Archive for September, 2009

With Knowledge Comes Responsibility: Thoughts on Good Will Hunting

I’m pretty sure everyone’s seen it, except me.  Until last night, I had only caught bits and fragments of the movie Good Will Hunting starring a young Matt Damon and a bearded Robin Williams.  I can understand why many consider it to be a great movie.

Will Hunting is a genius.  But he’s not in school.  He is a janitor at school.  And not just any school, MIT.  Though misdirected, troubled, and aimless, he has a loyal group of friends.  He has a mind that baffles the estute mathematics Professor Lambeau, but he’s not putting his mind to any use, and it seems to bother others more than it does him.   When Will is faced with jail time, the Professor makes a way for him to stay out of the pen by regular math practices and visits with a counselor.  An interesting conflict in the movie is between Professor Lambeau and Robin William’s character, Sean, who is the only Counselor able to connect with Will.

It is as though Will is avoiding his destiny.  Throughout the movie, his mind is frequently being compared to the stature of Albert Einstein, yet we see him living far below his potential.  He lives a rough life, fighting, breaking the law, and cleaning empty classroom halls.  Will blows off the Professor’s attempts at job opportunities.  He even manipulates the only man who is able to get through to him, Sean.

There’s a point in the movie where Will is working contruction alongside his friend, Chuckie, and they’re on break.  Will says something about 30 years into their future, still working construction and coming over to each others house to watch the game and such.  His friend says, “If you’re still here in 30 years, I’ll kill you.”  This is because Chuckie recognizes the fact that Will is 1 in a billion.  That he has a gift that others would LOVE to have.  And although Will seems to think he owes it to his friends to cover up his gift, Chuckie assures Will that he owes it to his friends to develop his mind to meet his full potential.

This part struck me so much because I believe that with knowledge comes responsibility.  Like Jesus said, to whom much is given, much is required.  Even when we look at the parable of the talents, it would seem as if God wants us to use the gifts he’s given us in a way that will best produce fruit.  Will was the guy who takes his talent and buries it.  But when he encountered someone who believed in him as a whole person, and not just a great mind, he was released to become the guy who uses his talents to make a lot more.

But the other part that struck me was Will learning what is valuable.  Just like when Sean tells of the first time he saw the girl who later became his wife.  He had tickets to a historical Red Sox World Series game, and blew off the game to spend time with the girl.  To everyone else, Red Sox fans especially, Sean’s decision to blow-off the game in order to pursue the girl would seem foolish.  I mean, couldn’t he just get her number and call after the game sometime?  Yes, but there is beauty in recognizing worth.

We see Will begin to see this beauty when at the end of the movie, he leaves the job that Professor Lambeau helped him get, in order to cross the country to be with the girl he loves.  Agree or disagree on his choice, the irrefutable point is that Will saw the options and chose the one that he knew to be most valuable.  Although his decision may seem baffling, to leave a great job after growing up in the wrong side of town and being a janitor, he chose what he knew in his heart to be most important.  Surely the Professor and his bosses would consider him foolish, maybe even his friends, but he knew what he wanted and he went after it.

This has Gospel written all over it.  Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.”  When the man sees the value, the immeasurable riches of the treasure, he looks at everything else he owns as garage sale material.  He forsakes it all with JOY, because he knows the treasure that he has found.  This is one aspect of the kingdom of heaven.  When we as sinners see the beauty of what Jesus has done for us on the cross, and the beauty of the life he has called us to live, everything else seems second rate.

So that’s what I saw, and I’m pensive.  With all that I’ve been exposed to this year, all that I’ve been blessed to see and experience, what am I now required to do?  And how many times do really treat the kingdom of heaven like a treasure?

Lord, lead us in the way to develop our gifts and abilities.  To multiply our talents.  To produce fruit.  We trust You to work.

Lord, show us again what a treasure it is to know You.  Show us again what a joy it is to leave everything and follow You.


More thoughts on Power and Purpose

I’m listening to the Soma Podcasts again.  Just finished listening to The Message Part 2.  These are some thoughts from the teaching that hit me hard.   These aren’t ‘original’ thoughts on my end.  Actually I think God came up with them, but I’m just trying to rehash so I can better understand.  Any thoughts?

Conversion begins with an awareness of Who God is and Who I am.  When I see my depravity against his holiness, my inability against his total ability… then the Cross gets big to me.  But if my view of him is too low(God’s not as big or as good as he says he is), or if my view of myself is too high (I’m really not that bad of a person, I can make myself righteous) — then the cross doesn’t seem like much.

Sometimes we’re guilty of believing that the Gospel is something we believe once at the beginning and then we move on to greater things, but the truth is that we believe the Gospel so that we can live the Gospel.  Whenever we believe that we can get saved and then do whatever we want, we’re trying to say that we choose a god so that we can be god (do whatever we want to do after we come to Jesus.) This is a result of knowing the Power of the Gospel (how God saved us), but not having an awareness of the Purpose of the Gospel (the mission God calls his people to/why God saves us).  In this false Gospel, the Story becomes ABOUT us (instead of him).

The other swing of the pendulum happens when we know the mission of God, but we don’t live from a motivation of the power of God.  In other words, we see the work he wants to do in the earth (restoration), but have not fully realized that he alone has the power to complete it, although he chooses to use us.  In this case, the Story becomes DEPENDENT on us (instead of him). The resulting mindset is that we are the ones responsible changing the world, and we can gain more favor with God through our works toward that goal.

But the Gospel is that he alone is Holy and perfect.  The fall tells us that we are sinful and never capable of perfection in our own right — and that our sin separates us from God.  But the Power of the Gospel is that Jesus’ work on the cross saves us– makes us right with God in spite of our sins and his holiness.  The purpose of God is that he saved us to be a people on mission (not merely individuals who serve their own purposes).

We are saved by God’s work, for God’s work.  We are saved by his grace, to live in his grace, for his purposes.

When we begin to see Who God is and who we are, we don’t have to pretend any more.  We realize that he’s the only one who could ever be perfect, not us.  Jesus is the only one who could ever save us (not ourselves).  So now the secret is out.  We’re not perfect.  I’m not perfect.  You’re not perfect.  So lets quit expecting each other to be perfect.  The pressure is off!  Jesus is the only Jesus.  We don’t have to be our own Savior, our own Jesus.  That is the Gospel!  God knows we couldn’t, so he made a way in Christ.

So the questions comes to me:  Whose Story is it?  Is it primarily about me?  Or is it primarily about God?  It is about us both, but who is it primarily about?  When we see God, we can quit trying to be god.  When we see ourselves, we can quit trying to be God.  God is God, and he loves us, and has a purpose for us.  This is the Gospel.  Power and Purpose.  Faith and Works.  Word and Deed.

We are all theologians

I was listening to a podcast the other day when the person speaking said, “We are all theologians.”

Often we think theology is something for those who have studied in seminary, for clergy, or people with church positions.  But every one has a theology.  Everyone has beliefs about God.  And the neat thing is that our beliefs show up.  You can tell what a person really believes by looking what they do.  You can know someone’s theology when you look at their life.

Yes, there is a division between what we know and what we believe.  I’m not just talking about doctrines that we know, but I’m talking about the things we believe about God.  You can make a mental acknowledegement of something as being true without deeply believing it.  We can ‘know’ God loves us, but until we ‘believe’ God loves us, our lives will be built on a false foundation.  We’ll be trying to gain the approval of others with everything we do.  Instead of being motivated by God’s love for us, we can find ourselves motivated by a lack of love.  The difference is astounding.  It can show up many ways…

I guess all I’m saying is that our lives tell others what we believe to be true about God and life.  This is why we never see faith separated from works in the bible.  It’s true, our works don’t save us.  But it’s also true that if there are no works, then we don’t really have faith.

Maybe this is what James meant when he says, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.” Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” (James 2:17-18 NIV)

Like Donald Miller says, “What I believe is not what I say I believe.  What I believe is what I do.”

What am I saying?  I’m saying that I’m looking at my life and asking myself, “What do I believe?”  I know what I think.  But if you really believe something, it can’t help but show up in your life.  If I find in my life that I believe some good things, then awesome!  If I find that I’m believing things other than what God says, then I’ll repent, turn that over to him, and ask for faith.


A big bite to chew on, the Power and Purpose of the Gospel

My heart is full.  I love the Gospel.  I love the Good News.  I love the Story of God.

The neat thing about the Gospel is that it is more than just an event.  It’s more than the beginning of our story with God.  It’s the beginning, middle, and end.  My heart is continually being restored by God’s Word and his Work, through the power of the Spirit.  I know that often I have treated the Gospel as if it is only a set of facts, orthodoxy, “right belief.”  But whenever I let God have his way, the Gospel become the vehicle through which God changes my heart to align it with his kingdom.  And the Gospel is the means by which he is restoring the entire world.

Often, what I have considered the Gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Which is the Gospel.  But maybe a better way to state it is that there are different ways you can read God’s story.  You can read it “against the grain,” or thematically– this helps with systematic theology.  When reading this way, we look for themes throughout the Bible’s narrative that tell us what God is like and what He’s done for us.  We find out about God’s character, our sin, the work of Jesus’ life, crucifixion, burial, and resurrection; and we see that God is creating a new humanity- a people for him self – not merely a set of saved individuals, but a royal priesthood, a holy nation, that will display God’s kingdom on earth.  This is what we see reading across the grain.  The themes of the Gospel.  God, Sin, Jesus, Faith.  The means of the Gospel…. How God does his work in our hearts.

But another way to read the Story of God is with the grain, discovering truths in the context of the stories in which they happened.  While the former gives you a better understanding of doctrines and systematic theology, the latter will give you a better Biblical theology.  Reading this way tends to flesh out the truths that we find in the doctrines of systematic theology.  We get to see God’s truth in the context of the Story that he’s telling us.  We get to see the purpose for the Gospel.  We see Creation, Fall, Redemption, and Restoration.  We begin to see why God saves us, why we need to be saved, why we are a people instead of just individuals, and our purpose on earth as the body of Christ, with Jesus the head.

So what do we have?  We have the power of the Gospel (God, Sin, Jesus, Faith) and the purpose of the Gospel (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration), and together we can begin to see the beauty and purpose of the church.  We can begin to see the daunting task in which we are called by God to participate; and of which we must fully rely on God to accomplish.  When we understand the Gospel, when we see more of who God is, and more of who he says that we are, then we can be motivated because we have his approval, not in order to gain his approval.  When we understand the purpose of the Gospel we can see that God wants a people who he can use to bless all nations on earth (Genesis 12), and the power of the Gospel is the means by which he does that work.

As the church, we need both the power and purpose of the Gospel.  If a church focuses on the Power of the Gospel, it can tend to become very focused on doctrines, conversions, and unclear as to why a person gets saved.  The extreme forms of this mindset would be to “get saved” and then just wait on God to come back, as if God doesn’t have a big purpose for the church on earth.  If a church focuses on the Purposes of the Gospel, the people can tend to be works-driven, and possibly even motivated by guilt.  This could take many forms, but one example would be a lot of social action without declaring truth.  It would be like trying to do the work of reconciliation ourselves, without relying on the means of the Gospel (Jesus’ work on the cross) to do its work in the lives of people.

Anyway, I know that’s a lot, but it’s what I’ve been thinking about the last few days.  I would love to say that those are my thoughts, but I’ve been re-hashing a teaching by Jeff Vanderstelt from Soma School up in Tacoma that I went to a few months ago.  Here‘s the link if you’re interested in hearing it.

A pound of flesh

Last night I watched Seven Pounds, the somewhat recent film in which Will Smith’s character is stricken with a deep since of guilt about some untold event in his past.  As the movie progresses, it become clear that Ben Thomas (his character) is driven with such a desire to help others, to his own detriment, that he donates his eyes, bone marrow, kidney, liver, part of his lung, his beach house, and even commits suicide in order to give his healthy heart to the woman he loves.  Though unspoken, the implication is that he does these things in order to make up for the seven lives lost in his past during a head-on collision in which he was driving.

Now there are all kinds of parallels here.  His fiance was one of the lives lost in the car wreck.  So the movie portrays him indirectly “taking the life” of the woman he loved, and “giving his life” for the new woman that he loves.  There are a lot of redeeming qualities to the plot.  He feels the weight of his actions.  He feels the guilt of the situation.  And in order to relieve his dark conscience, he gives a total sacrifice of his own body so that others will know life in a deeper, more beautiful way.  He does some great things to help great people.  His eyes help a blind man see.  His house becomes the new home of a battered woman and her two kids.  And in the end, you are made to feel as though he is a man of great sacrifice.  Many redeeming qualities, and also a few things I noticed about our human nature.

We often find ourselves in Ben Thomas’ position.  Knowing we’ve done something wrong, wanting to make it right, not quite knowing how.  At some time or another, we all try to self-atone.  We try to make things better on our own.  We try to prove that we can pay the price for the wrongs we’ve done, that on our own we can make things right, make it better, make it acceptable to God and others.  But the story of the bible tells us this is not the case.  The wage of sin is death, and all have sinned, and more importantly all are sinners.  We’ve messed things up, we’ve marred the image of God that we were formed in far beyond recognition… far beyond our own ability to redeem.

In many Christian traditions, the wrath of God is empasized over his love.  The justice of God is empasized over his grace.  I grew up with a fear that God was waiting for me to mess up so that he could send me straight to hell.  I know of others with similar stories.  It led me to believe that I had to perform.  It led me to believe that my salvation depended on my performance of God’s rules, instead of his act of love for me on the Cross.  It let me to believe that everything was riding on whether or not I sinned, instead of whether or not he made a way.

But the good news is that when we had no way to pay for our sins, God acted on our behalf.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for the us.  He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only ours, but for the sins of the whole world.  He loves us!  He knew that we would sin.  He knew that we would try on our own to cover it up, or to make things right.  And he knew that the only way to make it right was through the Blood of Jesus on the Cross.  The truth is that when we could do nothing to help ourselves, he did everything to help us up, and to make us acceptable!  This is the story of redemption.

But are we Ben Thomas?  How often, though, have you found yourself still trying to self-atone?  Have you ever found yourself holding on to the guilt of a mistake, almost grieving it to prove to God that you’re sorry?  As if you will “feel guilty” enough to make up for the wrong?  As if there is a scale which you must tip in order to have God’s favor?  Have you ever found yourself going above and beyond to prove to your friends and family and co-workers that you are competent, that you can handle things, that you can measure up? (especially if these are people you have let down in the past).  Aren’t we always trying to prove ourselves to somebody?  Whether we’re proving ourselves to ourselves or to others, it’s because of a false belief.  It’s because of a lie that we hold on to so dearly.  It’s because of a belief that we can make things right.  Or that we should be perfect, so we will try our best to prove to others that this is the case.  It’s because we think that since God is perfect, he expects us to be sinless and perfect on our own.  (If you think I’m wrong, then ask yourself if God is surprised each time you fall into sin.)

Here is the truth:  God is gracious, so we don’t have to prove ourselves.  God knows we are imperfect.  He knows our fallen nature.  And out of love, he made a way that we could live above sin.  In Christ, he’s made us from from the guilt of sin and the power of sin.  So, the challenge for when we misstep is to rely on HIS GRACE instead of our own abilities (or should I say feeble attempts) to make things right.  God is gracious, so let’s rest in that.  God is gracious, so let’s show others grace.  God is gracious, so don’t work so hard trying to prove to him or to others that you’re perfect.  He knows you’re not, and we know you’re not.  After all, when we try to self-atone, what we’re really communicating is that we feel like we have sinned against our own image.  When I sin, have I sinned against “me and my image” or God and his image?

I know this is long, but it’s really only the beginning of what was happening in my heart as I watched.

But where sin increased, grace increased all the more – Rom 5:20