Monday, April 18, 2011

Joining the Conversation

I started reading "Love Wins" today. I know there has been a lot of conversation on this new book by Rob Bell, and I've even joined in on a number of occasions. In fact, I've noticed a trend within these discussions, whether they're casual conversations with a group of friends, or reviews and blogs that offer their take on the whole thing. That trend is this - it seems that those who have already dismissed Bell as a heretic simply claimed this book, on premise alone, as all the evidence they needed to convince the rest of us; many of these critiques and assessments offered before they'd even read the book.

On the other had, you have those who've read and listened to Bell for years, and have enjoyed his ministry in one way or another. There can be a tendency in that position to dismiss the criticism by virtue of their affinity for Bell.

Then there's me, and those like me, who've enjoyed Bell's other works and have been challenged under his teaching, but aren't sure where to land in the midst of all this. The temptation is to read the reviews and form an opinion based on those, alone. I found myself on the verge of doing just that, wondering if I should pull all the Nooma videos from our small group library and burn my copies of Velvet Elvis and Sex God (a couple of other books by Bell). 

Here's where I am right now. Bell has remained a little cryptic in his interviews, and doesn't seem to want to answer the direct questions that would make a lot of us sleep a little better, knowing we have a "LOVE WINS" decal displayed in our office. But maybe he shouldn't have to. Before we can really offer our thoughts and opinions - before we can really join the conversation - we should probably just read the book. If we're not willing to do that, then we need to be very careful not to let the opinions of others, however biased they may be, shape our opinions to a point where we criticize - or even dismiss - the work of another man's ministry.

Here's another thought. I'm not reading the book to justify a position for or against Bell; I'm reading the book to see what it can teach me. If it makes me question some of my beliefs, then great! There's an opportunity for me to grow (and I believe that was Bell's intent all along). But I really have very little interest in spending much time trying to defame another man and his ministry, or exalting it, for that matter. Only in America (and maybe a few other places) do we have the luxury of debating another man's theology. I'm pretty sure Christians in China could care less... I'm guessing they have far more important things to worry about. But then, so should we.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Open House

Romans 6:5
"Since we have been united with him in his death, we will also be raised to life as he was."
Chambers offers great insight related to this passage:
"The Holy Spirit cannot be accepted as a guest in merely one room of the house - He invades all of it."
Being united with Christ in his death is an act of surrender, an invitation for the Holy Spirit to reside within us. Being raised to life is what follows as we submit to His authority. But that submission must be complete... there can be nothing withheld as our own, no room in our houses kept locked.

I know that I'm a better man than I was ten years ago. I'm a better husband, father, leader... I'm even a better guitarist than I was ten years (not that it matters much). But I know there are still dark, dusty, cluttered rooms that I've kept under lock and key. There have even been times when I've sensed the Lord trying to teach me something, seeking to invade those restricted rooms, and I've checked the bolt and chain to ensure their security.

If I want to know this new life that Christ's death and resurrection offer, then I must have an open house, granting him full access to even the most hidden and messy areas of my life; allowing him entrance even to the rooms that I claim as mine (my man caves, as they were).

The question I ask myself is this: why do I lock the doors to those rooms, when he only wants to come in and clean things up... maybe even do a little remodeling? An open house can only lead to a better house.

We hold on to things because we like them the way they are. We fear change. We may even worry that giving God the keys to all the rooms will mean that we have to give up the things we really enjoy. But God doesn't want to hamper my life... he wants to raise me to new life. I need to start handing over some keys.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Thirteen Years Ago

On a date last night (April 8, 2011), Amanda and I ended up at an old familiar bookstore that, like so many other businesses in this economy, is closing their doors. As we walked into the Borders I was suddenly reminded that Amanda and I had visited that very store on our first date thirteen years ago - almost to the day (April 9, 1998). What's funny is that we hadn't been to Borders in years, and only went last night with the hopes of finding good deals in their closeout sale. The realization of the significance of the dates put everything into a new perspective.

Bookstores have been a part of our dating routine from the very beginning, and I didn't even realize it until last night. It was also just another sad reminder of how things change, and parts of our lives that we want to take for granted just simply cannot last. I've already posted about the closing of my college, but there are several other places of significance, from childhood into my adult years, that have closed or changed beyond recognition. The world is moving on all around me, which makes me ever more thankful for the moments I have... moments like date nights with my wife, family nights with the kids. The places may change or go away, but those moments are worth sharing... and remembering.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Agony of Deceit

Matthew 26:36-39
"Then Jesus went with them to the olive grove called Gethsemane, and he said, 'Sit here while I go over there to pray.' He took Peter and Zebedee's two sons, James and John, and he became anguished and distressed. He told them, 'My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.' He went on a little farther and bowed with his face to the ground, praying, 'My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want our will to be done, not mine.'"
This has been one of my favorite passages for a very long time. There's something about this scene that I find so moving and altogether inspiring. Jesus, the Son of God, wrestling with the mission and calling God had placed on his life. It's such a vivid picture of his humanity.

In my reading this morning, I reflected on what was really happening in the garden as Jesus faced the final hours of his earthly life. I believe Satan was present in those moments. Earlier in Jesus' ministry, we have record of Satan tempting Jesus in the wilderness. At the close of that passage we see that Satan, having been unsuccessful in his attempts to lure Jesus to sin, left him until the next opportunity came (Luke 4:13). And now, at the end of his earthly ministry, we have record of Jesus coming to grips with the magnitude of his mission - he's in agony; crushed with grief to the point of death. He even pleads that it be taken away. Why? Was it simply in anticipation of his death, or was there more going on?

I believe that in those moments Satan found his next opportunity, attempting to cripple God's plan of salvation by whispering: You can't do this, Jesus. The pain and agony of crucifixion is more than you can physically bear. And for what? Men will still curse you and reject you. And perhaps his most compelling argument: You don't have to do this, Jesus. There's a way out... you can opt out of this. Don't do this Jesus!

How many times have we been waylaid in our obedience to Christ because we listened to the enemy's whispers: You can't do this. And besides, you don't have to! There's a way out! We wrestle and reason with God until we feel justified to take our own way out, avoiding the sometimes difficult and painful road of obedience. Instead we opt for the agony of deceit - the painful consequences of living outside of the will of God.

Jesus wrestled with the deceit of the enemy, but never wavered in his surrender and total obedience to God, finally declaring your will be done! What a triumph! Man, I so want to live in that victory... to be fully surrendered to God, even to the point of denying myself in obedience to him.