The Most Annoying Thing Your Father Said That Ended Up Being True, Or Free Post See Inside For Details

Usually when you hear the age old phrase “Nothing in life is free” it’s a way of saying “though they’re giving you a free smart phone they want a 2 year contract along with the exorbitant monthly fee,” or “though it’s a delicious sausage they’re going to try to make you a member of the Constitution Party.” It’s a solid principle – basically nothing in life is just given out – there is always a catch.

The cute saying that causes you to roll your eyes every time your dad says is onto something.

I remember in high school praying for the answer to a test question because I just had no clue at all when I stopped to think – would God really rescue me from not studying for a test?

I do believe God’s grace is free and you have to do nothing to earn it. Like really, nothing. Yet if you want redemption, if you want restoration, you have to go through hell to get there. I think we get fooled by stories of God’s freely given grace and God coming suddenly to make the world whole in an instant – we get to thinking that God takes care of everything. We get to thinking it comes free.

I tell my clients in drug and alcohol recovery that they intense high they got wasn’t free considering the tremendous toll it takes on the body. You don’t just get that feeling of ecstasy for nothin’.

While many Christians seek to shelter themselves from the sinfulness of the world, the only way to transform it is to march into it dead on. Similarly our personal growth comes at a cost – the death of old parts of us.

I find I need this reminder often – for some reason I expect all good and none of the bad. And that just ain’t how it works. But in some mysterious way this makes life all the more interesting and enrapturing.

How To Make Your Christian Book A Sensation, Or Religious Hangovers

Last week I wrote about John MacArthur’s book “Slave”. I first caught wind of the book from a short infomercial of sorts where JMac (not sure which I enjoyed more, the great discussion in the comments or hearing this nickname!) claimed the book contained a truth that changes everything about what it means to be a Christian. JMac had found this one thing tranforms how we view following Jesus, and he just had to share it with the world. And though I tend to not pay much attention to the old-school radio preachers, I admit I was intrigued, so much so I still remember it.

Christian publishers have the same goal as secular ones – push books. Donald Miller often speaks on how our culture tries to sell dish soap as though it will change your life, which is of course ridiculous, but because Christian book sellers are dealing with spiritual matters they don’t have to do much stretching to lead customers to believe their product will change their life.

So they maket the book as though it contains something revolutionary. I bought a Brian McLaren book, The Secret Message of Jesus, long before I’d ever heard of him or the emerging church. I didn’t buy it for it’s progressiveness, but because I was fell for the marketing – that Brian had uncovered some truth that we’d all missed over years. Coming out around the same time was The Lost Message of Jesus by Steve Chalke. Both books cleverly suggest they’ve found something few else have, and after $15.95 we too will have it*.

Good book, even better marketing

Similarly Francis Chan, David Platt, Shane Claiborne have books that are billed as ones that will rattle your faith. I’ve pointed out before that the trend right now is to produce a sermon or a book that will slaughter the audience, figuratively speaking of course, and be the catalyst that finally provokes the church into action, waking her from a long, deep sleep.

Now I could write an easy post lamenting marketing spiritual thing. And gosh it would be so effortless, posts like that practically type themselves.

But I think beyond rethinking marketing, we need to remember what, or rather who, changes people. Because nothing takes Jesus’ place. We don’t change people, Jesus changes people. I think we actually believe these books and messages can save us.

Now I’m not knocking those books. They likely have some really profound things that people have missed. But more and more I’m finding you can’t replace a transformative encounter with Jesus. We merely try to push away barriers and we let Jesus do his thing. We need to stop selling Christian books as if they could change the world. Hyping them up as the next best thing leaves people with religious hangovers. And the only cure for a hangover is more of what gave it to you.

*I actually enjoyed both these books, but their marketing was cheap (I fell for it, may it be noted).

You Can’t Induce Desire, Or Are We Slaves To Jesus?

Recently I caught the tail end of a radio program by John MacArthur, an evangelical pastor near San Diego (I’ve actually visited his church years ago, I was surprised to find people in Mennonite-ish clothing in Southern California). After he polished off his sermon he inserted a promo for what he claimed is the most important book he’s ever written (noteworthy because he’s written well over 50).

The promo claimed he’d found a startling truth that shattered his understanding of Christianity – that a Greek word traditionally translated as servant in the New Testament should only be translated as slave. Instead of seeing ourselves as servants, MacArthur suggets we should see ourselves as slaves to Jesus. He even claims it’s a cover-up that all of the English translators made this switch*.

Yes I’m making the now classic mistake of analyzing a book by it’s promo (I have no immediate plans to read the book). MacArthur is suggesting that we need a monumental shift in our identity as Christians, as the difference is not a subtle one. 

I don’t doubt he’s right about the Greek. I’m no scholar. But it screams of legalistic, unintentionally manipulative religion at it’s best.

It brings up some complicated questions: Are we indebted to Jesus, or is his gift grace? Are we obligated to him because of what he’s done for us? Or are we free? Do we belong to God in a possessive way or in a paternal/relational way? (feel free to answer those questions in the comments!)

How can we be free slaves to God?

Ultimately I don’t think there’s any good way of getting Christians to see that they should be slaves. You can’t tell them what they should be – it has little power to make them what they should be. Instead I think it’s up to individual person to move toward’s seeing themselves as a slave. I think they had to reach that conclusion on their own.

You can’t tell someone they should be a slave to Jesus. They have to want to be one. They are so moved by Jesus and his sacrificial love that they want to be his slave. And so this could be the fatal error MacArthur makes – by telling people what they should be he could help capture them in the chinese-finger-trap world of legalism and religious bondage.

What do you think it means to be a slave to Jesus? Does the phrase sound a bit odd to you? What are it’s implications? 

*This isn’t totally fair, as he suspects some translators changed it because of the connotation the word slave has today – likely quite different from the ancient Jewish understanding.

Don’t Worry We Treat Everyone Like Crap, Or In Need Of A Top Notch Public Relations Team

I’m out of town this whole week, so I’ve scheduled a few posts. If this is your first time here when I’m on vacation I polish off the posts stalled in draft-land and offer them as b-sides. I will likely not be able to reply to comments til the end of the month. 

Maybe it’s because I hang around blogs that highlight Christian issues and debates, but I’m acutely aware of Christian in-fighting. I do my best to not contribute, but I do stand on the sidelines and watch ‘em go at it.

When it comes to intellectual stuff it seems to be the norm to fight dirty – taking it personal/going for low blows, assuming one error equals a hundred more, condescending statements and putting down the other as if they are children, and discrediting other legitimate work simply be association.

I wouldn’t expect the progressives and the conservatives to be the best of buddies – I understand that when they meet they can only see the glaring differences. But even if we are in a church we like with people whom we are similar to there is often so much gossip and power-play and judgment. People get their feelings hurt and leave in a black cloud and friendships are broken. With people we like! With people we’re similar to! 

Not a bad plan. We'll look into it.

And to the world we are the party-killers. We condemn all the fun, we tell people they are going to hell, we yell about being persecuted and disrespected, and we spew judgement and highlight every single shortcoming and flaw*.

Wait a second – we are not loving to those around us and we are not loving to those outside of us…  Doesn’t that seem a big striking? I’m not all about image control but that’s not the best reputation to have. I don’t think hiring a top notch PR team to take over for a while is what’s needed, but at the same time we may want to worry about this just a little bit. Just in the last 50 years we’ve become the annoying person you go out of our way to avoid.

What is the image of Christians to those around you? I’m curious to know, and I hope it’s not like what I’ve described. Should Christians even care what their image is to the greater world? What can be done to curb some of the negative fog hanging over it? 

*This is of course not the whole story, neither is the section about Christian in-fighting, but for some reason this stuff has a way of sticking with you and it’s tough to shake these images.

God’s Easy Guide To A Harmonious World, Or Pulling Teeth

Today I’m bringing the heat – unleashing a mind blowing truth. Monday I talked about being afraid to take risks for fear of academic rebukes. Well – screw it…

God’s ways are better than our ways.

Stunning, I know.

You’d think with all of the amazing technology we have we’d be able to create super foods that jam all of the nutrients a body needs to excel from every food group into some crazy concoction so we’d all just be insanely healthy. Yet, it really doesn’t get much healthier than the food that pops out of the ground. Every doctor recommends fruits and vegetables – every day. Processed food is far worse than the food that was created by God in the beginning. We haven’t improved on food – we’ve only contributed lackluster creations.

Forgiveness. We all know how the blow-for-blow system works. Each hit gets bigger and bigger, and revenge seems so sweet though it never ends the feud. It never satisfied both sides – in fact it only increases the appetite.

Not only that but forgiveness frees up the knot in our shoulders and sets us free. The emotions held hostage by that person’s wrong manifest themselves in a thousand unhealthy ways – so letting it go is letting to yourself go into a wide open world. Forgiveness is a better way to live.

Serving one another is the only way the world will truly work, in my opinion. When you get everyone only looking out for their own interest and doing everything they can to further themselves, then you get the manipulation, cold-heartedness and chaos we have today. We can’t all win at once. Someone has to lie down or carry their own cross – dying to one another yet again is the best way to live. It’s the only way to a harmonious, heavenly world.

So if God’s ways are the best ways – far better than what we’ve come up – why are we even having this discussion? It’s because we don’t like to follow them! It’s because God’s ways – of forgiveness, of servitude, all require compromise and sacrifice. We don’t get to eat the tastiest things, we don’t get to take justice into our own hands, we don’t get to do whatever we want.

So life in God’s world is an exercise in taking the road less traveled – dare I say it is the narrow path. But here’s the thing – knowing God’s ways are better does not leave us only wanting to do those – we almost always have the impulse to do the opposite, to do the things that lead to bad results. Apparently knowing is only half the battle.

What are other ways of God are better than ours? Why do you think we struggle to do the things we know are better and so easily do the things we know are unhealthy and harmful?

Note: I will be out of town next week on a family surfing trip to the Oregon coast. So stoked! Since my attention will be averted I will be posting “b-sides;” the posts I’ve written but have just been sitting in my drafts folder because they aren’t prime. Every band writes songs that just aren’t worthy of putting on their polished record – yet they may not be worth totally tossing out either. So if you need a break from me, may I suggest next week.

Dealing With The Crazies, Or Doubting Someone’s Relationship With God

This post is adapted from one of my very first on Charlie’s Church of Christ – back when I was on blogspot about four years ago. Since I was traveling full time I didn’t post regularly and the blog died after three entries.

Oh geez I might be maturing.

Because I grew up in an ultra-conservative church where every year we were taught this is the one when Jesus finally returns, I used to think I had some sort of license to tear up the fairly ridiculous pastors and leaders that make those sorts of claims.

Back in 2007 when I originally wrote this post, Pat Robertson had just announced that in prayer God revealed to him the U.S. would see mass killings. “The Lord didn’t say nuclear. But I do believe it will be something like that,” Pat was quoted as saying. As soon as I heard these claims I had a strong skepticism, and obviously looking back now in 2011 – well, the mass killings never happened.

Okay I couldn't find a photo of Pat Roberston praying, but Rick Warren will do.

Here’s the thing – I’m not comfortable doubting Pat’s relationship with God. It just doesn’t feel right. As easy it as to say “wow – what a nutcase,” something in me holds back.

I’m sure Pot prays and talk to God and struggles with him and tries to listen to him, just as I do. So for me to say that I doubt God told Pat Robertson to watch out for mass killings in 2007 it means that I discredit this man’s personal communion with God. I don’t want to do that, even though his claims are asinine. I can’t completely doubt them.
What do you do with someone who is seemingly a man/person of God, who seemingly loves Jesus and wants to advance his kingdom (though I have a suspicion of our views of the kingdom differ greatly) yet says things like this? They’ve been Christians for double my lifespan, they can quote a heck of a lot more Scripture than I’ll ever be able to, and though these don’t necessarily lead to a closer relationship with God or knowing him any better, it nonetheless puts us all in a hard place.

Similarly, for those of you out there who may not side with my more progressive Christian tendencies – can you really doubt my entire relationship with Jesus? It may seem like I have some glaring holes and painfully obvious mistaken beliefs – but does that mean I have no relationship with God at all.

How do you reconcile this? I’ll assume that Rob Bell prayed about the contents of his book, and we can assume God never put up a stop sign. I feel convicted about my beliefs, and so do those who disagree. What do you think?

The Holy Spirit Flunks Out Of Seminary, Or Being Afraid To Speak

Christians love to debate each other. Opinions? We’ve got more than enough to go around – they’re like fishes and loaves in these parts. Gone are the days when the people relied on their village minister. Thanks to the printing press and the internet Christians are making smarter and smarter.

And they’re not afraid to use it.

A few times here on the blog I’ve posted things that were a risk in my eyes. I have theories and ideas and that make me climb out the window to shimmy on a limb to share them. My late night hobby is browsing my Google Reader and commenting on blogs. But sometimes I just kept my keyboard’s mouth shut.

There seems to be a sort of academic police who go on patrol and inspect every little thing you say to see if it can withstand the most advanced intellectual scrutiny. It’s intimidating. It feels like you’re on trial. I’m just trying to contribute to a conversation (apologies for sounding emergent.) It seems like the intellectual types can hijack the conversation and make themselves the authority so that their word is the final one.

Just because you haven’t gone to seminary and you aren’t defending your claim with complex theology doesn’t mean you can’t say anything at all. It doesn’t mean you can’t add anything valuable. Especially when it comes to Christianity. In this world, children see the Kingdom more brightly then the well trained teacher.

This post began as a lament, but the more I’ve thought about it the more I think we’re doing something dangerous.

I don’t think Jesus meant that only the well educated can speak with authority. He was a man/God of the people. If anything the guys who had their noses in the books all the time missed the bigger picture. The academic types have appointed themselves the keepers of truth and by their standard truth is judged.

In no way, of course, am I saying academics and Christianity are enemies. But I wonder if we’re replaced the movement of the Holy Spirit with our lofty scholarly debates. Jesus seemed to think everyone was worthy – not just the high flying experts. And I think in all of our debates it’s very easy to write off alleged movements of the Holy Spirit and instead rely on figuring it systematically.

I’m even ridiculous enough to say we’ve idolized academics and turned it into some sort of God that who sits just below Jesus yet well above the Holy Spirit. This Jesus thing is not solely an academic endeavor.

Have you encountered this fear of being picked apart by the academic police?