Saturday, March 19, 2011

Call Me a Heretic

There has been a lot of talk about Heaven and Hell lately
That's no a bad thing
However, how we got there is rather disappointing
It started when some Christian leadership accused Pastor Rob Bell
of Mars Hill Church in Michigan
of being a Universalist
and a heretic
Because they "heard" that in his new book
Love Wins
Rob Bell says there is no Hell.

Now, mind you, few,
if any
of these leaders actually read the book.
But they let the accusations and judgements fly anyway
Score another one for the church looking really stupid in the media

I had a brief conversation in Facebook with someone
I don't even know
about Rob Bell and this controversy
This other pastor was adamant that we root out heresy
in whatever form it presents itself:
If it looks like heresy
if it smells like heresy
it must be heresy.
I am pretty sure he worked as a temp
for the Spanish Inquisition

So, to spite this other pastor
I am putting my neck out on the chopping block
Call me a heretic
I believe that there is the possibility of post-mortem salvation
That is to say that I believe that people can be saved after death

Now keep in mind that when we talk about this stuff
we are firmly in the realm of speculation
and I admit that I have no specific Bible verses to back me up
I do, however, have some pretty solid contemporary and historical theologians
in my corner

Among them, Jerry Walls
who is a professor of philosophy at Notre Dame
formerly of Asbury Theological Seminary.
And even CS Lewis gave imagination to a similar concept
in his book
The Great Divorce

Here's the deal
If a person's salvation depended on her hearing the gospel
in it's truest form
that is to say not garbled up by the biases and misunderstanding of the messenger
Then, Houston, we have a problem

Because the church of Jesus Christ
not just the United Methodist Church
is not doing a very good job getting the message out
and it would be totally our fault if a person did not hear the gospel
or did not hear the gospel in it's truest form
In addition, what if that person who heard the gospel
didn't respond favorably because in their life they have seen
and heard Christians doing some really horrible things
or maybe they were one of the victims of Christians
doing really horrible things?

Could you blame a person for not accepting salvation because
they heard, saw or were victim to Christian abuse?
Or maybe, like Gandhi, they liked Jesus just not Christians
So why become one?

If God's only choice is the church
Then the world is in trouble
and we only have ourselves to blame.

Instead, I believe in something Jerry Walls calls
Optimal Grace
The idea is that there are people who won't choose Christ in this world
because of the above
or who never, ever heard the gospel
and God, who is infinite in love and mercy, gives them an opportunity
post death
to accept salvation through Jesus Christ.

Let me quote Professor Walls

"It seems clear that God would be willing to offer his grace equally to all persons. That is, he would desire to distribute his grace fairly so that all persons receive a full opportunity to respond to it. That is, God would not give some persons many opportunities to repent and receive his grace while giving others only minimal opportunities or even none at all. It seems a God of perfect love would do everything he could, short of overriding freedom, to elicit a positive response from all persons. A God of perfect love would not easily take no for an answer. Indeed, the very idea of optimal grace entails that each person must make a fully decisive response to it. Half-hearted, or uninformed responses would not be decisive." (Heaven: The Logic of Eternal Joy, p. 67)

Walls goes on to write, "Surely a perfectly wise, powerful, and loving God would not allow the opportunity for salvation to be limited to the inconsistent and sometimes haphazard, albeit loving, effort of his human servants to spread the gospel." (p. 74)

Does that save us from the responsibility to share the gospel?
But it does give us hope for those who did not accept salvation by grace
through faith in Jesus Christ
while they walked this earth.
And, it does make a lot of theological sense
that a perfectly loving God would make provision
for his stumbling church.

So call me a heretic
but call me hopeful
and if you must chop off my head,
that's okay.
I'll be fine.

Monday, December 6, 2010

From Spectators to Participants

Lots of folks
from Christ-followers
to seekers
to skeptics
ask me from time to time
"How can I encounter God?"
"How can I see God?"
"How can I experience God?"
I have a simple answer for that:
become a participant not a spectator.

It seems to me we
including myself
spend a lot of time
being spectators:
watching TV
checking Facebook
checking Twitter

Many folks who go to church
go expecting to be spectators
rather than participants.
"Hope the choir is on key today."
"Hope the preacher is interesting."
"Hope the sermon is short."

And we go home wondering
where is God?

No wonder.
Faith is not a spectator sport.
It demands participation
if we are going to encounter God.
That means
getting out there
feeding the hungry
visiting the prisoner
holding the hand of the lonely and forgotten
weeping with those in grief
speaking to the powers that perpetuate injustice
making room in our lives for someone else.

My colleague, Jeanne Wisenbaugh
preached on Mary, the mother of Jesus, yesterday
and something she said got my mind going.
And what came out was something like this
Mary wasn't going to be a spectator
in God's divine drama
if God was going to invite her to be a participant.
She said, "Yes."
"If that's what you want, God, I'm all in."

I believe that God invites everyone to be a participant
in the divine drama
of human history.
And the one's who see God
are the one's
who say

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Language of the Spirit, Part 2

Yesterday I wrote about some of the different languages
that we encounter
and interpret
The language of music
or of art
or of good food.
And I wondered out loud
about the language of the Spirit:
What is the language of the Spirit?

How does the Spirit communicate to us,
and how do we,
in turn,
communicate with the Spirit?
Is it only through prayer?
That seems a bit too simple and
a bit narrow.
Aren't there other languages through which
The Spirit communicates to us
and we communicate to the Spirit?
Love, maybe
or mercy
or tears
or sighs
or acts of compassion for someone else?

And how do we interpret the Spirit
to someone else?
How do we speak
the language of the Spirit
to another person?

I am still seeking the answers
but I do know this

any language
is powerful.

Words have the power to
create or destroy
wound or heal
inspire or defeat

Love has the power to create
Mercy has the power to heal
Grace has the power to transform
Confession has the power to reconcile
Truth has the power to right wrongs

There is power in language.

God give us the wisdom
to use the power of language
and to use it wisely
not for our own purposes
but for the purposes of
of One much greater
than ourselves.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Language of the Spirit

I have been aware of languages lately
but probably not the languages you are thinking of.

I have become aware that there is a language to things like
and food,
and art.

Take music for instance:
Blues has its own musical language
that any musician and most Western listeners
can recognize.
So does jazz
or heavy Metal
Or classical
And so does the music of other cultures
like African
or Japanese
Each has its own langauge
and vernacular
and the songwriter uses this language to
tell us something
about herself

Or take food:
Food has a language of
and flavors
and places from where the ingredients come
the Sea, for instance
and cooking methods
roasting or smoking or boiling
and all of this ends up the language of
this dish and the culture in which it was born

Or art
art uses the langues of colors and imagery
and how much paint is on the canvas
and where the light is focused
or who much of the sculpture is finished
and how much left undone
or what space is used and not used
and all of this becomes the language the artist uses
to try and tell us something
about himself
or about

All this got me thinking
what is the languge of the Spirit?

Is it Scripture?
It is the sermon?
Or prayer?
Or music
Or art
Or food
Or creation
Or less tangible things like:
Or compassion
Or passion
Or conscience
Or courage
All of the above?

All I want
are the ears
and room in my heart

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Out of Touch

I have had a cup of ice water poured directly in my lap recently.

It came in the form of an article distributed by The Office of Research of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.

The article claims that nearly half of the population of the United States is “out of touch with church” –

Meaning –“These folks are unreceptive and closed to attending church and churchgoing is simply not on their agenda.”


For the last several decades the church has (rightly or wrongly) targeted “seekers:” people who were interested or curious about God and a relationship with Christ and His church, but not “in” yet.

Now even the population of seekers is dwindling
And the fastest growing demographic is

Not people who have been hurt by a church
and have vowed never to return
Not people who have never had a church connection
Not people who are “spiritual just not religious”


That is pretty sobering

One question that was not addressed in the article
Is why?
Why are more and more people becoming unreceptive and closed?
I have some guesses
But I think the whole truth is that the answers to the why questions
Are as varied and different as the people who can truthfully and thoughtfully answer them.

The good news is that
Who have either seen this coming
Or experienced it themselves,
Have created expressions of the church like
“Missional church”
Or “emerging church”
Or “Fresh Expressions”

The bad news
For some
Is that we must wake up to the reality
That we
The church
Especially mainline
Sometimes called
Continue to do the same things we have done for the last
Few years
The last few decades
The last fifty years
The last century
And expect to effectively reach people
And make disciples of Jesus Christ
For the transformation of the world

The question is now
Are we willing to do be different for the sake of the kingdom?

Are we willing to take risks we have never taken
Are we willing to go to places we don’t usually go
Are we willing to meet people we don’t know
Are we willing to do things we have never done
If it means that we will reach someone with the love of God
Who is

Or maybe the question ought to be
Who is really out of touch?

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Spiritual but not Religious

I remember the first time I heard these words:
"I don't like organized religion."
What did he mean?
He doesn't like organization?
He doesn't like the church?
He doesn't like religion?
He doesn't like institutions?
Is he just excusing his lack of participation in a community of faith?
I'll admit,
it was jarring
and I was unprepared to dialogue about it,
though I am sure I asked a few questions for clarification

If I had a dime for every time I heard these words
(or one of their many variations)
"I am not religious but I am spiritual."
What does THAT mean?

More often than not, I think these statements boil down to two things:
First, the modern perception of the church and
Second, a modern preoccupation with the self and the immediate

To be sure, the church has had some less-than-stellar moments in our history
Moments for which we cannot be proud
Moments about which we should, even now, weep in shame
Moments which clearly do not reflect our best practices and the values of God's Kingdom
Many folks seem to relish in pointing out the church's historical and contemporary flaws
and it seems to give them sufficient reason to not only reject the church
but ridicule any and all who practice the Christian faith.

I am not so sure.
Irrelevant has come to mean more like "What have you done for me lately?"
Clearly the church is relevant in the lives of countless of people both within and outside of the church.

For instance, my congregation was relevant in the lives of about 900 people a few weeks ago as we handed out free food to the hungry
Unfortunately, it's the seedy, not the positive, story that gets told in the press.

(I will have to admit if we are talking about a relevant message, I will agree that I have sat in worship services listening to a completely irrelevant message given by a less-than-passionate preacher praying that a brick would fall on my head and stop the pain.")

That said, I find it hard to believe that one can reject a whole organization and mock millions of followers because of a small minority of events and people.

Today "being spiritual" has become, not only trendy, but an escape.
Today what passes for spirituality is a home brew of pragmatic practices and beliefs borrowed from a vast array of religions including both Western and Eastern religions
as well as aboriginal religions.
These spiritualities are all about what works for me now
Practices are about making me a better person
They do not hold me to an authority beyond my own conscience or pleasure
They do not demand that my "beliefs" be cogent
They are not about how I can make the world a better place
They do necessarily hold me accountable to how I treat others
Or how I steward the earth and all that dwell on it
Ethics are about what works for me and can be abandoned
the minute they cease working for my pleasure

Don't get me wrong
I don't think the church is perfect
And I applaud any attempt to transcend self
and find a transforming relationship with God
But what I have found
is that community - like the church
or the synagogue
or the mosque
however imperfect
is the right and best place to sustain
a wise and healthy spirituality

I am not sure what people mean by
But I AM sure that
Thomas Merton
John Wesley
Mother Theresa
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Abraham Joshua Heschel
the Dalai Lama
and those like them


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

My Personal Stalker

There was this guy that always followed me around wherever I went.


The guy was an extreme stalker!
He followed me to work.
He followed me at home.
He followed me on vacation.
I couldn't get away from him.

Sometimes he would tell me how good I am
What a great preacher I am
What a great pastor I am
What a great dad I am
And stuff like that.

He's also the guy who tells me
What a terrible guitar player I am
And how ugly I am
And so on.

And, when I made a mistake
No matter how large or small
He would take a whack at me
Or beat me up real good.

The thing is
That even though he has followed me for years
I didn't know his name.
Until last week.

A couple of weeks ago I made a mistake
And he beat me up
Real good
For days.

Then I learned two things
His name,
And that he doesn't exist.

His name is "perfect jeff."
And "perfect jeff" doesn't exist,
He only existed in my psyche.
And though I always knew
I am not perfect
"perfect jeff" would tell me otherwise
And smack me when I wasn't.

People would tell me to let go of the mistake
And the event in which the mistake occurred
And they were right.

But, what I also needed to do
Was to let go of the guy who kept beating me up over it.

So, I did.

And my life is different.
And I have a new-found freedom
And I am healing
Thanks to the liberating grace
Of God
And of the church.

So, to all of the recovering perfectionists out there
And to those perfectionists who long to recover
It's time to let go of your personal
And be liberated into the grace of God
Who loves us
With and despite
Our many
Faults and flaws.

Who needs to be perfect anyway?
I am pretty sure it is over-rated.