Category Archives: Jesus

The Gate Of Heaven Is Everywhere

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Christine Sine is once again hosting an Advent Blog Series on her blog Godspace.  The series is called “Jesus Is Near: How Do We Draw Close?”This post is my contribution to the series.  Christine will share at least one contribution daily on her blog, where she also provides a list of all the contributors.

“We are living in a world that is absolutely transparent

and God is shining through it all the time.

God manifests Himself everywhere, in everything – in

people and in things and in nature and in events   …

The only thing is we don’t see it  …

I have no program for this seeing.  It is only given.

But the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

–          Thomas Merton

 

Years ago I believed that drawing near to God required me to become someone other than who I was/am.  Although I became a follower of Christ while the old hymn “Just As I Am” was sung, I didn’t believe being myself would allow me to get very close to God.

It took me many years to begin to understand that being myself – my real self as opposed to my false self – was not only what would enable me to draw near to God; but, to my amazement and surprise, reconciliation with God and others was to be achieved through reconciliation with myself – my made-in-the-image-of-Christ self.

I don’t need to leave myself – my true self – to become spiritual – to commune with God – to see God manifested in everywhere, in everything – to walk through the gate of heaven that is everywhere – in people – in things – in nature – in events.  It is my false self that must die so that my true self may emerge.

My false self finds it’s identity in what I am not (I’m not like “those” people), or in a group who shares some common experience, or in a person who makes me feel like I belong.  My false self is consumed with personas and masks that hide my feelings, my failures, my passions, my fears, my desires in order to pretend to be what I perceive to be expected from me.

My false self is telling me right now, as I write this, that I must get busy and do something to become my true self … but the truth is I cannot do it – I cannot think or work myself into being real enough to draw near to God.  Becoming real is something that happens to us in the midst of our life.  Paula D’Arcy says, “God comes to us disguised as our life.”

In other words, it grasps us in the midst of our ordinary life. Being real is an experience  – during prayer, in the midst of suffering, while fully experiencing our place in creation, being forgiven or loved, enjoying art or relationship … it is not based on any sense of merit or accomplishment – it is a gift.  A gift that allows you to see a child sleeping, hear a voice singing, feel a breeze blowing with spontaneous awe and gratitude; a gift that allows us to be mindful of difficult feelings when they begin to surface – feelings of anger, fear, boredom, sadness, frustration, anxiety – that can be acknowledged to ourself and to God as if we were holding the feeling in our hand and presenting it to ourself and to God; a gift that allows me to look upon events and people with sacred attention and be vulnerable rather than defensive, judgemental, controlling and/or manipulative.

The fact that we cannot think or work ourself into being real enough to draw near to God does not mean that we cannot end up spending our life working to nurture and maintain our false self.  Our realization of our false self, our struggle to remove our masks, our willingness to dwell silently in the presence of God, to allow God to live his love through us, to be present in the here-now – these things help us to receive the gift of the really real – the gift of being our true self – so that all our enterings and leavings become a movement into the presence of God because “the gate of heaven is everywhere.”

“Everything I see, hear, touch, feel, taste, speak, think, imagine, is completing a perfect circle God has drawn.”  – Meister Eckhart

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Three Things Tuesday – Race, Inception and Following Jesus

#1  There’s a new blog “Ethnic, Space and Faith” that is worth the time.  Randy Woodley, the author of Living In Color, is the author and his new blog is a continued attempt to promote ethnic space in faith.   The tag line is “we have no color lines”.  IMO this is important work that is very much needed.

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#2 I saw Inception on opening weekend.  I thought it was the best movie I’ve seen all year and it didn’t stop giving when the final credits rolled … because it is one of those movies that keeps everyone talking.  There are theories being posted all over the net.  Here is one that is getting a lot of attention.

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#3 Josh Harris has a very funny cartoon about how the phrase “following Jesus” might be confusing to some.

Whose Soul Will Be Condemned To Torment?

There has been a lively discussion going on over at Scot McKnight’s blog, Jesus Creed, about Brian McLaren’s view of the Soul-Sort Narrative in his new book, A New Kind Of Christianity.  Unfortunately, some of the theological talk went over my head but the last comment (at least it was the last one as of today) shared one of those real life illustrations that leaves a lot of the theological banter sounding cold and shallow.  Comment #107 by Lindsey, asked the question:  “Whose soul will be condemned to torment?”   Here’s part of what Lindsey had to say:

I attended a funeral of a man that I worked with. He was in his mid-forties and died of a rare form of cancer. He and his family were devoutly Jewish. The service was moving, spiritual, and had the raw feeling of the God of Abraham in Holy Spirit in the room. This man, Brooke, was an ophthalmologist, and had left his successful and lucrative practice to teach high school science to inner city kids. I taught with him. The kids were heartbreaking, helpless, and hopeless, and he built them up in every way. As he went through painful treatment, he refused to quit teaching, and taught up until a week before he died. The synagogue at his funeral was filled with his students: poor kids, minority kids, kids that had never set foot in a house of worship before. Through Brooke, these kids, and all who worked with him, saw God. Brooke, though he didn’t know it, was a true servant of Christ. Meanwhile, my very Christian neighbors across the street sport a confederate flag bumper sticker right next to their cross. Through this simple gesture, they have turned away many people in my neighborhood from even being willing to hear the name of Jesus. These people, have condemned countless people to eternity without Christ through their ignorance and selfishness.
So tell me, who’s soul will be condemned to torment?

In many ways this question is not relavant for me these days as I don’t embrace the theology that revolves around “who is going to heaven? who is going to hell?” but I believe the story that Lindsey surrounds the question with is important as it demonstrates the problem with the type of theology that I grew up with.

What do you think?

Three Things Tuesday

(1)  This is hilarious no matter what you believe.

(2)   “the Bible explains the mystery of Christ’s work in a whole ‘kaleidoscope’ of models, metaphors, theories or stories of salvation, each reflecting a different aspect of this very deep and far reaching problem of ‘sin’ in us and in this world” – Steve Burnhope.

For those of us who have struggled with reconciling the theory of penal substitution with a God of love the idea that there is more than one legitimate atonement theory is a sigh of relief.

Check out this article:

Steve Burnhope: “Culture, Worldview and the Cross: Penal Substitutionary Atonement and 21st Century Mission”

(3)  I thought this was an interesting graph showing the National Debt as a percent of GDP.   Not only does it give a better perspective of our national debt than just throwing a dollar figure out there but I thought it was surprising to find out that the National Debt as a percent of GDP has increased mostly under the Republican Party during the last 60 years.

Deconstructing The Great Commission – Part Two

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‘To be a witness means to offer your own faith experience and to make your doubts and hopes, failures and successes, loneliness and woundedness, available to others as a context in which they can struggle with their own humanness and quest for meaning.’   –-Henry Nouwen (Spiritual Direction)

I didn’t get a lot of response to my previous post Deconstructing The Great Commission  but here’s some rambling in response to one of the comments:

Ken Bussell pointed out that the verses associated with The Great Commission don’t say anything about “sharing the gospel” – instead the verses speak of making disciples and teaching them to obey Jesus’ commandments.  Thinking about that and taking into account what Jesus said and taught I start to get the sense that The Great Commission is not so much about converting people to a particular belief system but much more about teaching a way of life.  Of course it is easier to tell people what to believe than to show them how to live.  Living life is a lot messier – it often seems to pull the legs out from under absolute statements that belief systems are typically built on.  I notice that people were always trying to pin Jesus down about what they should believe about all sorts of things, but Jesus didn’t seem that concerned with absolute statements that could be spouted off.  In fact, it seemed that he went out of his way to show that life would more often than not turn those statements on their head.  Just when someone thought they were being obedient Jesus would demonstrate that their form of obedience violated the very essence of what he was all about.

I guess at this point I would say that I am getting a picture that living out The Great Commission is much more alive and fluid than traditional teaching conveys. 

Deconstructing The Great Commission

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As many of you know I’ve been doing a lot of deconstructing of Christianity over the last few years – examining what I’ve been taught, what I believed about God, Jesus, and scripture, and what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ. 

Let me tell you…it is a very, very, very long process – especially for someone with no formal theological training.  Not only is it a long process but at times it is a very uncomfortable process – living with the questions, the doubts, the “not knowing” – dealing with people who proclaim you are going to hell, saying you shouldn’t call yourself a Christian and assigning all sorts of negative labels to you.  At times I want to give up, but I don’t – not because I am this great person who is pushing themselves through this process, determined not to give up, committed to persevering (blah blah blah) but more because it is what is happening to me.  I am trying to follow Jesus and as I live my life these “things” keep coming up – it’s sort of like “shit happens”.  So, here I am today with another “thing” that I am trying to understand – and it has to do with “The Great Commission.”

I was taught that every Christian is commanded by Jesus to be a witness for him and that means telling others about the gospel (i.e. how he died on the cross to pay for our sins and how believing in him can save you from going to hell) and that our ultimate goal is to convert as many as possible and win the world for Christ – this was called “The Great Commission.”

When I first began to deconstruct this teaching I focused on “the gospel” – I deconstructed what I had been taught and began to try to understand what scripture had to say about “the gospel” (what was the good news?) – I eventually came to a different understanding from what I had been taught all my life but that is not what I want to talk about today.  Today I want to ask some different questions.  I want to ask:

“Is the Great Commission a promise or a commandment?”  “Was Jesus really speaking to all Christians or just to the apostles?” “What was the goal of the instruction that Jesus gave to the apostles?”  “What about all those things that Jesus said would happen – casting out demons, picking up snakes with their hands, speaking in new tongues, healing the sick?” “Are these passages relevant for me today?”

You see, when I read the first chapter of Acts it sounds to me that the only commandment Jesus gave was the one to wait in Jerusalem until something special happened (the Day of Pentecost).  When I read Acts 1:8 it doesn’t sound like a command as much as a promise.  It sounds like Jesus is explaining what will happen after the Holy Spirit comes upon them.

And when I read Matthew 28:16-20 and Mark 16:15-20 in context it sounds like this is a contextually limited instruction given only to the apostles and that there is a political aspect to the instruction that has to do with the Roman Empire.  I also sense that the purpose was much narrower than what I’ve been taught and that there may have been some  immediate urgency to make something happen before something else happened.

Could Jesus’ instructions to the apostles serve the purpose of creating communities that would “be” the “new creation” among all the nations and these communities would be the witness of Jesus because of the way they functioned?  Was there an urgency to do this before the destruction of Jerusalem – was that the reason for all those special signs?

I sense that there is a past, present and future wrapped up in these passages.  I believe that there is something in these passages that is relevant for me today but that it is different than what I have known up to this point. 

I have more questions and thoughts but I want to stop here for now.

I could use some help thinking these things through and so I am inviting you to come here and have a conversation that I can listen in on.  I am interested in all feedback but please be courteous.  (And not to be rude, but I already know the traditional teaching very well and feel that it is incomplete in some ways and embellished in others – I am looking for some new perspectives and insights that might help me to explore my questions.  Oh – and I am better with “not knowing” than trying to simplistically explain away my questions.) 

A Modern Telling Of The Beatitudes

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Rob Bell recently tweeted a modern telling of The Beatitudes and my friend Jonathan Blundell (@jdblundell) gathered them up and posted them on his blog “Stranger In A Strange Land“. Here they are:

Blessed are those who don’t have it all together.

Blessed are those who have run out of strength, ideas, will power, resolve, or energy.

Blessed are those who ache because of how severely out of whack the world is.

Blessed are those stumble, trip, and fall in the same place again and again.

Blessed are those who on a regular basis have a dark day in which despair seems to be a step behind them wherever they go.

Blessed are you, for God is with you, God is on your side, God meets you in that place.

The gospel is the counter-intuitive, joyous, exuberant news that Jesus has brought the unending, limitless, stunning love of God to even us.

via @realrobbell