Posts Tagged ‘religion’
Happy Thursday, friends! This morning’s post will likely be short (no time today!), but will include a link to my weekly video-post, so don’t miss that two-minute opportunity. CLICK HERE.
Essentially, I’m following up on yesterday (“Hit the back of the ball“) and also continuing an ongoing conversation with a friend who constantly struggles with Christianity because faith in God through Jesus is so impossibly resistant to being held to account by logic, reason, argument, and what we have come to understand thus far about science.
QUESTION: Yesterday I wrote that “Jesus came to take care of the distance between (humankind and God), to ‘square us up’ as it were…”
So the question/comment came back like this:
How does “sacrificing yourself to yourself and getting yourself back 3 days later” serve to facilitate restoration of that relationship?
“Jesus is alive and well in heaven as I understand. He is not dead. Sacrifice by definition is to lose or give something up or give something to….”
AMATEUR THEOLOGIAN: My personal credentials as a theologian are simply the fact that I think about God, and about my/our relationship to God. I tend to see things less from a “legal” standpoint and more from an “unstoppable initiative of love” point of view.
Some people interpret atonement as a strictly legal transaction, where God’s “hands” are literally tied when it comes to the fate of the human race. A sacrifice is required by law, these folk argue, and the only sacrifice that could possibly satisfy God is the spilled blood of the perfect Son of God.
In my own, constantly evolving, theology I tend to see God as motivated by the idea of reconciliation and restoration: “I love my creation so much that I’m willing to actually become one of them, and teach them my ways, even though I know it’s going to end in betrayal, rejection, misunderstanding, torture, and brutal execution.”
So now I have the opportunity – because of Jesus, and through Jesus – to respond positively to God’s sacrificial initiative, to accept forgiveness, and to follow the Way of Jesus. I don’t believe that God is somehow “obligated” to accept me because the right blood was spilled. I believe that God has always loved me, and always wanted a restored relationship, but that it’s only because of Jesus that I have found my way home.
No, I haven’t cleared it all up; I may even have muddied the waters. But this is a little bit of what I believe, and what makes sense to me - DEREK
Don’t miss today’s video-post! CLICK HERE
Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12)
Most of us have attended meetings, conferences or retreats where we’re asked to “Describe yourself in ten-words or less,” or “Pick five words that sum up your personality,” or “Write a one-paragraph summary of how you think others see you,” or “Imagine you are being eulogized at a memorial service, what are five things people would say about you?”
It’s a useful exercise, and thinking that way can get our attention in a hurry, especially if we perceive incongruence between what we’d like to be true about ourselves and what really is.
As a writer with an emerging public profile, it’s instructive to pay attention to how I am described by other people. Some places (church groups, conference organizers, retreat centers, web-sites) simply cut and paste a standard biography, a paragraph or two they found somewhere else. Others write up an introduction based on personal experience, having read me, met me, or heard me before. Then – and these are the best – I sometimes run across a review written after an event is over.
JOYFUL CHRISTIAN: Two such descriptions stand out in my mind. The first was on a church sign, and read, simply, “Come hear Derek Maul. Author, Storyteller.” I loved that one. Then, just this past month, a church newsletter review reported on a men’s retreat “Led by author, speaker, thinker, and joyful Christian Derek Maul.”
- “Author; Storyteller.”
- “Author, speaker, thinker, and Joyful Christian.”
To be described as a “Joyful Christian” is beyond encouraging. It means that – for those folk – I actually represented my foundational premise of “real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of,” and “The life that is truly life.”
Then, the moniker “THINKER,” has given me pause. The designation brings to mind the medieval role of “A Contemplative,” meaning someone whose engagement with life is defined in terms of contemplation. I’d love to be experienced as someone who has a faith and a way of living that is thoughtful rather than reactive.
It’s good to be a ”Thinking Christian;” this world needs more people of faith who are committed to contemplation. But it would be a mistake to confuse thinking with a sense of need to either conjure up tidy answers or dismiss faith when reason appears to be on the ropes.
DR. OF THINKOLOGY: I am happy to be perceived as a “Thinker,” and I’m even happier that it came in the same sentence as “Joyful Christian.” But I don’t think I’m ready to be conferred the tittle (See Wizard of Oz) “Doctor of Thinkology.”
Meanwhile, I’ll continue to try to live the words of Paul: “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind…” - DEREK
Theoretically, today is the first day of a week-long work marathon where I get absolutely everything on my “to-do” list squared away.
I won’t bore you with every single detail (plus I don’t want the accountability of people knowing too much!), but I will admit to The List including things like:
- “Clean my study,”
- “Do the taxes,”
- “Outline (and possibly write a few chapters of) my next book,”
- “Take care of a couple of major home-ownership headaches….”
GRANDCHILD TIME: The occasion for such confident planage (I know “planage” is not a real word, but I’ve decided it should be) is the fact that Rebekah is on her way to Connecticut for some serious post-Easter grandchild therapy. Theoretically this puts me in a good position to concentrate on several marathon work sessions.
The best thing about getting to the airport before 6:00 AM is the absence of traffic. Both ways. Consequently I was back home walking the dog by 6:30 and at my desk before 8:00.
GOSPEL OF LOVE: The first thing I read was my daily devotional from The Upper Room. Here’s today’s suggested reading, taken from 1 John 4:7-12
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.
Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
What a great summary of the Gospel message! If I really want people to see God and to be drawn closer to God through my work and my life – and I believe that I do – then the clarity of my witness is necessarily correlated to the quality of my love.
Here’s the thing about Jesus; he loved selflessly and he loved indiscriminately.
No approach to introducing people to the message of salvation is more effective or Christlike than living love out loud.
No approach to introducing people to the message of salvation is more effective or Christlike than living love out loud. God’s love, John says, is “perfected” in us. Another way of translating “perfected” is “made complete.” In other words, God’s plan to love the world actually counts on disciples of Jesus loving with God’s kind of love.
Otherwise, the scripture says, the conclusion is that we really don’t know God.
PRAYER: Teach me the Jesus quality of love, dear God; live in me, and love through me. Amen - DEREK
However, and despite:
- being deliberate about my observance of Lent,
- reading daily devotions from The Upper Room,
- receiving Lenten Treasures every evening from our church,
- reading entire books of the New Testament each week for my Everyday Christianity class,
- and re-reading the text of my own book, Reaching Toward Easter…
… I won’t be in the place I intend to be – spiritually – until I take a deliberate few moments with God and specifically invite Jesus to be my companion and guide for THIS day.
That’s because this following Jesus thing is a decision that must be made, and renewed, at the very least daily and, more practically, at intervals as each new day unfolds.
AGING (OR NOT): The idea fits quite well with our discussion about age, and about (yesterday’s “birthday-post”) being the youngest 57-year-old imaginable. I think what I’m really talking about is having a young spirit. I am born anew… born again… born from above… each and every day that I invite newness into my life.
I often tell Rebekah that she’s obviously a lot younger than many people who are in their (chronological) thirties. And I mean that. It’s not flattery or rhetoric. She has a young spirit.
Here’s the thing: a young spirit is not an accident of nature, it’s a byproduct of renewal.
Here’s the thing: a young spirit is not an accident of nature, it’s a byproduct of renewal.
“Renewal” – To be made new again. Not dressed up; not rehabbed; not a cosmetic makeover; not some kind of a spiritual face-lift. But made new again. A new creation.
FORWARD: Owning a young spirit is also not about going backwards. I’m not talking about winding the clock back or living in the past. This is Jesus we’re talking about, not Peter Pan. Newness is always forward moving. When scripture talks about a “new creation” it’s not suggesting the old creation, dusted off and restored to mint condition.
And so – lest I stray any further away from the course I set in talking about Wednesday of Holy Week – my opportunity on this day is to be a young spirit, alive and vibrant, a new creation. Lent may be a journey, but it’s also a decision.
In the spirit of newness – DEREK
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[Jesus] is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. (Hebrews 1:3)
Along with all the buzz and excitement of yesterday’s Palm Sunday celebration (BTW, the choir rocked!), my “Everyday Christianity” Sunday study group enjoyed a very productive hour discussing the New Testament book of Hebrews.
To date, during 2013, my class has read the following New Testament books (We’re looking at them in the order - best scholarly guess – that they were written).
- I Thessalonians
- I Corinthians
- II Corinthians
Once again, reading an entire book in a single sitting (Hebrews took about 45 minutes to read carefully) facilitated a refreshing exposure to The Word that was (and always is) an entirely different experience than the practice of picking out a few select verses for in-depth analysis.
CENTRAL FOCUS: As a complete piece of work, Hebrews focuses on the idea that the “New Covenant” Jesus established has made the first one obsolete. In fact, to help us out, the writer essentially hangs a “This is the main point” flag on the first verse of chapter 8:
Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.
Temple worship, Hebrews 8 continues, takes place in a setting that is ”a copy and shadow of what is in heaven.” In other words, Temple Worship is at best a flawed approximation.
But Jesus is not a shadow, not an approximation, not a copy, not a hint… Jesus is the real thing. Jesus is – in the words of Hebrews Chapter One - ”The radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.”
And so today, Monday of Holy Week, it’s easy to see how “The Jesus Way” threatened the entire raison d’être of the ruling class. In Jerusalem, the triumphant entry was yesterday’s news and “push-back” was the order of the day.
As Jesus said in Luke 13:34: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing…”
f we were to reassemble the New Testament in the order that the books were written, chapter one would be the first letter Paul penned to his friends at the church in Macedonia (1 Thessalonians).
Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.
The book is a wonderful piece of inspirational literature, and I’d recommend reading all five chapters in one sitting.
THE CHOICE TO BELIEVE: What strikes me today, reading over Thessalonians one more time, is how intentional Paul’s understanding of faith tends to be. I believe many Christians miss this principle, and misunderstand the basis for assurance, faith, inspiration and certainty. Too many look for and then rely on an emotional “feeling” they believe is supposed to be a constant part of our experience once we accept Christ.
When we substitute emotion and “feeling” for the day-to-day work of an intentional walk with God, then we set ourselves up for disappointed when God doesn’t conform to our expectations.
I think we all know people (we might even be those people) who miss out on a rich life of faith because they refuse to follow Paul’s encouragement to “be transformed by the renewing of your minds” (Romans 12).
That’s the foundational idea of the Thessalonians text: “Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. Do not quench the Spirit.”
- Rejoice always: That’s a decision as much as it is a response. Wake up in the morning, first thing, and make the decision to enter into a joy-referenced frame of mind.
- Pray without ceasing: Communication with God; acknowledgement of God; listening to God; talking with God; celebrating God; thinking about God. Not confining God to convenient interludes, but consciously choosing God as the operating system that runs underneath everything else.
- Give thanks in all circumstances: The “attitude of gratitude” needs to be intentional rather than reactive, otherwise thankfulness is stripped of its power to transform. Gratitude that stays ahead of circumstance tens to impact the circumstance rather than the other way around.
- For this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you: God not only intends for us to live, joyfully, in the context of gratitude, but God intends to transform the world via our transformed disposition.
- Do not quench the Spirit: When we fail to act proactively in terms of our decision to rejoice, pray, and be thankful – then we have made the choice to quench the Spirit.
THE CHOICE TO BE CYNICAL: I listen to people who refuse to pray, and who allow doubt, cynicism, and unbelief to poison their minds, and they too are transformed. But their transformation is negative, as they fail to take responsibility for the intentionality that is necessary for “renewing our minds.”
God created us, and God knows how our minds work. Paul understood very clearly that we don’t just wait for some magical spiritual experience to bring us assurance and confidence and transformation. No, he recommended that we take the bull by the horns and get on with it:
- Rejoice always,
- pray without ceasing,
- give thanks in all circumstances;
- (for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you).
- Do not quench the Spirit.
“Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” (Psalm 84:10 – from The Upper Room daily devotional guide)
Every morning – early – my “go to” scripture reading comes to me via The Upper Room devotional magazine. I will likely read other passages during the day, including entire books of the Bible; I’ll probably have conversations about all manner of scripture references; and I will doubtless prepare lessons for more than one class. But, regardless of my other study, I’m going to launch my day with the help of The Upper Room.
What struck me this morning was the tie-in to where my heart was already singing. Because – as I’m fond of saying – Sunday at church is the best preparation possible for Monday, and whatever might come during the rest of the week.
Yesterday was the first Sunday of the month, and at our church that means the celebration of communion. Rebekah’s message (it will be podcast at this link sometime this morning) was a simple reiteration of Christ’s constant invitation to live “The life that is truly life.”
She talked about the challenges and hardships and tragedies that so often characterize life, and she shared the clear word Jesus has in response to the age-old question, “Did I do something to deserve —– (fill in the blank)?”
And the word from Jesus is this: “No!”
Or, as Rebekah put it, “Nnnnooooooooo!!!”
THE JESUS QUESTION: Life here on Earth is defined by struggle; that’s a no-brainer. However, rather than laying out blame, Jesus suggests an alternative. “Live. Live as a Follower of The Way. Live purposefully, and cultivate the soil you are planted in so that you bear good fruit.”
The Jesus question is never about pointing fingers, assigning blame, judging, comparing ourselves to others, or beating ourselves up; the Jesus question is about making the choice to live victorious, God-centered, fruit-bearing lives.
So that’s it. That’s my word for Monday morning. It’s always a beautiful thing to live my Monday in response to Sunday. Because Sunday is all about resurrection, and belief, and hope, and new life - DEREK
Wednesday evening my “The Men’s Room” small group wrapped up our three-month study of 10 Life-Charged Words.
Conversation centered around the following familiar quotes that open the final chapter. The first, from 1854, was penned by Henry David Thoreau: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation.”
The second comes from Oliver Wendell Holmes (1858): “Alas for those that never sing, but die with all their music still in them!”
I asked my friends if they thought Thoreau and Holmes were possibly exaggerating, or employing poetic license, and if they believed the ideas parsed in the mid 19th Century still held true today?
SHADOWS OF THE POSSIBLE: The response was unanimous. Rather than outdated, Thoreau and Holmes presented ideas that have even more meaning today. The world we are living is heavily populated with people who live as shadows of the possible.
“And is that the way you feel about your life?” I asked.
“Not even remotely,” they replied. “At least,” some added, “not any more.”
I then asked them to think for a couple of minutes, and to come up with one or two words that represent something that faith has given them, something they believe our “desperate,” “song deprived” world needs.
I got the ball rolling with “Peace,” I said that the assurance that comes with faith has gifted me with a uniquely Jesus-oriented quality of peace in my spirit. “It’s something I don’t see much of outside of faith,” I said.
Then we simply went around the circle. And, one by one, my friends talked about the difference faith in Jesus has made (is making) in their lives. Love, thinking before I speak, acceptance, sincerity, leadership, listening, compassion, grace, meditation, value…. They spoke the word, then they explained what they meant.
What was spectacular about the sharing was the sincerity, the authenticity, the I-couldn’t-make-this-up-if-I-triedness of their simple affirmations.
WE HAVE THE ANSWER: When the conversation slowed down I wrapped up our discussion with the following: “We live in a world defined by crying need. People are unequipped to meet the challenge of living life-charged lives. There’s quiet desperation; there’s resignation; there’s a marked absence of those life-giving qualities I just wrote on the white-board; and there’s death, with the music still undiscovered and unenjoyed.”
I went on: “And yet here we sit, connected enthusiastically to the answer to this world’s deep need. Our question has to be this, ‘How can we communicate the Gospel of Love in such a way that it will even begin to be heard with an open spirit?’”
10 Life-Charged Words offers the following thoughts in the final three pages.
- “Life-Charged men are men who let their song find its voice.” (p. 153)
- “The way that Christians live tells the truth about the gospel they profess to believe.” (p 154)
- “Our opportunity and our responsibility as followers of Jesus us to live in such a way that light and life spill out of us from the moment we wake up every morning and invite Jesus to live through us.” (p 154)
So what’s stopping us? – DEREK
There is no distinction between Jew and Greek, because the same Lord is Lord of all, who gives richly to all who call on him. All who call on the Lord’s name will be saved. So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, How beautiful are the feet of those who announce the good news. (Romans 10:12-15)
Today marks week #5 of my “video-post” experiment, so that’s where I’m putting my focus. If you’re one of those people who – thus far – have avoided clicking on the “video-blog” link, then please give it a quick look today.
I’m not trying to pretend I’m not a writer, because writing is my primary gift and will always be the defining element of this blog. That said, I’d really like to talk with you once in a while. But I’m limiting these videos – by design – to once-a-week and (give or take 30-seconds) 2-minutes in length.
TODAY’S CHALLENGE: This morning I’m sharing the story featured for today in my Lenten devotional book, Reaching Toward Easter. Lent, like a microcosm of all that it means to follow Jesus, is a journey between where we are at this moment and the transformational experience of Easter resurrection.
Each step of the journey, each new day, is loaded with the potential for growth. If I live with my eyes and my ears open, then I can be more clearly attuned to the voice of the Spirit of God. What is God planning to teach me today? I’ll never know if I don’t open my heart.
Click here for today’s video-post. Then – if you’re also reading Reaching Toward Easter - let me know if you picked up the small error I made telling the story on camera.
Love, peace, and God’s rich blessings – DEREK