Wednesday, February 29, 2012

N.T. Wright Interview: “Simply Jesus” & Wright Responds to Critics

I recently read Simply Jesus by N.T. Wright.  I haven't written any reviews on it or anything but I did thoroughly enjoy reading it.  In fact, in many of my recent conversations I have found myself referring back to many of the things I discovered through this work.  I highly recommend it to all of you and if you are interested in a review of the book from my perspective just let me know.  I would be glad to provide that.

Recently  Frank Viola posted an interview  he did with Wright about this book.  If you are considering the purchase of Simply Jesus you should go and check out this interview.

A little shameless promotion never hurt anyone, right?

The Shepherd and Ewe: a story of restoration

I heard an illustration once about how shepherds bring a wandering sheep back to the flock.  I don't know how true it is.  I've never asked a real shepherd about it and I'm too lazy to Google it to find out.  Not that it matters.  It stuck with me and it has given me a valuable insight into our relationship with Christ.  Even if it is untrue, I'm sure it would work for the shepherds.  Here is a story based on that illustration.

The Shepherd and ewe

The shepherd looks out over the meadow, counting his flock, considering each one.  Like a father to his children he knows his sheep better than he knows himself.  He has even given them all names that only he knows.  He moves his gaze from one sheep to another, taking in how dramatically different they are.  All that diversity and yet they form one cohesive group.  They live and move as one.  He basks in the beauty and enjoys his work.

He stops.

One is missing.

Suddenly his care, concern and joy in the flock is transferred to the ewe that is missing.  He is compelled to leave the flock and restore the one that has wandered.

He searches relentlessly.  The shepherd knows every thing there is to know about this member of the flock so he knows in which direction to start looking.  He finds some tracks and spots the lost one in the distance.  As he draws near he can see that it is stuck in some thorny weeds and unable to free itself.  He moves in closer and begins to free the animal from the entanglement.  He is ever so careful as he pulls away each weed.  The shepherd does not want to cause the creature any more harm than what has already been done by the thorns that have been piercing from all sides.  With great love and affection he is able to completely free the ewe from the mess.

The newly liberated animal is now free again and so it proceeds to scamper off and flee from the reach of the one that just set it free from its own prison of piercing and choking weeds.  The shepherd takes chase, his own determination to reconcile this lost sheep driving him to not give up.  But the sheep has a mind and will of his own and is not going to submit to the shepherd easily.  The ewe wants to do things its own way.  The shepherd does the only thing he can do in order to bring the wandering one back to the flock.  He catches up with the animal and uses his staff to break its legs.

The crack of its bones is like thunder in the sky.

Now utterly incapable of running away, the sheep howls in pain as the loving shepherd picks it up and places the burden of its weight upon his own shoulders.  Without the use of its legs, those tools of independance and self will, the creature could not follow him even if it was willing to.  The ewe is completely helpless and must be carried.

Once restored back to the pasture where the flock has been grazing together the shepherd must give special attention to the newly reconciled one.  It's wounds must be tended to and it must be fed by the shepherds hand as it is unable to move about on its own.  The sheep is totally dependant on the shepherds provision to sustain its life.  Once it has been nursed back to full health it will know and trust the shepherd.  The desire to have its own way somewhere out in the wilderness will be seen as complete foolishness.

Even so, it is still a sheep and sheep are stupid.  Even with such a loving shepherd you never know what a stupid sheep might do.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Smoking in the boys room

I'll never forget my exodus from church camp at the age of fourteen.

It was a summer like every other.  Flocks of kids from clean-cut middle to upper class homes all gathered together for a week of fun in the sun.  Pool time, prank time and time away from the adults to make your move on the hottest girl in Sunday School with short intermissions of cheesy songs and uncomfortable looking counselors talking about things from the Bible that they thought we would find interesting.  It was good clean fun, you know: diving competitions, kickball, shaving cream fights, hanging someone's underwear from the flagpole, and midnight adventures to the local graveyard.  Everyone always had a blast.

At camp I felt like I was the only one who didn't fit in.  Not because I wasn't accepted by my peers but because I knew nothing about their "have what you want, when you want it because Jesus loves you" lifestyle.  That kind of thinking didn't even show up on my radar.  On the days prior to and following the week of church camp, my food was purchased with WIC vouchers and food stamps.  In fact, if it had not been for some generous folks in the congregation, I would not have been able to afford to attend camp at all.  This was the deepest darkest secret of my adolescence.  I was ashamed of living in poverty and did not want to lose the bond I had with my much more affluent friends.

It all came crashing down in the summer during my fourteenth year of age.  At this point in time I had picked up a habit demonstrated by every living adult who meant anything to me; smoking cigarettes.  It's true, every single person I can remember that loved me for who I was and not for who I fooled them into believing I was, was a smoker.  Smoking and being a loving person went together like love and marriage.  So, I tried it and after choking up a lung decided I liked it.  I liked it so much that I began hiding it from every adult in the tri-state area, sneaking a few out of the packs that were laying around my house from various adults which eventually led to shoplifting cigarettes to feed my addiction.  Over time, I got more sophisticated in my techniques and was able to find adults that would buy them for me.  Those were the best...the ones bought with my hard earned money in my very own brand of choice.  This was the pack I carried with me to church camp that summer.

I had it all worked out.  I had friends who were in on my secret and they would be my lookout.  I had the schedule memorized and the optimal times to sneak away for a smoke all figured out.  It was not a flawless plan.  Once an adult caught wind of nicotine in the air, the hunt was on and eventually I was the marked target.  I would now have to pay for my sins and be put away from the flock.  As they say:   little leaven leavens the whole lump.

I vividly remember the pastor bringing be into a private room, taking out my delicious pack of Marlboro Red's and going completely mental as he broke every one with veins pulsing in his forehead and the look of pure disgust on his face.  "I'm doing this because I love you" he tells me.  Huh, I thought.  Strange love.

After he took out all his emotions on my helpless pack of cancer sticks he escorted me out to the pool where all the other kids were playing.  He got everyone's attention so that I could obey his command to confess to everyone my addiction to cigarettes and let them all know that I was leaving.  It is my most embarrassing memory to date and I owe it all to the Pastor who "loved" me enough to put me through it.

Whenever I return to this time in my mind the feelings come flooding back.  Embarrassment, shame, fear, guilt, rejection, anger, sadness all coursed through my veins simultaneously.  A sweaty little teenage boy hoping to find someone who would accept me in spite of my failures.

That is exactly what I found at home.  My mom seemed surprised when the pastor walked me up to the door and exposed my errors.  After suggesting some of what he considered to be justified consequences for my transgression, he turned back to his truck and made way back to the campground.  My mom sat me down and told me that smoking was stupid.  She should know.  Then she told me that it wasn't my smoking that disappointed her.  It was my lying to her and hiding from her.

Everything changed within me at that moment.

My emotions all began twisting and turning at this new revelation.  I hurt my mom and she was one of the only ones I knew who really did love me.  It was the first time I understood what my sin really was and it had nothing to do with nicotine.  It had to do with my relationships.  As I thought about the importance of my relationship with my mom and the other people who cared for me I had lied to I felt like smoking was no longer even an issue.

I wonder if it ever occurred to the pastor just how damaging his "love" would have been to me if I didn't have my mom there to demonstrate what love really was.  She didn't go mad, put on a furious face and seek to embarrass me.  No, she revealed to me the importance of our relationship and accepted me, cigarettes, failures and all.

Because that is what love does, that is what God does.


Do you have a story that has changed your view of love?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Quarantine and community

For the last two weeks I have lived in a petri dish. The CDC put a huge white bubble around our home to confine the infection and protect the surrounding neighbors. My wife and I were reduced to pill popping lumps beneath a comforter on the sofa.



Rendered completely useless

There is no way to be a productive member of society in this condition, or good parents for that matter. Thankfully, several families stepped up to bring us meals on some of the worst days. We even conned a couple folks to keep Chloe away from the quarantined area for a few days. Our boys, on the other hand, were subjected to the dangers of their highly contageous mother and father on a consistent and daily basis. Through much prayer and a broken record of "get away" and "dont touch me" playing, they were able to avoid infection.

So far, so good.

Today were all back on the up and up thanks to many prayers on our behalf along with a couple shots in the rear end, eye drops, cough drops and enough ibuprophen and antibiotic pills to choke a mule. As I reflect on what the Lord was teaching me through all this (because all things work for good and He loves to discipline His children), I realized just how helpless we really are on our own, even when we are in perfect health.  We really need each other.  A member that has been separated from the body doesn't form another body.  It dies and decays and then stinks really bad until it becomes nothing and is blown away by passing winds.  Which brings me to my next point.

The Body of Christ is not confined to the membership roles of those who gather at a particular location.  Even if that is how a person thinks of it, it is not true.  We are all inter-connected with one another and we all receive life and instruction from the same source, the Head.  My eyes have been opened to the beauty of being a member of the Body of Christ.  Even as someone who has abandoned traditional church services and doesn't have his name on any membership roles, I am still intricately connected with, necessary to and dependent upon the other members of Christ body.  As long as I remain attatched to Christ the Head I also remain attatched to all those who are attached to Him as well.  Even if I'm not attatched to a pew every Sunday.  The fullness of Christ lives in each one of us and in Him we all live and move and have our being...together.  We can be separated by wide areas of geography and still be one and share the same life while two others can sit side by side but feel miles apart inside.  It all depends on the level at which we abide in Him.
I am so very thanful to be a part of such a loving body of believers.  Yes, I am simply speaking of the believers who know and love us in our community since we don't really "belong" to any particular group or organization.  And I'm looking forward to the ways the Lord will serve them through me in the coming future.

Anyways, that's my rambling for this particular day.  Oh, by the way, the CDC never really came to our home, but I was expecting them to at any minute.

So what has the Lord been teaching you this past week?