Sunday, November 29, 2009

Intellect, Belief, & Doubt

We think of doubt as the enemy of faith, but I am more inclined to think that self-satisfaction and illusion are faith's foes. "Faith without doubt," a friend said, "even desperate doubt, is flat faith indeed." Doubt is our good cop: it keeps faith honest.
--Nora Gallagher The Sacred Meal

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Faith Seeking Reason

The question is whether the intellectual one,without the heart, can understand God. The truth is that if our heart understands God our intellect will then start to seek Him.
--George Lichtenberg

Monday, November 23, 2009

Isaiah 2:4-5

He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Come, O house of Jacob,
let us walk in the light of the LORD.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Today's Message: Watch What You Eat

Today's Message is from Matthew 16:1-12 where Jesus refuses to give another "sign" to the religious leaders and schools his disciples on the difference between practical concerns and spiritual concerns. What are the things that distract us from what is most important? What does your daily diet consist of?

Friday, November 20, 2009


Even if I err in saying that the soul is eternal, nevertheless I am happy that I made this mistake. And while I am alive, not a single person can take away this assurance which gives me complete calmness and great satisfaction.
-Marcus Tullius Cicero

We ask the wrong question when we say, "What will happen after death?" When we speak about the future, we speak of time, but when we die, we leave time behind.
-Leo Tolstoy

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Hell: "Who goes there?"

Now that i've laid out my position of hell as primarily being a place of separation for the preservation of God's Just society, as oppose to the crude interpretation of hell as a place to physically torture human beings in literal fire, we turn to the question of "who goes there?".

There is the simple answer: Those who don't believe and accept Jesus as their Savior. Yet i don't think it is as simple as this. Things get a bit complicated when Jesus provides an illustration of judgment day in which many "believers" come fully expecting to enter into heaven (the kingdom of God) and get rejected. They say, "But Lord, didn't we prophesy, perform miracles and cast out demons in your name?" They seem utterly shocked, and we should be utterly shocked, since most of us only wish we had such powerful witnesses as these in our lives. Yet Jesus says to them, "Depart from me, for i never knew you".

Matthew 25 offers a vivid picture of judgment day concerning the criteria which helps Jesus to separate true followers from rebels. Again we see a surprised group of people who wonder why they aren't being permitted into the Kingdom. Jesus tells them that they failed to love him. He says that when he was in prison, they didn't visit. When he was naked, they didn't provide clothes for him. When he was hungry, they gave him no food to eat. When he was thirsty, they gave him no water to drink. When he was sick, they did not care for him. They reply, "Lord, when did we ever see you in such a state as what you've described." He says, "I tell you the truth, in as much as you did not do for the least of these, you did not do it unto me".

The conclusion is that those who fail to embrace the values of the Kingdom will not inherit the Kingdom. Recently i heard a quote and critique concerning emerging Christians. It said, "You might be an emerging Christian if you fully expect to see Gandhi in heaven, but would be absolutely flawed to find Jerry Falwell there.

i don't consider myself to be "emergent", but i think this statement captures something profound.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Hell as Punishment? Part II

Why do i have a difficult time viewing hell as a place of eternal physical punishment? The primary reason is that it doesn't seem to fit the character of God or the emphasis of the New Testament, which is redemptive.

You see, hell as punishment serves no purpose, unless it stands only as a reminder for the redeemed of the consequences of rebellion. i think the Cross of Christ adequately serves this purpose, and therefore, hell as a reminder to the redeemed doesn't seem necessary.

Punishment that desires to rehabilitate is called "discipline". God disciplines those he loves. Hell is never depicted as a place to learn discipline. We discipline our children in order to bring about a desirable change in behavior, so they can be valuable members of society. Hell is never depicted as a place for rehabilitation. There is another theology which would capture that concept and it is called "purgatory". Purgatory is a theology of punishment (after death) toward redemption. Protestantism offers no such hope.

Jesus teaches us a theology of redemption and rehabilitation. What purpose does eternal physical torment serve? Does God take pleasure in physically tormenting human beings. i don't tend to think so. According the the Scriptures, he loves humanity and desires the very best for us.

But doesn't the Bible depict hell as a place where people burn in fire? Yes, yet it is always used in a metaphorical context. Why do we assume Jesus is speaking figuratively when he says, "If your right eye causes you to sin then pluck it out" and "It is better for you to enter eternal life maimed..." yet when it comes to the fire of hell that the eye is to be tossed into we are sure that it is literal? Revelation is a book jam packed with figurative metaphors, non-literal images that point to real concepts, and we understand that the "Beast" is a person but the "Lake of Fire" that the "Beast" is thrown into is a literal "Lake of Fire". Gehenna was a real place that was used figuratively.

i believe hell is real, i just don't know what hell really is, or is it really "nothing" (the cessation of existence). Hell as a place of eternal physical torture and punishment with no objective seems to be outside the purposes and nature of God. Hell as separation, in order to preserve God's good society, is understandable.

What is the nature of that separation? i think Jesus only tells us that it is highly undesirable compared with the possibility of being a part of God's ideal society, also known as the "Kingdom of God".

Stay tuned in for the next post: Hell: "Who goes there?"

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Book Review: The Sacred Meal

In this post i will be reviewing a book called "The Sacred Meal" by Nora Gallagher. It is part of "The Ancient Practices Series". The book intrigued me for a couple of reasons. First, Protestantism is rediscovering some the the ancient spiritual practices. As i speak our congregation is developing a prayer path with 14 stations on 30 acres of land. We will likely have a prayer labyrinth available too. The practices have returned, and i believe we'll all be better off for it.

Communion is one of those practices that never left the Protestant church completely. Though it also has not been held in high regard by many Protestant sects either. Our congregation holds a communion service every two months. i've been trying to recapture the meaning and significance of this sacred rite.

Nora Gallagher pens a narrative which helps us recapture the meaning and significance of communion as it relates to community. She is an excellent writer and story teller, so the book captures your interest as you flow through its pages. She talks about various aspects of communion, including the time before communion "waiting", during "receiving" and after "afterward". She describes communion as both magic and ordinary. She touches on the history of communion as a sacred meal, the changes it underwent after Constantine, and then what it can be presently, comparing it to sharing a table in a local soup kitchen.

The narrative is certainly organic. It helped me to connect with communion on a personal and communal level. i came to it hoping to find more of the ancient significance in the historical context (which sounds rather dry now), and while it touched on those areas, it was much more personal than that. i will be adding this book to our church library as well as using some of the concepts in their as an exhortation during our next communion service. i'm looking forward to reading more books in the series.

Today's Message: Women & Dogs Allowed

Today the message is taken from Matthew 15:1-21 and it brings to light the connections between some otherwise seemingly disconnected stories. At the intersections of the stories we find the heart of the message, which speaks against an "Us vs Them" mentality.

Below is some amphibious wisdom from Kermit the Frog:

Show respect to Everyone

It doesn't matter who a person is, what he/she looks like, or what that person does for a living. What matters is that he/she is another person and therefore deserves your respect. I think it's awful when someone is disrespectful just because he thinks the other person doesn't deserve to be treated decently. I can't tell you how many times I've been overlooked just because I'm 18 inches tall. No one likes to be looked down on, which is why I always bring a stack of phone books to stand on wherever I go. It's also why I go out of my way to show respect to each and every person I meet. And what's the best way to show respect? Well, Miss Piggy believes that giving money and jewels is the best way. But I believe that just being polite is enough. Saying "thank you" and "it's an honor to meet you" goes a long way towards making people feel respected.

by Kermit The Frog "Before You Leap: A Frog's-eye View of Life's Greatest Lessons"

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hell as Punishment? Part I

Many believe Hell to be a place of eternal punishment, where people are physically tortured by fire for all eternity. i'm still trying to understand the nature of hell. To begin with, is eternal damnation conscious suffering or annihilation?

i am rather sold on the idea that the most basic meaning of hell is "separation". Separation from God and all he's created. What this separation looks like i believe is open to debate. What is the purpose of the separation? i believe it is what you do with someone who is a threat to the security of a system, in this case, God's Kingdom. For instance, you separate some people from society by imprisoning them, which keeps them from negatively impacting society. i believe the purpose of hell (separation) is the same thing. It separates people from God's ultimate society in order to preserve the good of that society from those who refuse to live according to the values of His society. Why is it right? Well it is only right if he is indeed the creator and ruler of that society.

i understand the purpose of hell as separation (to preserve society), but i have a difficult time understanding hell as punishment. The next post will explain why.

The imagery of hell as a place of fire can be explained this way: Gehenna, translated "hell" was a literal place. A fire pit where people burned their trash. It was constantly burning because trash was constantly being added. Sometimes the bodies of executed criminals would be thrown into Gehenna in order to rob the criminal of a respectable burial or cremation. The imagery was adopted as a picture of how God would deal with those who rebelled against him.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Atonement: Am i the Only one Who doesn't Get It?

My wife is taking a systematic theology class right now and part of the study involves the nature of the atonement. The question of the atonement is: "How does Jesus' death on the Cross save us?"

i still haven't grasped the answer to this. i believe that Christ has saved us in a variety of ways. To look at salvation as a matter of going to heaven rather than hell seems overly simplistic to me. i think it is so much more than that. In some sense, i understand salvation. What i don't understand is atonement. How is Christ dying on the Cross efficacious for the salvation of humanity?

i've heard many theories, which explain what Christ's death does, but not "how it does it. It's not really a matter of answering the question "what", because there are many answers. There is the penal substitution theory, the Christus Victor theory, and the ransom theory, etc. i know the answers, but i don't understand the reasoning (how) or what makes these answers efficacious for salvation.

Gandhi seems to be in touch with the redemptive value of the cross when he teaches Satyagraha. Satyagraha, he explains, is the doctrine of patience (self-suffering) that came to mean vindication of truth not by infliction of suffering on the opponent but on one's self. i just started reading his book on the matter and so i don't know if he'll actually explain how this works or if i'll be left with the answer i have now, which is simply that it does work.

i have faith that it does work, but i am really desiring to better understand the reason it works. Yet even as i say this i am reminded of David who said, "I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me."

Today's Message: The Heart of the Matter

Today's message is from Matthew 15:1-20 and it looks at Tradition. Tradition can be healthy or unhealthy, depending on how we use it. Are there traditions you need to let go of? Are there traditions you need to embrace or even create that will be life shaping? Also, rationale is presented for Old Covenant clean/unclean Laws. The significance of Jesus declaring "It is not what goes into you that makes you unclean" will be further explored next week in connection with the rest of Matthew 15.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Postmodern Evangelism

We have had our noses rubbed in the fact that reality [modernity] is not all it was cracked up to be; what we thought was hard fact turns out ot be somebody's propaganda. We have been startled to discover that the autonomous self, so highly prized from the eighteenth to the twentieth century within the Western world, not least in some versions of Christianity, has been deconstructed into the turmoil of various forces and drives.

We have watched as the postmodern world has torn down the controlling stories by which modernity, including Christian modernity, ordered its world. All we are left with is the great postmodern virtual smorgasbord where you can pick and choose what you want.

How are you to address this world with the gospel of Jesus? You cannot just hurl true doctrine at it. you will either crush people or drive them away. That is actually not a bad thing, because mission and evangelism were never actually meant to be a matter of throwing doctrine at people's heads. They work in a far more holistic way: by praxis, symbol and story as well as "straightforward" exposition of "truth." I am reminded of St. Francis' instructions to his followers as he sent them out: preach the gospel by all means possible, he said, and if it's really necessary you could even use words."

We must therefore get used to a mission that includes living the true Christian praxis. Christian praxis consists in the love of God in Christ being poured out in and through us. If this is truly happening, it is not damaged by the postmodern critique, the hermeneutic of suspicion.

NT Wright: The Challenge of Jesus

Monday, November 02, 2009

Prayerful Questions: Caution

What if we cared more about people, than being taken advantage of?

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Today's Message: That Sinking Feeling

Today's message was from Matthew 14:22-36, and is the account of Jesus walking on the water. We looked at the larger meaning of the event in the context of 1st cent. Jewish thought, and some of the more personal implications for our lives today.

And yes, i know this picture is silly