Our Stories Have Significance: Reaching One More, Part 3

Have you ever grown up thinking one thing only to realize later in life that you were utterly wrong? We all think we know the lyrics to that song that’s always on the radio only to be met with strange stares from our friends when we belt it out in the car! Or we think a place from our childhood is ginormous and wondrous, but upon visiting in our adult years, we realize that it was really us who had ginormous imaginations and an eye open to wonder.

And then there’s the sadder versions of this realization. Something happens at work and it finally clicks that we are unhappy with our careers and have been unhappy for as long as we remember. We get thrown in the cop car and realize that maybe we shouldn’t have had that last drink before leaving the bar. We wake up one morning and wonder how we grew so far apart from the one we used to love…

Some lessons we learn instantly and others we learn over time. We think that these “experiences” are what shape us into who we are. But in reality, it’s the conflict IN these experiences that shape us and mold us into the men and women we are today. And the Bible is painted with vivid pictures of people, both good and bad, whose lives have been molded by conflict.

One of my favorite stories is the story of Saul.

Saul grew up in a well-to-do family, and in a class-structured society, this not only helped him in the Temple, but it helped him even as a citizen of the state. He considered himself of the most “holy” line; he was a man of honor and deserving of status. He was not only intelligent and articulate, but he had the education to back it up, studying under the most revered teachers of his time. He was named after Israel’s first king, and the stately name was fitting. Saul was being pampered as possibly the next religious leader in a Jewish land longing for redemption from the Roman state that ruled over them.

Saul was the type who would argue with those who disagreed with him. He was NOT afraid of conflict. He was proud, and not just of himself, but of his god. In the midst of his religious revelry, however, he went from serving The Most High God to instead serving the System – what his people called “The Law.” And Saul was so distracted that he missed the fact that Jesus had come and fulfilled the Law and its requirements. Saul stayed his course, not just fighting against God’s people – the church – but actually taking part in the execution of one of its saints.

But luckily, that’s not the end of Saul’s story.

While on the way to further persecute God’s people, Saul was met with a burst of light and sound! And it was amidst that bewilderment and fear that Saul had a realization. He was not only outside of the people of God, but even worse, he was persecuting those who WERE the people of God! Jesus met Saul in a vision while on the road to a city called Damascus, and while it took Saul three days to receive Jesus, it was that moment on the road that changed Saul’s trajectory forever. He was physically and spiritually blinded by this Damascus moment, but once he accepted Jesus, the blindness left him and he could see clearer than he ever had before.

If you heard Saul’s story on the Damascus road without any context, without knowing him or what happened next, it would sound like a tragedy. The newspaper headline would read: “Beloved Scholar and Future High Priest Becomes Delusional, Left Blinded.” And Saul had three days where he was blinded, only left with his thoughts, thinking of how he had gone so far off course from what God intended. Saul didn’t know that from this one moment, Jesus would lead him into a life filled with floggings, beatings, imprisonment, and eventually his own beheading. But even more so, this one moment with Jesus led Saul to a life filled with grace and a life of new meaning.

It still amazes me to think of how I once thought I had it all together… or maybe even better, that at one point in my life I thought I knew everything. And it takes one wrong lyric now to remind me that maybe I still have a little bit more to learn on this green and blue rock. I’m not just amazed at my ignorance, but I’m still amazed by God’s grace and purpose as well.

Maybe you are in the place Saul was before his Damascus road experience, thinking that you have it all together. You’re so busy going with the flow that you haven’t taken the time to see that your stream is leading off a dangerous cliff. Maybe you are in the midst of your shaping moment right now, and you’re left blinded and confused with what the future holds. Maybe you’ve found your purpose, but the new life you’re living is filled with things you weren’t expecting. It’s not as easy as you thought, and you need to be reminded of the love, grace, and purpose you now have with Jesus. Or maybe you’re on the other side of the story, but you’ve forgotten that your story still has significance. Your story can speak into someone who’s still lost – to someone who can’t see how the conflict can be put back together. They’re blinded, and you’re there to lift the veil from their eyes.

Your story has significance. Some will look at your life and where you’ve come from, and they will KNOW that Jesus is the only way you could’ve gotten where you are today… Nothing else makes sense. Or they’ll see the journey you’ve been on, and all they can say is, “How?” That’s when you can point them to that Damascus moment, and they can encounter Jesus for themselves. Take time to remember where you’ve come from. Look and see how you’ve grown. And look to find others that are once where you were, and show them that there’s a greater purpose and a way out of the mess.

 

 

 

Advertisements

Truth and The Bible

Sometimes I forget what Bible College has taught me.

Or maybe it’s that I forget that people haven’t been taught the same way.

I don’t mean it in a bad way. There are many good things and, crazily enough, bad things I learned while in school. When I was finished with my first semester of my sophomore year, I was confused as to how I went this long not being equipped with what I learned up to that point. Every new thing I learned was like another tool on a utility belt, and I was the Dark Knight of biblical exegesis, preparing myself for when I would go out into the world and defeat Falsehood with the Truth of the Gospel.

Then something happened.

The bible ended up becoming a textbook to me. It was hard to balance the scales of seeing the pages of my bible as inspired text while learning about textual criticism and the like. I became cynical of speakers and preachers and teachers and commentators. I started to only read the ESV, because it was more literal to the original text, and if ever I saw an ambiguous passage, I knew I could just look it up in the original Greek (or Hebrew… if you’re into that stuff).

The bible is a crazy thing. Some people see it as an inspirational text. Some people use it as a justification for war, sexism, racism, patriotism, and capitalism. And some people see it for what it is – the Word of God. The Bible was given to us to share with us the story of Salvation History and our place within it. It is a guideline for how we are to walk in the Spirit. And to mishandle or misrepresent what the bible says is to potentially misrepresent the God who orchestrated the words in its pages.

Just because it is true doesn’t mean it is biblical:

This is an interesting statement, but what I want to address is “exegesis.” Exegesis means, “to lead out” and has the idea of drawing an interpretation out from Scripture. Many bible college students know that the opposite of this is “eisegesis” – or “putting in” one’s own interpretation to a text.

What this means is that someone could be saying all the right things, but not using the right proofs to do so. A classic example of this (and one MANY of my professors used) would be when Jesus calms the storm. By reading this passage in context, the author isn’t trying to say: “Jesus will calm the storms of your life.” What the author is trying to say is clear at the end of the text: “Who is this man? Even the wind and the waves obey him.”

Now, it is very well true that Jesus will bring peace to those who suffer. He says it in one of the Beatitudes. But to say that this is what Mark is trying to say in this passage takes away what Mark and God intended – that Jesus is divine. Not only does he cast out demons, and not only is he an incredible teacher, but even the weather is subject to him. For who else can control the weather but God himself?

By putting our own interpretation into a text, we run the risk of being able to justify anything with the use of smoke screens and poor context. Almost every text has one interpretation (for possible exceptions look at prophesies or the idea of sensus plenior). What makes a text different is how we apply that single interpretation to our lives.

Just because it isn’t biblical doesn’t mean it isn’t true:

This is something I find myself saying to my roommate a lot. He laughs at me, because we both know it really doesn’t make sense without an explanation. It honestly makes me feel like a heretic sometimes when I say it. But everyone knows that this is true. There are many ideas, and there are many things that are true that aren’t included in the bible. I know abortion is wrong. I believe that a fetus is actually a person, so it would be wrong to terminate a pregnancy. That isn’t anywhere in the bible.

Smoking isn’t anywhere in the bible.

Swearing isn’t anywhere in the bible.

The word “trinity” isn’t even in the bible.

If we believe that God is truth, then it must also be true that all truth is God’s truth… I’m sorry if you had to read that twice to get the full force of what I was trying to say. It’s scary to admit, because this leaves a big open gray area for a lot of things not mentioned in the bible. But God gave us the bible so that we can make godly judgments regarding these other things. The bible has nothing written against slavery, but we all hopefully know that it is wrong to own a person and to treat them like property.

The bible is the greatest guideline we could have on how to live life. It helps us to understand what God has brought humanity through. It shows us examples of the early church, so we know how to restore God’s kingdom to earth and know how to live Spirit led lives as well. The bible isn’t a tool used to bind people. It isn’t an instrument meant to control people. And it isn’t a book full of passages we can fill with our own “revelations.” This is the greatest physical tool we have for living out the Greatest Commandments. Let’s remember that it might not have all the answers, but it helps equip us to discover them for ourselves.

Radical Restoration and Racy Reputations

In a small town, it is easy to get a bad reputation. And this scenario isn’t any different.

This woman (we will call her Jessica) was not only known for having a bad track record, but even now she is living with a man who isn’t her husband. I guess I should clarify and say, “one of her husbands,” because there are several. All in the town have marked her as an outcast… I mean, except for the men that are looking for a “good time.” Jessica is a slut in the eyes of the civilized and uncivilized alike.

This past weekend I helped lead worship at our church’s satellite campus in Stamford, CT. The city isn’t in the pristine condition of neighboring Greenwich. As a whole, however, Stamford isn’t much different than any other urban city in America. The church meets in a movie theater right in the heart of the city. Before the theater opens and people stream in, the church sets up, meets for congregational fellowship, and tears everything down with the coming crowd being completely unaware of all that had happened earlier that day.

What struck me as strange in my commute this week was passing the building where the “Jerry Springer Show” meets. Just two blocks away from where our church meets (in a movie theater) is one of the most degrading and debasing shows ever to hit the boob tube. I passed the building a couple weeks ago, and there were people flooding the street, waiting in line, hoping to get in to see the crudeness that would soon ensue.

Jessica isn’t a woman you or I know. She is a woman whose name has been lost over time. Today many Christians know her as “the woman at the well.” When the people in her community saw her as an outcast, Jesus came and shared with her the secrets to the kingdom of heaven. When men had spent years taking advantage of her and debasing her, Jesus chose to share with her, more than any other human, the secret of who he was as the Son of God.

She was neither worthy nor deserving of even being spoken to by a Rabbi of such high esteem. She was someone who today we would see on the Springer Show.

The woman at the well wasn’t even a Jew. The Jews saw themselves as the heirs of the Promise of God. The Samaritans, to whom the woman belonged, were a group of mixed lineages who worshiped at a different Temple than the true Temple in Jerusalem. Many Jews saw them as half-breeds. And this woman was the lowest of them.

The most profound moment of the woman’s encounter with Jesus was when she asked him about the Temple where she worshiped. She was wondering what he, as a Jew, thought about these “half-breeds” worshiping at a different Temple than the one they were supposed to. This is what Jesus said: “The time is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father… but the true worshipers will worship the Father in sprit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him.”

With Christ’s statement, he opened the door! A message of hope that was once exclusively to the Jews is now being offered to everyone! Where the people of God once had to go to the Temple to experience the Presence of God, now God’s Presence is made available to all people.

God isn’t looking for people who attend the right or wrong temple or church. God is seeking those who worship him in spirit and truth. That’s why we can meet in a movie theater down the road from Jerry Springer. That’s why any person from any walk of life is welcome to worship Jesus as Lord.

Jesus seeks out those who are hurting and abused. He doesn’t care how the world might view them. Jesus brings the message of reconciliation and restoration.

Are we doing the same?

Hipsters, Hedonism, and the Truth Behind it All.

I have been called a hipster more times than I can count. Some people say it as a joke. Some people say it and mean it. Some people say it in a negative way. Some people say it in a positive way. And I am just drinking my Chemex-brewed coffee, wearing my canvas shoes, flannel, and weed hat, and listening to “Bon Iver” wondering what the heck they are talking about…

At least I don’t have a mustache…

What is relevance? Relevance is the idea of being “up with the times”… scratch that… AHEAD of the times! If you are only caught up and not moving forward with what is “cool” or “hip,” than that means that you are “un-hip,” “boring,” or even “lame.” I never realized this constant pursuit of cool until I read Brett McCracken’s book, “Hipster Christianity.” In it McCracken describes what hipster culture is and how the movement was originally birthed in the beatnik era of the 50’s. Throughout the book, Brett wrestles with what happens when culture/counter-culture starts interfering with values and the truth. Where does one draw the line?

Hasty generalizations are amazing.

There are two types of people we find today in the church (or two types or churches if you want to look at it that way). There are the people who preach the truth at people, and there are the people that tip-toe around fluff in the name of relevance. I know that there are people trying to find a balance: have a message that is interesting and worth being heard while still having a heaping amount of truth, but most people still fall more into one camp or another. There are obvious problems with each of these camps.

To be fully focused on the truth alone is abrasive. While some might think that they are preaching a message “to” people, what they are really doing usually is preaching “at” people. They are speaking truth, but it is not “seasoned with salt.” For this reason, many people don’t see Christianity as a worldview worth respecting, and many people behind the Church’s walls are like confused travelers. Many Christians are looking at the map of life and know the destinations, but they don’t know where they are at, what direction is what, or even which way to hold the stinking map!

The repercussion of being relevant is that one is chasing a never-ending goal. As soon as something is cool, the pursuit continues. There is no end to relevancy. If someone stays in one place, then they instantly become stale. Not to mention that cool is not something that everyone is trying to seek. Not everyone wants to be cool! It is kind of exhausting. And to be “counter-cultural” (if that really exists) might force someone to go against a tradition or practice that has been accepted or trusted for years. Sometimes being “counter-cultural” is counter-truth. Those within its ranks are also condescending, as if to be cool is a social badge of honor. So for churches or people to think of this as a healthy medium to convey a message must not realize that relevancy restricts the core audience one is trying to reach.

So what does one do?

One needs to learn how to convey truth without making it abrasive. This starts by not telling people the truth, but showing people how to find the truth. One thing that I have noticed over the past few years is how many people who were Christians in high school lose their faith while they’re in college. Though some might claim that these students were never Christian to begin with, or that they got caught up in the hedonistic pleasures of the liberal arts lifestyle, many of these students leave the faith, because they find the faith irrational.

Many people start developing “abstract thought” when they get around the age when one goes to college. Students get confused when their worldview is mixed with the different questions and options of worldviews that professors throw at them as soon as they get through the doors. For a freshman to only know the truth without knowing how they got to that truth would make them sitting prey for anyone who has taken an entry level philosophy class. Truth, if only presented “as is,” leaves the scales within one’s mind wanting. How does one know that truth should be accepted if there is not evidence presented? What happens when two different people disagree on what “truth” is in a given instance?

Truth also needs to be interesting. This is where relevance ties in. Recently I heard Bob Goff, author of “Love Does” and founder of “Restore International,” speak at my church. Bob not only brought an impactful message on forward-thinking and forgiveness, but he also made it interesting! He told stories from life with gregarious and expressive body language. He was even able to tie in a Taylor Swift reference! This is someone who not only knows how to present the truth, but he knows how to do it with vigor while keeping it relevant. That sounds like a triple threat.

One needs to learn how to make their speech “seasoned with salt.” Just like salt can easily overpower one’s food, relevance can be one’s best tool or ones’ greatest weakness. If one does not use enough relevancy or add in enough illustrations that the audience can relate too, they will lose most of the audience as the audience loses interest and zones out (what oftentimes happens to me at church). If one uses too much relevancy then the audience might be interested, but they will only hear a motivation speech at best. They won’t learn as much as they could have. In either case there is a great deal that people won’t learn.

We must learn how to season our speech with salt. We must learn how to not just preach the truth at people, but we need to teach people how to find the truth for themselves. That is what true discipleship is. And we need to not get so caught up in making ourselves sound interesting that the whole core of our message is lost.

Teach. Don’t tell.

Season. Don’t saturate.

And maybe we can show the truth to the world… and the world will listen.

When Culture Trumps Truth

“If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end; if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truth only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin, and in the end, despair.” -C.S. Lewis

What happens when we start focusing on that which is subjective instead of what is objective?

Postmodernism did away with the idea of having an objective truth. Stemming from the Enlightment, many believed that there was no such thing as truth, but that truth was just a subjective creation of the culture. From this opposition to Modernism, the Postmodern movement was born. Where truth is relative, now truth can be whatever one wants it.

I don’t have to tell you that this influence has deeply affected American culture. All it takes is listening to a conversation at the local coffee shop. But I don’t think that this idea has just infected the American culture but has also infected the church. I am not talking about objective truth. It is hard to deny truth when God is the Absolute Truth. I am talking about our means to that truth. We have become infected by how we determine what is true.

Instead of Scripture deciding what is true for Christians anymore I think that Christians have relied to believe what is true to that of church culture. This makes “Christianity” more about “issues” rather than about the truth. And though the mark might be made sometimes, by showing improper means, at best believers are unaware as to why the mark was made. As Alexi Sayle said, “Even a blind dog can find a bone every so often.”

I remember the first time I was put at opposition with what I learned growing up in church culture and what the Scripture said – it was in Pentateuch class. As we were discussing the different theories for the creation account, I remember sitting, appalled to hear that there were Christians who didn’t believe that God created the Universe and earth in six literal days. There were several weeks where I almost turned away from Christianity because there seemed to be so many things that I grew up thinking were set in stone that I realized were not.

So why do we have this problem? Well… what’s more important to us: the issues or the truth? The American Church has become a subculture where one has to speak the right way, dress the right way, listen to the right music, and vote for the right political candidate to be welcomed. That seems to be the “truth” of the church.

Hasty Generalization?
Maybe.

But when is the church going to lay down all that which isn’t truth, and truly come united together under the cause of Christ. This speaks truth to denominational barriers, certain cultural sins, and the like. Why has the church become so dogmatic about all the wrong things?

Why would this be considered a big deal? If one gets to truth, does it matter the means to which they get to it? One thing that I have come to notice since being at college is that there are a lot of adolescents and young adults who are turning away from God. And though there isn’t one thing to blame for this, I do think that this idea of truth could be one of the factors. Children in church are told not to drink or swear or smoke or fornicate. They are told to behave – almost as if they were living a “works” based religion. Once these children grow up and start using abstract thought, they start realizing that a lot of (not all of) the stuff their parents and pastors said were inherently evil weren’t evil at all.

I feel as though we have lost our focus. When we start focusing on that which is subjective, we lose focus on the objective. When we focus on a grace by works, then we don’t have a grace by faith. When we have improper means, we have improper motives. When we don’t seek the truth, we lose everything.