Theology for Grasshoppers

grasshopper-3(For the uninitiated, “Theology for Grasshoppers” is my attempt to tell my story of faith to my grandkids.  I hope I’m around long enough to tell them personally.  But just in case I reach the finish line before I get the opportunity, these letters will be the record of what I believe and why I believe it…in words and stories they can understand.)

Good morning, Farrasprouts…

When your daddies were young and still living with me and Mimi, they used to get into arguments.  They were seldom about anything really important, but to them, the issues were almost always big deals.  

They would raise their voices and twist the truth and exaggerate and say things to get under each other’s skin.  One of them would often get so angry and upset, they would end up squealing, “He’s making me sooooo mad!”.

I always loved it when that happened, because it gave me the opportunity to teach them one of my most favorite lessons.

I would look right into their teary-eyed, red-faced little mugs and say, “Your brother isn’t making you mad.  In fact, nobody can ever make you mad.  You make yourself mad.”  And they would always respond back to me, “Yes he is! Yes he is! HE’S making me mad.  HE’S doing it!  It’s HIS fault I’m mad!”.  

They always played right into my hands.

“Nope.  Nobody can ever MAKE you mad.  You make yourself mad.  It’s your choice.  You’re choosing to make yourself mad.”

That only made them madder.

“But he’s the reason I’m mad.  If he wouldn’t have done that, I wouldn’t be mad.  Everything would be fine with me, if he wouldn’t have said that, and made me so mad.”  They just couldn’t let it go.  They would always fight my logic.  “Daddy, now YOU’RE making me mad!”

It’s a lesson they got taught dozens, maybe even hundreds, of times.  Getting mad is a choice we make.  It is never the ONLY option.  There are always many others.  When someone says or does something you don’t like, you can get mad and yell or scream or fight or treat them poorly or talk about them behind their back or do or say something just as bad…or even worse…to them.  In fact, that’s usually what we WANT to do.

But you don’t have to.  You always have other choices.   You could choose to be quiet and listen.  You could try to understand their point of view.  You could react with kindness, instead.  You could choose to be patient and forgiving. You could step away and wait for things to calm down.  You could pray for them.

Getting mad is never the only choice you have available.  And even though it will probably be the easiest, it will never, ever be the best.

One of the greatest gifts God gives to us is our freedom to choose.

So choose wisely, Grasshoppers.

Papi

Letters to Little Theologians

The Farra ThreeI’m back young Farratroopers…

From the time I was born, my mom and dad taught me to believe that God existed.  We prayed to God.  We read stories about God from the Bible.  We went to church and sang songs to God.  I was taught that God made the world and everything in it…including me!  Mimi and I taught the same things to your daddies when they were your age.

It wasn’t until I started going to school and spending time away from my home and church, that I learned there were people who didn’t believe in God.  I can remember how surprised I was.  I couldn’t imagine a world without God.  And I still can’t.

I have spent my whole life trying to help people understand who God is.  I hope we get to talk about God together someday, when you are a little older.  There’s so much I would like to say to you.  Until then, here are a few things about believing in God:

I can’t see God.  I never have.  But when I look around at all the things in the world…the mountains and oceans and stars and crazy-cute babies that are born (just like you), I have more than enough reasons to believe God exists.

God is not a person like you and me.  God doesn’t have hands and feet.  God isn’t a man.  Or a woman.  Even though the Bible (we’ll talk about the Bible later) refers to God as “He”, God didn’t grow up as a boy.  In fact, God never grew up at all, because He has always been here.  Before anything existed, there was only God.  God has no limits.  He is everywhere.  All the time.

God sees everything that is happening.  God knows everything we are thinking.  God hears everything we say.  That’s why we can talk to him.  That’s what prayer is.  (We’ll talk about prayer some time soon, also.)

In spite of all the things I know about God, believing is still a mystery to me.  There are still so many things I don’t know. Because God is mysterious, people make up a lot of their own beliefs.  So believing in God is something I have always taken seriously, making sure that what I believe is as true and right as it can possibly be.

You three are already little swimmers.  I love watching you in the pool.  When you are in the shallow end, standing on the stairs, right next to me, you feel really safe and confident.  It’s only when you get out in the deep end that it gets a little scary and you have to trust that you have practiced, that you know your swimming skills, and if you breathe right and move your arms and legs right, and don’t panic…everything will be okay, even though you can’t really see or touch the bottom.

Believing in God is a lot like getting out into the deep end.

Be wise, Grasshoppers.

Papi

Theology for Grasshoppers…the reason.

GrasshoppersTo the Youngest Farras, 

First of all, Tatum, welcome to the club!  This is our little online community…one that you share with your cousins, Holden and Nolan, and me.  Now, this is sort of a private club…just the four of us…but there are a lot of other people who get to look in on us.  I’ve already written a bunch of stuff to your cousins over the past few years.  Someday, maybe your mom and dad will read all of it to you.  

From now on, though, I’m going to write to all three of you.  Here’s why:

When I was a little boy your ages, my daddy…your great-grandfather…took great care of me.  He loved me and provided for me and made sure I was always safe and healthy.  He taught me many things and helped me grow up to be a good man, just like him.  I’m really grateful for him.

But as he and I both grew older, I began to sense something was missing between us.  My dad wasn’t much of a talker.  And because he didn’t talk much, there are a lot of things I never got to know about him.  His actions always “spoke” very loud, but his silence kept me from understanding the deeper things about him.

By the time I became a young man, there were things I really, really wanted to know.  I wanted to know “why” he did the things he did.  I wanted to know what was deep in his heart.  I wanted to know what he believed and what he felt.  I wanted to know his doubts and fears.  I wanted to know how he became the man he was.

But we never did talk about those things before it was too late, and I’ve always felt like I’ve missed out on something really special.

So I made a big decision when my sons, (your daddies!!) were little like you.  I wanted to make sure they knew me.  Really knew me.  I wanted them to know more than just the things I did.  I wanted them to know why I did those things. I didn’t ever want them to feel like they were missing something.  So I learned to talk to them.  Talking with each other about meaningful stuff became one of the most important things we did together.   It still is.

A number of years ago, I began writing to them.  I want them to know things I had never told them.  I want them to know the stories of my childhood.  I want them to know all about how me and Mimi came to love each other and why we have spent our whole lives together.  I want them to know about the good and bad things that happened to me, that shaped me and changed me.  I want them to know about my faith and how I’ve come to believe the story of Jesus.  I want them to know my doubts and fears and weaknesses, along with all the things my heart has come to love.

So I write.

And that’s kind of why I’ll be writing to you guys in the weeks and, hopefully, years to come.   Not so much to tell you the stories of my life, but to tell you about what I believe and why I believe it.  I want to tell you of the deeper things in life, the things I hold closest to my heart.  The things that make me who I am.

You probably won’t understand a lot of it right now, although you guys always come up with new ways of surprising me!  You’ll probably need to read it sometime later in your lives…maybe even after I’m gone.  So I’m going to choose my words well, and pray they will matter to you somewhere down the road.

I love you guys.  Be wise, Grasshoppers.  

Papi

Theology for the rest of us

one percentersWhen I started in the business of being a minister 42 years ago, I entered into the world of theology…the study of God, religious beliefs, and the Bible.  Years of my life have been dedicated to reading and studying what others have written.

That’s what you do as a would-be theologian.

But through the years, there has been a slow shift.  In my young adulthood, I devoured books.  I was thoroughly impressed and deeply influenced by the writings of pastors, commentators, and Bible scholars who didn’t just wade out into the deep end of the sacred book, but mined it.

I have spent untold hours re-reading interpretations and explanations and commentaries, with my head spinning, as I tried to make sense of their complicated theories and weighty analysis of the pages of Scripture.

Even though they all spoke of the Bible as God’s word for everyone, I have grown to see it has been turned into a textbook, designed to be dissected, analyzed, and illuminated for the masses…by the hyper-educated and masters of theological academia.

Fortunately (or unfortunately), I get it.  Most of the time, I can debate and argue religious concepts, interpretations of the Bible, and the whole of church history, with the best of the ecclesiastical eggheads.

Here, you want to be impressed?  I know about arcing, mirror reading, and redaction criticism.  Yup.  I can tell you the difference  between prevenient  grace, irresistible grace, and common grace.  You want to know about mongerism, modalism, molinism, inclusivism, text criticism, cessationism, open theism, or penal substitution?  I’m your guy.

My point?  Pleeeeez don’t be impressed.

In recent years, the term “one-percenter” has become popular, as it relates to the top 1% of the world’s wealthiest people and the control they have over the world’s finances and the power it wields.

I’ve concluded there are also the theological one-percenters...that super small group of highly educated, religious elite, who spend their lives studying and teaching theology, for the benefit of the 99%.

That group loves to write.  They love to speak and produce conferences that other theological one-percenters attend, in order to listen to each other.  They read each other’s books.  They subscribe to each other’s blogs and troll the comment sections, looking for an opening to prove each other wrong.

They believe the other 99% need them, in order to fully understand what God’s book is saying.  But the truth is, most people don’t have a clue what they’re talking or writing about.

And it’s not because people are ignorant.  It’s because the theological one-percenters have made it soooooo confusing!

Apparently, they are impressed with each other, though.  They keep writing and selling.

I’m not naive.  Theological academia has its place and certainly serves its purpose.  The study of God’s word deserves solid scholarship and careful consideration.  I’m grateful there are people who have dedicated their lives to it.  But I’m pretty sure the Apostle Paul didn’t intend for this level of academic surgery to be performed on his letters.

And I’m definitely sure Jesus didn’t intend for libraries of books to be written to explain everything he did and said…by people who always seem to appear way smarter than He ever was.

It just isn’t that complicated, is it?

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.

Marriage Tuesday

marriage 2Marriage and theology go together.

What you believe about marriage and what you believe about God and how He operates are intimately connected.  The intersection where they meet is one of the most significant crossroads you will ever find yourself standing.   It is that place where belief and love merge into life.

Your life.

Growing up, I was taught that since God was sovereign and all-powerful and all-knowing and in control of everything, He certainly had a plan laid out for my future marriage.  My era was dominated by a church slogan, “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life.”  It sounded so good.  It sounded biblical.  It was never explained.  It was simply accepted.

God had a woman set aside for me.  I just needed to make sure I found her.

And God forbid I was given the gift of celibacy!

I was taught that if God wanted me to be married, he would provide the woman.  He would do it.  It was up to me to sort through all the possibilities and narrow down the field, so I could be certain I was marrying the “right one”.  But it was still up to Him.  And I didn’t want to miss His will for my life.

Soon after I got married, I began abandoning this theology.  And even though the current version of this theology is pretty popular today, I have never looked back.

The idea that God is behind everything, both good and badthat He is orchestrating all the events of life as He sovereignly sees fitis not a theology I subscribe to.   (I suppose it’s time to roll up our sleeves over a taco at Fuzzy’s, Sean.  Hah!)   To think that if something simply happens, it is by God’s omnipotent design, is an affront to my sensibilities and wholly disrespectful to the Holy God I see revealed in Scripture and in my life, as well. 

And marriage has a lot to do with it.

The other night I officiated (I hate that word) a wedding ceremony.  I repeated a version of the words I have repeated in every wedding ceremony I have ever officiated (did I say I hated that word?)   I reminded the couple that the only thing they bring to the moment is their word.  I believe, with my whole heart, that love (and the whole marriage commitment, as well) is a choice.  A decision of the will.

I believe in choice.  I don’t believe in the “fake” choice being tossed around by popular theologians today.  I believe in the real thing.  I believe in the freedom of the will.  I believe that any loveany commitmentany promise… that is not freely given, is not love at all.  And boy have I loved the giving and receiving of love freely in my marriage for the past 38 years!

Marriage is a word of promise that two people make to each other.  No one is holding a gun to their heads.  No one is making the decision for them.  They are completely free to walk away at any point in the process.  Even after the vows are exchanged and the promises are made and the papers are signed and the blessing is given.

Is the dissolving of a marriage God’s will?  Is the end of a marriage dream part of God’s master plan?  Of course not.  But that’s the risk and the potential outcome of the Creator giving the created freedom.

In marriage, as in all of life, choice matters.