Archive for the ‘Religion’ Category

Merry Christmas

December 25th, 2013 No comments

Unexpectedly, the postlude to OneLife Community Church’s midnight Christmas service was Mumford and Sons’ “After the Storm” and it was quite apropos. Odd to be crying at the end of a Christmas service, but listen to this:

I won’t die alone and be left there.
Well I guess I’ll just go home,
Oh God knows where.
Because death is just so full and man so small.
Well I’m scared of what’s behind and what’s before.

And there will come a time, you’ll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

THAT is the WHY of Christmas.

As the magician explains in Lewis’ The Last Battle, “It was only a shadow or a copy of the real Narnia which has always been here and always will be here… you need not mourn over Narnia, Lucy [as it had been destroyed]. All of the old Narnia that mattered, all the dear creatures, have been drawn into the real Narnia through the Door. And of course it is different; as different as a real thing is from a shadow or as waking life is from a dream.”

“The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

Merry Christmas!

Categories: Daily Life, Meaningful Song, Religion Tags:

The Prodigal God by Timothy Keller

February 12th, 2011 No comments
The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller

I started reading The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith by Timothy Keller right when I got my Kindle, blazed through most of this amazing book, and then promptly got distracted by a few other books… Well, I finally finished! Keller’s thesis is summarized neatly:

Jesus’ great Parable of the Prodigal Son retells the story of the entire Bible and the story of the human race. Within the story, Jesus teaches that the two most common ways to live [the younger son's estrangement from the father and the elder son's self-righteousness before the father] are both spiritual dead ends. He shows how the plotlines of our lives can only find a resolution, a happy ending, in him, in his person and work.

This is a very quotable and profound book, I hope you will read on (Sorry, it’s going to be a long one!)!

Keller does a wonderful job of exegeting the parable from Luke; while there were similarities with Nouwen’s Return of the Prodigal Son, Keller’s take is more theological to Nouwen’s more reflective spiritual journey. That being said, don’t let “more theological” dissuade you from delving into this book; it is a worthy read for a long time Christian (even necessary I would say, we tend to be Elder Brothers), a new Christian trying to find a home in the faith, or someone who is seeking the faith but been put off by the Church. We all, and I do mean all, find ourselves, at different points in our lives, as either the estranged younger brother or the strictly moral older brother, both of which we find unsatisfactory.

Jesus uses the younger and elder brothers to portray the two basic ways people try to find happiness and fulfillment: the way of moral conformity and the way of self-discovery. Each act as a lens coloring how you see all of life, or as a paradigm shaping your understanding of everything. Each is a way of finding personal significance and worth, of addressing the ills of the world, and of determining right from wrong.

But, as I’m sure you are fully aware, they both fall short. What we need is the Father. Here is the crux of the situation:

Neither son loved the father for himself. They both were using the father for their own self-centered ends rather than loving, enjoying, and serving him for his own sake. This means that you can rebel against God and be alienated from him either by breaking his rules or by keeping all of them diligently.

Bummer! Fortunately the Father invites both sons back into his home and the feast that awaits.

The gospel is distinct from the other two approaches: In its view, everyone is wrong, everyone is loved, and everyone is called to recognize this and change.

Amen and amen. After being asked what is wrong with the world, G. K. Chesterton replied, “I am.” Keller notes, “That is the attitude of someone who has grasped the message of Jesus.”

We deserve alienation, isolation, and rejection. The point of the parable is that forgiveness always involves a price – someone has to pay. There was no way for the younger brother to return to the family unless the older brother bore the cost himself. Our true elder brother paid our debt, on the cross, in our place.

The elder brother in the parable was self-righteous and angry that his father could allow the younger brother to return, it had a literal cost to the elder brother. Thankfully our true elder brother in Jesus was willing to pay for our return to the Family. John Newton is quoted from one of his hymns:

Our pleasure and our duty,
though opposite before,
since we have seen his beauty
are joined to part no more.

A wonderful summary of the work of Christ I would say. This is the Gospel. We are broken and redeemed freely by grace. We were (are?) the estranged younger brother but that doesn’t mean we have to become the self-righteous elder brother. Our Father is inviting us in to the party, his eternal feast. We should accept.

Hearing the word “prodigal” applied to God seems odd to us because we usually think of the “prodigal son” which usually has the connotation of someone who has screwed up. This is a misunderstanding of the word “prodigal”. Prodigal means to spend money or resources freely and recklessly; to be wastefully extravagant. As Cori puts it in her review, “the reader learns that God is recklessly extravagant with us. He’s spent everything on us. He is truly a prodigal God. I found this concept to be achingly beautiful.” Indeed.

Keller leaves us with this passage out of Isaiah and so will I:

On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wine,
of rich food full of marrow, of aged wine well refined.

And he will swallow up on this mountain
the covering that is cast over all peoples,
the veil that is spread over all nations.
He will swallow up death forever;

And the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces,
and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.

Categories: Literature, Religion, Theology Tags:

On the Meaning of Christmas

December 24th, 2010 No comments

I don’t actually know that I have anything new to say as I have said it in a number of other posts before. I just want to pause, take a breath and remind people why we celebrate Christmas. It is because you and I are broken people. Some might call us sinners. Regardless, we fall short of perfection. Usually by leaps and bounds. I know I do. In Old Testament days we would have had to offer a blood sacrifice for our transgressions. I think that would get a little old. And bloody. Back in the day they looked forward to the time when all that would go away and we would be redeemed and saved by a mighty king.

The way God brings things to fruition is often different than the way we imagine they will be. Instead of bringing a powerful political ruler who would protect us from our enemies, God did something much more meaningful and dramatic: He sent His own son to Earth to atone for our failures. To take our brokenness as his own even though he was perfect and blameless. Our crimes imputed to Jesus.

That is why we celebrate today. Christmas is a celebration because God became one of us so he could die for us. We celebrate Christmas because we need Easter. God with us, Immanuel (עִמָּנוּאֵל): a terrifying yet joyous event. In the words of one of Relient K’s songs: “And I, I celebrate the day / That You were born to die / So I could one day pray for You to save my life.”

So in the midst of all the chaos that the Christmas seasons brings, take a step back and ponder what it means. Christmas leads to Easter and the Cross. We are hugely and eternally blessed because of that.

I leave with some of the words of my favorite Christmas song “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” written by Henry Longfellow because it is easy to let the other 364 days of the year get us down:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Merry Christmas and God Bless everyone!

Some of my other Christmas posts:

Categories: Daily Life, Religion, Theology Tags:

“Communities of Grace” - Hebrews 12:28-13:9

May 2nd, 2010 No comments

All Saints Church - Bill Berger
Hebrews 12:28-19:9
Message Notes

“The next best thing to being wise oneself is to live in a circle of those who are.” -C.S. Lewis

One of our church values: Authentic Community - Believe, doubt, seek. All on the journey together.

The importance of community: cf 12.28-29: the consuming fire of God’s presence in community with the Trinity. But we make ourselves the center. But all the things that give us joy will still be lacking, but point to the Ultimate.

To worship God acceptably… vs 13.1-4. Through the messiness of authentic community, no longer through ritual. We want to be a church about magnets. We are all nerdy, all of, but we come together on this journey and welcome anyone to join along. We should be a mission disguised as a church. Jesus built a community that was rich and deep. You don’t become part of a community by just showing up, you become part of community by becoming deeply involved.

The intensity of community: Love each other as family. Unconditional commitment to one another. There is a bond of obligation between family. In this radical understanding of community is a transparency and bond between family. Family is the single most shaping experience of your life. We are the product of the family we were raised in. We come from (who we are) the community we were raised in. In a family we are connecting at multiple points. Sharing teaching or coffee etc AT church doesn’t mean you have become part of a radical community, that takes effort. It is sharing life, more than just being part of a club. It is radical to live in this community, but it is hard: it takes accountability and openness. Wisdom and discernment is also a necessary part of it too.

The openness of community: Need both open and intense. Vs 1-2: commitment not just to family, but to strangers too. Welcome in people you would oterwise be suspicious of. Giving to those who cannot give anything back, to someone that we cannot get anything from. Vs 3-4: social justice and sexual purity - interesting combination. We live in a radically selfish society… willing to have sex with others outside of the community relationship, we are putting our selfishness above community. Same with money, radical transformation to become unselfish but to truly take part in community. Have to be willing to be marked as part of that radical community.

The power to create this community: vs 5: free from the love of money because God will not leave or forsake us. We are engaged in behaviors or desires that are unhealthy and painful for us… all those things will foresake us, but God will not. Even our closest relationships will break, people cannot handle the weight of our expectations or conditions, they will break. So our identity cannot be defined by those things. We need something more stable. How can we really know that we can have radical community? We go to the Cross, Jesus was foresaken so we don’t have to be any more. He is with us always because of His actions on the Cross. Authentic community is messy.

5 Radical Acts of Urban Hospality
1) open your home to people in your apt
2) Invite some to church and take them to lunch
3) Participate or lead a life group
4) volunteer
5) Care for the poor, the stranger

Categories: Church Notes, Religion Tags:

N.T. Wright on Blogging: A Christian Ethic

April 25th, 2010 5 comments

'It's easier to be an asshole to words than to people.'

'It's easier to be an asshole to words than to people.'

I’ve finally had the chance to start reading Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision, N.T. Wright‘s response to critics of The New Perspective on Paul with specific discussion of Piper’s The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright. I’m sure I will have comments about the book at a later time (I do definitely fall into Wright’s camp when it comes to placing Paul and his theology firmly rooted in 1st century exilic Judaism), but right now I wanted to share what he had to say in the book’s introduction about blogging. His comments are both insightful and important reminders to those of us who interact in the blogosphere and call ourselves Christians.

It really is high time we developed a Christian ethic of blogging. Bad temper is bad temper even in the apparent privacy of your own hard drive, and harsh and unjust words, when released into the wild, rampage around and do real damage. And as for the practice of saying mean and untrue things while hiding behind a pseudonym - well, if I get a letter like that it goes straight in the bin. But the cyberspace equivalents of road rage doesn’t happen by accident. People who type vicious, angry, slanderous and inaccurate accusations do so because they feel their worldview to be under attack. Yes, I have pastoral concern for such people. (And, for that matter, a pastoral concern for anyone who spends more than a few minutes a day taking part in blogsite discussion, especially when they all use code names: was it for this that the creator God made human beings?) But sometimes worldviews have to be shaken. They may become idolatrous and self-serving. And I fear that the has happened, and continues to happen, even in well-regulated, shiny Christian contexts - including, of course, my own.

I hope you aren’t offended by the mouse hover/caption to the xkcd comic, but I found it particularly appropriate for Wright’s comments. In any discussion we have with people we run the risk of our hubris taking over. Humility is crucial and necessary. We should always presume positive intent of those in discussion and we should always write and speak with positive intent. It’s a good rule of thumb.

“The Ultimate Shakedown” - Hebrews 12:18-29

April 25th, 2010 No comments

All Saints Church - Bill Berger - Hebrews 12:18-29

This section is about us living the unshakable life, the life we want, the life that we would go to the self-help section for. We are looking for stability.

The Shakable Life: v18-21. Fundamental spiritual approach to life: with our worldview, how do we deal with things? “I tried my best…” That is how we generally face life and how we go through things. Or have we tried our best? “Do unto others…” Have we ever actually spent a day trying to meet the needs of others? Tried to put ourselves in their shoes? We are all failing. Moses introduced a world view for a God way of living: but it shook them! Not the God experience they were looking for. Why is it so earthquake-y to get near God? If we build our lives around specific traits (like being smart or having money or having a significant other), our world can crash when others are better. These things fall apart in the presence of God; our true selves our revealed, it gets uncomforatable. It is untenable to live in this way. Meltdown is inevitable.

The Unshakable Life: But… there is another way to live. v22: Mt Zion. Earthly vs. Heavenly city. I advance myself by using others. City based on power vs. Peace. Principle understanding is my life to serve you. What if we lived in a way that said me second, everyone else first? What would that look like? We can live part of that city, we can live as citizens of that city right now. We are told that if we live for God’s will we won’t be happy (what if he doesn’t want me to be rich?). We are holding on too tight, we need to let go. There is a reality and an ocean of joy out there for us. For us to do what He tells us, that is joy and happiness.

How to receive the Unshakable Life: Cf Luke 10: Go out, heal, pray, cast out. The disciples come back excited, but Jesus tells they are excited about the wrong things: not the achievements, do not build our reality on things that are shakable, but around Christ. Your identity is not wrapped up in the fact that we are broken. It has to go back to the cross of Christ, that is the final shake-up. The ultimate judge came down to be judged and was shaken so we could be unshaken. ALL relationships can be shaken (so don’t build our identity on them) because they are incomplete and point to the unshaken relationship that was created on the cross.

Categories: Church Notes, Religion Tags: