deck.

God is like a deck. Not of the Bicycle card variety. The thing that hangs off the back of your house that you sit on when it’s nice out and collects snow in the winter, variety. Think about it. God really is like a deck.

A deck usually has layers and layers of varnish, stain and finish on it. Lost under all of these man-made attempts to make something better and more durable is the beauty, simplicity and rawness of the original wood. At the same time, you can still see the knots, warping and bird droppings on the decking. You may put some patio furniture, a grill or an umbrella that’s the size of a NASA satellite to be used during the warm months. Other times of the year, the deck is rendered useless because of the outside elements and forces.

God is like a deck. Sometimes there are things or people that add layers to God. Traditions, denominations, parents and yes, even pastors, can add varnish to a God who didn’t ask for it. Just as a deck is still a deck with all the layers of finish and weather abuse it takes, God is still the God he’s always been. The thing that changes is the way we perceive, understand and interpret God. Our best attempts to make God something more durable, desirable and beautiful can actually have the opposite effect.

In order to see the God who has always been, you must be willing to rethink the way you’ve always known and seen him. This takes a willingness to be uncomfortable. To admit that you’re willing and able to loosen past interpretations, thoughts and beliefs of seeing God, while realizing there are great contributions from the past. The only way to know the Jesus, who is like God, is to start to strip away all of the layers that have been placed on him.

Really, the way that Jesus is seen in today’s world is the interpretation of man. This is how the Bible came to be. A group of men got together and decided which books were in and which were out. The same goes for modern interpretations, beliefs and theology. The direction of faith is predicated upon pastors, authors and anyone with a blog who has an opinion and a particle interpretation of God. Yes, I understand the meaning of irony.

The rawest, simplest way to see Jesus is revealed through accounts of his followers. But is it also possible to see Jesus in other ways? In the actions of others? In nature? Through a child? An organization making a difference in the world? In conversations that we know something more is happening in? Through experiences? Through teachers, pastors, authors, parents, grandparents, musicians and yes, even bloggers?

The God you look for and find is always going to be a God that is more real, true and lasting than any God that comes with baggage from layers and layers of man-made ideals. And the more that you search, the more you realize that the varnish, the stain, the finish that has been placed on Jesus is actually part of the story.

It’s part of the process. Part of the natural cycles of this earth. Some of the layers are naturally stripped away by the elements. By time, technology, thinking and rethinking. But in the end, you still have that raw, true to form, majestic Deck. The one that’s always been there. The one that will always be there. The Deck that continues to be seen, interacted with and understood in different ways throughout the changing seasons.

rethink.

We all have parents, mentors, teachers, older adults, coworkers etc. that were and are very influential in our lives. We, no doubt, know the way that they feel about certain issues; the way they vote, their thoughts on the Bible, the environment, the role of the church, gun control, abortion, sexuality, the way they understand Jesus and the list could go on forever.

Now, ask yourself, do you feel the way that they do because of an examination and conviction of how you yourself feel; or do you line up exactly because you think that the beliefs of those older than you are right because they told you that certain beliefs were “right”? Why do you believe what you believe? Are you committed to tradition and handed down, established ideals?

I’m not suggesting that everything you’ve ever heard, read, or been taught is wrong. There is, however, a big difference between being taught how to think, and being taught what to think. And a good question to ask is, “Who is it that should be teaching me how to think?”

In biblical times, tradition and familial values and relationships were of the upmost importance. Not only did you typically go into the family business, but also families lived together in the same house. For life. Imagine that! So it’s probably safe to say that whatever the political, economic, religious and cultural beliefs of your family were, it was going to have an influence on the way you believed.

Jesus answered him, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God. (John 3:3 AMP)

Jesus is essentially saying, if you don’t take it from the top, rethink or reconsider everything, according to the things I’ve been teaching you, you’re going to miss it all (kingdom of God) and it’ll pass you by.

Or another way of saying it is “Peter, if you don’t rethink the way the way in which you live, interact with systems and with others, then this kingdom isn’t for you.” Many implications come from this: kingdom now, eternal kingdom, both? Also, do we have to go against our parents and families? What exactly do we have to rethink? Is everything that I’ve previously believed wrong? This process can be a vulnerable, uncomfortable and scary time. But we must understand what the standard is for rethinking–Jesus.

Brian McLaren puts it this way:

“Well, I think if we take Jesus’ message seriously, it tells us that everything has to change – our way of doing politics, our way of doing economics, our way of interacting with the environment, our way of dealing with people of other religions, our way of dealing with friends and family members with whom we have conflict. From one dimension of life to, of course, the whole range of our human experience, Jesus is telling us that we have to rethink everything. In fact, that’s what repent means – it means rethink everything.”

The context of rethinking everything comes from the sermon on the mount, among many other parables and teachings Jesus puts forth and the way things are going to be with this new kingdom that is emerging. First, last. Meek inheriting the kingdom. Mourners are comforted. On and on.

We have to also look at some illustrations of Jesus’ time on earth. He is a servant. He refers to himself as a doctor and coming for the sick. He himself is the embodiment of a new creation of human. He shows us a new way to be human. And the way that the “new humanity” breaks forth, is by rethinking everything, which is a radical and dangerous thing. But, let’s not kid ourselves; Jesus was intensely radical and presented a challenge to the people of his day. The political leaders, the cultural leaders, the religious leaders who thought he would and should be bringing an army to slaughter masses of people to establish his literal kingdom through violence. All the while, Jesus was going about his business in a way that was entirely counter intuitive to previous ways of thinking.

Jesus is saying “We’re going to be doing things way differently than we have been. We’re going to subvert the current systems and ways in which the world is arranged.” By making these provocative statements then literally living them out and seeing them become reality; by saying he was the first of a new kind of human, he was essentially sealing his own death sentence. Everything that he said and stood for was such a threat to the political and religious leaders, the people who didn’t find the news “good news” killed him.

Now, am I saying that by making an intentional decision to rethink your life, the way you view the world and if you’ll take Jesus at his word and follow him that you’ll be killed? No. But you may suffer. There may be a death on social media. There may be a death to past ways of doing things. You may have friends and family that don’t quite understand.

Jesus was, well, Jesus and he had several deaths and defeats all culminating in a literal death because he dared to rethink and reexamine the human condition in light of the way God had intended life to be lived. If you find yourself experiencing “mini deaths” for the sake of reconsidering everything in light of Jesus, you’re in good company and probably on a good path.

job.

I started a new job recently. Well, really a new career. I got hired on to be the campus operations pastor at the local church my wife and I love and have been serving at. It’s a fantastic church that is growing, doing great things in the Springfield community, has great leaders and volunteers and really representing what a community of believers following Jesus looks like. You could really say I’ve landed my dream job.

Here’s the thing, I’ve always felt a unique wiring, gifting or bent to “vocational ministry”. I can trace this feeling (or calling) back to the time I was 17 or 18. I didn’t know where, when, why or how this may happen. But nevertheless, I somehow knew this line of work would be in my future. Here’s the rub though: somehow I was under the impression that I couldn’t be the person I wanted to be, implement spiritual disciplines into my life, be happy or find purpose without this particular career.

So what I did in my late teens and early twenties was chase a job. Or sometimes wait for that ministry job to land in my lap. In fact, when I was 20 I had an offer to interview to be a youth pastor. Man am I glad that didn’t work out! You see, what I didn’t realize was, I needed to establish some disciplines, find out who I was and gain some life experience before I was ready for a particular career. (That perspective is only now apparent on this side of things.) Otherwise, I would have been an undisciplined, inexperienced, dissatisfied, burnt out, bitter, unhappy and immature “ministry worker”. (Or any other worker.)

Now, am I saying I’ve somehow figured everything out and have arrived? Heavens no! I still have leaps and bounds to grow and evolve. I work at it everyday. I’m actually just more acutely aware of how much I need to grow, learn and evolve. But what I realize now is, although I’m super excited for this new opportunity, I was at peace and healthy in life before starting this career path. Had I not been chosen for this role, I would have kept on reading, writing, giving, volunteering, growing and experiencing. And that’d be o.k.

We have to keep in mind, that while we may have goals and timelines that we’re set on, there’s probably necessary and important formative events that must take place. If we were to land that dream job, promotion, salary, whatever; but hadn’t gone through the refining, chances are we’d do a pretty nice job of making a mess of it. Essentially, we’d be the same frustrated, malcontent people, only in a different environment. Short cutting the process isn’t creative and constructive, it’s costly and careless and will end up being detrimental in the long run.

I guess what I’m trying to convey is the point that really you only find true happiness and contentment when you find yourself and your purpose. This takes time and is a process. And most surely it’ll look different from person to person. Once you align God’s purpose and yours along with talents and passion, then you’re ready to get started. Otherwise, it’s simply about chasing a position, status or career that’s going to be fleeting and short lived. If you’re prepared to miss out or not obtain the desired goal and be perfectly content with your current stage in life, well then, you’re on the right track.

bible.

It seems, for so many, that the Bible has taken on a sort of deity or divinity of its own. Rather than honoring and loving the God revealed through reading, we spout “The Bible says…” without thinking through why the Bible says it. Instead of being the God inspired book by which hope and life are given, it’s become a text by which the life is being sucked and raped from its very essence. It’s as though we’ve disregarded the fact that this Holy Book is meant to serve as a roadmap or tour guide to what God is like; and instead regard it as a dusty law book only to be quoted from to serve our talking points. We’ve made the Bible the constitution of Christianity when it’s much deeper and more significant than that.

Rather than being a Holy reference point, an inspirational, life giving book; the Bible has become a divine sword to wield power over unsuspecting bystanders. This book has been used to justify slavery, the second class status of women and now one group of Christians uses it to label homosexuals as subhuman while another justifies the gay life style. I’ve seen examples of pastors and preachers stretch the Bible to say things pretty far fetched only to recant years later. We’ve been guilty of placing far too much stock in some passages while not valuing other verses nearly enough.

As such, we see many modern commentaries, both secular and religious, who simply use biblical texts as mere footnotes to their ideologies rather than a framework or foundation to build from. There are always those that will use the Bible to support the status quo so that their comfort isn’t challenged by changes that come through growth and experience. Just as dangerous, there are those that will pervert and twist scripture to fit ideologies that don’t even come close to the nature of God.

The honest attempt to understand and grasp the great depths of the Bible must start at a common point. At the cross and in the life of Jesus. The Bible, correctly read, understood and interpreted begins with a central theme: Jesus. However, to fully grasp and understand Jesus, we must remove our old, outdated, and dusty, cracked spectacles, which have been developed through misinterpreting the Bible previously, and be willing to rethink everything.

As daunting and uncomfortable as this mission may be, it’s essential. Not only is it essential, it’s liberating. Not only is it liberating, it’s biblical. Not only is it biblical, it’s something Jesus himself proclaimed.

Jesus answered him, I assure you, most solemnly I tell you, that unless a person is born again (anew, from above), he cannot ever see (know, be acquainted with, and experience) the kingdom of God. (John 3:3 AMP)

Within this, we see something very important. If we don’t take it from the top, be reborn, rethink everything; we’re going to miss out on the Thing that Jesus is about. And how do we discover the thing that Jesus is about? By the scriptures which reveal Him to us.

If the natural human tendency is to fight against this rethinking, I get it. I was once there. I’m still sometimes there. Some of the claims and requirements of Christ seem outrageous at best and impossible at worst. But I listen to those much smarter than me who propose, ” Do you think you got everything right the first time? Do you think yourself so righteous and astute that there’s no need to be reborn, as Jesus commands?” (That will humble you…)

And rethinking the way you read the Bible, the way you see Jesus isn’t a one time occurrence. Or a once every decade occasion. Or even an annual journey. Rather daily we must renew our minds. Only by renewing our minds daily, do we see the true, revealed, God incarnate Jesus. So read the Bible. Read varying translations. Read blogs and commentaries. Read books from respected theologians. Observe people. Observe nature. Pray. Write. Journal.

Through all of these endless, unquenchable pursuits of Jesus, may we come to know Him more and more, and may our minds be renewed daily. Surely our hearts will break for the things Jesus’ breaks for, and our soul groan to see justice done. By this, we may come to see the Bible for its’ incredible beauty, mystery and wonder. May we come to revere it as something sacred and awesome, not a means to a selfish, agenda-driven end.

swaddle.

With a New Year upon us, certain things vowed to begin and others committed to coming to an end, the following is for you. If you’ve thought about making some changes in your life in the way of thinking, acting, believing or interacting; I believe there’s a healthy way to approach such bold and daring endeavors. Swaddle. Allow me to explain…

I read an amazing analogy recently pertaining to beliefs, thinking and ways we look at the world. It further speaks to the way we see Jesus, the way we read the Bible and the way we interact with others around us. It was an amazing illustration that the deep thinker and analogist in me wishes I would’ve come up with. Swaddle. If you’ve had babies or heard the story of the birth of Christ (laid in a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes), you’re familiar with swaddle.

Shane Hipps, in his book “Selling Water by the River”, (which I can’t recommend enough) describes how swaddling is beneficial, comforting and even necessary for a baby. It provides security, certainty and protection from the world outside. The time period that the baby will allow to be swaddled varies from child to child. But eventually, the child breaks out of the swaddling, the protection and comfort, and must learn to grow and thrive on her own.

Much the same is true for our faith. We’ve all been given certain beliefs, doctrines and dogmas to live by. Whether it’s from our parents, pastors, culture or friends; we all have a belief system that we find comfortable, secure and protective. The interesting thing about this analogy is the fact that the thing we find brings us safety and stability is also the same thing that can suffocate, stagnate and stunt our growth. 

We all, at different times and through different experiences, must learn to shed our particular swaddle. Some may decide to break free earlier while others are more comfortable waiting. The importance (and I’m learning and working at this as hard as anybody) is to not begrudge or vilify someone who hasn’t taken that step. Theologically speaking, it’s difficult for me to understand particular ways of interpreting scripture, viewing Jesus and interacting with our wider world when they are vastly different than my own. But I’m coming to realize, everyone is at different stages of unraveling the swaddling.

Please don’t misunderstand me, no one ever “arrives” or figures out the vast depths of life. And I’m convinced we won’t only rid ourselves of our swaddle once in our lifetime. We’re all in a state of flux where the ebbs and flows of life carry us in different directions. We embrace, keep or shed the boundaries we have depending on our beliefs and experiences. The importance is in the delineation between believing and knowing.

Beliefs are formed off general ideations and theories. Knowing comes from experiencing. What do I mean by this? I can tell you all about how beautiful Lake Tahoe is. (And trust me, it’s awesome.) The massive evergreens, the peaks and valleys, the waterfalls and the pristine lake itself. But unless you’ve been there, you can only believe that it’s as phenomenal as I can paint it to be. If you know exactly what I’m talking about, you’ve been there. You’ve experienced it. You know that no amount of explaining, no picture or description can do justice.

Our ever growing, expanding, deepening and transforming faith is the same. I can tell you the things that have been revelation. I can pass along things I’ve read. I could discuss the ways in which my rethinking has impacted the way I live and interact with everything around me. However, no amount of conveying these things or expectations that could be placed upon you will be the same as knowing and experiencing for yourself. And nothing will be more profound and lasting than the knowing that you experience.

Being secure, comfortable, safe and unchallenged are all good feelings. But we must realize that at some point, we’ll outgrow these things. At some point, the thing that was meant to keep us in, will prevent us from growing out, growing up and growing in Jesus. Not all swaddle must be cast to the side, though, relegated to invaluable and unnecessary. (Though some may be.) The growing and the maturity comes from the balancing act; deciding which swaddle goes into a box and which we can recycle as a blanket.

doomsday.

2013 will mark my 20th year of being a Christian. I’ve been around the faith for a bit, and I have managed to see a few things. Some good, and some not so good. One thing is for certain, no matter the movements, there are always things to be learned, things to be kept and things to be left behind. (Pun intended.)

Whether it is the Pentecostal/charismatic movement, the Revelation/end times movement, (complete with Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins’ fictional take, charts, calendars, star readings and archeological relics) word of faith and prosperity movement, the social justice movement and now the return to the church fathers movement; they’ve all been done before, and surely they’ll come back around every so often like fashion from years past.

However, the one fad or movement that seems to not go away but continually grabs the headlines is the apocalyptic end times movement. Led be Jerry Falwell, Jack Van Impe, Hal Lindsey, John Hagee and others, these pastors seek to connect bizarre events, news stories and anything else that seems to fit  their interpretation of end times scripture into pronouncements about the end of the world. Everything is looked at as a conspiracy and with more meaning than what meets the eye. They prophesy, proclaim and pontificate to the masses that “the end is near”. Their chief belief is that this world is bad, evil and good for nothing, so we are just waiting for the wonderful doomsday when we can be evacuated from this dreadful planet. (This is commonly known as dispensationalism.)

The issue with this kind of teaching, is that it is motivated by fear and destruction. The other major calamity is the implication that this life here and now really doesn’t matter, other than responding to Jesus. It’s all about we’re going, not He’s coming. (When it’s actually quite the opposite.) Jesus himself stated that we would be known as his disciples “by our love for one another.” Not by our proclamations of the end, not by pointing to every odd occurrence, claiming them as end times prophesy and not by scaring and shaming people into responding to Jesus.

Jesus’ call was to “repent, for the kingdom is at hand.” What kingdom? The kingdom of Jesus looks like renewal, reconciliation and restoration…of all things. Here and now. On into the future. And in the coming reign of God. How’s this accomplished? Love. Joy. Peace. Patience. Kindness. Goodness. Faithfulness. Grace and mercy don’t hurt either. These, I’m convinced are much more effective at conveying the character and nature of God. Because God is like Jesus. And this is what Jesus was and is like.

It’s been more than 2000 years since Jesus ascended and stated that he would soon return. Countless civilizations of people have believed they were the chosen people to see the Apocalypse. And yet, here we are about to roll over into 2013. There have been innumerable declarations of end times. Click here to take a look.

They all have one thing in common. They were wrong. In one sense, it’s good to live like the end is near. Not taking any day for granted and doing all that we can do to help a broken world. In another, it’s a dangerous habit to always worry about the coming age rather than working for renewal, restoration and reconciliation here and now.

So while yet another prediction of the end of the world has come and gone, with no result, we move forward. Forward into a mad world filled with violence, greed, hatred and yes, weird natural disasters. But instead of always looking at these happenings as signs of the end of time, let’s look at them as opportunities. Opportunities to be voices of love and reason and compassion. Not voices of shock, alarm and sensationalism. So may all of us live like this is the last day on earth, while realizing there are many more joy filled days to come.

removing God.

In the aftermath of the horror that unfolded in a Connecticut elementary school, pundits, politicians and pastors have put forth a variety of hypotheses about where God may or may not have been and why or why not he may have been there.

The language that we’ve “removed God” or “are removing God” from any place is quite comical, and I’m convinced God finds it humorous as well. God existed long before the United States of America was even thought of, and he’ll be around long after. For that matter, he’s actually the creator of everything. So to suggest we can tell God to take a back seat and to proclaim that “God showed up”, is not only theologically inaccurate; it embarrassingly implies that we ourselves are capable of controlling God. We essentially make ourselves into a deity.

If our Christian faith and identity is validated by pithy, flimsy symbols and rituals that we are so easily offended by those who wish to have them removed; our true religious identity is nothing more than a cheap, shallow and thin belief system with no root and no substance. And, dare I say, if we hold these expressions in such high esteem, we’re teetering on idol worship.

Now I get that the cross, a nativity scene and having “God” in our pledges are all important and meaningful things, however, let’s look at this another way.  I’ve been to the beautiful Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. and was in awe at not only the size and scale of the monument, but the fact that this 16th President was so revered he was bestowed his own massive statue! If tomorrow someone wants to have this or any other symbol taken down, this doesn’t change the fact that Abraham Lincoln existed. He still gave the Gettysburg Address. He still was instrumental in the freeing of slaves. He was still assassinated in Ford Theater.

Same with God. No matter what symbol, saying or declaration is withdrawn from society; God still was, is and always will be the Creator.  God cannot be legislated in or out of the hearts of man. God cannot and will not be moved or removed. God moves us. He moves in us and through us. Perhaps the problem isn’t that God is or is not being interjected into our government, culture and wider life; perhaps the problem is that we humans feel we have the power and capability to tell him where he should and shouldn’t be.

If we continually petition to not have a monument removed, if we are bent out of shape that a nativity scene isn’t displayed, or we feel there is a war on Christmas, our Christian identity is steeped and dependent in these inanimate objects rather than a fully human, risen Christ. We’re fighting the wrongs fights. Let’s not add to tragedies like this by speaking on behalf of God without first examining the implications.

I often wonder what Christians in other parts of the world think of our “God problems.” Would they laugh if we told them that we are up in arms that people say “Happy Holidays” rather than “Merry Christmas”? Would they scoff at the idea that we’re bent out of shape that religious leaders can’t make political candidate endorsements from the pulpit without violating tax exempt status while they long for nothing more than to gather for church without fear of death?

What about the very first Christians? How trivial would they think our “culture war on Christianity” is when they were simply trying to avoid being cast to the lions? How envious would they be of the religious freedoms we have when they were forced to literally worship and pray underground?

So while there are sure to be more tragedies and heartaches like the one so many are experiencing right now, we can be sure of one thing: God is and always will be with us. In the midst of the crisis.  In the aftermath and on into the future. No matter what amount of moving or removing we attempt, God is relentless in his pursuit of us. We can choose to turn our backs on him. That is the consequence of free will through love. But if we think God punishes innocent humans for our choice to “remove him” we couldn’t be further from the truth. He’s there, waiting with open arms for a time that may or may not come that we act out the parable of the prodigal son.