This road I travel. #2

This Road 2Having grown up in a church tradition that believed it had sole possession of the correct interpretation of all the most important passages of the Bible, I realize I was already starting in a pretty big hole.

I was humbly and politely trained by my church leaders to view all other religions, denominations, cults and independent religious groups with at least a skeptical eyeand some with complete disdain.  Early on, I learned to identify the different faith groups in my community by certain distinctives that were simply wrong:

  • The Methodists had women pastors.
  • The Lutherans could smoke on their church patio.
  • The Baptists made you get re-baptized to be a member of their church.
  • The Presbyterians sprinkled babies and called it baptism.
  • The Samoan Congregational Church across the street didn’t practice communion.
  • The Episcopalians used real wine in their communion.
  • The Catholics had nuns and their priests couldn’t get married.
  • The Church of God in Christ by my house passed around rattlesnakes in their services.
  • The Assembly of God folks spoke in tongues.
  • The Seventh Day Adventists only met on Saturdays, not Sundays.
  • The local AME Church said God wanted everybody to be wealthy.
  • The Church of Christ didn’t use musical instruments.
  • The Greek Orthodox had crazy looking pictures of old people everywhere.
  • The Jesus People had long hair, torn jeans and were always barefoot.

But WE were the right ones.  Seriously.  My church (and others in our non-denominational club) held tightly to the inspiration and inerrancy and infallibility and the absolute authoritative truth of the Bible.  And we based our beliefsand assumed our doctrinal and ecclesiastical high horseon the foundation of God’s Word.  At least our understanding of it.

Looking back, the funny thing about this is every one of those faith groups believed (and still do believe) that THEY were right, also.  And each one of the practices and beliefs that make them distinct are based on their understanding and interpretation of the same Bible we all use.

So here’s where I’ve landed after a lifetime of studying the book and following Jesus:

If I were God, I would have made the book a lot easier to understand.  Good, godly, compassionate, gifted, educated Kingdomworkers have spent centuries studying it and arriving at different conclusions about what God is attempting to communicate.   I don’t think this dilemma will be ending anytime soon.

I’ve grown to accept the “humanness” of the Bible.  It was written by humansfrom their perspectivereflecting their  journeystheir emotions (see the Psalms)their flawstheir unique positions in the flow of history and culture.  I believe they wrote exactly what God intended for them to write, but I don’t believe they wrote robotically.

The Bible doesn’t exist in a vacuum.  Humans read it, study it, interpret it, and apply it.  And we don’t study it in a vacuum, either.  We always bring our preconceptions, our biases, our cultural bents, and our personal stories to the study desk.  We cannot avoid our humanity when we come face to face with scripture.  And I think that’s exactly what God intended.

I still believe in absolute truth.  But I don’t think that any of us can know all of it absolutely.  If we could, I’m not sure faith, as we know it, would be necessary.  Sight, experience, evidence and intellect would be all that was necessary.

I agree with my friend, Sean.  You should read his comments in yesterday’s post.  First, I believe my position perches me near a slippery slope.  But I like it here.  I no longer speak, think or act with an attitude of spiritual superiority that comes with believing my interpretation of the Bible is inerrant or infallible.

I am almost always willing to rethink what I have come to believe and entertain that I might be wrong, if posed with credible, humble and thoughtful opposition.  I still believe there is a list of essentials one must affirm to be in right standing with God, but that list is waaaay smaller than it used to be.  I believe this to be the way of grace.

Second, Sean said something really profound:  “In my opinion, God brings us closer to him through study, not interpretation.”

Enough said.  It’s time to study.

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My biggest theological shift

Shift happensThere are a lot of things from the traditional, generally-evangelical, low-grade fundamentalist church upbringing of my youth that I have left behind.  Teachings, traditions,  and practices that no longer make senseor that I simply no longer believe to be true.

Some of them were difficult to say “goodbye” to, and have taken years for their grip on me to be relinquished.  Others were not nearly as difficult to part company with.  We were never really close friends, anyway.

But there is clearly one change that is greater than all the othersone that affects every area and discipline of my life.

I was taught at homein my Sunday school classesfrom the pulpitin Bible studiesthat the ultimate goal and purpose of being a Christian was to make it to heaven when I died.  Secondarily, it was my responsibility to make sure I did whatever I could to make sure others followed me there.

And the default partner to those goals was to dramatically and passionately put the fear of hell..that place of eternal suffering and endless torment for everybody who didn’t believe the way I didinto all that crossed my path.

Talk about a heavy burden to bear.  Yeesh.  The good news is that over time, I have come to see things from a different perspective.

It all began to change in my mid-twenties when I did my first serious study through the Sermon on the Mountand the Lord’s Prayer, in particular.  When I first comprehended that Jesus taught his followers to pray, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven”, it turned my theological world on its side.

He was telling them (us) the Kingdom was about here and now and not about  there and then.  Jesus said that he came that we might have full and abundant livesright now.  His death and resurrection can bring deliverance from sin and justification before a holy and righteous Goda liberation and freedom to become everything He created us to benow.  The teachings of the NT letters are not so that we can make it to heaven when we die, but so we can live faithful and purposeful lives in the present tenseand be partners in showing the world what true Kingdom “come” really looks like.

John Wesley said it this way:

John-Wesley-Quote

My life is no longer shaped and dictated by what is going to happen after death.  Not for me or others.  Fear of hell motivates no one for the long term.  Maybe it has in the past, but I’m convinced fear ultimately pushes people away.  However, “Perfect love casts out fear.”  1 John 4:18

I fully intend to live in the presence of God forever.  And forever means now.

And that’s the message I want people to hear.

MMA of the heart

MMAI’m pretty much convinced that most people simply believe what they want to believe.

Oh, they can talk big about reading the right books and listening to the right authorities and watchdog groups and historians and news services and educators.  But when the dust settles, it looks to me like the average joe just decides what he or she wants to believeand sticks with it.

And the longer they stick with it, the thicker the filter where information is siftedand private, individual truth is formed.

My dad was a “union guy” till the day he died.  The local carpenter’s union kept my dad working, made sure he was paid fairly, and provided support during the lean times.  When people came along and cried of the evils of the mighty union, my dad would hear none of it.  Period.

Many Americans stand firmly on the belief that the United States was formed as a Christian nation and built on the faith and values of the framers of the constitutionin spite of serious evidence to the contrary.   “It’s just revisionist history written by people who want to tear down our country”,  they say.

When my mother had her first stroke, her beloved doctor told her to start drinking a glass of wine every day.  My poor, teetotaling mom labored under the weight of guilt for the rest of her lifeand no matter how many times her would-be, theologian/youth minister son tried to point out that drinking a glass of wine everyday was not a sin, my mother was never convinced.

We all believe what we want to believe.

  • President Obama is a Muslim.
  • Country music is bad.
  • Public education should be eliminated.
  • Mexicans are lazy.
  • We need more trained, private citizens carrying concealed weapons.
  • Women are not fit to lead.
  • Chevy, not Ford.
  • Steak is the perfect food group.
  • All of creation happened during six 24-hour days.
  • Republicans are rich, heartless capitalists.
  • Democrats are evil.
  • Texans are justbetter.

And hundreds more like these.  When faced with the possibility that their cherished position could actually be intelligently and logically challenged, people will simply close off and continue to choose to believe what they have always believed.

“There is no new information that would ever cause me to change my mind.”

“The information sources I submit myself to are totally trustworthy and intellectually superior to anything or anyone new that could come my way.”

“My position (perspective, opinion, belief, judgment, attitude) needs no changes.  It works fine.  It adequately defines and explains the world, as I choose to see it.”

I have changed my mind on a lot of things during my life.  Most of them were smaller, non-essential kinds of things.  Others, though, have been more of the big, rock-your-world variety.  Some were practical.  Some were ideological.  Some have been theological.

All of the changes were based on new evidence.  Sometime by even walking in other people’s shoes.  Study and questioning and listening and wrestling were seldom easy.  It took time and determination.  None of the changes would have taken place without my willingness to admit my understanding would always be imperfect and limited.

Most of those changes have redefined the way I live my life.  I am definitely a better man for all of it.

How about you?  Are ready to do some cage-fighting with what you believein the pursuit of something nobler?

It’s not so bad on the mat.

So you call yourself a follower of Jesus?

discipleI am not the bearer of good news tonight.  I’m really not.  Think of it like a trip to the dentist to get a cavity filled.  It will be over soonbut the numbness lingers.  And you drool.

When I read my Bible, the definition of a follower of Christ is pretty bold.  And definitely clear.  A follower of Christ is a disciplea student of the ways of Jesus.  An ambassador of the Kingdom of Jesus.  An example of the character of Jesus.  A servant with the eyes of Jesus.  A representative of the priorities of Jesus.  A courier of the love of Jesus.  A partner in the work of Jesus.  An apprentice who walks in the footsteps of Jesus.

Clear?  Yes.  An accurate description of people who claim to be christians today?  Not so much.

Often, instead of seeing genuine followers of Jesus who seek to emulate the heart and compassion of Jesus in every area of life,  I see more and more people who call their own shots, speak their own minds, do what they want with their money, treat people like they deserve to be treated, and live self-absorbed with worry, fear, anger and judgment.

Just like everybody else.

Far too often, being a christian has been reduced to believing certain facts about Godabout Jesus dying on the cross for our sinsand following certain moral precepts.  Mix in a little church attendance when it’s convenient and make sure you treat other nice people, uhnice.

And then you get to go to heaven when you die.

Most days, this reality causes me to hover somewhere between really sad and sick to my stomach.

So let me ask you a question.  What difference does Jesus really make in your life?  Likefor real.  If you agree with my take that the picture of a follower of Jesus in the Bible is pretty clear, then why is there such a huge difference between what we read about in the life of a disciple in the Bible and what we see in our world today?

Can you imagine for a moment what it could be like if people who claim to be the people of Jesus actually acted like Jesusand truly made a thoughtful, honest effort to do the things he told us to do?

Sadly, it’s really hard for me to picture.

I’ll be happier next time…

Maybe you’ve seen this

Stomach acheI hate posting this.

I really do.

But I have a good reason.

This is a tape of an episode of Inside Edition that has been making the rounds on Facebook over the past month or so.  I actually saw it when it first appeared on television a few years ago.  You can watch it here, if you want.  It’s getting a lot of play and it’s stirred up a lot of fan fur.  And it’s not pretty.

It’s a fairly condemning expose of the lifestyles and ministries of some big-time pastor-televangelists.  I probably shouldn’t care, but this is my fraternitythe fraternity of people who draw a salary from the generosity of people who drop money in an offering box every week.

And if you know me, it’s generally a fraternity I try really hard to keep from admitting I’m a part of.

The fraternity of paid pastors no longer enjoys favored status in our culture.  The club has pretty much taken it on the chin ever since their shenanigans started to go viral back in the 70’s.  This video is just another in the long line of Cousin Eddie stuff that, even though we all know it exists, needs to stay in the closet.

I wish people these days didn’t have to sift through this stuff to experience the love of God.  I wish celebrity pastors and out-of-control church leaders and the over-focus on money and edifices and pastoral authority and theological snobbery and slick production were not the filters people had to use to interpret the incarnation.

Truth?  It’s part of our landscape and it won’t be going away.

So dig in.  Be faithful.  Act normal.  Live simply.  Give generously.  Expect nothing in return.  Extend mercy.  Bring hope.  Point only to Jesus.

It will all work out fine.  I’ve read the end of the book.

If you haven’t seen it yetand you have a bottle of antacids nearbyhere’s the video:

More pot stirring…

more stirring the potin the spirit of full disclosure, here are some things that, frankly, should be believed by everybody:

  • waffles are the perfect food.
  • we should all listen to a little reggae music from time to time.
  • joakim noah should really change that hair style.
  • just like bell bottoms and puka shell necklaces, men’s short shorts will make a comeback.
  • middle school girls are the most unknown and confusing people group on the planet.
  • no matter what character kiefer sutherland plays for the rest of his life, he will always be jack bauer.
  • the 1982 dodge 4×4 short-bed pick up was the greatest truck ever built.  ever.
  • mustard will be the condiment of heaven.
  • the DVR is the greatest technological creation in my lifetime.
  • unless there is a seriously misshaped melon, every dude should shave his head…at least once in his adult years.  (and you may never go back!)
  • the best sandwich in lewisville is the #1 pepe…at jimmy john’s.  applewood smoked ham and provolone…simple, understated greatness.
  • the national league should never…ever…adopt the designated hitter.
  • the BCS should be nuked.
  • roller coasters should be outlawed.
  • the college baseball world series is america’s best sporting event.
  • the money people spend on lavish wedding ceremonies could be spent more wisely.  lots more wisely.
  • every man should own a sawz-all.
  • good marriages don’t happen by accident.
  • little boys with long hair will never go out of style.
  • the cost of going to the movies is ridiculous.
  • single moms have the hardest job on earth.
  • bowling is a vastly superior form of recreational activity than golf, shooting guns in a firing range, and cross-stitching.
  • texting is better than talking on the phone.
  • people should be more honest when they are asked, “what’s up?” or “how are you?”…especially on sunday mornings.
  • everything is better with cheese.  unless you’re lactose intolerant.  (you made it, lindsey!)

what would you add?

Cousin Eddie’s back…

CousinEddiecousin eddie showed up at my house a couple of months ago.   and he hasn’t left yet.

you remember cousin eddie, don’t you?  he’s the crazy, unpredictable, annoying, embarrassing, rude, obnoxious, insufferable, detestable cousin of clark griswold, in national lampoon’s christmas vacation (the greatest holiday flic of all time).

eddie has this thing about showing up unannounced.  he catches the family by surprise.  and then he just stays… inflicting his brand of torture on those he loves.   clark tries to ignore him…rebuff him…reason with him…avoid him… correct him…but nothing works.

so he’s reduced to trying to hide him.  from his neighbors.  from his family.  from himself.

my cousin eddie has been busting into my world…uninvited…for the past 25 years!  he comes in and makes himself at home.  he interferes with my sleep.  he steals my attention when i try to study.  he grabs the remote and robs my television watching enjoyment.

he worms his way into my friendships and dominates how i interact with them. he even works his way into my psyche… sucking away my confidence.  he has this way of getting in my head and my heart.   i know we’re related.   he’s my cousin,  for crying out loud.   but by the time he finally packs his bags and leaves,  i can honestly say i hope i never see him again.

oh yeah.  my cousin eddie’s real name is depression.

(i’ve chronicled my journey with depression for years.   if you’re interested, you can check it out here.   if it catches your attention, you can read the whole series.  feel free to contact me personally,  if you want a friend to talk to about it.)

i know how the door got opened for cousin eddie a couple of months ago.   i got blindsided by his intrusion.   something happened that totally exposed my weakness.   depression,  just like cousin eddie,  doesn’t ask for my permission to come in.   it just busts the door in.

i’ve been around a bunch of people lately who are battling various degrees of depression.   some of them are just sad.   others are angry.   some are gripped by fear.   most have some form of emotional paralysis.   all of us wrestle with an emptiness or darkness of the soul.

some depression is acute and debilitating…and it needs help bad.  right now.   other depression is more low-grade and most people would never know there is a war going on.   that’s my cousin eddie.

the good news is i know eddie really well.  when he shows up,  i know there are things i need to do.   my emotional stability is influenced by what i eat and how much exercise i get and what my sleep patterns are.   so i usually get right to work on those things.   it’s also affected by my work habits and relationships and spiritual disciplines (or lack of).   so i will always have more to work on.   sitting and doing nothing is simply not an option for me, if i’m going to get cousin eddie out of the house.

but those things are all peripheral.   the core issue is about what i  believe.   depression controls what i believe about myself…about others…about god…about my world.   depression screams at me that i’m a failure.   that i don’t know what i’m doing.   that i’m inadequate.   that people don’t like me.   that my life isn’t worthwhile.   that i’m not successful.  that my future is insecure.   or a host of other self condemnations.

so i circle back to a basic question.   is jesus enough?

the fact is, at times any of those statements may be true about me.   failure…loser…inadequate…afraid…worthless… whatever.   but because of jesus,  those words will not…no, cannot…define me.

And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  Philippians 4:19

either i believe it or not.

either you believe it or not.