Tag Archives: Bible

Awkward: Did you stop reading the Bible Jenna Hamilton?

I have been watching MTV for 34 years. (My devotion will not help the network’s pursuit of the 12-34-year-olds it targets). I watch it:

  • Because I am regularly entertained — like by my latest TV-binge Awkward,
  • I want to know what the youth of the nation are being fed instead of the Bible.

How many of the youth MTV is still feeding is under dispute. The network has been recently punished in the cable ratings — down 29 percent in 2015. But their Facebook fan base is 48 million compared to Fox News’ 10 million and Fox has a much bigger cable rating number. It is hard to measure what people are doing on their phones and computers. But it looks like they consume a lot of MTV.

THAT GIRL STILLS MTV LAUREN IUNGERICH
What first made Jenna “that girl”

MTV is not kind to Christians, most of the time, although one or two did come off relatively well on Real World, back in the day. In Awkward, the Christian girl has a closeted gay dad, a judgmental mom and is consistently stupid and fearful. But then the outlook of teens on Awkward is not kind to most people and sees most adults as especially useless. As far as these MTV teens are concerned, what is important is not being awkward, succeeding at something, and fitting in – and having sex. For instance, Jenna Hamilton, the lead character, has an unusual opportunity to have her first sexual experience with her impossible crush, Matty, and then finds out he wants to keep their relationship a secret because she is so uncool. She thinks: “With my v-card safely tucked away in his back pocket….he hit me with ‘but nobody can know that I like you.’ So…I was still Jenna Hamilton.”

So how does one get into a dialogue about the Bible with Jenna Hamilton? Just asking that sounds sort of uncool, right? Is she and all her friends fully plugged in and not listening outside their cocoon? Are they hypervigilant against anyone telling them that anything but what they feel might be relevant? Are all adults useless? I have a lot of questions that, well, make me feel awkward. Especially when I want to talk about the Bible, does that make me even more useless, like that Christian girl on Awkward? I probably am a Barney (a dork, a nerd boy, or a goober; guys with whom you don’t want to be seen with in public — there is a wiki).

Continue reading Awkward: Did you stop reading the Bible Jenna Hamilton?

Redux #6 — What if I don't feel God anymore?

At the beginning of the year I am reposting “top ten” entries. On Friday, I’m reminding people about some posts before 2014 that people have kept reading — there is a “top ten” of them! Here is #6

In September of 2012 I tried to encourage people to change when change was upon them, not hold on to their past and die off, spiritually.

The film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, is parable about gaining faith. It helps us answer a question people sometimes whisper, “What if I don’t feel God anymore?” What if I feel like I am losing faith or am destined for faith mediocrity? What if what excited me doesn’t move me anymore? What if I am trying to feel God and it is not working?

In the film, Ewan McGregor plays a surly bureaucrat from the fish and game department. He is unsatisfied with his life and his wife, emotionally cut off, and isolated from his colleagues at work. In a strange turn of events, his life is invaded by a charismatic, visionary sheikh and the sheikh’s sexy wealth-manager. Things begin to change. For one thing, Ewan’s love of salmon fishing ends up being a metaphor for his own transformation.

Continue reading Redux #6 — What if I don't feel God anymore?

Redux #10 — Six Things I Did in My 20’s that Made All the Difference

At the beginning of the year I want to repost “top ten” posts. On Friday, I’m reminding people about some posts before 2014 that people have kept reading — there is a “top ten” of them!

This one is about all the important things I did in my twenties that have served me well throughout my life. Like it or not, in our twenties we seem to harden into what our next twenty years are going to look like. If you want to be a faithful person, start now. Something is going to harden you into your adult self — better that it is Jesus.

What if I don’t feel God anymore?: Ewan McGregor on spiritual development

The film, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, is parable about gaining faith. It helps us answer a question people sometimes surreptitiously ask, “What if I don’t feel God anymore?” What if I feel like a mundane Christian destined for mediocrity? What if what excited me doesn’t? What if I am trying to feel God and it is not working?

In the film, Ewan McGregor plays a surly bureaucrat from the fish and game department who is unsatisfied with his life and his wife, emotionally cut off and cut off from relationships with his colleagues. When his life is invaded by a charismatic, visionary sheik and the sheik’s wealth-managing, sexy assistant, things begin to transform. For one thing, Ewan’s love of salmon fishing ends up being a metaphor for his own change.

The movie is a somewhat odd story about getting salmon to thrive and reproduce in the Yemeni desert. At one crucial point, they have created a lake and a fish ladder and they have stocked the lake with farm-bred salmon (because the wild fish were too precious for enthusiasts to part with). The farm-bred fish are like Ewan McGregor, staid and stuck in a holding tank — Ewan has sat in his cubicle for a long time not really doing anything; he has sat in his depressing marriage not having children and not really making love. The question about these farm-bred salmon is: will they swim upstream, as salmon instinctively must do to reproduce?

As with all good parables, you are already asking the question: “Will I?”

They tensely watch from the dam and are sure their whole, huge experiment is a bust. But right when they are ready to give up, one salmon leaps out of the water and soon all of them are turning around and getting up the ladder and up the stream. Excitement ensues.

But then something horrible happens. Just like Ewan experienced in the middle of his new project when his wife decided to leave him, some person who thinks the sheik is a liberal threat to Yemeni culture blows up the dam and most of the fish are left high and dry. Just a little creek is left of the water project. They are sure all is lost. Ewan does not know what to do. But as he despondently looks over the project, one lone, surviving fish leaps in the air. They were not all killed! A lot died, but something new hung on. Their previous idea for the water project was still in pieces, but a new and better result sprang up from ruins of their work.

Ewan felt like a dried up scientist destined for the mundane. He tried something new and it didn’t work just right and he did not know what to do. Something unexpected took place as a result of him taking some initiative. He endured the loss of what was and entered into what is next.

If you don’t feel God, that is probably what is happening to you.

First of all, no one can really answer the questions, “What if I don’t feel God anymore?” because you are precious you. One size does not fit all when it comes to faith.

Second of all, I have some ideas about what might be going on. Don’t give up!

1)  Your childhood faith might be wearing out. It usually needs to move from head to heart.

I use the running the bases chart to talk about how we know God. It implies that we are always developing. That is a good thing, even though it includes feeling the uncertainty of moving further and the loss of standing safely on a base. The “game” is ongoing.

A lot of Christians only get to first base when it comes to understanding God. They have kind of a teenager faith. Many people come to faith when they are teenagers and they never get much farther than their original understanding. If you don’t experience the presence of God, maybe God moved on and you stopped following!

Old feelings pass away, but deeper feelings are in store. Spiritual “feelings” that are deeper than the reactions we learned in childhood are being developed in our much larger and deeper new eternal family.

2) You are going through a change of season and you need some new disciplines.

Just think about what is the center of having a “first base” faith in Jesus: knowing the Bible. It is quite a feat to achieve a basic understanding of what Jesus is talking about, much more to feel secure about the way you are going to do the word.  It takes a lot of concentration to just get started. It might be tempting to stay on the first base of faith, or second, or wherever you are, even though that season is over.

In the case of reading the Bible, it can’t stay at the level of merely understanding concepts. For instance, the Bible leads us to the basic disciplines of meditation and prayer. From reading the Bible we gain a collection of basic approaches to laying a personal, spiritual foundation that must accompany our reading. Meditating on the Bible saturates us with the truth and love that is revealed. We’re not just reading the words, we are responding to God and forming our relationship.

If that relationship does not keep changing and growing, something is stuck. In a new season we are called to run the bases at a deeper level. Our original idea of what they meant, as good as it might have been, turns out to have something deeper behind it.

3) You are experiencing psychological development

In our relationships with God we are always working on basic trust. We develop in the Spirit a lot like children develop in their families. Rather than milk we need solid food. Eventually, we need to develop agency. We have to endure losses and become adult. What doesn’t kill us helps us grow.

If you are wondering why you don’t feel God, it could be depression or anxiety talking. These symptoms are friends that alert us to deeper things happening in our souls. They are signposts of change. The uncomfortable feelings we often prefer to avoid are actually important to our spiritual development. The destruction of dams we thought should never be blown up often results in something better we never could have predicted.

Close relationships and young marriages often go through a lot of anger and hurt as the partners push one another to develop. When children are added to a family they push people farther. Losing one’s job or losing a loved one calls us to become deeper, to trust God. We need to listen to our anger, listen to the sadness and other feelings behind it and find out what it developing. Let’s not merely fight, flee or freeze in a self-defeating way, our typical way, the old way. Jesus is a new way.

Thinking over a parable, reading this blog post, relating to what is said, trying to stay open to God (even if you think your relationship is in a holding tank that feels less than fresh), are all ways to start moving in a new direction. You have spiritual instincts that are always ready to kick in.

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Six Things I Did in My 20’s that Made All the Difference

Cake for the twentiesWhen I was on retreat last week I had a moment of wonder as my memory wandered back to my twenties. Some days I remember myself as the world’s dumbest 21-year old! So many of my present twentysomething friends seem so much better off than I was! As far as my soul is concerned I think it was like I was a spiritual refugee in my twenties who washed up onto the shores of Christianity. I made some big mistakes as I haltingly made my way into the strange new land of Jesus. But the good thing is that I also did not know that I shouldn’t adopt what appeared to be the best things about the ancient culture of my new homeland. I just kind of did things without a lot of insight or direction as I settled in. I “somehow” happened upon things that proved to be astoundingly important. Here are six things I did that have shaped my life for the better ever since.

I learned to live simply on purpose.

I was very poor. But I decided to stay that way on purpose. My cause was world hunger, apart from the mission of the church. Every extra penny I could get was designed to go to people who were starving. I became committed to not eating up other people’s resources in general. I ended up learning about the historic Christian discipline and even spiritual gift of voluntary poverty. It seemed strange then and it does now. But I managed to miss ever being tempted to live off fast food or to waste money on things that were meaningless. My resources have been purposefully used and that feels good.

I received the Spirit.

I was also poor in Spirit. “Receiving the Spirit” is what Pentecostals tell you to do to have a REALLY personal relationship with Jesus. I kept shooting for that no matter how uncool it seemed (and it did). A lot of Pentecostals are weird. But the best of them are radicals. If the Apostle Paul says “Be filled with the Spirit,” they are going to go for that. As I look back on it, some of their theology is so wrong that I’m glad I wasn’t paying very good attention! What I got was that I could and should have some experience of God’s Spirit in my life. I opened up to that and I met God personally. I thought it was thrilling then. I did not realize just how much more experience there was.

I conformed my lifestyle to the Bible.

“My lifestyle” is a pernicious phrase, it is so egocentric. But I was very egocentric in my twenties. I was forming my “lifestyle.” I was determined to be the best Christian possible and my teachers were all about the Bible. Thank God for teachers who got me to study the Bible! I’m not sure how they did it, but I sure thought knowing the Bible was crucial. I spent something like seven years doing 2PROAPT (which I still recommend to people) as my daily act of devotion. I got the basic material down. I must have pondered almost every line in the New Testament and tried to “apply” each of them “to my life,” as we said. I did not understand everything I should do about the Bible. But I filled my mind with the raw material of transformation that I have been using ever since. What’s more, I had a life-forming dialogue with the Bible writers about what is important and how I should live that formed my ability to keep having that dialogue.

I got married and had children, in that order.

These days, people are either wiser or more controlling, I can’t tell for sure. They wait a lot longer to get married. I did not wait. At age twenty, if I was dumb or dumbstruck about anything, it was the blessing of Gwen. And, I must admit, I became her very dumb husband at twenty-one. I knew very little about sex, myself, relationships, intimacy – name anything that would make me a decent partner. But being married improved me when I was available to be improved. Love shaped me instead of my career or my personal desires. Add the children on to that (I had four by the time I was 29) and that just deepened the requirement for me to learn how to love someone and to be responsible for something other than what moved me or pleased me. I don’t think I was too conscious of the benefits of my choice, but, as it turns out, it was nice to get a head start on being a grown up.

I lived communally.

In my late twenties we formed an intentional community that lasted for eight years and often had upwards to twenty people in it. Within that group of dear people I did some of my deepest formation and some of my stupidest things. It was a wonderful, irreplaceable experience. Even the people I lived with who are now geographically distant still feel like relatives. I think that is how the church should be. We took Acts 2 (see “I conformed my lifestyle to the Bible,” above) and decided to do it. Our “household” was a great environment in which to practice simplicity, too. Looking back, I think it was best for doing theology. We sat with each others for hours figuring out what God wanted us to do. Each year we would re-write our “statement of formation;” they are one-page works of theological art. When I was getting my first license with the BIC, I sat down with my household and asked them, “Here are the questions they are asking. What do I believe?” They could tell me. Christians don’t do much that is more countercultural than submitting themselves to love. Doing that with intention in my twenties shaped me.

I protested things.

It might be that if you never get over the edge to become a protester in your twenties, you lose the capability. Living simply in community was something of a protest in itself. Being Pentecostal was a statement, too. But I am talking about coming up against political philosophies and government actions that steer people toward destruction. I wanted to do something about hunger. I got (symbolically) arrested for trespassing on the weapons testing site in Nevada a few times. We picketed a new abortion clinic. We complained about Ronald Reagan. I evangelized, which, in itself, is a direct confrontation with the powers that be. I am glad I “got over the edge.” Getting over my fear of being vocal about my faith needed to get an early start. I think it helped to develop the habit of pushing against my fears before my brain hardened into the  habit of not doing faith that way.

There are probably more things that could be noted, of course. You are probably doing other things that you will note later. These are just the things that came to mind last week. I offer them as encouragement to my many 20something friends, many of whom are so much more mature than I was. I hope you don’t give up. If you are doing something that seems crazy for Jesus, now, it might be the very thing that will have made all the difference in thirty years. Do the best, most spiritual, most Christ-following thing you can think of doing with the capacity you have. You are equipping yourself to keep doing the word for the rest of your life. If you’re not twentysomething anymore, at least we’re not dead yet – neither is Jesus. Maybe some wild or difficult thing we are doing for love or truth right now will be very memorable in a few years!

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Exodus 15: God’s changeless love, intervention and development

We had a couple of perennial questions arise at our cell last week. We were reading Exodus 15, which is a great paean to victory. God intervenes on behalf of the escaping Israelites and drowns Pharaoh’s army in the sea — the women dance and sing.

When certain Old Testament tales are considered, three questions regularly arise:

1) You are always talking about love. The God of the Old Testament hardly looks universally loving. What’s with that?
2) A big change seems to have taken place between the Old and New Testaments, what am I to think about God and the Bible?
3) I’ve been taught that God never changes. If God has actually developed a new kind of love, isn’t that wrong?

Lately, it seems like I have become audacious enough to attempt answers to giant questions in a blog post. This is another of those attempts. I won’t get too far, but I want to stay in the dialogue.

Let’s talk about God’s love

What people call love these days is often social tolerance (“Love me, love Slovenia”) or consumer preference (“I love Cheetos. I am part of the Frito Lay community”). People think God loves like they do  and then get mad at him for being out of line. Given the way a lot of people think about “love” these days, when God intervenes in anyone’s life with any kind of judgment or strategy that seems WAY out of line.  So Exodus causes problems.

Intervention looks like intolerance. People might ask: “Why would God be on Israel’s side?  If the Pharaoh’s soldiers were just doing their jobs, why would God kill them for it?” Their questions are based on a “democratic” idea that love is protecting someone’s right to be themselves.

Intervention looks like a denial of choice.  People might ask, “Why would God get in the middle of people making their choices and be so domineering?”  Their questions are asked assuming everyone is a consumer following the invisible hand of the marketplace, not the personal hand of God.

We’re all about expertise and politcs, these days, but God’s passion for the redemption and health of creation is more complex than social and economic theories. His love is not subject to such theories. But that doesn’t mean we can’t understand him; God’s purposes are hardly secret. God is well known and her plans for humanity have even been written down for about 3000 years. His invitation to love has been consistent. Should she violate the most recent philosophy that has arisen to oppose him or debunk her, that would not be unusual.

If your issue is, specifically, how God’s love and Old Testament violence goes together, a nice piece on what God is doing in relation to all the violence in the Bible can be found here: http://fromhousetohouse.wordpress.com/war-in-the-old-testament-a-journey-toward-nonparticipation/

God in the Old and New Testament

Merely comparing and contrasting pieces of the Bible, is not listening very carefully to the Holy Spirit; it is more like Sesame St. characters trying to teach us that “one of these things is not like the other.” I think it is much better to think of the scripture in more relational terms. We should think of God as a parent, like Jesus does, not as an abstraction, like modern science might  (or like Greek philosophy, for that matter).  Then it is easier to understand how the scripture relates to us.

God is not a static thing, and human undeerstanding of how to relate to God is growing. Creation was designed to grow and change, and God is responding accordingly. The scripture notes all that movement and variation. Talking to different eras of the world, as scripture does, is like talking to different cultures today — Nigeria is not Thailand, but believers are having a fine time with God in both places. What’s more, you are probably reading this paragraph with a different emphasis than someone else. If we wrote down all the different emphases, that wouldn’t mean that I was different.  What is consistent, among many things,  from the beginning to the end in the Bible, is the theme of being freed from slavery to people, to sin and to death. That goal is fulfilled in Jesus — there is not a difference, but there is a development.

God is love. But God’s goals are not necessarily for everyone to feel loved. The creation is tested by sin and is facing death.  The goal is salvation. The need is redemption. We may often be like toddlers who need basic convincing that we are safe; I think the Lord is all for that. But we are designed to grow up into our fullness as embodied spirits, which includes seeing history as God sees it and finding our place in it. Seeing the Testaments as a flat study in character development rather than a testament of God’s work over thousands of years of history is too tiny. Testing the material to see whether God can be trusted, rather than seeing how God has shown his passion for us again and again, is too small.

Does God change?

Clark Pinnock wrote a controversial book not long ago that I liked. He debunked the Greekified notion that God is Aristotle’s unmoved mover. Instead he posited that God’s covenant with us made him the most-moved mover.  Relating to God as if he were an element on the periodic table is strange.

God’s character and goals are consistent. He actively, personally holds the universe together. He can and will create and end time as we know it. He has developed in relationship with us as a species as we have developed. He changed the universe when we were created, which changed his experience, as well. Reducing God to a predictable, changeless definition, rather than a living, generative Spirit, may be comforting in some small way, but it is not true enough.

These thoughts probably don’t go far enough, but I am convinced the Holy Spirit of God will enlighten us if we keep in dialogue with God and his people. In our Men’s meeting last night, we were talking about what wisdom we might have to offer to the next generation. We had a lot to think about. But one thing was for sure — this generation is passionately engaged with principles that are not revealed as God’s way; they are fairly ignorant about God’s cross-bound love. No matter how inadequate we feel to speak back to the onslaught of antichrist thinking, we need to stay in the dialogue, and pray. God will amplify what little wisdom we have. I hope this little bit helps with the development.

Running the Bases: Revised

We need to know how we know things. This became clear again, lately, as some of my friends needed to make big decisions. They did not have as many resources for discernment as they wished they had! A couple of times we got out the old baseball diamond chart and tried to “run the bases” a few times to figure something out.

bases

The chart offers a way to simplify the process of making decisions — discerning what we need to know. At its most basic level of interpretation the chart is about coming to understand what we consciously know, at this point, about what God is saying to us, and how we might sort that out.

The creation – We start as creatures in God’s creation, with instincts about what is good and bad, safe and dangerous, beautiful and ugly, etc. Some people might call what we do at this base an appreciation of “natural law.” We can know a lot about what God is trying to say by sitting on the beach looking at the ocean. One can read deep things about God by sitting with a leaf for a while.

Note: People or institutions that never get off home plate aren’t in the game much; they tend to think being a creature, interpreting “reality” from their own vantage point is all there is!

The Bible —  The revelation recorded in the Bible is like first base, our elementary, basic teaching about what God says and how to do the word. It is the basis of our tribe’s “lore” — our understanding about life, our tradition, history and ritual. It is the tried and true compendium from the spiritual ancestors validated by the present-day confirmation of the Spirit. Our practical, historical, and accountable understanding of God starts here. The Bible is mother’s milk to spiritual babes; and everyone comes to God as a child.

Note: People or institutions that live on first base might be a bit infantile.

The Body – The Church is like second base; it includes first base and started at home. In the church we have an ongoing dialogue that continues to process the word we have received and to incorporate further revelation. By speaking the truth in love our critical thinking is engaged. We discern-things-through with one another. In this way the body of Christ allows us to grow into more “teenage” thinking. We need a place where we can dare to be someone while still in a secure environment.

Note: People or institutions that stay on second base can end up designed for endless argument, just like teens seem to be.

The Spirit – A deepening person-to-person relationship with God is like getting to third base. We have to consider how God is directly speaking to us. We need to develop confidence that our thoughts and feelings coincide with God’s character and actions. We need to relate to God. We have experiences like Paul meeting Jesus on the road to Damascus, or Matthew hearing Jesus call him to follow, or the woman at the well hearing her deepest secrets and needs touched. We long for a daily sense of discernment and direction– a sense that we know and appreciate God for who God is.

Note: People or institutions who camp on third base can be so subjective that their conclusions can ultimately be more about themselves than God.

After “running” we get back to home with a deeper understanding of our place in creation and our mission in the re-creation. Chances are, we will be running the bases again to sort out some new thought or circumstance. We hunger to keep moving with God and keep receiving from God all the gifts of knowledge, wisdom and vision we are given through every “base.”

Obviously, what I’ve said so far is a somewhat superficial idea about the complexity of thinking. It is mainly on a rational level. Lately I have thought I should be considering how to run the bases like an organism that is more than a brain. We listen and learn with our emotions and our new spiritual instincts as well as our minds. So “running the bases” should reflect how we love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength.

The creation – I need to consider how I work as the creature I am. I am a peculiar creation with a way about me that is natural for me. I should honor that and live out of my new self with confidence.

The Bible – Reading the Bible is not just about understanding concepts. The Bible leads us to the basic disciplines of meditation and prayer. I need a collection of disciplines that help my inner being conform to the revelation I read or am taught, so I am saturated with the truth and love that is revealed. I am doing the word, not just hearing it. I am responding to God’s word to me, obeying, developing not just collecting thoughts.

The Body – My place in the body is elemental to my knowledge of God. Here I receive spiritual direction from caring people who know me. Here I test out my gifts and prove my value. From here I launch into mission. In the process of building, I am built. There is no ultimate knowledge outside God’s family.

The Spirit – I have an entire, spiritual side to me that is being discovered. God may lead me through new impulses, through visions. My dreams may come to have deeper meaning. I may receive words of prophecy, even the ability to heal. My daily experience of life has changed, so that everything has meaning. I can learn from every moment, every person, every discourse.

I put out this very basic thinking to encourage anyone who is listening to run the bases a few times today at various levels. Almost any subject can benefit from some Spirit-to-spirit mentalizing: What should I do about my marriage? How should I enter into the meeting at work today? How is God responding to the fear I am feeling? What should I do next?

God bless you as you do some spiritual huffing and puffing around the diamond.

[For a nice treatment of a lot of this, pick up Wilkie and Noreen Au’s The Discerning Heart]