Right thinking

We don’t seem to be in the mood for it these days in our culture, but what is needed now more than ever is right thinking.

A new book compiling some of the work of Dallas Willard starts with what Dallas did best: think. He calls us to right thinking. And where that starts is the Word of God.

And so we must apply our thinking to the Word of God. We must thoughtfully take that Word in, dwell upon it, ponder its meaning, explore its implications — especially as it relates to our own lives. We must thoughtfully set it into practice. In doing so, we will be assisted by God’s grace in ways far beyond anything we can understand on our own; and the ideas and images that governed the life of Christ through his thought life will possess us.

Right thinking is vital right now. When emotions are high, when rhetoric is divisive… right thinking is needed. This is where the Church should be leading the way.
Renewing the Christian Mind: Essays, Interviews, and Talks

Life after Life after Death

I am refreshing myself with N.T. Wright’s work, Surprised by Hope.

Wright’s thesis for the book is that salvation isn’t about getting us saved and into heaven. it is about life now. There is a present hope and not just a “future” hope. To work in the present with the sick, the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the abused, etc., is not a distraction from the task of mission and evangelism. It is  central. 

Why? Because it’s what we see Jesus doing in his ministry.

“(Jesus)  was not saving souls for a disembodied eternity but rescuing people from the corruption and decay of the way the world presently is so they could enjoy, already in the present, that renewal of creation which is God’s ultimate purpose — and so they could thus become colleagues and partners in that larger project.”

When we are at work in this world in Kingdom power, we are doing things that will last into God’s future. It’s not about making this present life a little less miserable and a little more bearable. It is all a vital part of what is happening in God’s kingdom.

The work we do now is vital to what God is doing and what God will keep on doing.

A key to all of this is to re-work our definition of “salvation.” It needs to be unhitched from a meaning that is simply “this means I go to heaven when I die.”

Salvation means we have died. And now we have life. We aren’t preparing people for simply “life after death.” We have life after life after death. We aren’t about the business of saving souls to be ready for heaven when the humans die. We have a powerful life to live now that is all part of salvation.

Live now. And live in power.


The anger of Jesus

I have walked slowly through Mark 1-4 the past few days… over and over.

There is a story of a man with a withered hand (Mark 3:1-6). The religious leaders are all standing around seeing if Jesus would dare to heal a man on … horrors! … the Sabbath. 

And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

Jesus was angered by their hardness. Here was a man with a need right among them and they were waiting to trap Jesus on a technicality.

It is that frustration, but I know NOT that level of anger, I feel when we talk about anything in the American Church today.

We don’t even hold our anger very long. It was just a few weeks ago those horrid Planned Parenthood videos started coming out and for awhile they finally outraged social media enough it became something of a “sensation” for about 2 minutes. We just don’t sustain a holy anger very long any more.

Instead, when something comes along that should cut our souls and call us to action… we all tend to be more like the religious leaders than Jesus.

The horrifying reality of the Syrian refugee situation came home this week with the photos of a little boy’s body washed up on a shore in Turkey. It outraged the world… for about 2 minutes. Most don’t even know about any picture yet.

We get “horrified” in a social media way… but then we go back to our trenches and lob our theological grenades. And we don’t help anyone. We don’t act.

We stand around with our Pharisaical rulers and make our judgments. From the “right” and the “left.”

“Well, those Planned Parenthood videos were heavily edited.” (Like that makes us feel better about the taking of a human life.)

“Well, that child was probably the son of a terrorist.” (So we feel better… how?)

Like the Pharisees watching the actions of Jesus, it’s all we do these days. We think we act like Jesus, but here’s the reality: we don’t even ACT. We just sit around and watch and then lob our ideologies out there on Twitter. 

And for the American Church, we need to wake up with a realization: Jesus is looking around at us… all of us… self-righteous evangelicals, self-righteous liberals and progressives… All. Of. Us. And he is NOT happy.

While Syrian refugees drown, while babies are still be sliced up, while people slog around in horrid conditions of life and ACTION is needed, we’re all standing around sniffing at whoever might dare to take action because somehow, in some way, they just don’t believe something right.

There are people who just hate the idea of a Republican being nice because, doggone it, it wrecks their view of Republicans being EVIL. And vice versa for Republicans not liking a Democrat. We’re just not allowed. So we’re sniffing at each other and no action is taken. 

More babies will be sliced up. More refugee bodies will wash up on shore. And the Church capable of doing SOMETHING will continue to turn their noses up at any action because, somehow, it’s not the RIGHT action. (Excuse me… the correct action. I sure don’t want any LIBERALS mad at me!)

I don’t want to “feel” justified about my political positions anymore. I don’t want to sit and feel good about my correct theological beliefs anymore. There are actions I need to take. Specific actions that may not solve a deep crisis like abortion or the slaughter of people in the Middle East, but action that none the less can make a difference for someone.

It’s awful when we can’t take action and would rather criticize because our “position” is more correct. I think how long that man with the withered hand had to suffer in that condition because no one wanted to break a rule…

Dear Lord, forgive me for my political, theological, philosophical stubbornness. It is an offense to you. You are angered by my inaction. And I understand.

Help me to ACT.

What made the religious leaders angry?

I am not very good at goal setting when it comes to Scripture reading schedules. This should be a week when I am on Luke for the second time… or maybe Matthew for the third time… and I’m in Matthew 9 the “second” time around.

But, what’s my hurry?

As I read through Jesus’ actions and the anger of the Pharisees, I am struck by this thought: Jesus hasn’t angered them by his arguments, but by his actions.

When he healed the blind and mute, the Pharisees accused him of being demon-possessed himself. When he acted, when he did what they should have been doing, they were angry. People in Israel should have been set free in so many areas, but the religious leaders had no spiritual power.

Our call as the Church is similar. We drift into crazy theological arguments that divide us up and get us angry… and sell books and get us blog post time on widely ready sites… but we find this condition all around us:

When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. (Matt. 9:36)

When we devolve into foolish theological arguments, people around us stay bound up when we have all the ability, as the Church, to set them free. 

Live in the liberty Christ gave you… not for your own selfish pleasure… but for the joy of seeing other set free. 

The place of doubt

I ran across this wonderful quote from Rowan Williams:

If you are forbidden to voice the hard questions, this might suggest that faith survives only by never being challenged. The person who actually expresses their fury or disgust or disillusion can, at least sometimes, be demonstrating faith of a sort, confidence that, if God is real, it is possible, even necessary, to say what you feel about Him – and that, unless you can say this, the God you started with is not worth believing in. This underpins many of the Jewish Psalms or the poems of George Herbert or Gerard Manley Hopkins. Blasphemy resists the conspiracy of silence about the agonising difficulties of belief, resists the stifling of a real and honest response to an unjust world…

Herbert, Job and some of the Psalms remind us that sometimes the seriousness of faith is most effectively explored precisely in the risky business of testing the limits. And without such testing, such forcefully expressed doubt, you may never know the real strength or weakness of what you claim to believe. The secularist needs to understand some of the internal critique that faith is always struggling with; and the believer needs to recognise that blasphemy isn’t necessarily a matter for panic, let alone violence. It may even be a gateway into a larger and more durable commitment.

Excellent food for thought.

We need to have room for doubt, and be willing to TEST what is true. We also need to realize we don’t have to always dwell in angst, though it gets you far more blog hits and a possible spot on the Huff and Puff Post… but there are better things to do with your time.

The need for greed

We wrestle with consumerism and materialism. I take that back. Some have long surrendered, actually. We may even fake wrestling because, quite frankly, we like our stuff.

But when I read these challenging verses out of Luke’s Gospel, I am left with an aching heart, quite honestly. I realized today the compelling force of what Jesus says so plainly in these verses really could drive people to forsake all and take up the monastic life (like Anthony of the Desert) or head into a life of poverty serving the poor. These are strong verses I think we too easily explain away.

But let’s be reminded again and again to understand the stuff we have needs to NOT control us.

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:32-34)

Treasure Jesus. Let stuff go.

So easy to write. So hard to do!

The culture of LIFE

It’s is incredibly unfortunate that “pro-choice” people are now recycling a quote from Catholic nun Joan Chittister from back in 2004:

“I do not believe that just because you’re opposed to abortion, that that makes you pro-life. In fact, I think in many cases, your morality is deeply lacking if all you want is a child born but not a child fed, not a child educated, not a child housed. And why would I think that you don’t? Because you don’t want any tax money to go there. That’s not pro-life. That’s pro-birth. We need a much broader conversation on what the morality of pro-life is.”
—- Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B

It’s a huge mistake for “pro-choice” people and especially Christians who don’t like the 1980s version of the Pro-Life Movement. The reason it’s a mistake is it only puts the conversation back into the political trenches where it DOES NOT BELONG. We all go back to our trench warfare lobbing our bumper sticker grenades at each other.

So, the “pro-choice” answer to “pro-life” people who really seem to only be concerned with allowing babies to be born is: KEEP ABORTION. It’s foolishness.

What’s more, it fails to understand the deep underpinning of a true PRO LIFE ethic. It’s not a political answer alone. So, for my 1980s style “pro-life” friends, PLEASE don’t make this about “electing the right people so we get the right judges who will overturn Roe vs. Wade” and be done. Let’s not stop there.

And for “progressive” Christians who are hiding in the shadows and whisper oh so quietly, “Um… I’m pro-life,” but not too loudly, I invite you to a better discussion as well.

And let’s start here: Sister Chittister’s remark about tax money alone is stupid. I said it. STUPID. If you think all it takes is tax money… PUH LEEZE.

So, to my 1980s pro-life friends… it DOES take some tax money. And to my “progressive” friends hiding in the weeds, it takes MORE than tax money.

I beg all of us to get out of the bunkers as believers. QUIT the Republican and Democrat mantras! PLEASE!

It’s being horrified by these Planned Parenthood videos. PLEASE allow yourself, my progressive friends, to be horrified. Let something sear your spirit once again.

THEN… let’s get to work. For a true PRO LIFE ethic to work, we have to demand better use of our tax dollars. When it comes to “funding” I think it doesn’t just mean defunding Planned Parenthood. It means FUNDING another source.

For my progressive friends, think more broadly. Since you want to parrot back, “How many so-called pro-life people are adopting?” I will challenge you: more than you want to admit or research. And I ask this favor: YOU have the ear of the Democrats right now. And while you have it, why not lobby them for better adoption laws? Why not make lobby them for easier adoption procedures… and CHEAPER adoption procedures? Why does it have to be so doggone expensive to adopt a child in America?

For my 1980s pro-life friends, quit making the public schools your enemy. Get in there and help. To my “progressive” friends, quit squawking. There are PLENTY of true pro-life people IN the public schools slogging it out. It’s true. So, for ALL of us, let’s demand better education and let’s HELP with delivering better education. Mentor some at risk kids. Every week. Don’t just go for the big splash events or school rallies and feel good. Make a difference. One kid at a time.

This is way too long, but I am so tired of the trench warfare we’ve been engaged in for 40 plus years. It’s time for a better way, and it’s the CHURCH who should rise up and lead the way.

Please… let’s do this.