Jun 19 2015

This I Know 2.0 – An Unapologetic Apologetic 

Over my nearly 60 years of life, I have had only a handful of revelations that have had a lasting impact on me. I can recall specific details about each experience and by and large they were fairly mundane, but the specific epiphanies would change how I saw things from that point on. I mention this only to provide a little background on one I had perhaps 5 years ago.

As with the others, this was not a Damascus Road experience; rather, it was more of an Emmaus Road revelation, like having a mist lifted so that you see more clearly where you are already walking. And, as much of my brilliant thoughts do, it came while I was thinking about something entirely unrelated.

My revelation was simply this: I still believed in the same God I believed in as a child.  

That’s it. 

It may seem underwhelming to you, but 5 years or so later, I am still aware of this reality. It is now foundational to who I am. 

Now, this doesn’t mean that I have simply maintained my death-grip on my childhood beliefs, because that’s not true. My theology has changed over the years – several times, in fact. I have been around the block, so to speak, more laps than most. While I, out of youth and ignorance, was impacted by various pop theologies and trends over the years, I have maintained my simple belief in God, and that Jesus loves me, this I know. I have rejected more doctrines and beliefs throughout my life than many people have ever encountered. Many were illogical in some form or other, some were stupid, and a few were just bat-shit crazy (that’s a common theological term). 

In spite of traveling in and out of various evangelical, charismatic, sometimes wacky, ancient liturgical, emergent, and often boring intellectual Christian churches and groups, in spite of moving from moderate to conservative to something else, and in spite of being led through a morass of theological trends, I believe in the same God I believed in as a child. 

I’ve had many, many people try to talk me out of it. I’ve been dispensationalized, fundamentalated, legalized, charismatized, jeopardized, and tribulated. I’ve gutted my library of trash theology more than once. And in the end, I believe in the same God I believed in as a child. 

Now, smart atheists will tell me this proves that religion is a product of our environment, that if I grew up believing in Some Other God, that’s who I’d believe in today. Granted, exposure is an obvious factor in belief. Paul says this himself in Romans 10:14, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?” However, I know many, many people who believe differently today than they did as children. Tons. So, I’d have to say that while I truly appreciate the fact that I was raised a Christian, I’d have to say that what I believe today is not because of what I believed as a child (I believed in Santa Claus then, too).  

Now, I have heard and read many testimonies of people who have rejected the beliefs they were raised with, and as a result they have concluded that they don’t believe in God. Some of them even have blogs where they love to talk about what they no longer believe. This unbelief in God is an understandable leap of logic, I guess, but generally I find that it’s lazy as well as illogical. I hear these stories and think, So what? I reject those things, too, but that doesn’t mean I don’t believe in God. You don’t reject all pizza because you don’t like anchovies.  

So back to the profundity of my revelation, specifically related to current belief and unbelief trends. When people are leaving the church and faith in droves, is it perhaps because they were never taught the truth about God in the first place? When the illogic and absurdity and hype and the control-freakism of religious traditions come crashing down, is there anything left to believe in?  

For me, there was. I rejected dispensationalism and God was the same. I rejected legalism and God was the same. I rejected penal substitutionary atonement and God was the same. I rejected literalism and God was the same. I rejected wacko-ism and God was the same. And in fact, not only was God the same, but it was specifically because God was the same that I rejected these errant beliefs.   

If I had to pick a theme song, I think it would be Sting’s If I Ever Lose My Faith. My faith is not in science or progress, or in a church, or theology, or, as odd as it sounds, even in the Bible. My faith is not in a political system or the definition of marriage. I don’t care if evolution is true or if there’s life on other planets. My faith is in God and the truth of the Gospel, that Jesus loves me, this I know. The same God, and same Gospel, I was taught as a child.   


Nov 24 2011

Thanks, part 2: Keeping on the Sunny Side

We all know the analogy about the half-full glass—or is it half-empty?

It is a fact that two people can look at the same set of facts and come away with much different ideas. The facts didn’t change; the difference is how the people interpret the facts. One of my favorite songs has become the old Carter Family classic, Keep on the Sunny Side:

Well there’s a dark and a troubled side of life.
There’s a bright and a sunny side too.
But if you meet with the darkness and strife,
The sunny side we also may view.

Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,
Keep on the sunny side of life.
It will help us every day, it will brighten all the way,
If we keep on the sunny side of life.

However, I think the difference between half-empty and half-full is more than simply keeping a positive attitude, or looking at the sunny side. I think it has to do with being thankful—or not.

We live in a culture which is increasingly focused on what we don’t have, and on the importance of equality as being defined as having what everyone else has.  The goal of advertising, politics, and even entertainment is to tell what what we don’t have, and to make us believe that we need something that only someone else can give us.

As the Colonel on MASH used to say, it’s horse-hockey.

The Bible tells us we have been given all things pertaining to life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). We have enough, and that’s a lot to be thankful for. Of course, if you want something other than that, you’re on your own. Being thankful for what is in your glass—or even that you have a glass in the first place—is a choice. It requires adjusting your focus.

There is “a dark and troubled side to life,” and we shouldn’t pretend it doesn’t exist. However, there is also a sunny side. When you keep on the sunny side by focusing and being thankful for what you’ve been given, you can still see the dark side, but it never looks quite as bad.


Nov 22 2011

Thanks

I haven’t posted anything here for a long time, which they say is the worst blogging sin you can commit.  Firmly committed to the principle of grace, I can only respond, “Oh, well.”  But, I’ve been thinking, which probably means eventually I’ll be writing again.  I do plan to continue my “This I Know” series, which focuses on the simple things of Christianity that I knew as a child, and which I still believe are true.

This post will probably be rewritten at some point as part of that series.

This weeks’ revelation

I occasionally have revelations, typically when I least expect them. That’s probably why they fall under the category of revelations. I had one yesterday. Contrary to the popular concept of revelations, the heavens didn’t open, I didn’t receive stone or golden tablets (or tablets of any kind), and I still don’t understand Lady Gaga. My revelation was more along the lines of a head-slapping, “I could have had a V8!” moment. It happened as I was not having a good day and there was very little chance of interpreting the glass as being half-full. My revelation was this:

Cast your cares upon him, as he cares for you. ~1 Peter 5:7

“Him,” by the way, refers to Jesus (I just had to clarify that in case someone took this to mean I had suddenly come to embrace Obamacare.  And no, having a revelation of this sort does nothing to inhibit my tendency towards sarcasm.).

I have to say, I felt a bit foolish, as I have known this verse since I was a child. It’s so incredibly obvious that for this to be considered a revelation, I must be particularly dull. And, perhaps experiencing some adult-onset ADS, I began to appreciate the play on words in this particular translation. “Anxiety” just doesn’t have the same impact as the double use of “cares.”

It is impossible for us to say that we have no one to turn to, as Jesus is always standing there with an implied “What am I, chopped liver?” response.  There are those who will point out that talking to Jesus is not the same as talking to someone you can touch; however, I’ve never been inclined to touch most of my friends anyway. Atheists can refuse to believe he exists, but their failure to believe doesn’t change the truth of the verse. Likewise, our forgetfulness doesn’t change the fact that Jesus is there, ready to take our yoke, carry our burdens, and so on.

For this, I am thankful.

Count your blessings

As a kid, my dad would always frustrate me with that “count your blessings” thing. Often, I didn’t want to count my blessings, as I knew that I would have to let go of my grumbling and complaining to do so. It’s impossible to do both at the same time. Even if we try, acknowledging that something is a blessing—something that we have received through grace, for which we have to be thankful—causes us to have to let go of our negativity.

This doesn’t mean that we will automatically be free from our anxieties, but being thankful does point us in the right direction.

Thanks

This Thursday is Thanksgiving, probably the only holiday that is permanently fixed on a Thursday rather than on a numerical day of the month. This is not really pertinent to my topic, but I do find it interesting. Why Thursday, except to kick off a 4-day weekend? Thanksgiving is not strictly a religious holiday, although it does presume that there is Someone to thank.  You could, I guess thank yourself for everything you’ve accomplished, or sit around and thank each other. You could thank your employer for the paychecks,  and you could thank the government for the roads and so on, and I suppose you could thank universe for kicking things off with a Big Bang. But, it’s not the same.

Thanksgiving traditionally commemorates the mythological First Thanksgiving (not that it can’t be true, but mythological in the sense that it has come to represent something larger than itself), where the Pilgrims threw a feast to celebrate being alive after a difficult 1st year in the new world, and gave thanks to God the provider for what they had been given.

Being thankful—whether we like it or not, or whether we acknowledge it or not—points us toward our creator and provider. And, for those of us who can acknowledge Jesus the source of all good things, it puts us in the perfect position to cast our cares on him.

I have a lot to be thankful for. Without getting too personal, I’ll just say that I’m happy to be here. Today is my son’s birthday, and I’m thankful for him. I’m thankful for my non-birthday kids, too. I’m thankful for my wife, and for the family members that are still with us (I’ve lost a few over the years). I’m thankful for God’s provision, and a lot of other things I won’t mention, specifically the banjo.

Now that I’m older, and hopefully a bit wiser, I have learned that I don’t like to grumble and complain. No one will listen to me anyway. I’d actually much rather be thankful. I like counting my blessings, one by one. It makes me feel better, and keeps me from getting wacked out over things that won’t matter 10 years from now.

The real meaning of Thanksgiving

People always talk about “the real meaning of Christmas,” but no one ever talks about the real meaning of Thanksgiving. It’s not football, or turkey, or shopping. It’s also not about family, as good as family is. The real importance of Thanksgiving is having a day set aside to reorient ourselves toward the only one who will actually catch our cares should we decide to cast them in his direction.

And that, Charlie Brown, is what Thanksgiving is all about.

 


Feb 10 2011

The Kingdom is for Children

I’ve mentioned before that one of my favorite hymns is Children of the Heavenly Father, by Karolina W. Sandell-Berg:

Children of the Heavenly Father
Safely in His bosom gather
Nestling bird nor star in heaven
Such a refuge e’er was given

This hymn—as it should—echoes a prevalent theme in the Gospels: Jesus (and Heaven) is for children. Sitting in the pew with all of the adults, in my clip-on tie and shiny black shoes, it was always reassuring to hear Jesus say things like, “Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them (Luke 18:16).”

The story goes like this: People were bringing their children to Jesus, so that he could bless them. However, the disciples, in their well-intentioned cluelessness, began turning them away. I understand this, I really do. Kids can certainly be a bother, especially when we’re being selfish. The disciples were doing nothing that many other adults have done.

From W.C. Fields’ famous “Go away kid, you bother me” to “children should be seen and not heard,” it’s easy for kids to get the notion that they are 2nd class citizens. The adults drink coffee and discus religion and politics, while the children make too much noise and need too much assistance. If we’re being truthful, we must admit that children are a lot of work and can be very distracting. I suspect that often, Sunday School programs are set up for this very reason—to keep children occupied elsewhere—not because there’s a true desire to teach them anything (if you’ve ever read through Sunday School curriculums, you’ll have to agree with me—there’s not a lot of real meat in there).

However, here’s Jesus, telling the disciples, “don’t you dare send these children away, for the Kingdom belongs to them.” Serious? The Kingdom of Heaven is for children? Furthermore, he says, that adults must become as children in order to even enter the Kingdom. Whoa! Jesus just turns the whole social order, as it involves children, upside-down.

Another story, found the three synoptic Gospels, tells of Jesus teaching about the Kingdom. He picks out a child from the crowd, and again says,

“Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened round his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matt. 18:1-6).

I get the idea that children don’t necessarily need to be converted; that is, they believe in Jesus easily, and they seem to a fast track into the Kingdom. It is the adults who need to be converted from their adult thinking and attitudes. Fancy doctrines and theology are fine; however, real theology appears to be one which says simply, “I believe in Jesus.”

The Kingdom belongs to such as these.

  1. What did you believe as a child?  Why?
  2. How does one who has “matured” become as a little child?