Nov 4 2010

The Blessings

There’s one thing I need to clear up before I actually post what I’m about to post.  Although I currently use a drawing of Martin Luther as my Facebook photo and tend to quote Luther on occasion, I am not a Missouri Synod Lutheran (a more conservative Lutheran branch, which some have even called fundamentalist), or currently a Lutheran of any stripe.  This is not that Lutherans are bad, by any means. I was one (Lutheran Church in America) for my first 20 or so years.

For several years I have referred to myself as a Lutheran expatriate, and more recently as Episco-Lutheran.  I am not obsessed with Lutheran theology, but I do read it at times, because I really like to understand what different churches believe.  There are some things about Lutheran theology (Missouri Synod, at least) that I question, and a lot about the liberal Lutheran church that I question. Still, I think traditional Lutherans have a lot of things right; more than not right, actually.

So, Without Further Ado…

Occasionally I will watch short videos by a Missouri Synod Luther pastor, Jonathan Fisk, who is teaching through the Gospel texts used by the LCMS (some churches actually plan these things out many years in advance… go figure).  He’s entertaining, and pretty smart.

This week he goes off schedule to teach on the Beatitudes (you know, “blessed are the meek,” etc.).  He makes the point that these are not meant to be curses (“be poor, so I can bless you”) but actually blessings.  Furthermore, he introduces a concept that I think makes a lot of sense, based on a Hebrew poetic style, which would infer that Jesus was either really good, or that he actually thought out what he was saying ahead of time (again, go figure).

If you don’t actually want to watch 14 minutes of good Bible teaching, you can simply read what John H posts at the Confessing Evangelical blog. He summarize the content well.


Oct 16 2010

A Simple Faith

Christianity can seem pretty complicated, especially if you try to pay attention. There are way too many voices out there clamoring for your attention, each with their own intricately nuanced theology (even if they avoid using the word). Raise your hands if you’ve ever tried to figure out the four or five points of Calvinism, the modes of baptism, the differences between the “tribs” and “mills,” predestination vs free-will, or what the heck “emerging” means. It seems like it’s much easier to grasp the principles of quantum mechanics than justification or the trinity.

Sometimes it can be quite confusing just trying to figure out if you’re really saved. Were you baptized the right way? Did you pray the right prayer? Do you really have “saving” faith? And, are you saved forever, or just until you mess up again?

Is Christianity really that complex? Do we need a degree to be able to grasp the Gospel? Is intellectualism next to Godliness? Thankfully, Jesus did not say, “Unless you become a Ph.D., you cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Not once.

What Jesus did say was, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 18:3)” Earlier in Matthew, we read Jesus pray, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. (Matt. 11:25)”

I first remember these verses from listening to sermons as a young child, and they stuck with me. “Let the little children come to me. (Luke 18:16)” In a world where information was given to children on a “need to know” basis, here was Jesus putting children first, and telling the adults that children understand the Kingdom of God better than adults.

In the movie Hook, Robin Williams plays an older, wiser, Peter Pan, who has become so grown-up that he has forgotten who he is, and that the stories of his childhood he takes for fairy tales are really true. To save his children, and himself, he must “become as a little child,” remembering who he was, believing what he once believed.

In the adult world, skepticism is the key to knowledge; never accept anything at face value, question authority, look before you leap. Children haven’t yet learned to doubt; they simply understand that Jesus loves me, this I know.  I think that it’s not so much that children know something about God’s love that adults don’t. Rather, I think for children, God’s love is simply enough. When has God’s love simply been enough for us?

Certainly, it’s important to know a few things, like that Jesus is God’s son, and that he died and rose again to defeat sin and death forever. But, I’m not sure that the thief on the cross understood this — he definitely didn’t know about the resurrection — yet we know he made it to paradise. What did the woman at the well know about Jesus? Or what about all the people that Jesus healed?

The Bible is full of theology; that’s where theology comes from. Jesus taught theology, as did Paul and the other disciples. I’m all in favor of learning the Bible and theology. But if we lose what we had as children, we lose sight of the Kingdom.

Learn all you can. But let “Jesus loves me” be enough.

Questions:

  1. If you can, try to recall what you were like as a child of five or six. Thinking of the Gospel, what would have been enough for you?
  2. In growing and maturing, what have you lost?


Jun 25 2010

My Childhood God

Sometime tonight between wandering around Borders looking at NT Wright’s latest book as well as a collection of essays called “Belief” and walking out to my car, I had a very interesting revelation. As most really cool revelations go, I can’t really connect it to anything I saw or happened to be thinking about. In fact, I was probably thinking about going home and eating some ice cream, but that’s beside the point. The revelation was this: I believe in the same God I believed in as a child.

Seriously.

In spite of traveling in and out of various evangelical, charismatic, sometimes wacky, ancient liturgical, emergent, and boring intellectual Christian churches and groups, in spite of moving from liberal to conservative to something else, and in spite of being led through the 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 had folks try to get me to pray “the prayer” once again. I’ve had folks pray for me and try to knock me over. I’ve had people try to deliver me from evil. 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, too).  What I believe today about God is a product of my fifty-plus years of relationship with God. And, as it turns out, I was taught pretty well.

This post starts a new series, where I discuss the things I remember learning about God–and Christianity–as a child.  As I go on, I’d also like to hear about the things you were taught about God as a child, and how you believe today.  It should be fun.


Apr 10 2010

Easy Livin’

Just for fun – and following up on yesterday’s musical theology (and because I no longer have time to keep up my classic rock blog), here’s an oldie from the rock theologians at Uriah Heep: