Archive for the 'Theology' Category

Jonah 3: Answering the Call

At Anchor Gaslamp, we’re continuing the series on Jonah and the Mission of God.  Yesterday was the third installment of the series and we’ll be finishing up next week.  Here are some interesting points in Jonah 3.

God gives Jonah a second chance.  Look at it, chapter 3:1 is almost exactly like chapter 1:1.  But by this time in the story, Jonah has experienced what it’s like to run from God’s call.  Jonah has seen that God still pursued him for God’s own purposes and for Jonah’s good.  Jonah saw God send a storm to keep Jonah from running.   And when he thought it was all over, as he was drowning in the ocean, Jonah experienced what it’s like to be literally swallowed by God’s grace (in the form of a large fish.)  In Jonah’s prayer, found in chapter 2, he acknowledges that God saved him from certain death, that God brought his life up from the pit.

Another thing Jonah acknowledges in his prayer is that, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.”  We see that being inside the storm, thrown into the sea, and swallowed by the fish, God has brought Jonah to a place where he can’t run from God anymore.  There in the belly of the fish, he is confronted with the truth… the truth about the idols in his heart.  The idols that keep him from fully trusting in God’s sovereignty.  Clinging to these idols is the very thing keeping him from experiencing God’s grace in the mission to share the truth with others.

And here at this point, when God has used extreme and difficult circumstances to redeem Jonah’s rebellion, Jonah vows to declare that “salvation comes from the LORD.”  At this moment is when the fish vomits him up onto dry land, and God gives Jonah a ‘take two’ of sorts.

The situation is still the same.  All the circumstances that made Jonah want to flee in the first place are still there.  But God’s call is also still there.  And given the second chance that he’s given, Jonah makes the decision to obey.  He’s learned by this point who is really in control.

In chapter 3, we finally see Jonah walking in FAITH, whereas in previous chapters we’ve seen him walk in FEAR.  Yes, the task is daunting.  God wants him to walk into an intimidating city of 120,000 people who do not fear the Lord… and he wants him to go in alone and tell all these people how wrong they are… and of their impending judgment.  But now that he’s been where he’s been, he knows that God is trustworthy… and that of all the possible missions on earth, only God’s mission will be successful.  So he walks faithfully into a task WAY too big for him, a challenge that is impossible without God… but he obeys because he knows that he is working with God.

Finally we see that when Jonah decides to obey God instead of rebel, when he runs toward God’s mission instead of running away from it, he gets to join in with the success of God’s mission as well.  The people of Nineveh believe, cry out to God, and repent.

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Our challenge in San Diego is this: to recognize that God has called us to this city on mission, and to run toward that mission with faith in God’s sovereignty.

Mission is God’s burden and our blessing.

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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.

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.

modern-day pharisee

I used to think I knew quite a bit about God.  Then I thought again.

I used to think that I was one of only a few million people out of the entire world’s population over the last 1700 years to whom God had revealed any truth.  I used to completely dismiss several centuries of Christian thought as heresy.  I used to display a voracious sense of neo-Pharisaical arrogance and elitism.  I used to…

But then the why  questions of life pounded most of that out of me.  At least I think that’s what did it.  It was when I encountered questions too tangled for me to overtake, that I understood God is too big to fit in any of my boxes– or any of yours for that matter.  It took doubt to make me appreciate faith.  I realized that faith is not about knowing as fact, it is about believing as fact.  Faith is hope in belief. 

Michael says in his blog, “The trouble with theological types… is that they feel God has explained himself.”  So often God paints in big brushtrokes when we’re looking for fine, personal, systematic detail.  Michael points out that when Job asks ‘why’, God doesn’t tell him why.  God answers with, “Where were you?,” and “were you there when?”  Those answers are not as clear-cut, black-and-white, cookie cutter as we find ourselves wanting.  In fact, those aren’t answers, those are more questions.  And sometimes it’s so annoying when you run into people that think God has fully explained himself– or at least that they know all there is to know about God.  The real test when dealing with these people is to not get Pharisaical about not being Pharisaical.  Does that make sense?

I think the main thing that God is drawing me into is trust… complete trust in him.  He’s been trying to show me trust for over a year now, and I haven’t exactly been passing the test.  I’ve told several people it’s like banging my head into a wall, failing the trust test, and a few moments later I bang my head in the the same wall painted a different color, failing the trust test in a different part of my life.  Then I tell them to imagine that happening over and over for a year– that’s what I’ve been up to.

In order to trust, I’ve got to utilize my faith.  Faith is a trusting obedience.  To accomplish this, I’ve got to actually believe that because he’s God, he has things figured out.  I’ve got to actually believe what he says in his word, about all things working together for good.  I’ve got to actually believe that he has a plan that includes my life, and that his plan is ultimately better than any plan I could dream up for myself.  Then, I just obey what he shows me in his Word and tells me by his Spirit. . . Simple!  Albeit, easier said than done.

Anyway- that’s where God has been pulling me for some time now… and I’m just trying to follow. 

On another note- I have been asked to produce a personal ‘statement of faith’ from my own perspective, a sort of manifesto.  Christianity 101 by Kenny.  As I’m working on this, I may share it on the blog.  Then it will be open to your perspective, opinions, and comments.  So that’s something I’m looking forward to. 

Grace and Peace be unto you.

Crazy Love

When I was 18, I almost lost faith.  I remember being new at the University, on my own in some sense of the words, thinking alot to myself.  My roommate was a Catholic turned agnostic turned atheist, a very bright young man who had subscribed to the idea that we are accidents in an accidental universe, having no design or purpose.  He used to tell me how abrasive that perceieved reality was to him– how sometimes it kept him up at night.

My faith crisis at 18 was about something personal.  It was about me realizing that not everyone believed what I did, and asking myself whether or not I was OK with that.  Was I OK to continue believing in God even though many people are familiar with my belief system, and in their own logic choose to reject it?  It was about realizing that faith is not concrete– that faith can’t even exist without doubt.  And I came through it with a realization that faith in God is the greatest reality a human can experience.

But in the process of going ‘through the fire’, a lot of my baggage got burned up.  Everything that could be shaken in my belief system, was shaken.  And I half limped through to the other side with two pillars remaining:  Love God, Love People.  That’s it.  All my ideas of what a Christian was supposed to do, to act like, to say, to look like, how many church functions they had to attend, how many doors they had to knock on, what kind of music they had to listen to, and which questions they couldn’t ask — all those melted down to this.  Nothing more, but nothing less.  It was as if God let me see the focus of everything– his goal for humanity.  And you may think, “Love. Is that all?”, but I think living out this command is the most challenging task we’re ever called to perform. 

When asked for the greatest commandment, Jesus said

“The most important one is this : Hear, O Israel the LORD our God, the LORD is one.  Love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.  The second is this:  Love your neighbor as yourself.  There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mk 12:29-31)

“On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:40

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfil them.”  Matthew 5:17

When Jesus tells us the greatest commandment, it sheds so much light on who God is, and how different he sometimes is than we would like him to be.  We often want rules, duties, tasks; but so often God points beyond all that straight to the heart of the matter: relationship.  They asked Jesus for the greatest commandment, the most important rule.  But Christ throws them for a loop by instead telling them why there is even a rulebook.  It’s so important for him to get them to understand love, that he says all the Law and Prophets ‘hang’ on these commandments.  In essence, everything that is in anyway linked to living for God rides on love.  These commands aren’t even really something you can do and forget about, but are more like the underlying principles of all Scripture.  They wanted to know what they could do to fill out the checklist, but Jesus told them that it was about more than a checklist, that it was about a relationship with God, and relationships with each other.  He simplified it, but he also raised the bar.  It’s interesting to me that they only asked him for one command, but in every instance in the Gospels he gave them two. 

And yet, Christ didn’t come to get rid of the Law.  He didn’t come to deny prophecies.  He came to be the fulfillment, and to show us how to fulfill all of the law.  That’s why he said all the law and the prophets hang on these commands.  In this process, Jesus tears all the facade and bookkeeping out of the way, and gets right to the heart.  Instead of a rulebook, a checklist that we fill out and present to God in hopes of making him happy; Jesus shows us that God is interested in the state of our hearts.  And that God knows that the true state of our hearts affects our actions and affects everyone around us.  In some sense, we mourn because when it becomes more about love and less about rules, some things don’t seem as clear.  But in the other sense, we are finally stripped bare and God can really mold our hearts into his desire.

The thing I had to realize was that more than my religious performance, God wanted my heart.  And it was scary– because I found out I could no longer hide behind rule-keeping… I could no longer just do the right things so everyone, including God, would think I was righteous.  But I realized that God looks much deeper than the way things appear– he looks at our motive.  It’s as if God says, “forget your rule keeping for a moment and ask yourself: do you really want to commune with me?” 

If so, the answer is simple yet profound.  It is easily communicated, but acted upon with difficulty.  But if we really want to know the answer to all of the biggest questions, what it boils down to is LOVE.  Wholehearted, sloppy, disciplined, messy, pure, structured, all-encompassing LOVE. 

If you can Love God with EVERYTHING and Love others like yourself, then you’ve got it made.  Simple enough, eh?  Now let’s go work on it!