Blog Posts

How to handle a heart attack?

Enemies
In Enemies or the Heart, Andy Stanley argues that the problems that bubble up in life (i.e. job loss, divorce, broken relationships) are result of our failure to address the destructive forces in our heart. These forces poison our lives and set us up for crisis. It is failure to deal with the enemies of the heart that cause some people to lose there faith. So what are these enemies of the heart?

Ostensibly, Stanley suggests four attitudes are experienced as deep debts in the heart: Guilt, Anger, Greed, Jealousy. Guilt is the belief that “I owe you;” we’ve done something wrong for which we feel we need to atone for.

Anger on the other hand say, “you owe me.” You did something wrong and I hold it against you.

Greed says, “I owe me.” I am going to store up what I can for myself.

Jealousy says “God owes me” as we reflect upon the inequity between our life and someone else (who is better than us).

Stanley says every wound we carry can be traced back to one of these four. So what are the remedies for these ailments?

Guilt is overcome by confession. Stanley stresses public confession as necessary to break the cycle of shame guilt puts us in. Anger is overcome as we learn forgiveness. This involves knowing who wronged us, what they did, what they deserve and our choosing to let go of it. Greed is overcome as we stop hoarding and develop the habit of generosity. Jealousy is beaten when we learn to celebrate those around us.

Andy Stanley has written a good book. It is accessible, warm, humorous and insightful. What I didn’t like about this book wasn’t what it said, but how it was framed. Stanley offers his advice to us so that we could avoid wounding, be whole and have the best life, including best spiritual life we can. Not that this is wrong, but I wonder about the wisdom of commending holy living (a phrase which doesn’t appear in his book) for what it does for you. Why should we avoid guilt, anger, greed, jealousy? So that we are happier and healthier? Why should we confess, forgive, give generously and celebrate others? So that we have better lives? Yes but more.

What happens when holiness doesn’t make your life better? You confess and people judge you. You forgive and get hurt again. You give generously and are taken advantage of. You celebrate others and they use you. Well, there is something more to a holy life besides what it does for you. Sometimes all you get out of it, is that you know you are pleasing God. Holiness is not always instrumental and shouldn’t be treated that way.

But this demurral aside, I thought this book was worth reading and certainly touches on some pretty big issues that every Christian (and non-Christian) needs to wrestle with if they are to grow in their walk with God.

I received a copy for review from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for this fair and incredibly honest review.

Grace is the Name of a Girl

Thanks to Booksneeze.com I received a copy of Larry Taunton’s new book “The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse the Corruption of Unbelief”The Grace Effect

Christian Apologist Larry Taunton, founder of the Fixed Point Foundation has debated with atheists about the value of religion, and Christianity in particular. In fact this book begins with Taunton hashing it out with Christopher Hitchens over dinner. He challenges Hitchens that Christianity answers the problem of evil better than Atheism. He then goes on to talk about the idea of common grace, the idea that when a significant Christian presence infiltrates a culture it brings benefits to the whole society.

The rest of the book is a reflection on this theme through the medium of autobiography. Taunton tells the story of he and his family travelling to the Ukraine to adopt Sasha. Larry’s wife and sons had met her on a short-term mission the year before, fell in love and felt God calling them to adopt her. But as they do they come face to face with the horrors of the orphanage system in the Ukraine and government corruption. They are repeatedly stalled and asked for bribes (gifts). It is clear that the system and government is not
acting in the best interest of Sasha (unlike the Americans when their turn comes). Taunton interprets this as evidence that the Ukraine, nurtured as a secularist state under communism, is inadequate in its moral formation. It has no concept or understanding of grace.

Taunton paints the Ukraine as a place where darkness reigns and is reflective on what it means to take Sasha from there and bring her to America, a place formed by Christian conviction (even in its secular expression). This story is rather heartwarming and it is hard not to feel this father’s anger at the injustice his adopted daughter had to endure and his joy at the knowledge that he brought her into a better life, where she receives appropriate care from family, the medical community, and society at large.

When this book ends, Taunton is again eating dinner with Christopher Hitchens where he observes Hitchens observing Sasha and reflects on how the life of his daughter testifies to the reality of grace.

I remain critical of his characterization of Ukrainian society. He includes a brief history of Russia’s (and the Ukraine’s) conversion to Orthodoxy, and implies that their version of the Christian story is empty of grace. Add to this decades of communist indoctrination about the absence of God and you have a spiritually impoverished society and a bunch of scoundrels. This is no doubt true and his experience seems to warrant some of these conclusions, but he unfairly absolutizes these statements. So when he contrasts corrupt Ukraine with good Christian America, he comes off sounding a tad nationalistic. There are certainly other reasons for corruption besides secularism. The economics of enforced redistribution under communism probably encouraged baseline corruption from the citizenry on the basis of personal survival. I am no atheist, but I just not sure that Taunton has made his case that ‘atheism’ is to blame for all that ails the fallen Communist Regimes. He may be partially right, but I don’t think it is as simple as he makes it out to be.

I do agree with Taunton’s central premise: that the Christian heritage in America has impacted wider society for the common good. I am not sure that he would convince the skeptical through his tale, but it is coherent to those of us who share his faith. And it is impossible to read this book and not love Sasha!

Getting Intimate with the Almighty

I first came across a book by Greg Paul several years ago. I was new to urban ministry and the stories, people and insights of Greg Paul’s God in the Alley were well worth it, though frequently heartbreaking.

This book was different. It was not about justice and while a few of the stories were about sanctuary and the neighborhood his church is in, this was much more personal. He told the stories of his relationship with his parents, his children, people he was privileged to walk along side. He told the story of God’s relationship with us. The stories of Greg and the people he loves dovetail with God’s story and he sees in them the God he loves and who loves him even more passionately.

Greg Paul uses the framework of Creation, Fall, Redemption and Consummation to tell God’s story (a helpful framework given to him by Rod Wilson of Regent College). At each point, Greg’s life and metaphors converge to tell the story of God’s love. We are created by a loving God. God looks on our sinfulness not with anger and judgmentalism, but with sadness of seeing the pain we are in. God in Christ is our great redeemer. The God of love holds our future.

I would suggest reading this book slowly and devotionally. As someone with ‘pastor eyes’ reading this, I love how Greg Paul is able to share how biography intersects theology. The truth of Grace is not a doctrine, but a lived reality. We all need to know this more.

Can you Dig it? A review of Joshua Harris’s Dug Down Deep

I am not a big fan of Joshua Harris. I haven’t read his book on dating (more accurately not dating) or anything he’s written on relationships and marriage. I did read his book on the Church (“Stop Dating the Churc”h re-titled as “Why Church Matters”). I found it mediocre and insensitive to where people are coming from when they are ambivalent to church. I also found him theologically narrow.

So I was surprised that Harris’s book on doctrine and theology was something I actually enjoyed. In this book, Harris describes his ‘conversion’ to the sort of Christian who cared about doctrine. Then he reviews various different doctrines, in sort of an autobiographical survey of systematic theology. This is really what makes this book work. The theological weight of this book is rather light, though he does point readers to deeper places (and Wayne Grudem). What you get instead is Harris’s wrestling with doctrine and the story of why he thinks certain truths matter. This is autobiography as theology which endears it to me, even if I do not sign off on all of Harris’s generally reformed model of the faith.

I think doctrine matters and this is a passionate defense. More than that, Harris comes across as likable. His last chapter about ‘humble orthodoxy’ is the best part of the book. Harris is not arguing for a narrow and intolerant orthodoxy; rather he is arguing that Christians hold on to truth without compromising. This doesn’t mean they need to be judgmental and narrow-minded. Point well taken.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review

Looking for work in all the wrong places.

I want a job as a pastor. This is hard to get. Particularly when I see problems with how churches have done things. I don’t want to be an Emergent church-planter because by-in-large, these are reactionary white guys hating their mega church background (I’m sympathetic but not my issue). I care about justice and would love to pastor an urban church. However given this economy urban churches are not hiring, or I am not connected with their denomination, or I don’t have as much experience as other applicants. And still I feel called. Lord show me where you are leading, go before and prepare the way.

Readings- By Czeslaw Milosz

Czeslaw Milosz, Bells in Winter. New York: Ecco Press, 1978, 10.

Readings

You asked me what is the good of Reading the Gospels in Greek.
I answer that it is proper that we move our finger
Along letters more enduring than those carved in stone,
And that, slowly pronouncing each syllable,
We discover the true dignity of speech.
Compelled to be attentive we shall think of that epoch
No more distant than yesterday, though the heads of Caesars
On coins are different today. Yet still it is the same eon.
Fear and desire are the same, oil and wine
And bread mean the same. So does the fickleness of the throng
Avid for miracles as in the past. Even mores,
Wedding festivities, drugs, laments for the dead
Only seem to differ. Then, too, for example,
There are plenty of persons whom the text calls
Diamonizomenoi, that is, the demonized
Or, if you prefer, bedeviled (as for the “possessed”
It’s no more than the whim of a dictionary).
Convulsions, foam at the mouth, the gnashing of teeth
Were not considered signs of talent.
The demonized had no access to print or screens,
Rarely engaging in arts or literature.
But the Gospel parallel remains in force:
That the spirit mastering them may enter swine,
Which exasperated by the sudden clash
Between two natures, theirs and the Luciferic,
Jump into the water and drown (which occurs repeatedly).
And thus on every page a persistent reader
Sees twenty centuries as twenty days
In a world which one day will come to its end.

Learning the Love of God from Little Girls

I am the father of two beautiful little girls (3.5 years and 17mo.). When my oldest girl was a baby we were visiting some friends who also had two young children. I remember the father waxing eloquent in Christian cliches about the love he has for his son and daughter was like the love of the Father. I remember my friend saying something like, “I’ve notice that I am so full of love for my son and it got me thinking that that is a lot like God’s love for us.” Understand, at the time I was in the middle of theological education, trying to get an M.Div. But somehow I didn’t really warm to the fact that my friend was using the quality of his own love as an example of God’s love.

But sure I get the point. It is only natural to speak of parental love as a picture of God’s love. Jesus calls God, “Abba,” the Aramaic term for ‘father’ or ‘my father.’ The church has formalized the language, calling God: Father. Understandably the reference point for understanding the language of ‘father’ is our own earthly dads. The problem is that when our dad’s are abusive, absent or otherwise assholes, we tend to import that image into our thoughts about God (the same goes if we change the language to include God as mother). Even if our dads are good dads, they never love us perfectly and make mistakes. My own dad is great, but there are things about him that are not like God. I strive to love my little girls as God would, but there will be ways in which I wound them by failure to love them properly.

So where does that leave us? Some theologians argue that we should abandon the language of God’s fatherhood (and motherhood). Other theologians argue that we should keep the traditional formulation of God as father, but take care to not cast God in the image of our biological father.

I am quite comfortable with father language, but I know people who aren’t for various reasons (patriarchy, abuse). I personally am moved by the image of God as a loving Father who protects and cares for his children. But  I have come to see the love of God in them and wonder if the love of God is less like a parent’s love for a child than it is like the love of a child has for her parents.

Hear me out. In their book Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God, Dennis, Sheila and Matthew Linn assert, “the bottom line of healthy Christian Spirituality is God loves us at least as much as the person who loves us most” (11). While I think that this is underestimating God’s love when we consider that the Bible tells us that God is in fact, Love itself (cf. 1 John 4:8), looking to the person who loves us most is a good place to begin when looking for our metaphors for God’s love.

For me that my little girls (my wife too but in a different way). My girls think I am the best dad they can have (they will grow out of this, but let me live in their illusion for awhile). When they are scared or hurt, my presence with them makes them feel safe and comforted. Sometimes when I walk into the room, I get flashed smiles by both of them which would make your heart melt. My young one looks lovingly at me and chants, “Daddy, Daddy.” My older one loves when I read books or color with her. Both girls love when I lift them up over my head. Sure they will play with other people and love to do things with them, but they wouldn’t trade me for them. They are most secure and satisfied when my wife and I are home with them and they can spend time with us.

God loves me as much as little girls who haven’t seen the way their father will fail them. God wants to spend time with me and enjoys me as much as my little one. Does that sound sacrilegious? The image I have just shared is an image of God where he is the weak one, and I am the one with all the strength. I am the strong father, he is the weak little girl. Is this inappropriate? Is this not the way God comes to us at Christmas: A little child, weak and dependent on his mother’s milk. It is the God that comes in weakness, frailty and smallness whose coming we prepare for in the Advent season.

Therefore look and see in the eyes of a little child the coming of a king. When we learn to look and see children properly, we are not far from the kingdom of God.

Isaiah 11:1–9 (NRSV)

The Peaceful Kingdom
(Isa 9:1–7)
11 A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
2 The spirit of the LORD shall rest on him,
the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
the spirit of counsel and might,
the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3 His delight shall be in the fear of the LORD.

He shall not judge by what his eyes see,
or decide by what his ears hear;
4 but with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.
5 Righteousness shall be the belt around his waist,
and faithfulness the belt around his loins.

6 The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
7 The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
8 The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.
9 They will not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
as the waters cover the sea.