is conditional, just like mine. I can be loving and I can be mean. It all depends on how you approach me. Push the right buttons and you’ll walk away saying, “What a nice man!” Poke the wrong buttons and you’ll walk away saying, “What a jerk!” This is how God is. The trick is to get on his good side. How, then, is it claimed that God loves everyone? By emphasizing that God is willing to love everyone who approaches him in the right way. All are invited to the party. Not all get in. Some are loved. Others are shut out forever. Who gets shut out? That’s the big question. The Calvinists say God decides who is in and who is out. There is nothing we can do about it. The Arminians say it’s up to us. Either way, we’re left with the same result. Some are in and some are out. When churches preach the “good news,” they are generally not proclaiming that God loves everyone. The good news is that they have discovered the formula for getting on God’s good side. There is a list of beliefs, or religious rites, or set of behaviors that guarantee God’s love. They have the formula. Of course, other churches have formulas too. Watch out. Likely as not, they’ll land you in hell. Here’s the problem: If God has a good side and a bad side it’s hard to be certain about how God feels about me. I may think I have the formula but how do I know for sure? A lot of smart people disagree on this. What are the odds that my group has it right? It’s hard not to keep glancing nervously over my shoulder. Millions of Christians live this way. They hope God loves them. They think so. But they can't really be sure. But what if you don’t have to worry about getting on God’s good side since God doesn’t have a bad side? What if God isn’t divided? What if God loves everyone? What if the warnings about fire and judgment are not contradictions of God’s love but expressions of it, meant to cleanse and purify, not destroy. The Consuming Fire The problem with God is that he loves us too much. Parenthood is a common image used in the Bible to describe our relationship with God. A good parent aches for her children to be all they can be. She sees their potential.
25 minutes | Mar 25, 2018
Habit #3: Hope in God
We Owe the IRS. What’s Your Story? Julie and I just got our tax information. We were hoping to get money back this year but due to some stupidity on our part and bad advice we owe $5136. The real challenge is not coming up with $5136. The real challenge is not letting the bad news sink us in a pit of despair. What did we do wrong to bring all this on ourselves? Why can’t we live on easy street like other people? Is God punishing us? These are foolish questions. The truth is that no one lives on easy street. Everyone, without exception, struggles. Many deal with problems far worse than ours: cancer, divorce, car accidents, addictions, loneliness, abusive parents, depression… Pick any person. Dig deep enough and you’ll find pain. From a distance, others may appear to live a charmed life but up close, the illusion vanishes. In fact, I don’t feel like I really know a person until I know their pain. If you’re reading this and think you have been left out, just hang on. Life may be rocking along pleasantly at the moment but you’ll get your turn to suffer soon enough. We all do. The Cold Hard Facts We are born with an expiration date. We might make a big splash or a little in this world one but either way the ripples of your life quickly disappear. We do our best to hide our eyes and plug our ears to this but there is no escaping it. Life is a limited time offer. Inexplicable Hope The strange thing is that in the face of overwhelming evidence that our lives are meaningless, nearly everyone lives as if there is hope. In the grand scheme of the universe we are specks too small to measure. The fleeting years of our lives are a flash too small to see. Still, we go around as if it is all matters. Why? When people face tragedy we hold them in our arms and say “It’s gonna be alright.” This makes no sense. The one think we can say with certainty is that it will not be alright. Maybe things will get better for a little while, then they will die. How is that “alright?” And then, when they die we say, “They are in a better place” even as we throw dirt on their dead, rotting corpses. What is wrong with us? Maybe nothing. We say and do these things because of something we do not see but definitely feel: hope. Along with the depressing facts that lead to the conclusion that our lives don’t matter, there is something inside of us that says they do. Intuitively, we feel that our struggle is important, that there is a point to our lives. Jesus gave a name to hope. He called it the Kingdom of God and claimed it was more real, more solid, more permanent than anything. What we see is not all there is, not by a long shot, and the end of our lives is not the final chapter in our story. Our dying world opens up on a brighter and better one in which God is making all things new. The Theme of the Story: Redeeming Love Jesus was a teacher who filled people’s hearts with hope. This was not the usual religious mumbo-jumbo. When Jesus described the Kingdom of God, the heavens were parted and people experienced the unseen. The crowds’ reaction at the end of the Sermon on the Mount is typical. When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, for he taught with real authority—quite unlike their teachers of religious law. (Matthew 7:28-29) The word “amazed” means “overwhelmed,” or “astounded.” Jesus wasn’t just a good teacher. When he spoke of the age to come, people were undone. They believed saw it. They believed him. He spoke with certainty, like a person with firsthand experience. But Jesus did more than teach about the Kingdom of God. He lived it. He loved everyone. He was as welcoming to a prostitute as a Pharisee. Those who encountered him were forced to face the truth about themselves. We got a sneak peak at the end of the human story in the way Jesus healed the sick, cast out demons, forgave s ins, and welcomed everyone to God’s table. People didn’t just hear about the Kingdom of G...
24 minutes | Mar 18, 2018
Habit #2: Trust Jesus
Shooting Star The summers of my college years were spent working with youth at a big church in Richland Washington. I loved all of the kids but there was a special connection with a few. Jeff was one of those. He showed up early to help me set things up and was one of the last to leave. Some mornings we met to go jogging together. That’s why, one evening, when we couldn’t find Jeff, I was worried. We had been waterskiing on the Snake River. The boat would take five or six kids out at a time, leaving the to play in a roped off area by the shore. It was time to go home and we had rounded everyone up. Everyone, that is, except Jeff. After an hour of searching, we were alarmed. After two hours, we called 911. A team of divers came out and began to search the murky waters along the shore. One of them found Jeff’s lifeless body on the bottom. The image of his hand going up to indicate that the search was over is forever seared in my mind. The next eight weeks were surreal, a blur of investigations, the funeral, and ongoing youth activities. I moved into the basement of Jeff’s home during this time and witnessed firsthand grief that I only comprehend now that I am a parent. One evening during that time, I went outside to fire questions for which there is no answer at the night sky. As I fired accusations at God, a shooting star shot across the sky in the exact place where I was looking. Shooting stars on a summers evening are not unheard of, but somehow I felt the presence of God in this one. It didn't take away the pain but it offered comfort. When the summer ended, I made the drive back to Pullman, through the badlands of Eastern Washington. It was that indescribable time when the day is over but it is not yet night. The sky was an iridescent, slate blue. Angry tears poured from my eyes. I pounded on the steering wheel. What possible explanation could God give for this summer? I believed that God was both loving and powerful but there was no way to square this with the death of my friend or the grief of his family. At that moment, an immense flaming star appeared in the eastern sky and arced to the west for ten full seconds. This was not the normal flash of white against a black backdrop. It was a flaming orange ball with a long glowing tail. I pulled to the side of the road and bowed my head, feeling my angry tears dissolved into tears of a joy. It was not an answer, but somehow, everything was okay. From a scientific point of view, shooting stars are not miracles. Space debris hits our atmosphere constantly. The appearance of that shooting star can easily be explained as a coincidence which an emotionally vulnerable young man chose to interpret as that presence of God. I understand this perspective; I just don’t believe it. Jesus of Nazareth was a shooting star whose life left a mark on our world. That much is beyond dispute. But what does that life mean? Was his life like a piece of piece of space dust hitting the atmosphere or was it the star of Bethlehem, a visitation of God? What does it mean to trust Jesus? Is this superstition for weak-minded fools who can't face the truth or is it the secret of eternal life? In this chapter, I will examine the life of Jesus, starting with what everyone saw, then exploring various ideas about the significance. What Everyone Saw People may not agree on the significance of Jesus but we should at least be able to agree on the data: A man named Jesus of Nazareth appeared on the scene in the early first century. He went from village to village, proclaiming and explaining the Kingdom of God. Some believed him to have miraculous powers. He spent most of his time with the poor and disenfranchised and offended the political-religious establishment of his day. Although he never called for armed revolution, the religious leaders told the Romans that he was a threat. Rome dealt with Jesus as it did with all who made trouble: He wound up on a cross,
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