Monday, February 20, 2017

Dear Dave

Dear Dave,
I heard the news today that you have an inoperable brain tumor.  At first I felt shock - almost clinical about the news.  Then all morning waves of grief washed over me as I thought about the terrible reality you and your family are staring down.

But this is not about me and my feelings.  It's about you.  I started reflecting at lunchtime and through the afternoon about some of the ways you have influenced me since we first met in 2001, two days after the 9/11 attack.

Where do I start.  I think of the transition I went through in 2007 from a burned out, depressed young pastor to the new director of Central Services.  You walked with me through that.  You probably wished I wouldn't step down, but you listened to my heart and you worked out a solution that was a win for me, and I hope for the Kingdom of God as well.

When, after a couple of years, it was time for another transition as I stepped back into pastoring with caution, part time, while still serving at Network Resources, you encouraged me.  You told me you always hoped I'd be a pastor again.  As part time pastoring transitioned again into full-time, and then back to part time as finances waned, you were always there to listen to my wonderings, my doubts, my frustrations.  And when, two years ago we spoke about the difficulties I was having internally, wrestling with my own changing ideas about the scripture and certain interpretations of it, you helped us work toward a grace-filled transition away from being a pastor (again).  What a crazy series of events.  But through it all the word "grace-filled" was the theme.

Along the way you inspired me and wrote so many things on my heart.  Interestingly I heard many of them spoken at Steve Mason's memorial a couple weeks ago.

  • There's always a place for you.
  • Forgiveness for the past, hope for the future.
  • Keep the main thing the main thing.
  • Keep the Arrows Out!
These slogans continue to affect the way I look at Christian ministry and evaluate it, now as a "layman".

I was impressed, time and time again, with the grace you offered to Christian leaders.  You really believe there is no unforgiveable sin.  You really believe restoration is possible.  You really believe God can work through broken people.  You really believe impression management is a waste of time and counterproductive to creating an authentic Christian community.  

These things are now in my blood.  And though I no longer serve Christ the King Community Church as a pastor, I serve Christ, the King in ways that I saw demonstrated in you and in the church network you developed.

Thank you for sticking with it when, many times, it was difficult.  When you and the CTK network were taken advantage of, or criticized, or misunderstood, you showed grit.  You stuck with it, you kept going, you kept leading as God led you.  

Though our paths have diverged over the past 2 years, you are dear to me and mean so much to me.  I love you and I grieve with you.  You and your family are in my prayers.  


Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Is Biblical Inerrancy a House of Cards?

I run into wonderful Christian people all the time who basically subscribe to this belief about the Bible:

"God inspired humans to write down exactly what God wanted them to write.  Therefore everything in the Bible, from Genesis to the Revelation, is God-breathed.  Since God is perfect, what he does is perfect, so the Bible is without error in everything it speaks of."

Although not a technical definition, this is the basic idea that is meant by the term "Biblical inerrancy".  This foundational belief leads to the next one:

"Good Christians believe everything the Bible says and never doubt it, regardless of what modern scholarship and science discovers. If there is a discrepancy between something in modern scholarship or science and the words of the Bible, good Christians will always hold to the Bible teaching and reject or doubt the modern discoveries."

Good, faithful people are taught that there are no discrepancies or contradictions in the scripture.  Or, if there are things that seem like contradictions, there is a way to "harmonize" the divergent facts and still hold to the doctrine of inerrancy.

Although this seems like a very "high" view of scripture, and very worshipful and faithful, there is an underlying problem that such a view of scripture sets up.  With such a view of the Bible, IF an error is found, the entire Bible is cast under suspicion.  "If there is an error can I be sure that there aren't errors in other places as well?  And if God didn't write the Bible perfectly, then how can I trust that I can follow it's teachings to find eternal life? How can I tell where it is true and where it is in error?"

Thus, under the idea of Biblical inerrancy, a single discrepancy or contradiction or error found in the Biblical texts can actual derail a person's entire faith in Jesus, and make their version of Christianity fall to pieces like a house of cards.

Likewise, people on the outside of Christianity looking in feel that they could NEVER become a Christian, because they would have to accept the Bible as inerrant, a position which is intellectually impossible for them to accept.

I believe the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy ultimately hurts the reputation of Christianity and Christians as well as sending faithful Christians into an unnecessary either/or choice between the Bible and science/scholarship.   What is needed is a different way of understanding what the Bible is and how we are to use it as a guide to our faith in God.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Help my unbelief

Last week 2 young women from a partner congregation to our church in Pakistan were abducted by members of the Taliban.  Their abductors tortured and raped the girls, and sent videos of these events to our national pastor, demanding ransom be paid within 5 days or they would be killed.  The video included clips of them being commanded to recant their recent conversion to Christianity and to recite Muslim prayers.  They refused, and were tortured in unspeakable ways.

Today I received word that the young women had been released in exchange for the ransom money, and they were now reunited with their parents.

Over the past few days hundreds of people have been praying for their release and for the safety of our national pastor as he helped secure their release.  And now that word is spreading, people are thanking God for helping the girls be released and "miraculously" working on their behalf.

But I am having a hard time celebrating.

I didn't see the videos myself, but they were described to me.  I literally felt like vomiting after I read the description.  My struggle today is trying to figure out why a God who loves these young women so much would only "miraculously" act on their behalf through the paying of ransom and waiting through 5 days of abuse.  I fear that the ransom payment will only increase the likelihood that this horrid scenario will be repeated in the near future.  

But this is nothing new.  Such atrocities have been committed down a long, unbroken string of years since Stephen was stoned to death for preaching that Jesus was the risen Messiah in the first century.  This is simply the closest I've ever been to it.  Perhaps in time I will hear the story of how God did intervene on their behalf to save their lives, or to bring supernatural comfort and strength and courage when they needed it.  I've heard such stories before.  But for now I feel deflated, with my faith in God's protection being severely tested. 

Again this is nothing new.  I've read and even preached on how long the Israelites had to wait (multiple GENERATIONS) for God to deliver them from slavery in Egypt.  When God finally calls Moses, He tells him that he has indeed heard their cries and seen their misery.  It's as if he wanted to act, but for some reason couldn't.  For a few hundred years.  

And so we down here on earth are left to trust somehow in the goodness of God, even when He allows the bad guys to win so many times and his servants can be victimized not just despite their faith in Him, but because of it.

So today, I pray along with the father of the possessed boy in Luke 9:24:  "I believe.  Help my unbelief." 

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Life Will Get Harder

The young couple stands at the front of a church. She dressed in white, he in a penguin suit. As they gaze at each other the world opens up in front of them. They think of all the possibilities and joys of the years to come. The travel, the escapades, the children they will raise, the fun things they will do, the joy of simply living life together. They have no idea.

Life will get harder.

Who can tell them that they may find themselves someday deciding whether to honor their commitment to buy groceries for those future children or to fulfill their obligation to the bank?

Who can tell them that the bundles of joy they imagine in their ideal future life will repeatedly suck joy, energy, and life from them, and replace it with simply more demands?

How can you explain to them that the ideals they now hold will be tested, beaten, shaken down, until only that which is truly true remains, and it may bear little resemblance to what now drives them forward?

Yes life will get harder. But no one wants to spoil the day for the happy couple. Let them have their day. Let the joy spill over. Let the festivities romp, for soon enough Real Life will have it's turn.

The question is, what will they do when life gets harder? For it will, as certainly as autumn follows summer. What will they do then? Will the pressures of life and the disillusionment and disappointments, and just sheer marathon of difficult decisions cause them to turn on one another? Or will these same circumstances push them closer together? Will they allow the inevitable hardness of life to become a wedge that drives them onto different sides of issues, or will these circumstances become the cement that bonds them together?

It all starts right there at the altar. The vows that they say, in this fairy tale setting, actually have incredible power. Here, in front of their parents, siblings, roommates, and friends, these two blissfully naive young adults will make promises that have the power to change everything for them. In two, ten, twelve, twenty years, they will face so many challenges that it is a mercy that God does not permit foresight. But if they will stand by these vows -- to love each other sacrificially in richness and poorness, in good health and bad, for better for worse, when the kids bring joy and when they suck them dry -- then perhaps this is not such a fairy tale after all.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years

Yes I'm back. Haven't posted anything for months. But for our anniversary a few weeks ago Ann gave me the book "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years" by Donald Miller. A few years back I read "Blue Like Jazz" by the same author and it really helped me when I was floundering spiritually and emotionally.

This book has meant a lot to me as I've read it. In fact I just finished it and really would like to read it through again and write down my thoughts on here as I go.

Basically the book chronicles what happens to Miller as he is approached by people who would like to make a movie of his memoir ("Blue Like Jazz"). The subtitle is "What I learned while editing my life."

The book challenges readers to evaluate the story they are living in light of how it might be made into a movie. Would it be a compelling story? Would it be going somewhere (would it have a point?) Would people care about the main character? Would they root for him/her?

Here's the foreword that Miller starts with:
If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it, you wouldn't cry at the end when he drove off the lot, testing the windshield wipers. You wouldn't tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home and put a record on to think about the story you'd seen. The truth is, you wouldn't remember that movie a week later, except you'd feel robbed and want your money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who wants a Volvo.

But we spend years actually living those stories, and expect our lives to feel meaningful. The truth is, if what we choose to do with our lives won't make a story meaningful, it won't make a life meaningful either.

I don't want my life to be a meaningless story.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Refocusing prayer

Eternal Father of my soul,
let my first thought today be of You,
let my first impulse be to worship You,
let my first speech be Your name,
let my first action be to kneel before You in prayer.

For Your perfect wisdom and perfect goodness:
For the love with which You love mankind:
For the love with which You love me:
For the great and mysterious opportunity of my life:
For the indwelling of your Spirit in my heart:
For the sevenfold gifts of your Spirit:
I praise and worship You, O Lord.

Yet let me not, when this morning prayer is said, think my worship ended and spend the day in forgetfulness of You. Rather from these moments of quietness let light go forth, and joy, and power, that will remain with me through all the hours of the day; John Baillie (1886-1960)

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Reaching for the Invisible God

Someday I hope to meet Philip Yancey. Not just shake his hand and get his autograph in one of his books, but to sit down and get to know him, for we are kindred spirits. He puts into words so many of the things that I think about and wonder about.

I've started reading his book, Reaching for the Invisible God (2000), and I've been enjoying it just as I've enjoyed so many of his other titles (What's So Amazing About Grace, The Jesus I Never Knew, and Disappointment With God being my 3 favorites).

The book is an attempt to explain what it really means to have a "relationship" with an invisible being. As an evangelical Christian I have heard the phrase "personal relationship with God" so many times, and used it so many times myself, that it can be easy to stop thinking about what exactly it means.

Yancey starts out by talking about how for his entire life he has struggled to "just believe", and that his experiences with Christians have made him suspicious when people talk about God "speaking to them". And yet, Yancey says, he keeps coming back to faith in God because nothing else can satisfy his spiritual thirst any better. Like Peter, he says "where else would I go?".

Such thoughts and feelings ring true with my own experience. Especially in the past couple of years. When I was younger it was easier for me to "just believe", but the past 5 years have shaken that easy belief out of me. I've learned more about the world, the history of (in)humanity of the 20th century, the reality that God often allows incredible evil and suffering, and the reality that many prayers go woefully unanswered.

Such experiences have forced me to try to understand my relationship with God in a different way. Faith is not so easy anymore. But it is where I finally hang my hat. When it all comes down, I hunger for God, and I believe he is real, that he cares for me, and that my life makes sense only when put in the eternal perspective.

My life echoes the prayer of the man in the gospel of Mark who pleads with Jesus, "I do believe. Help me overcome my unbelief!"

Yancey says that faith grows on the skeleton of doubt. Only when we face our doubts head on, and openly speak of our questions about the reality of how God really works (or doesn't work) in our lives will any of us begin to see a vital faith grow.

It is that type of faith that I see God developing in me, and I'm glad He hasn't given up on me yet.