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Posts Tagged ‘Rob Bell’

faith2Here’s a good question. In the face of someone who knows does not know much about Christianity, how would you share the gospel of Jesus Christ?

My answer has been the same for some time. I simply tell my own story, my “testimony” as they say. Because I was just like the person to whom I am speaking, in one way or another, at one time or another. I did not come out of my childhood and into my teens as a saint. I was narcissistic and self-absorbed. The world revolved around me, so much so that I married at 18 and divorced five years later to pursue a career in the theater. My world, my dream, my everything. The story goes on, too long for a post/homework but needless to say, it’s interesting how God breaks through the fog, even we don’t recognize it as fog. I came to faith through the Word of God, through reading the Bible and asking a lot of questions. I tested for truth and certainty in my soul. I have followed the Christ ever since. I am alive today because of that surrender.

But, I did not have opportunity to tell my story this week.

Nor do I consider this a strategy or a plan or a way of delivering the message. Effectiveness for the listener is not based on my delivery.

The message of the Christ, promised to the Jews for centuries as the Messiah, is all about redemption, about relationship to God and how that relationship works. Back then, it was about substitution and blood sacrifice. In the time of Christ, it was also blood sacrifice, but once for all eternity, in a space that has no time.

The conversations in the Hillsong class have given me a desire to dig again into the Bible and to seek understanding of the patterns and context in a way that I never have before. I am grateful, however, that my first introduction to the things of God was from the Bible and as a result, I have read through it many times. I am familiar with the stories, the essence of Scripture, but not enough about the pieces that bring vibrancy and connections.

I am feeling solid in my faith which is really important in today’s political climate in which believers, wrapped in Christ, yet still at odds with one another and often in a very unloving and ugly way.

” . . . I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day.” II Tim 1:12b

In a way, it is a pattern in my own life that I cannot seem to shake, or perhaps I am not intended to do so. I am the daughter of immigrants and I did everything I could to “fit in” and be All-American. Yet I never really succeeded. I was never quite American enough, but on the flip side, never quite Latvian enough either. I wasn’t protecting and preserving my heritage enough. In college, I was in a sorority, accepted but only to a degree, I simply could not balance the game of wealth and privilege no matter how hard I tried. And in college, by marrying young, I ostracized myself from my single friends. Eventually, I ended up in New York for acting school, thinking I would finally really belong, but even there, one foot in and one foot out. When I had my conversion experience, I felt the divide even further. How could I be a believer and creative artist? Back then, there were no avenues for that.

The longer I was a Christian, the more I tried to walk and talk the way I thought I should, the well-spoken yet conservative believer who “loved the person but not the sin,” and who carried her faith as a badge on her sleeve. I was on the inside now, I thought. I knew all the phrases, I knew all the leaders, I knew all the praise songs, I even knew how to speak in tongues. I had arrived.

But that secure space began to crumble over the years. I grew tired of editing my words (for all along, I was) and not mentioning that I enjoyed reading books that others in that world found objectionable (even demonic) or listen to music that had a beat, or go to movies not on the accepted list.

Then I went into faith-based counseling and discovered the depth and power of forgiveness & breaking strongholds of all kinds. I found beauty in other church traditions. I experienced liturgy. I found I had been in a microcosm of Christianity and not the Church universal.

I began hearing other voices like Rob Bell, Phyllis Tickle, and Brian McLaren. I read about the Emergent Church, and Progressive Christianity and Post-Modernism. It was all so freeing and interesting and I reveled in the hashtag, #LoveWins.

But of course, I didn’t quite fit there, not 100%. Lo and behold, I was back in the middle. I loved and respected many of my more conservative Christian friends but I also loved my progressive ones. In any case, I was pulled slowly but surely out of the Christian Right.

I realize now that this series of classes is nudging me to fill in my theology. To not worry about fitting in or being in or anything like that.

I am an amalgam.

I am politically left leaning (especially now in this Donald Trump era); I am thoroughly grounded in my love of God and Christ and the atonement; I am surrendered to a sovereign God who can break through and “save” whomever and whenever God so pleases; I am learning to love and be content with my now, given by God to me (both the sorrow and the joy); and I am not going to assume that I know God’s intentions for others who are “not like me.” I will lose validity with some people of faith and I will lose some validity with activists. But I will stand.

 

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I’m getting stuck in 2nd Peter Two. Holy Moly. Do I know any of these people? I keep checking back to the first verses, “they” this and “they” that; who are “they” who are on the short end of Peter’s wrathful indignation? False prophets, false teachers, and heretics! Whoa!

II Peter 2:10b,12a,17a
Bold and arrogant, they are not afraid to heap abuse on celestial beings; . . . these people blaspheme in matters they do not understand. . . .These people are springs without water and mists driven by a storm.

Peter is writing some strong stuff here and although I do not take him lightly, how do I apply this chapter to my own life now? Who are “these” people in my world?

Some time ago, there were folks who attacked Rob Bell for his book, Love Wins in public places like television shows, Facebook, blogs, and magazine articles. They reviled the author (and his family) and called him a number of names, of which heretic was intentionally the most inflammatory.

Just looking at Peter’s use of the word heretic shows it to be a compelling word that carries lots of emotional baggage. Interestingly enough, a modern day dictionary is less provocative. Heretic is defined as someone who “has opinions contrary to those accepted by his church and/or one who rejects doctrines proscribed by the church,” or “one who doesn’t conform to established attitudes, doctrines, or principles.” That doesn’t sound so bad; gives me pictures of those “Wild West” Americans or even the Pilgrims who left England for religious freedom.

An old friend of mine, Kathleen Kent, wrote a wonderful book called The Heretic’s Daughter, that chronicled the life of a woman accused of being a witch, from her daughter’s point of view. Good stuff. But clearly, heretic in those days of Salem, Massachusetts, was a label that could get someone burned to the stake quickly.

But Peter had other concerns: the teachings he condemned were teachers/prophets who seduced others and committed blatant sexual acts, used formidable cursing, flagrantly blasphemed anything and everything that remotely smacked of God, and worst of all, they “faked the faith.” [verse 13] The listeners who were most in danger were those he called “unstable.” Why? Because an insecure or unsettled person can be swayed more easily. A person without a solid sense of self and knowledge/faith of the presence of the Holy Spirit, will be blown about by the winds of charm or magnetism.

In October (2011) another book is coming out about Jim Jones and his “People’s Temple” (circa 1978), A Thousand Lives: The Untold Story of Hope, Deception, and Survival at Jonestown by Julia Scheeres. How could all those people be duped? How could nearly 1000 people commit suicide at the command of a single man? We shake our heads and yet, wasn’t Peter describing “heretics” of that order?

When I was a young believer, one of my greatest fears was that I would follow the wrong denomination or get sucked into something unholy because I didn’t know better. Since I came into my faith in those days of charismata, giftings, miracles, and exuberant praise, there were many in the mainline denominations who called those practices heretical at their worst, and misguided at best. Was I in danger? Had I missed it? Was my faith real? I have to assume I survived in tact: still a believer after thirty years.

Of course, Martin Luther had the same problem back in his day. And let us not forget Jesus, himself crucified for his heresies.

I’m not saying there aren’t heretical people in the world. There are, just as there is true evil and darkness. Some say it’s the culture itself that has betrayed humankind and is ultimately heretical and sexual and misleading.

I believe we are in a time of transition, much like Phyllis Tickle teaches in her wonderful book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity is Changing and Why.

We need to spend less time looking for the heretics and more time looking for the hungry, the poor, the unclothed [Matthew 25]. Doing this, we will never need fear heresy, for love and empathy and mercy will drive us.

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Change is hard today and I doubt it was any easier at the height of the Roman domination over Judea. After all, codified Judaism had been around for 1250 years since the time of Moses. And Jesus wanted to do what? Build a new structure? A new type of temple? No way.

I Peter 2:5
[Come] and, like living stones, be yourselves built [into] a spiritual house, for a holy (dedicated, consecrated) priesthood, to offer up [those] spiritual sacrifices [that are] acceptable and pleasing to God through Jesus Christ.
[Amplified]

I have written about this before, but it keeps coming up in the epistles. When it finally dawned on the disciples what Jesus was offering, what he was asking of them, it was hugely shattering to their world. One of the reasons the priests and scholars were in an uproar sooner than later was probably due to the fact that they understood exactly what Jesus was proposing. And they would have none of it: blasphemy!

The temple structure would be torn down under the new way. Animal sacrifices would no longer be necessary (the entire commerce that was wrapped around this procedure would fail). The authority of priests would be diminished, their extended families and tribe would be undermined. The temple was a huge operation; it kept a lot of people working and fed.

Jesus, as the cornerstone of a new and “living” way, was rejected for a lot of reasons. It was not about “dullness” of mind or a hard heart.

So, now, it’s been 2000 years plus, and all this time, those who have followed Jesus and spread his message of a new structure, a new way, were supposed to be getting people into the building of spiritual houses where spiritual sacrifices were being made daily. Is this happening? Did we get off the road somewhere?

I look around and it appears to me that we’re building a lot of brick and mortar, just as expansive as the temple of old. Huge budgets, salaries, and programming. People in these settings would be equally reticent to “change.” I’m pretty sure these structures are not particularly necessary to building a spiritual house.

Here’s a list of the types of spiritual sacrifices that are mentioned in scripture (copied from a sermon outline website):

TYPES OF SACRIFICES TO BE OFFERED BY CHRISTIANS…
1. Our bodies, as “living sacrifices” – Ro 12:1-2
2. A lifestyle characterized by sacrificial love – Ep 5:1-2
3. Praise and thanksgiving, which we do in prayer and song – He
13:15
4. Doing good and sharing with others – He 13:16; Php 4:15-18
5. Even in the way we die for the Lord! – Php 1:20; 2:17; 2Ti 4:6

There’s nothing in here about building buildings or huge organizational structures. It’s about our personal behavior, our commitment, our giving of time and energy to God. Now, I know, some people consider their contributions to a local church as the expression of these sacrifices and may be it is.

But I think that’s a bit of a cop-out. So much is put on the leaders of these organizations while the “body” merely pays for it. We are losing our real roles as priests and builders of the structure within.

There are a lot of young and exuberant believers (see tags) who are calling for the same revolution that Peter espoused: to rebuild our spiritual houses on the cornerstone of the Christ.

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Photo By Irm Brown

Is this the ultimate Sabbath-rest — is this heaven? Having gotten excited about Rob Bell’s Love Wins and the idea of heaven on earth and the manifestation of the Kingdom within now, I have to ask, what is this? Or is it a call to a 7-day week with a rest day?

Hebrews 4:9-10
There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.

Instead, I’m thinking it’s more inclusive. The 6-day work week and the 7th day rest has been a classic model throughout Jewish history. It was cultural as well as mandated by the law. Why, it’s even in the Ten Commandments: (Number Four) “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work . . .” [Exodus 20:8-10a]

But, when I look more closely at these rather convoluted passages from Hebrews Four, I must re-think this idea of work and no-work. The Sabbath is a no-work day, but really, who’s doing that? We still cook, we teach Sunday School, we check e-mail, we cut the grass, we go shopping. And these are the light days! We are the lucky ones who don’t have to show up and stand behind a register all day or take food orders or hold bedpans. Are we sinning to “work” on this day?

Or is their another rest? Is there a rest that comes merely from entering and operating in the world of the Christ? Wasn’t it proclaimed that the Messiah would complete all things? There would no longer be sacrifices for sins nor striving to be good to be accepted by God. Jesus said, at the last, “It is finished.”

Perhaps we need to worry less about doing the right thing on the 7th day and spend more time building the 8th day, the time of new beginnings. Followers of the Christ are actually living in that day and time: grace above all, without condemnation, ongoing forgiveness, love as a force, while transparency and authenticity reveal the life to those who don’t know.

“This is the Day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” [Psalm 118:24]

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Two Angels by Peter Shor

Part of the mystery of God’s plan for the Messiah was that he would enter human life fully, and although he would be restored to that greater place in the Kingdom, he would first live among us, that life lower than the angels, yet full of potential for kingdom living.

Hebrews 2:5, 7-8a
It is not to angels that he has subjected the world to come, about which we are speaking.
“You made him a little lower than the angels; you crowned him with glory and honor and put everything under his feet.” [Psalm 8:5-6]

Jesus spent his short but intense ministry doing everything he could to explain, describe, and illustrate the mystery of living and loving in the kingdom of heaven on earth. Undoubtedly, if all else fails, once we let go of our mortal bodies, a fuller understanding of heaven will manifest. And yet, I have to agree with Rob Bell in his latest book, Love Wins, that we are missing the opportunity of our lifetimes: to experience heaven now, to be fully present and responsive to the Holy Spirit now, and thereby, “draw all men [and women] unto Him” [John 12:32]

Currently, I am still reading Sun Stand Still by Stephen Furtick and was caught off guard by another aspect of this idea (which he has reworked from A. W. Tozer’s The Knowledge of the Holy), that our view of God drives how we live out our faith. If our God view is that of a disciplinarian, then we will work hard to “perform” well for God. If God is a dictator, then we’ll limit our actions to what we believe God allows. If God is loving and kind, then we will live freely and in confidence that we can make mistakes. “What comes into your mind when you think about God?” [A. W. Tozer]

If it’s true that God provided a Redeemer, a Messiah, to help all human beings “start over” and establish direct and intimate relations with God, the supreme and sovereign One God, then why bother? What are we supposed to be doing with this renewed relationship? Is it just a personal escape from the fires of Hell or are we supposed to be living out our lives more like the Christ?

We are still “lower than the angels” but I do believe that we are called to be higher, blessed and reunited through our life with the Holy Spirit.

How many times did Jesus chastise his own disciples for their “lack of faith?” [Matthew 6:30, 8:26, 16:8, to name a few]

“Whoever finds his [lower] life will lose it [the higher life], and whoever loses his [lower] life on My account will find it [the higher life].” [Matthew 10:39, Amplified]

What might that look like today?

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Words are compelling. They can change someone’s mind or lock in a point of view; they can soothe or they can motivate to action; they can break a heart or heal. Words create and words destroy. Depending on the wielder of those words and the interpreters, meaning can go either way.

I Timothy 6:4b-5a
“. . . He [one against the message of the Christ] has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions and constant friction between men, . . . ”

Currently, there is quite the controversy over the book, Love Wins, by Rob Bell. Perhaps by now, a few of the attackers of this book have actually read it, but I have a feeling that their minds are made up about the author and will read into those words what they believe are true. In response, they have added more words that are even more controversial, like heretic and apostate and “universalist.” These words are highly charged and challenge anyone who might want to agree with Rob Bell’s proposition as being in equal danger. Each day, I google Rob’s name and his book to find additional essays and points of view. Today, I discovered a well crafted essay from Richard J. Mouw, the President of Fuller Theology, who called Bell’s book one of salvific generosity or a generous orthodoxy, a term popularized by Brian McLaren some years ago (also a controversial author).

And so the battles rage about words and more words. Some are determined to “protect the faith” and some are equally determined to take grace to its limits, expanding the faith.

I am not a theologian nor do I have any authority to speak either way really, except by personal experience. I have written about my mother before who died at 91, in full dementia, and after a long life of mental instability, bitterness, and hardness of heart. But, when it came time for the end of her life, love was there and she had a specific experience of seeing the Christ. How could that be? How could God break through that cloud of confusion? Because, love can win. That love came through me, my husband, my children, my church family, my friends, and my neighbors. That love was three-dimensional, yes, but I believe it was also supernatural.

There is potential for recognition of the Way at any point in a life. We will never know.

When I give my own testimony of how God reached into my own soul, I am always reminded that several people who had known me before my revelation would say, “You? You are a Christian? You are LAST person I would think would ever do that.” And so it was, that I was the last person, like the woman who washed Jesus’s hair with her tears. And so, among the terrorists and killers, the child molesters and liars, the idolaters and the prisoners, I am there too. We are all among the last. And what words are there for us?

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Photo by Roy Mac

A friend of mine derisively asked me what traditional Christians believed they were being saved from? She, who believes more so in the oneness of all things and the greater gestalt of body, mind, & soul, has no reason to entertain an eventual end result of hell. Is that what salvation is all about: “not” hell and “yes” heaven?

I Timothy 4:16
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.

It’s not quite so simple for me. I mean, I believe in a God that is so not like us that we can’t fathom what God IS. Why else would God say, “I am that I am” [Exodus 3:4]. God is non-dimensional in a human sense and because God probably dwells in a non-dimensional or other-dimensional world (for lack of a better term), is that heaven? Or is that simply not our world?

Then, to complicate matters, some of this non-dimensional space exists within us — that’s the “kingdom within” stuff.

“Once, having been asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, Jesus replied, ‘The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, “Here it is,” or “There it is,” because the kingdom of God is within you.’ “[Luke 17:20-21]

Isn’t the kingdom heaven? Yes. Within . . . and without. Because God is greater than my interior self or my personal piece of the Holy Spirit.

So what is hell then? Well, it’s certainly NOT any of those things. It’s not experiencing the kingdom within or without. It’s not being aware of personal spirit, much less Holy Spirit. It’s a separation. The question is whether there is sentience (awareness, mental perception, consciousness) after the body stops working, after the body dies. Is it hell because the self knows it is separated? [See the story of Lazarus, a poor man who begged at the gate of a rich man every day. Lazarus died and went to heaven while the rich man died and went to hell – and knew it. Luke 16:19-31]

Christ says the way of the personal spirit, the soul if you will, is easy after “body death” when it’s connected to a “host.” We are literally invited to become parasitic and leech off the Holy Spirit as much as we want. I know these terms are generally used in a negative sense, but think about it. And for interest’s sake, I found that one of the synonyms for parasite is follower or apostle as well as bootlicker, sycophant and servant.

“This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” [I Timothy 2:3-4]

Knowledge of the truth is awareness of the way.

To be saved then is to discover the inner way and to be conscious of it, to choose to jump on the back of the Host. Once attached and embedded, then Self is redirected and desire is born to love, to help, to enlighten, to listen, to bear, to hope, to renew, to persist, to expand, to glow, to know, and to become transparent.

There are a lot of people who are bashing Rob Bell for his latest book called “Love Wins.” Lots of hype. But it’s interesting to me to discover how many people are angry that he is saying that Love might be so powerful that it will become the ultimate paradox and break open the gates of hell. God is Love and God provided the Christ to reveal the mystery of the love message and the Holy Spirit to work the message in our lives.

In the early days of my Christian walk, I cringed when well-meaning people in passionate church settings would ask me if I’d been saved. I had no idea what they were talking about except for some vague sense of possibly escaping the fires of Dante’s Inferno if I asked Jesus into my heart. Asking Jesus into one’s heart is only effective if we latch on tight to the Host. Life is a rodeo. And hell is a tsunami of the soul.

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