Thursday, February 3, 2011

Seeking God in the Bible

This past Sunday, January 30, we continued on in our series What are you Seeking?   With a talk entitled Seeking God through the Bible.

As we have noted before the Bible is overwhelmingly the bestselling book of all time. Year after year it outsells all other books. Not only is it the bestselling book year after year, it is also the most shoplifted book year after year. Culturally there is a deep and abiding curiosity about the Bible.

So there are some compelling cultural reasons to read the Bible, but as I noted there are also some things that make it tough. For one it is a really long book, and not only is it really long, but it is also a collection of many different types of literature. The types of literature range from: genealogical lists to hot Hebrew erotic poetry; from existential philosophy to imprecatory (calling down curses on your enemy – lines like dash their heads against rocks) poetry; from chronicles of history to apocalyptic visions. Beyond this many of us were at some point given the advice to start at the very beginning and read straight through, and in reality this is probably not the best approach. What's more, there is the issue of using a tough to understand translation like the King James Version. (I know many people love the poetry of the king James, but it is tough going and as I pointed out if you have at times an immature sense of humor – as I do  – some of the words are just going to be too funny to go on – I resisted the temptation, and I assure you it was a strong temptation to read about the wood that the altar was made of – trust me it sounds really funny to people like me with an immature sense of humor) These factors can make many of us want to quit.

But at the same time, there are some really compelling reasons to forge ahead. The Bible itself says that those who meditate on the Bible will prosper. I would like to prosper; I would like to really experience life, so I need to find a way to encounter God in the Bible.

I suggested a way of approaching the Bible, based on Mark 4:1-20. This passage is the parable of the sower and its interpretation.  This is a really familiar parable. Recently, I was really helped in how I approached this story by Charles Park, who is a pastor of a Vineyard in New York city. He said think who Jesus was talking to. He is talking to farmers and he is in effect saying, “Hey Listen, I have something really important to tell you. Some seeds do better than others. The ones that land on concrete really do not do well at all, the ones in the weeds a little better, but still not so good, same with the seed that gets scorched by the sun, but then there are some seeds that find good soil and really do quite well.”

After that talk he ends up alone other than the twelve and a few others. Previous to this, there has been such a big crowd that he had to get into a boat. Well that talk cleared out the crowd, and those who have stuck around, are scratching their heads and saying, “What was that all about?” So they ask Jesus, and Jesus says, “to you has been given the secret of the Kingdom.”

Now the fascinating thing to me is that Jesus tells them this before they have the interpretation, so it would seem that the secret can not be the interpretation.  So what is the secret? I think the secret is Jesus himself! The secret is that they have stuck with him and been bold enough to ask him, “What is going on?” They have stuck with Jesus. They are in relationship (you may have noticed that this is the theme we have returned to a number of times this series).

I think this can really point us forward as we read, study and wrestle with this amazing book called the Bible. The point of the Bible is not merely to give us information. It is not just to make us smarter. The ultimate goal is to point us to Jesus. Jesus himself would indicate that we have missed the point if we read the Bible, but don’t end up in relationship with Him.

I did give a couple of what I hope are practical suggestions like: don’t start by trying to read cover to cover; but instead start with one of the gospels like the gospel of Mark, and then maybe go onto the book of Acts; get a good translation; use the acronym SOAP (Scripture; Observation; Application; Prayer).

Any suggestion though is irrelevant if we do not at the end of our study/reading/ wrestling end up encountering Jesus. If we don't encounter Jesus, we have missed the point.

So sisters and brothers may you encounter Jesus as you read and study this amazing book.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Seeking God in Prayer

This past Sunday, January 16 we looked out how we can seek God through prayer. For me there were a few key takeaways.

One of the key takeaways for me was thinking through what my primary metaphor for my relationship with God is. I gave four metaphors that are suggested by the Bible: Boss; Doctor: Friend and Father.

One of our primary aims for this series is to move us towards Jesus. If our primary metaphor is the Boss metaphor, my guess is that our stance will be one of avoidance. On the other hand the other three metaphors suggest relationships where the other is looking out for us. The last two in particular are relationships that draw us in.

The second key takeaway for me was wrestling with why it often appears that our prayers are unanswered. Again let me say that I don’t have an answer that will cut through the mystery and give us a guarantee that our prayer will be answered exactly in the way we want it answered. What I can do is offer a couple of suggestions that have been somewhat helpful to me.

The first might be the bowls of prayer suggestion. This is suggested by Dave Smelzer, the pastor of the Boston Vineyard. The imagery is taken from the book of Revelation which depicts bowls in heaven filled with incense and the incense is the prayers of God’s people. When the bowls are filled up an answer is poured out. I find this a little helpful, but also more than a little daunting. How do I know how big the bowl is? How do if I know if I am even getting close? Is there another bowl I should be focusing on? Smelzer says that this view can definitely result in tyranny and a constant feeling of guilt for not having prayed enough or praying for one while we let other bowls sit empty. The only way this works he says is if we depend on the Spirit to lead us into what to pray for in the first place. As I said I find this suggestion to be helpful in a limited way, and I can see how when used rightly it would be a real encouragement to persevere in prayer.

The second suggestion, I personally find more helpful, and that is the fact that God’s desires are currently opposed. This by no means eliminates the mystery, but for me it is helpful to remember that there are certainly parts of the universe that are not currently as they will be. One example of one thing that is not yet as it will be and that times resists God’s will would be …uh let’s see... me. A second would be...drumroll... you. Beyond us, the Bible points to a spiritual world that is at war against God. This helps me some as I wrestle with prayer. I think this is one of the reasons that Jesus taught us to ask for God’s will to be done on earth. This tells me that God’s will is probably resisted currently on the earth. Again this by no means eliminates the mystery, especially when the unanswered prayer is very close to our hearts. But for me, it does encourage me to push forward, knowing that one day God’s will – will be perfectly reflected here on earth.

The final and most important takeaway for me was that the reward of prayer is not ultimately what I might get from God, but instead an actual relationship with the Living God. This has been my experience. For me the greatest joy of seeking in prayer has been finding Jesus himself. I am convinced that this relationship is the reward.

So brothers and sisters may you find yourselves in a living, communicative relationship with the Living God as you pray.


Monday, January 10, 2011

What are you seeking 1

This past Sunday, January 9 we began a new series of talks, entitled What are you Seeking? I’m taking the title from the question that Jesus asked the two followers of John the Baptist as they trailed after him.

The thing that is interesting to me is their response. They want to know where Jesus is staying. Jesus response is equally interesting, come and see. Both are relational responses. I think that the ultimate answer to the question what are we seeking, is that we are seeking relationship with our Creator. We can seek after many other things, but unless we are richly connected with our Creator, we will always be left with a hungry heart. We will be perpetually seeking after things that will not satisfy.

It seems to me that our culture as a whole is seeking. What is interesting/distressing/potentially exciting (depending on your perspective – for me I guess it is a mix of all three) is how many people in our culture our opting out of organized religion. The Nones are the most rapidly growing segment of religious affiliation in the USA.

The more I pursue a relationship with Jesus (or perhaps more accurately, the more I am aware that Jesus is pursuing a relationship with me) the more I become convinced that Jesus did come with a revolutionary message of Love. That he came to bring us into a right relationship with God and each other.

This is where the forgiveness of sins, becomes really crucial. If the universe is relational (and it increasingly looks like it is) than sin is less about a violation of rules and more about a breaking of the right relationship we were meant to have with God and each other (can you feel how relational – say the ten commandments are – and why Jesus gives a relational summation – Love God and Love People – you really can’t get much more relational).

When this fabric of relationship is torn, then forgiveness becomes absolutely necessary (think about your closest human relationships and how they really only thrive where there is forgiveness).

This is why it is crucial that Jesus save us from our sins. We need saving/forgiveness because sin alienates us and shatters the Shalom we were made for (both to enjoy and to contribute to – think about the opening chapters of our story in Genesis – all the rich relationships for which humanity was meant and how humanity’s act of rebellion alienates them from God, each other and the land).

I opened the talk with the question what are you seeking, and had hoped to end with what is Jesus seeking, but alas I had talked for too long in the beginning.

So here is a quick thought on that:

Jesus says that he is seeking that which was lost. It strikes me that Jesus is very interested in re-connecting people to himself and also to community with each other. This to me seems to be the over-arching story of what he is doing in the gospels. Paul reflecting on Jesus says that Jesus is reconciling us to God, that is, Jesus is restoring our relationship with God.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Quin gets the archives and establishes his routine

Red was good to his word. When Quin returned to his office around noon after teaching his class he found a manila envelope leaning against his office door. Across the envelope twenty five years ago Red had scrawled in permanent black marker in all caps “Archives of the Appendix Historical Society.”
Quin smiled to himself as he bent over to pick up the envelope. As he picked up the envelope he found a short note attached with a paper clip to the back, “Quin the Society is so pleased that you have agreed to write this paper. It is going to be fabulous.” The note was signed, “Red Wilson.”  

Quin took the manila envelope containing the archives and threw it in his brief case. When he returned to his apartment that evening he took the envelope out and then sat it in a corner next to his ancient computer that had no connection to the internet. There it sat until February.

Early on Saturday of that week Quin woke to his phone ringing persistently, he walked groggily over and answered with a big yawn, “Hello.”

“Hello Quin it’s your granddad, Red Wilson.”

“Hey Gramps, what’s up?”

“Sorry for calling so early. Did I wake you up?”

“No, I’ve been up for awhile I was just getting out of the shower. What’s going on?”

“I’ve got great news Quin, we had a special meeting of the Society last night and I gave them the good news that you had agreed to accept the assignment to write the history. They were all really excited, and then we had this idea that we should hold a special celebration for the unveiling of the history. So we are going to host a banquet and a dance to celebrate.  Isn’t that fantastic?”

“Yeah that’s great news gramps.” Quin responded automatically and then a brief panic set in as he fully realized what Red was saying. “When is this going to happen?”

“Well that is why I am calling we have a couple of dates in mind and I just wanted to call and find out what will work for you.”

Red let Quin know the different dates for the banquet the following February. As far as the dates went any of them were good with Quin whose social calendar was completely wide open for the following year. He was about to let Red know that any of them would work when he decided it would simply be best to pick the latest date. That date would give him the most time to procrastinate or as he explained to Red, “That way I will be sure to have all the time I need to do research and time to fact check and revise my first draft.”

Red was gleeful, “This is just fabulous Quin. This is fabulous. It is going to be some night. I can hardly wait.”

“Yeah gramps it will be some night. Well gramps I better get going so I can get started on my research.”

“Yeah I don’t want to keep you from your work I know how busy you are.”

After Quin hung up he immediately returned to bed were he slept on and off until noon.

Over the second week of school Quin established a pattern of getting up around seven drinking some decaf, driving to school prepping for about thirty minutes and then teaching his classes. He could have lectured on the Great Gatsby in his sleep. He was entirely bored by the book, but he had already prepared these lessons when he was a grad assistant and literature seemed like his calling. So though he was bored he was content to coast along on these lessons.

The class was obviously already bored by his lectures as well and any attempts at drawing out discussion from them had fallen flat. They were more than content to just coast along with Quin taking notes on his regurgitated lectures, assuming that they would have to regurgitate the same facts on an upcoming test. In this assumption, they were of course entirely correct.

Through the early afternoon Quin would pretty much vegetate in his office, just waiting for Jack to swing by for their afternoon jog around campus to the field. The run was already becoming somewhat easier and Quin was pleased when he stepped on the scale to note that he had lost a couple of pounds already. Quin had to admit that he was enjoying practice and watching some of the young pitchers begin to get some of the mechanics. His lessons were already paying dividends in their ability to hit the strike zone, and in their ability to throw without their arms hurting the next day.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Red and Quin meet for Breakfast

They met at seven the next morning, and Red spent the first forty minutes of the breakfast peppering Quin with questions about his classes and coaching pitching.  Quin ate it up. Finally Quin turned the conversation to Red’s phone message. “Now granddad you said that you had something very important to talk to me about. We need to talk about that.”

Red took a big slug of coffee and then began his spiel. “Well Quin you may remember that I am the President of the Appendix Historical Society.”
Quin nodded. “Absolutely.” Quin had been to one or two meetings during the summers when he was a kid and Red had brought him along. He had liked eating the donuts and all the attention the adults at the society had given him, but the meetings and the telling of the stories had been almost intolerably boring for him.

Red went on, “Well none of us in the society are that young any more and we need to get the history down on paper, particularly the history of Wondermaker and the carnivals.” Quin nodded he could easily see where this was headed. “We took a vote yesterday morning and voted to commission a writer to write the history for us. Then Quin the Society unanimously voted to commission you as the writer, since you are a son of Appendix, and you are a Professor of Literature. Only I didn’t know when we took the vote that you had your plate so full with your classes and coaching baseball, or I would have told the committee to think about somebody else.”

It was the perfect opportunity for Quin to beg off. Red was giving him an out. Quin had absolutely zero desire to write a paper about Appendix, but he was still basking in Red’s admiration of him as a coach and a professor and he did not want to disappoint. “I am pretty busy, but I would love to help out the society. I used to love going to those meetings as a kid,” he lied convincingly.

Red jumped in, “It would be wonderful if you could do it Quin, but I don’t want you spreading yourself too thin.”  Quin of course had all the time in the world since all of his lesson plans and tests were already written from his previous years of teaching, but he played along.

“I’ll have time, gramps once I get on top of my classes and fall practice will end in a few weeks here.”

“That’s fabulous Quin that is really fabulous, the society will be so pleased. Hey you should come join one of our meetings some time.”

This time Quin made the most of the busy lie, “I don’t think that I’ll be able to make a meeting. I really am swamped in the mornings getting ready for classes and planning practices with Coach Preston., but I can get going on a little bit of research for the paper. When does it need to be done?”

Red was a little disappointed that Quin would not attend a meeting like he had when he was a kid, but he was heartened by the prospect of him beginning research on the paper, “This is really fabulous Quin. The paper will be amazing I just know it. We hope to unveil the paper sometime in March or February at a meeting of the Society.”

At that moment Quin knew if that were the case he could rest easy, and that he wouldn’t even think of the paper again until late January. “That’s good gramps. That should really give me some time to really dig in and wade through the background material. I would like access to all the information that the Society has.”

“Absolutely, I’ll see that it is made available to you.”

“That’s great gramps that will really help me get started. Hey I need to get going so that I can get to class. The young minds need molding you know. Let me get the check so that I can hit the road,” Quin offered knowing full well that there was not a chance of him paying for the breakfast.

“No way Quin. This one’s on me.” Then Red added in a far away voice more to himself than Quin, “This is just fabulous. It will be a great paper,” then turning back to Quin, “You get going now and teach that class. I’ll make sure that I get the Society’s materials to you.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Red makes contact with Quin

Red tried calling Quin at his office at the college immediately after the Society had adjourned, but Quin was not in. He left a message there and at Quin’s apartment. Quin did not get the message until he got home from practice. Quin walked through the door and saw the light flashing on his machine. He hit the button and a very pleasant female voice said, “You have one new message.” There was a beep and then Red’s gravelly old voice came over the machine, “Quin this is your Granddad, Red Wilson.” (Red had a very peculiar habit of identifying himself by his full name even when calling his relatives or friends, even inspite of the fact that as far as he or anyone else knew he was the only ‘Red’ in town). Quin smiled when he heard his grandfather’s voice. The message continued, “Quin I have something very important to talk to you about. I need you to call me as soon as possible.” He then left a number even though Quin had known the number since he was a very young boy and the number had never changed. 
Quin dialed Red’s number quickly hoping that nothing was wrong. Red answered gruffly on the first ring. “Hello this Red,” he growled on the other end of the line. 
“Hey granddad this is Quin, I just got your message, sorry it’s so late,” Quin paused for a moment caught between a desire to impress his granddad, and the desire to find out what was so important that he needed to call right away. He went with the desire to impress, “I got hung up late at ball practice.” 
It worked like magic. “What do you mean you were at ball practice?”
“Yeah I’m helping out a little with the pitchers. You remember Jack Preston, gramps he was my catcher when we won state?”
“I sure as hell do. That kid hustled and had the balls to sit back there and catch the bullets that you threw in there.”
“Yeah, gramps that’s the one. Well he is the coach at the college and he asked me if I could help out a little with his pitchers and their deliveries. So I’m just helping a little.”  
“Well he sure picked the right man, if anyone could coach a pitcher that would be you.”
“Well I don’t know about that gramps, but I wasn’t calling about that.  Your message said you had something important to talk to me about.”
Red had momentarily forgotten about the commission in his gladness that Quin was coaching pitching. “Oh yeah I’ve got some very exciting news myself and something important to ask you, but I don’t want to do it over the phone. Can you meet me for a breakfast or lunch at the Caboose?”
Still eager to impress Quin lied about his workload, “Sure gramps, I have a bunch of prep work to do for my classes, and I have to get ready for practice, but I could meet you for an early breakfast before class.”
Red paused not wanting to take his grandson away from all the important work that he had to do with his classes and coaching. Still, he had a duty to the society who had voted unanimously to commission Quin to write the history. He accepted the invitation to breakfast.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The mall and worship and a viral video that is worth experiencing

Last Sunday I talked little about worship and how worship focuses our hearts. What we admire we worship. Then I read a really lengthy excerpt from the book Desiring the Kingdom by James K. A. Smith that portrayed the mall as a place of worship – I thought it was  a brilliant description, but long.

Today I happened to check an old email account that I rarely check because I thought maybe I had a recipe there. I didn’t find a recipe, but I did find this – worship of the King of Kings breaking out at a mall. This video has as the saying goes gone viral, and I think deservedly so…. If you can, listen where you have really good speakers….