Friday, December 23, 2005

Nothing New Under the Sun

I was browsing through Wikipedia, and on their homepage today they were highlighting Joseph Smith. Well, being a good Utahn, I decided to peruse the article.

I had always known that there were a few splinter groups in the "restoration" movement, but after a few clicks I was overwhelmed with how many there were. I started bookmarking all of the different groups so I wouldn't lose track.

Since I live in Utah, I have been most aware of the LDS church which also happens to be the biggest of the groups. Of course, the mormons I know would state that theirs is the continuation of the church that Joseph Smith founded.

However, as I purused through the various off-shoots of what Joseph Smith started, most of them make the same claim. As you read through their websites, they talk about their authority, revelations God has made to them, and the testimonies they have received. These are all things each of them claim and most would say are exclusive to them.

I am not writing this as a judgment or critique of mormons, but rather with a fascination for how closely this mirrors various things I saw growing up as a charismatic/evangelical.

One of my earliest church memories is when the Pastor of the Lutheran church we were attending left Lutheranism with a bunch of his congregation to become independent. Then someone within his church broke off from him and my family went with that group. Over the years people left the church we went to to join other groups or make new ones.

The one thing I noticed as a kid was that we left churches because the church was wrong, or that people left our church because they were wrong. The convenient commonality was that everyone else was wrong.

Most of us who have grown up in church environments unknowingly have been indoctrinated that we are right and others are wrong (or at least, not as right as we are). Since being in Utah, I have found that for a Mormon to not buy the package deal of Mormonism would be apostisizing (is that a word?). For an Evangelical, to do less than buy the whole package is compromising. I believe Catholics use the word heresy.

In any case, if you want to pursue God, you have to kind of put yourself into a box - and to think out of that box is to damage your potential of getting to know God (and perhaps even damn you).

One of the interesting points of many of the sub-groups of Mormons, is that they justify their stance of being the "true" church by various signs and/or revelations. God revealed this or told us that. This or that event happened in response to our prayers said with the proper authority (therefore, we are the true one).

Again, I am not saying that to rip on my mormon neighbors, but rather I sit here slightly awed thinking, "That is exactly how I grew up!" Different churches, and different theological backgrounds... but almost the exact same wordings and events. The writer of Ecclesiasties had it right, there really is "nothing new under the sun". No church group seems to be safe from the belief that they have a corner on the god market. They have an insight that everyone else is less privy to or as Butch Cassidy said, "I see clearly while the rest of the world wears bi-focals".

Of course, any of my denominational, non-denominational, pentecostal, or LDS friends who read this would probably interpret it the same way - that what I am saying is true of all the other groups, but the difference in their case is that they really are the right group.

I remember hearing a sermon by Peter Marshall years ago called, "The blessing of being wrong". He asked how many times in our lives have we experienced an insight into a topic and felt we were right... then later, when our opinion changed on the topic, we were REALLY right. Perhaps a later change made us REALLY, REALLY right. He suggested that given those patterns in our lives and in our churches, that perhaps there might be a blessing in being wrong.

I don't know how one gets around this prideful arena. Even as I write this, as I suggest that one should be comfortable not knowing, that one should leave room for possibility, am I not also inferring that I have an insight that most are not privy to?

Monday, December 19, 2005

They will not grow out of it!

One of the phrases you will often hear if you deal with children to any great extent is "It's just a stage they are going through." I have even said it myself on occasion.

However, I am now inclined to think that it is an incorrect phrase, and one that has the potential for lasting damage. I think this is because the phrase implies that it is actually a mere valley the child is riding through at the moment and that, if we are patient, the child will come out of naturally.

One need only listen to conversations at work, or drive 10 minutes on the road, or stand at a service desk at Walmart to get another view. We meet people everyday who never grew out of that "stage". The pride, impatience, manipulativeness, stubborness, bullying, or any of dozens of horrid behaviors we find in adults, with a little research, could probably be traced right to their childhood. John's selfishess at 36 can probably be traced to Johnny's at 6. Perhaps some of it's rougher edges have been worn down, but the core of it still radiates smartly.

The danger for the parent is the assumption that the child will grow out of it. I now believe that there is little to no chance of that happening. Entropy applies: without work, a system will move towards disorder. Why do we think that a child will lose a negative trait and develop a positive one with no intervention?

Lewis commented in Mere Christianity that it is not damning to be on a wrong road, but one's redemption relies on moving to the right one. One can correct a flawed math problem by going back and reworking it... not by simply going on.

There was boy in the park this summer who had no concept of sharing. Sharing his toys that is, he felt other children's toys should be group property. The boy was very loud in his stance, and the mother finally blushed and anounced to the other moms present, "It is just a stage he is going through".

The mother did her son no service that day. That teachable moment could not have been more ripe. But her personal embarassment, or perhaps laziness, won the day. Social pressure may cause the boy to settle down a bit over time, but he is not learning from his parents that the behavior is wrong - and this at a time when his foundations for right and wrong are being laid.

One thing that being a teacher has taught me over the years is that very little learning occurs where there is not explicit instruction. Children are intelligent, but they are not sophisticated. They have too little background knowledge to develop a proper ethos through everyday observation. There are too many mixed messages. Modeling good behavior in the home is not enough. Good behavior must be taught.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Cursing Men

I have an idea of something I want to write about that is new, and not simply a rehashing of something I have submitted in another group. However, I do not have time at the moment to get into that idea, so here is the latest rehashing:

I am going to use James 3 as a starting point.

9 With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God's likeness. 10 Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.

I find it interesting that James did not say "we curse fellow Christians", but rather opened the floodgates to include everyone. We curse men who are the image of God. I think I used to unconsciously interpret "they will know we are Christians by our love" to mean our love for each other as fellow Christians. As if "worldly" people would see our clique of loving fellowship from the outside, and desire to jump in so they could be loved too. I now see that my image of Christ is best represented to others in my ability to love and apply grace to everyone as best I can.

Ok, let me swing this around to my ultimate point, because my burden with it has been growing since I moved to Utah and it is starting to peak. I have this T-shirt that some of you may have seen. It says "Lord Jesus, your sheep have sharp teeth", and it has a drawing of a sheep with oversized, vampire-ish, teeth. Silly picture, but it is supposed to shine a light on how out of place we look as Christians when we use our speech to dig into someone.

It has been troubling to me how socially acceptable it is in Christian circles to mock and belittle the faith of our LDS neighbors. If someone were to make a belittling comment about race during a small group or at church, they would probably be met with stunned silence. I am finding we are not so graceful when it comes to "cursing", as James would say, our LDS brothers who have been made in the image of God.

I have a friend of mine in Michigan who has never cut someone down in front of me. It is an amazing gift that I have tried to emulate. We have as a K2 core value to "watch each other's back", what if, as James encourages, we applied that to all men who are made in God's likeness. I know this is easy for me in a way. One of the best friends that I have made in the Valley here is LDS. Because he is my friend, I am committed to protect him and support him. It is harder for me to do that with my Charismatic brothers and sisters since I grew up charismatic. It is easy for me to be more critical there, so it is often best that I simply hold my tongue. I know for many here in the valley, since they have a history with the LDS, it is hard not to launch into some digs.

James goes on to say: 11 Can both fresh water and salt[a] water flow from the same spring? 12 My brothers, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.

The interesting thing is that Salt water ruins fresh water. Any fresh is instantly ruined by the application of salt water (even in small doses). It does not work the other way around. Our cursing of men is not sanctified by our praise to God. However, our praise to God will be spoiled by our cursing of men.

Everyone I know needs to know Jesus better tomorrow than they do today; my evangelical and LDS neighbors included. I do not necessarily know the best way to encourage someone of the LDS faith in their relationship with Christ, but I am confident we cannot portray a Christ who loves and adores them through our rolling eyes, snickering, pot-shots, impatience, and superior attitude.

I think because the LDS faith is so Huge here, we consider our words of no harm (like the way people around the world trash America - they almost deserve it for being so dominant). It affects the individuals though. They are not knowing us by our love.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Grace VS Works?

I recently chimed in on a listserve discussion that I am in with a few guys from my church on the book of James. I tossed out the thought I have previously shared on this blog that I do not buy the Grace over Works stance. I spent some time thinking through my response and writing takes me forever, so I thought I would give my response more airtime so here it is:

I knew I couldn't bring this up without it being somewhat contentious, but it is not my intent. However, I think my point was unclear. My comparison with Grace Vs Works and Predestination Vs. Free will is that there is no vs. However, people often cling to one or the other and oppose those who do not cling to the side they do. There are many who deny the role of predestination and state that it MUST be free will. There are people who look at it conversely and fail to see the input and reality of the other side. Some people see Grace and Works as opposite or perhaps as one not needing the other. I tend to play Devil's advocate. I hear lots of Grace, I throw works scripture out there.... hear works, I throw Grace.

I think some of this comes down to the definition of Saved. Is Saved going to Heaven? Is Saved not going to Hell? Is saved what I am or what I am being? Is Saved a status or a process? Do we get saved or are we saved. Who saves? Do we play a role?

I am not convinced that because we are saved by grace that we cannot be saved by works. I am not sure that one precludes the other.

When Jesus separates the sheep from the goats it will be based on what they did or didn't do. There is no mention of Grace here (though I believe Grace is still in operation). This is not Theology or Doctrine. A timeless Messiah was looking at future history and telling us how he made the call. You fed me... you clothed me... you visited me.. Nothing is said here about what doctrine or theology the people subscribed to. No mention of a sinner's prayer. No repentance. Not even necessarily an awareness of who the sheep did these deeds for (as much as you've done it for the least of these, you have done it for me). Jesus presents himself in the distressing disguise of the poor, the sick, the lonely.... and one is a sheep or a goat depending on our response to him.

Saved by one's actions? Seems possible here.

It seems these people are possibly credited righteousness as Romans 4 says Abraham was. Abraham's faith was credited as righteousness. He wasn't righteous, but he was treated as if he was (and this was before Christ). James says that Abrahams faith and works went together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.

I think God is actively looking to credit people righteousness. Christ allows him to make that desire complete.

Romans 2 states " God will give to each person according to what he has DONE. To those who by persistence in doing DOING GOOD, seek glory, honor and immortality he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking, who reject the truth, and follow evil there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for EVERYONE who does evil: first for the Jew then for the Gentile. But glory, honor and peace for everyone who DOES GOOD: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.

If you do a keyword search on DO, or DONE throughout scripture you get a lot of hits. No one talked about DOING more than Christ (though the Apostles make a nice second). Does Christ "save" someone who lives for self? I think his reaction to the Pharisees show that he has no interest in the right words, right theology, right doctrine while living a life of self interest and indulgence.

On the other hand, the good Samaritan shows that Christ had tons of Grace for someone who had decidedly wrong doctrine but a heart of self sacrifice and love for his neighbor (and this dude never even said a sinner's prayer...Jesus is such a rebel). Perhaps Christ is deciding who to dispense his Grace to depending on what they do.

Forgive and you will be forgiven, with the measure you use it will be measured to you, love your neighbor as yourself, if you have two shirts give one to him who is in need. So little doctorine and theology... so much action.

Sorry guys, for me, this is a both/and (with lots of possiblilities and wiggle room). Try to seperate them and you get a mess.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Mercy Triumphs over Judgement

Here is a commentary I threw into a list serve study of James I am involved in. I figure I should get any writing I do up here (since I write so little).

I am new to the group, so I don’t know if what I have to say will be skipping ahead of where you are, or trailing behind.

Thanks for letting me in on this study. James and Romans are pillars of my theology. I became a Christian at 14 and started Bible Quizzing shortly thereafter. My first year of quizzing was on Romans and James, so my foundation was established by those two books. Looking back, I see that it was a great course in Christianity 101.

Quizzers around America are doing Romans and James again this year (done every 9 years now) and I have decided to do it with them from afar. So getting in on a James discussion will help keep me on track.

Not sure if there is an order, so if there is, let me know. For now tho, I am going to comment on 2:13 – because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

It seems that this is a fairly strong concept that runs throughout scripture – forgive, and you will be forgiven, with the measure you use it will be measured to you, judge not so as not to fall under judgment, at whatever point you judge the other you are condemning yourself because you who pass judgment do the same things. The list goes on.

I keep letting that thought spin thru my head. If I am not merciful, I will be judged without mercy. I WILL be judged without mercy. Not maybe, there are no outs listed in these scriptures. There is a one-for-one correlation.

I think I may have been trained by some of my Christian culture to by-pass these scriptures… almost as if they did not apply in my case. I think I almost add an unconscious addendum… it reads like this: – because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful; (unless you have accepted Jesus Christ as you personal Lord and Savior).

But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins; (unless you have accepted Jesus Christ as you personal Lord and Savior).

As I have become older in my Christianity, I find myself viewing my salvation less like an event and more like a becoming. Verses like this (without the addendum) do not stress me or put me under undue pressure, but rather they remind of how seriously Christ takes this issue and how much he wants us to imitate the Father.

Plunk Plunk - There’s my first two cents with more to come.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Crash the Party

Mary Lee and I just spent an incredible evening at "Crash the Party". It was kind of a thank you dinner from the K2 staff to all of the members. Some of the night was spent reminiscing about everything that has gone on this year. It is amazing to me what we have done at K2 in only one year. What is more amazing still is that Mary Lee and I almost missed out on doing this. But God, in his infinite mercy and wisdom, ignored all of my objections about coming out here and pushed me along anyway. I was looking around the room and realizing how tight my family and I have become with so many of these people. Hearing some of the newer people share about what K2 has meant to them was encouraging. I think sometimes I get caught up in the work aspect of what we do and fail to see the miracle of lives being changed.
Mary Lee and I sat with Chris A., the Burdines, and Steve Andrews. I have an amazing amount of respect for Steve. I always feel that when Steve comes into town to visit us, it is like when Washington would visit his troops... His encouragement just pumps you up and makes you want to redouble your efforts.
They were giving out various "awards" tonight. Mary Lee was honored with "most likely to feed the hungry" for all of her work on the hospitality team. I think I am correct that she actually started that whole thing out here.
Way tired with a lot to do tomorrow.

Saturday, September 03, 2005

To Clarify

I just read over my last post, and decided that I wanted to expand on something. I don't think denominations are bad things, in fact I thank God for them. I think that, as Peter said, they are "ministering God's grace in its various forms". I think denominations provide areas where people of differing viewpoints and tastes can go to find God. My church is quite a production. We may open with a full band blasting out Switchfoot and stream in a video that pertains to today's message. We look like a theater/ coffeehouse. I am totally jazzed about what we are doing (I moved out to Salt Lake to serve here). However, there are countless churches in this valley that are just as on the cutting edge of God's will with their hymns, liturgies, and pews.

I love reading Catholic authors. I am reading Mother Teresa right now and she is blowing my world apart. There is a charismatic church near here that has a great coffee house.

I would attend many churches - Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, whatever... Perhaps someday I will become a member at one. However, I could never become one. It seems to me that when you call yourself a ___________ you lock yourself in to a very static system of doctorine. My spiritual beliefs now are very different from what they were 20 years, 10 years, 5 years ago (just read some of my early blogs). Some things that I was so convinced of 15 years ago, I now count as near hearesy. What does that say about how I feel now? How will I feel 5 years from now? I get nervous when a church has a statement of beliefs... why do we need that? There are a number of items in my church's statement that I don't necessarily buy. I think they should be made simple, if at all....
So what do I believe? Here are the basics... minus the doctorine (I love doctorine, but it is not neccessary for a rich life in Christ)
  • There is a God and he is Good and he loves people
  • I need to love him with all my heart
  • I need to love others around me like he does
  • Everyone I know (including me) needs to know Jesus better than he or she did yesterday - so therefore I relate to everyone the same, regardless of where they are spiritually right now
  • Jesus Christ came into this world to save sinners... of whom I am foremost

I have to toddle off to bed now. I have to get up way early since tomorrow I am on Tech for the first time at church (bye Spruce, it was fun).

We hold that Special Truth

I should write more often, I certainly have enough things on my mind, but typing is a much slower process than simply pontificating my thoughts during a conversation.

The LDS faith out here continues to fascinate me. No, I shan't be converting anytime soon. Chief among the reasons for never converting is that it is simply too much like any other denomination (I also count all non-denominationals as a denomination). The LDS too, believe that they have a hold of a special truth that everyone else is less privy to. This attitude pisses of evangelicals cause they know that it is, in fact, evangelicals who have that special truth. Nothing irritates a religious person more that the implication that there is a religion that has one-upmanship on theirs.

Since I classify as an evangelical, I guess that makes me a little less patient when my group pulls the "We know something you don't" card. I am becoming a little more bold saying, "No, I don't think LDS folks are going to hell (whatever that means), and yes, I think they do follow Jesus Christ", whenever someone spouts off their negative views of the LDS.

I often hear "but they have a WORKS gospel!" I think my new reply is going to be "Yes, isn't it great that they take the many, many commands of Christ pertaining to works seriously? Isn't it grand that they do not ignore the countless times the writers of the Epistles charge us to do good works?!"

To me, having a Grace Vs. Works stance is as fruitful as arguing election and free will. Scripture addresses both and gives credence to both. Let it go and quit getting ticked at folks who seem to have a leaning that runs contrary to your leaning. Lewis said that it was like trying to argue which blade of the scissors is not required.

But don't they worship a different Jesus? I'll tackle that one next time... goodnight!

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Blah.. Blah..Blah

Just came back from a fabulous Superbowl party at church. I am not sure how many people were there, but it must have been at least 300. They set up those inflatable slides and jumping castles. The kids also had various games to play. I was making animal balloons.
We recently found out that we are moving to two services. We had 520 today which is amazing. We have only been open for four months.
I absolutely love my life out here. My only hangup is that Utah tips, rather than pays, their teachers. The salaries of Michigan beckon me back. I get tempted every now and again.
I am tempted to write something theological, but I am so tired. I was up early to do lights for the service, then there was the Superbowl party. I am whipped. So much good theology to talk about though. My brother Steve and I talked on the phone for about two hours the other day. It is interesting to me that, though we have spent the past 15 years or so apart, our theology is similar on so many points. Those similarities tend to get us cross eyed looks from traditional evangelicals. It is just comforting to know that there is at least one other person out there who does not think I am completely nuts.
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