Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005: A Look Behind and A Look Ahead

It's the end of 2005. If you're in Australia, it's already 2006.

At this time of year it's customary for people to look back on the events that shaped the year past. It's also customary for people to look ahead to what 2006 may have in store for us.

So, I'm inviting you to tell me what your hopes are for 2006.

And while you're at it, tell me what happened in 2005 that you're especially thankful for.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

What's In A Name?

So, the idea has resurfaced that I should start my own non-profit ministry organization -- to help people think about the Bible and Spiritual Formation and How We Can Live In Our World in new and creative ways. This is something that people have encouraged me to do for some time, but I've always resisted because I am not interested in managing something like that. I'm at a point in my life where I'm content to just be talent. I want to think about things, show up and say my words and leave someone else to do all the other stuff. Creating content is one thing -- filling out paperwork and having board meetings and all that makes me want to run and hide.

Anyway, several people have talked to me about doing something like this -- especially in the past few months. And now I'm actually thinking about it. It would be wise to do this for a number of reasons, and I think I have people around me who are competent and willing to do most of the legwork for me. Still, I'm kind of dragging my feet.

I think part of the reason why I'm reluctant is because I can't think of a really cool name. I don't want to be John Turner Ministries. I work with really cutting edge folks with names like The reThink Group and BigStuf. John Turner Ministries sounds very -- I don't know -- 1970s. My blog is titled In His Big Grip, but I don't like that as the name of the organization, either.

So, I'm stuck. Am I making too much out of this? Does the name of the organization really make that much of a difference? Anyone have any great ideas for me?

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

How Now Shall I Live?

A few days ago I finished the parenting book. It felt pretty good to hit send on that last chapter. There's still a reading list and acknowledgments, but the content is done.

It took me more than two years, and I read close to 100 books in the process. The book has become a part of my life. So many of the things I've done have been filtered through this question: How will this help me finish the parenting book? I constantly asked myself if something was helping me write the book or distracting me from writing the book.

But now it's done. And I don't know what to do with myself.

I sat around the house yesterday. I read a novel. I helped my daughters roller skate in the driveway. I made dinner. I watched a football game. And around every corner I expected to encounter my familiar mantra: must finish parenting book. But it is finished.

I know it won't be long before I get back to work. I've got three trips in January and three more in February. I'll be back doing 5-Hour Workshops -- training churches in how to use curriculum for 252Basics and reach out to families in their community more effectively. But I wonder how long it will be before the next book idea starts to really take shape. I have several ideas bouncing around my head. I wonder what the next big thing will be. Where will the next opportunity come from?

For now, I'm resting. I'm not checking my email much. I haven't returned any calls since before Christmas. I don't know what I'm doing. I feel restless. I need something, but I don't know what it is. I'm not hungry, but I eat. I feel sluggish and tired.

Now that the book is done, I feel aimless.

How now shall I live?

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Welcome To Our World

"Welcome To Our World"
by Chris Rice

Tears are falling, hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God
You've been promised, we've been waiting

Welcome Holy Child
Welcome Holy Child

Hope that you don't mind our manger
How I wish we would have known
But long-awaited Holy Stranger
Make Yourself at home
Please make Yourself at home

Bring Your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven's silence

Welcome to our world
Welcome to our world

Fragile finger sent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us

Unto us is born
Unto us is born

So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod
Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God

Welcome to our world

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Light and Life at Christmas

When we talk about the birth of Jesus, we always turn to Luke's Gospel or Matthew's. That's where we read about angels and shepherds, a star and a stable, wise men and visitations. That's where all the images of Christmas have their origin. Mark's Gospel skips the beginning and starts in the middle of the story. John's Gospel goes too far back to before the beginning of anything and is hard to read and understand.

So, John and Mark don't get much play during December. They don't smell enough like a stable, I suppose.

The Apostle John has had a lifetime to reflect on the events surrounding the life of Jesus. He had been the one asked to look after Mary, Jesus' mother. So, assuming she had become part of his family, they must have spent time talking about the birth and all the craziness surrounding it. Her face, her laugh, the way she turned phrases -- these things may have been reminders to John of what Jesus was like.

When John finally sits down to write his version of the story, he must have thought about where to begin. His mind must have played and replayed the details of that night in Bethlehem. Instead of starting there, he goes beyond it and beneath it. His version begins by telling us about the One called The Word and how this One came into a dark and dying world. In fact, as I read the prologue to John's Gospel, two words surface more than any others: light and life.

Those two themes are what John's mind gravitates toward. He must have remembered where Jesus was standing and what he sounded like when he referred to himself by those words. Jesus is many things to many people, but to John he is Light, and he is Life.

"In him was Life," John writes. Jesus wasn't just alive; he was life. Life was in him -- more than a heart beating and lungs contracting, the life Jesus provided was what produces beating hearts and contracting lungs. He was life, so life was his to give. John's Gospel reminds us that giving life was what Jesus had come to do. He was the bringer of life.

"That Life was the Light of men," John writes. What's going through John's mind now as he reads his own words? He could recall men and women who were dark and full of death coming to Jesus and seeing how one touch, one word from him sent them away forever changed -- forever filled with the Light and Life of the one who came to conquer our fear of death and beat back the darkness.

He could remember how that Light broke into his own darkness with a simple question. "What do you want?" Jesus had asked him. Life and Light -- that was Jesus.

And there is a little inkling of the birth here in John's Gospel. It is one short sentence, but it says as much as Matthew or Luke did -- without the details, of course:

"The Light shone in the darkness, and the darkness did not understand It" (John 1:5).

This verse should be read before Matthew and Luke. It prepares us to receive the full version of the story. The Light that is Jesus shines in, around, through, behind, beneath, beyond the darkness of the manger, the darkness of the stable, the darkness of the world, the darkness of our hearts.

And yet we still do not understand it any more than did the shepherds or the wise men. Who can grasp this idea of Light and Life being contained in a body?

Like those first witnesses to the Christ-child, we are left to worship, adore and ponder the mystery. And we pray for his Life to come to life in us. And we ask for his Light to shine forth from our hearts forever.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

The Shortest Day of the Year

The sun went down a little while ago here in Atlanta. It's completely dark outside, and it happened earlier today than any other day this year. It's the Winter Solstice -- the day with the least amount of sunlight. Every day for the next six months will gradually grow longer and longer.

The early church faced some big decisions with what to do about certain pagan holidays. These holidays were so deeply embedded in their culture that people who had left behind their pagan ways and converted to Christianity would often revert to pagan revelry on these special days. Church leaders thought that if they could establish new holidays to paste over the old ones, maybe that might help.

And so the idea of celebrating the birth of great people in the Bible came about. But where on the calendar should they put something as significant as the birth of Jesus?

They actually decided on it a little backwards. First, they decided to celebrate the birth of John the Baptist on the Summer Solstice. It's the longest day of the year. Every day after that has gradually fewer and fewer hours of sunlight. This reminded them of John's statement that "I must decrease so that Jesus can increase" (John 3:30).

If Jesus is the light of the world, it makes sense to celebrate his entrance into this world on the shortest day of the year. The Winter Solstice fell on December 25 in the Julian Calendar. Christmas -- the celebration of the birth of Jesus -- was placed on that date.

I know all about the Feast of Saturnalia, and I've heard all the theories about early Christians just wanting to Christianize the population. But after this week, there will be gradually more and more light in our world. At least there's supposed to be. Today has been the shortest day of our year. I am looking forward to more sunlight tomorrow and more the day after that.

I am looking forward to seeing how this Christ-child born in such a lowly estate is going to continue to increase in my own life and eventually light up the sky of this darkened world.

So, in one sense, today has been dark. Dean still isn't showing any signs of improvement or receptivity that I know of. Children are going to bed tonight hungry and cold. Disease is tearing apart an entire continent. People are lonely and afraid and bound by rigid legalism that robs them of their joy.

But in another sense, we could say that we have made it through the darkest part. The light has broken through and may only exist in small pockets here and there -- slivers of light shining through the cracks of the walls. But broken through it has. And tomorrow will have more light than today.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Asking the King to Make His Move

Dr. Kenneth Ulmer is the pastor of Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood, California. It's a predominantly African-American Church that recently purchased The Forum -- where the Lakers used to play basketball. He's been their pastor since 1982 and has overseen their growth from 350 people to more than 13,000 now. His is a remarkable story.

And he can preach.

He's one of those rare men who not only has lots of good knowledge (he earned a Ph.D. from Grace Theological Seminary) but lots of passion as well.

And did I mention he can preach?

He tells this story about two guys walking through an art museum. They come upon a painting of a chess game, which is very interesting because one of the two men happens to be an international chess champion.

There were two characters in the painting: one looked like a regular guy; the other looked like the Devil. The regular guy was down to his last piece on the chessboard, and the title of the painting is Checkmate.

Something about the painting intrigued the two men, but the chess champion could not stop staring at the painting. He became so engrossed in it, he eventually told his partner to move on without him. Something about the painting wasn't right, but he couldn't figure it out and wanted more time to study it.

After a while, he began to run through the museum to find his friend. He said, "We have to find the man who painted this. We have to tell him that he must change his picture or change its title."

His friend was bewildered. "What? What's wrong with the picture and its title?"


When Dr. Ulmer tells the story, this is where you start to get goosebumps. It can't be checkmate if the King still has one more move. The game can't be over as long as the King still has one more move. Anything can happen as long as the King still has one more move.

God's people are in slavery in Egypt. They've come under the ruthless hand of the mighty Pharaoh. He's killing all the baby boys. It looks like Checkmate, but...the King still has one more move.

The people leave Egypt, headed for the Promised Land, but Pharaoh is determined to bring them back. They find themselves with the armies of Egypt behind them and the Red Sea in front of them -- trapped between the Devil and the Deep Red Sea. It looks like Checkmate, but...the King still has one more move.

A little boy named David goes out to fight a giant named Goliath. He doesn't fit into the suit of armor he's offered, so he goes out to fight with a rock and a slingshot. It looks like Checkmate, but...the King still has one more move.

Elijah is totally outnumbered. The Queen has been executing the prophets of God and replacing them with the prophets and priests of Baal. The people have been seduced by the worship of foreign gods, and it looks like Checkmate, but...the King still has one more move.

A young man named Daniel refuses to stop praying to his God and gets thrown in a den of lions. Three other young men refuse to bow down and worship an idol and get thrown into a fiery furnace. The nation groans under the strain of captivity and exile. It looks like Checkmate, but...the King still has one more move.

Eventually, Jesus himself entered our world and submitted to the most cruel and inhumane torture imaginable. He was mocked and beaten and killed and buried in a tomb. And when they slid that stone in front of the entrance to his grave, it must have looked like Checkmate, but...the King still had one more move.

There's a reason I'm telling you this. And it's a very personal reason.

My father-in-law is dying.

I don't mean he's dying like we're all dying. I mean he's dying right now. He may not last through the holidays. And my wife is distraught.

See, Dean is not only not a Christian; Dean has been openly antagonistic about Christianity.

But did I mention he's dying?

He's got 70 tumors in his lungs, one in his brain and one behind his ear. If he ever finds out I told you all this, he'll probably never speak to me again.

But did I mention he's dying?

It's pretty much a foregone conclusion at this point. He's dying. There's no amount of medical technology that's going to magically appear to save him. Certainly, miracles are possible, but he's not going to last much longer.

The only hope I have to offer my wife is this: Even though it looks like Checkmate right now -- the King still has one more move.

Would you please pray that our King will make his move? Pray for Dean's heart to open and soften and receive what he has fought so hard to resist all his life. Pray for grace and mercy and love to do what reason and argument and logic never have been able to do. Pray for Dean. Pray for my wife. Pray for us all. Please.

The Opposite of Withdrawal

It doesn't take a genius to figure out where all this talk of withdrawal is heading. It's been hinted at in some of the comments, and it's something that I feel very passionately about -- so much so that a big portion of the parenting book revolves around it.

Christians often feel compelled to withdraw out of fear. They're afraid they might find themselves polluted by their involvement with non-Christians. That was Pete's argument, and he had Bible verses to justify it. Granted, they were taken miserably out of context, but they sounded valid. We're not supposed to have anything to do with the world, right? We're not supposed to love the world or the things of the world.

And, as lots of Christians like to say, "It's all about souls." Souls are all that matters, right? So, all this other stuff is just re-arranging deck chairs on The Titanic. It's all going to perish, so why bother with it?

That sounds kind of biblical. But it's not.

See, our goal is this whole endeavor is not to be biblical. Our goal is to be Christlike. So, when our biblical analysis ends up making us less like Jesus, something's gone terribly wrong.

Jesus left an environment so perfect we can only imagine it through pictures and analogies in order to enter a less-than-perfect world. He could have chosen to withdraw, but he did not. He engaged with people. He fed hungry people. He touched and healed sick people. He chose to live among us -- even though he did not have to. He engaged with people who were of a lower status than he, and, in doing so, he elevated them. He left the world -- temporary though it may be -- a much brighter place than he found it. And he calls us to do the same.

The Incarnation -- Christmas itself -- is the opposite of withdrawal.

Monday, December 19, 2005

Pete's Take on Withdrawal

All the comments and email I've received point to a few major reasons why we withdraw from society. Mostly it's because of fear, the belief that our engagement won't actually accomplish anything and a gross misunderstanding of a few Bible verses.

To jump us further into this conversation, I'll quote the following over-the-top story from a book I've been re-reading. Dick Staub was a nationally syndicated talk-radio host in Chicago for years. He tells this story in his book TOO CHRISTIAN, TOO PAGAN (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000):

"The phone lines were jammed, and I owed it all to Ann Landers. Her column that morning told the story of a young man named Bob who was about to be married. Bob was asking if he should un-invite his father Jim's "significant other" from the wedding ceremony. Fourteen years earlier Jim announced that he was gay and left Bob's mother. Jim now lived with Greg, a man who by all accounts was a kind and thoughtful person. Bob struggled with his father's decision. While he didn't approve of his father's choice, Bob had come to accept him. On occasion Bob and his fiancee Carol socialized with Jim and Greg.

"When Carol's parents heard about this gay union, they were extremely upset and demanded that Greg not attend the wedding. When Greg learned of ths situation he said he understood and told Bob he would voluntarily withdraw from the event. But Bob's dad was deeply offended and asked his son to reconsider. You be the judge. What would you do in this situation?

"The calls came fast and were intense. 'The bride's parents are bring ridiculous. If Bob and his fiancee let her parents make this decision, they'll never stop interfering in this marriage.' 'Bob's dad is just reaping the benefits of his sinful act. First he leaves his wife, and then he takes up with a man. He should get over his hurt and accept the consequences of his own actions.' 'I think what Greg is doing is admirable -- this couple should accept his peacemaking offer as a wonderful gift.'

"Then Pete from Long Beach called. 'Not only should they tell Greg not to attend, they should make sure only born-again Christians attend their wedding.'

"'And why is that?' I asked.

"'Marriage is a Christian ceremony, a sacrament, and we shouldn't pollute it with the presence of unbelievers.'

"'Sounds like a pretty radical position to me!'

"'That's your problem, Dick, you don't understand the importance of separation from the world.'

"'Really! Tell me more.'

"'The Bible makes it clear. We are to have no fellowship with darkness. Friendship with the world is enmity with God. Dick, if you believe this, why do you do movie reviews every Thursday on your show?'

"'And what do movie reviews have to do with it?'

"'We're not supposed to love the world or the things of the world. The world is polluted with sin, and God is going to destroy is anyway! Movies are of the world! We shouldn't waste our time talking about them, and Christians certainly shouldn't be watching them.'

"'Pete, just so I'm sure I understand you, would you invite movie-going Christians to your wedding, or are they on the non-invite list with all the gays and non-Christians?'

"'A real Christian wouldn't go to the movies, but you know what, Dick? You're a jerk, and I don't want to waste any more time putting my pearls in front of swine like you.' Click. Pete hung up." (pp. 34-35)

Anyone ever met Pete? Anyone have something constructive to tell him? How do you approach Pete and make a case that might change his mind?

Friday, December 16, 2005

Withdrawal is Withdrawal

I asked a question yesterday about why Christian often feel the need to withdraw from society. Michael wrote in and asked:

"By 'withdrawal' do you mean those who retreat to a monastic way of life? Those who remove themselves from the everyday “normalities” that you and I enjoy and choose to not interact any longer with culture?

Or do you mean those who refuse to vote, who don’t read the paper or ponder political questions or are afraid to talk to others about God?"

Now I'm wondering: what's the difference? Withdrawing from society -- whether to go live on a mountain top in a commune or continuing to live among the rest of the people but having nothing to do with them and refusing to get involved in processes that might make a difference -- it's the same thing, isn't it?

Unless I'm missing something here, withdrawal is withdrawal.

And it's practiced by too many Christians.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Withdrawing From Society?

I'm trying to get my head around why Christians sometimes feel the need to withdraw from society.

Any ideas?

Also, any ideas how we can explain to them the reasons why we ought to engage our culture?

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Not the Way It's Supposed to Be

I think what we've been hinting at in several of the recent posts dealing with "beauty" and "ugly" comes down to this:

Beauty is when things or people are the way they're supposed to be.

Ugly is when things or people are not the way they're supposed to be.*

Perhaps that's why every society I can think of points to nature as a thing of beauty. Sure, there have been individuals who disagree, but every culture paints landscapes. Nature is beautiful when it is unspoiled -- untainted -- natural.

Destruction is ugly because by its very nature it corrupts and perverts. Few things are uglier than an oil spill or a landfill or polluted streams and skies. Why? Because that's not the way they're supposed to be. Racism and genocide are ugly. That's not the way things are supposed to be.

In the movie GRAND CANYON, an attorney gets stuck in a traffic jam. He tries to go around it by taking side streets, but his car breaks down in the worst of all possible neighborhoods. He manages to call a tow truck, but before it arrives, the attorney finds himself surrounded by a menacing gang. Just as things are about to get really bad, the tow truck driver shows up. As he begins to assist the attorney, the gang members protest until he takes their leader aside and tells him:

"Man, the world ain't supposed to work like this. Maybe you don't know that, but this ain't the way it's supposed to be. I'm supposed to be able to do my job without askin' you if I can. And that dude is supposed to be able to wait with his car without you rippin' him off. Everything's supposed to be different than what it is here."

In other words, this situation is ugly. Our world is ugly. We are ugly. That's not the whole truth about us, but it is certainly part of the whole truth about us. And until we are restored and redeemed, this ugliness follows us around, haunting even our best days with the looming specter of our own inevitable destruction.

The hope of Christmas is that one day everything that is currently upside-down will be turned rightside-up -- that one day things will be restored -- ugliness will be banished and beauty will once again reign supreme.

Until then, we survive on glimpses of beauty -- slivers of hope in an otherwise ugly world -- reminders that God is not through with us yet.

*For more on this topic see Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. NOT THE WAY IT'S SUPPOSED TO BE: A BREVIARY OF SIN (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995).

A God of Second Chances

"Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time: 'Go to the city of Ninevah and proclaim to it the message I give you.' Jonah obeyed the word of the LORD and went to Ninevah" (Jonah 3:1-3a).


One more thing we learn about God from this whole Jonah and the fish story is that no matter how far you've run or how long you've been gone, God's still got a plan and a purpose for your life. Whenever you're ready to turn around, God accepts you -- doesn't spend time saying, "I told you so" and is ready with your next assignment. God is a God of second chances.

Oh, and don't be surprised if your next assignment is a lot like your last assignment.

Universal Ugly

The only thing I can think of that is universally considered ugly is destruction.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Universal Beauty

The only thing I can think of that is universally considered beautiful is nature.

Monday, December 12, 2005


I'm working on chapter nine of the parenting book. I think I've got it where I want it, but I'm looking for some help again.

BTW, you'll all get thanked in the acknowledgment section.

In this part of the book, we've been talking about what Christians value. We've talked about Truth verses Error. Then we talked about Good versus Evil. Now we're talking about Beauty versus Ugliness.

Okay, can anyone give me an objective definition of Beauty?

What about Ugly?

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Just came across this quote from the late Henri Nouwen:

"The first question is not: 'How much do I do?' or how many people do I help out, but 'am I interiorly at peace?'"

I need to sit with that for a while.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Trying to Save Yourself

"Salvation comes from the LORD" (Jonah 2:9b).

A simple statement. And one most Christians have heard countless times, used countless times, contemplated...uh...maybe once right before they prayed that prayer or walked that aisle.

"Salvation comes from the LORD." This insight is given to us by a man inside the belly of a giant fish -- a man who ran from God and narrowly escaped drowning -- a man who knew all about God but wanted to do things his way instead.

It's a familiar phrase, but it's used in an unfamiliar context here. It's unusual, because Jonah doesn't seem to be talking about heaven and hell. That's what we usually think of when we use the word "salvation".

Jonah thought he could save himself -- not from an eternity of separation from God -- but from some unpleasant assignment. Jonah thought he could save himself from embarrassment and misery. He found out that salvation comes from the LORD.

What do you think you can save yourself from?


So many people say to God, "Just get me into heaven when I die, and I'll take care of the rest."

Salvation comes from the LORD.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

God Lets People Go

"Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs" (Jonah 2:8).

So many amazing things we learn about God from Jonah. Here's one: If you want to leave, God will let you. He may pursue you and cause (or at least allow) painful consequences to come upon you. But if you insist on clinging to something else more than God, he will let you. He will not force himself on anyone.

Is That You, God?

"You hurled me into the deep, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me" (Jonah 2:3).

Wait a second, Jonah. That wasn't God. It was the sailors who hurled you into the deep.

Or was it?

You may think your boss fired you for stealing office supplies, but could it have been God?

You may think the police arrested you for driving under the influence, but could it have been God?

You may think your professor got you kicked out of school for cheating, but could it have been God?

Sometimes God actually causes the terrible circumstances that stop you in your tracks and force you to deal with your problems.

As we mentioned in a prior post, we tend to think of God's provision as something that feels good, but sometimes God loves us enough to provide consequences that are painful. As C.S. Lewis said, pain is often God's "megaphone to rouse a deaf world". What God wants to communicate to us in a whisper, lessons we desperately need to learn but stubbornly refuse, often are only learned through painful situations. So, God allows us to endure pain -- deliberately brings pain upon us.

But he's not doing it to pay us back.

He's doing it to bring us back.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

God Hears and Answers

From inside the fish Jonah prayed to the LORD his God. He said: "In my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me" (Jonah 2:1).

Here's an amazing thing about God: When you run from God and your life begins to unravel as it inevitably will -- when you hit rock bottom and cry out to God, he hears and answers.

How amazing is that?

You Call That Provision?

The story of Jonah (like the rest of the Bible) is more about God than about Jonah. And the message of the whole story is really that we're all Ninevites. We'll get to talking about that more in the coming days, but I don't want to rush past the whole Jonah in the belly of the fish part.

The text says that God "provided" a fish to swallow Jonah.


That seems odd to call that provision. We usually associate the provision of God with something really fun. God provided food in the midst of famine. God provided money in the midst of poverty. God provided a child for a barren woman. God provided water in the desert.

But being swallowed by a fish? That hardly fits my personal idea of provision.

Here's my question for you today: What do we learn about God from the way he handled Jonah running from him?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Apologizing to Eugene Peterson

This morning I sat down to read my Bible. I've been reading THE MESSAGE lately, because it's different and sometimes catches me off guard. "Where did that come from?" I think to myself as I read some familiar passage in unfamiliar prose. "Surely that can't be what it means!" And off I go to consult the Greek and find that lo and behold (!) that's pretty much what it means.

I'm not wild about the phraseology. I think it's a little stilted -- like maybe he was trying a little too hard. But it's been good for me.

Anyway, this morning I decided I wanted to read Galatians. I love the bit about God waiting until just the right time to send Jesus (Galatians 4:4). I love how hot-tempered Paul is -- using course language and speaking plainly about how stupid it is to begin by faith and try to finish by obedience. Though I haven't spent as much time in Galatians as in some other parts of the New Testament, I really enjoy his argument.

Anyway, this morning I got really mad at how loose Eugene Peterson was with his translation. As I sat there reading, I thought, "This doesn't even sound like the same book! He's butchered this text! How dare he!"

Then I started to notice things: How in the world was Paul going to visit Galatia on his way to Macedonia? And why would they care about the real reason he didn't visit the church in Corinth?

Wait a second...this isn't Galatians! It's 2 Corinthians!

Sorry about all the bad things I muttered under my breath about you, Dr. Peterson. Next time I'll remember to read the opening paragraph before diving in.

Running From God: Hurting Innocent Bystanders

When you run from God (like Jonah), you always end up hurting innocent people around you. Think of those sailors on the boat with him! They have nothing to do with Jonah and him running from God. But they end up caught in the storm, throwing their cargo overboard, afraid for their lives.

How many kids are paying for the fact that their mom or their dad decided to run from God?

How many business partners are left holding the bag?

This is why it's important to really consider carefully who you get involved with. If they're running from God, your heart and motives may be pure, but you'll end up getting hurt. It is simply inevitable.

If you're a runner, you may think your relationship with God is your business and no one else's, but when you choose to run from God -- you end up hurting innocent bystanders.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Running From God: How Foolish Is That?

God is Ultimate Reality. He is the source of everything good, true and beautiful. He is wisdom. The best definition of wisdom I ever heard goes like this: Wisdom is the God-given ability to see the true nature of things. In other words, wisdom is God's perspective on everything.

But when you run from God, you run from all that. You run from goodness and truth and beauty and wisdom.

As a natural consequence, you make foolish choices.

When Jonah runs from God, he decides to get on a boat. How foolish is that? A boat? In the middle of the sea? That's foolish.

People who run from God never run to safety. They run towards self-destruction and danger. Financially, relationally, career-wise, you name it -- people who are running from God do things that others look at and say, "No, not that!"

For example, I sometimes speak to college students, and I'll tell them, "If you're going to run from God, do yourself and everyone else a favor: do not get married -- do not have kids -- do not borrow money. You will regret it."

Eventually, their lives begin to unravel, and they think it's a result of all the bad choices they've made.

Their relationships come apart, and they trace the demise of the relationship trying to figure out where they went wrong. They went wrong when they left the ultimate source of love and acceptance. Ever since then, they've been looking for something from people that they aren't designed to give.

Their business goes under, and they trace the demise of their career trying to figure out where they went wrong. They went wrong when they left the ultimate source of meaning and purpose. Ever since then, they've been looking for something from their job that their job isn't designed to give.

A lot of us, if we were in Jonah's shoes, would have thought, "If only I'd gotten on a different boat. If only I'd sailed to a different place. I should have gone to Egypt instead of Tarshish."

Jonah's life didn't start to unravel because of that city or that boat or that storm. Jonah's life started coming apart the moment he started running from God.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Pat Robertson

My friend ModFab had this to say in the comments of the last post:

"From where I sit, it seems that nearly all American Christians are complicit...they may not agree with the crazy things that Pat Robertson says, but are not taking visible steps to remove him from his media empire or his voice as a Christian leader."

I've tried explaining that Pat's not really in any kind of formal position of leadership from which he can be removed. He just has enough money to buy television time -- just like Bill Maher, Howard Stern, Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly, et al.

A couple of questions:

1. Do any of you actually listen to and/or give much credence to anything Pat Robertson says? Why or why not?

2. Is there anything "American Christians" can do to hold someone like Pat Robertson accountable?

Friday, December 02, 2005

Running From God...Or Running From His People?

One other reason why some folks run from God (and this one is really heartbreaking): They've confused God with his people.

A lot of folks grew up in terrible churches. Let's face it, there are lots of terrible churches out there breeding terrible Christians and unleashing them on unsuspecting people -- especially kids. When you grow up in a terrible church that breeds legalism or some sort of stifling fear, you reach an age where you don't want to become like the leaders of your church.

Often, however, because no one's told you any different, you think that in order to avoid becoming like those people you not only have to run from your church but run from God as well. When you think God and the church are the same thing, you're likely to end up on the run from the one Person who has your best interests at heart.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Confessions: Credo & Cogito

Augustine's CONFESSIONS is one of my favorite books of all time. He presents himself as the Prodigal Son and the Lost Sheep from The Gospel of Luke. He compares himself to the Apostle Paul -- first lost, then found -- changed dramatically but still struggling with himself. Augustine was Everyman -- his story is our story.

CONFESSIONS is actually 13 short books. The first nine are autobiographical. The last four are theological. He presents his own story as a microcosm of the overarching biblical story: creation...fall...redemption. He manages to be personal and universal at the same time.

By the time CONFESSIONS was completed, Augustine had come to see that faith and reason could never be separated. They are part of the warp and woof of the universe, and they are inextricably linked.

He struggled with his own restlessness all his life. His thought was never the calm and theoretical thought of an academician. He threw himself into thoughts with a passion and defended his beliefs with a fury. He gave himself completely to reality as a whole -- never falling into the trap of reductionism that would capture later thinkers like Descartes. Augustine's beliefs came from a deep, personal catharsis. He recognized the limits of reason (cogito), and grounded reason firmly in faith (credo).

Augustine's faith was not a blind leap; it was rationally justifiable. Like when you get on a bus and trust that it will take you the same place it's taken you every morning. Like when you step on the brakes of your car and trust that you'll actually come to a stop. Like when you whisper a secret in your lover's ear and trust that he or she will not betray you. It's a leap, but it's not a blind leap.

In Augustine's work, reason seeks to understand what faith believes. "Know in order to believe" comes before "Believe in order to understand".

Running from God

An amazing thing about these Old Testament stories is how much we find ourselves in them. Take Jonah, for example. Here's a guy who was born in 750 BC, but he's so much like us -- running from God. The truth is, we have all -- at one time or another -- done it.

Here's how the story usually goes: "I was raised in a Christian home, and we went to church a lot. But then I hit high school or college, and I just kind of started to drift. Eventually, the whole God thing just didn't make any sense to me. It didn't fit with my lifestyle anymore, so I left it behind."

As a general rule, we run from God for the same reason. Usually, we think we have to run from God in order to get what we want. We think God has his agenda, and we're not sure his agenda is really for our good. "God, I know you've got your plans and all, but I have plans of my own. I've got stuff I want, so I'm going to go over here and do my own thing."

Ultimately, that just comes down to trust. We don't trust that God has our best interests at heart. We think if we stay with him, we'll end up missing something really great. God can make billions of stars and thousands of different types of beetles, he can speak the world into existence and paint the sunsets and all that. But I'm not sure he can handle planning out my life. I have some plans of my own, and I think I know how the world works better than he does. God can stay "over there", and I'll come visit him on Christmas and Easter. In the meantime, I'll be "over here" living a real life.

Sometimes, it's not a wholesale thing. We don't often say, "God, I don't want you to have anything to do with any area of my life." We're more likely to say, "God, I still believe in you, I'll still go to church, I'll even put money in the plate, but don't touch this one area of my life."

Maybe it's a relationship with someone you know is not a God-honoring relationship. God's saying it's time to cut that relationship off. You're saying that God can talk to you about anything except who you date.

Maybe it's a marriage that you want out of. God's telling you to stay in. You're telling God to mind his own business when it comes to your marriage.

Maybe it's your finances. You know that if you ever asked God, "How do you want me to budget my money this Christmas", he would probably say, "Well, not like THAT!" So, you just don't ask him about it anymore. God can protect your kids and help you on the job, but leave my money alone! You'll even give him a portion of it if it will keep him from wanting a say in what you do with the rest of it. There's his money and your money -- two separate categories.

I think most of us have some area of our life where we're running from God. As much as we may want to think our situation is unique, it's not. We're all runners. We all run for the same reasons. We've all run from God at some point in time. And we've all had to deal with the consequences of running from God. Some of us are still dealing with those consequences.

That's why the church is so screwed up.

Revelation & Redemption

For those of you who were clamoring for more about Augustine (all one of you), I'll finish out with a couple more posts about the greatest thinker of his time. I'll also try to talk more about Jonah in the morning.


Augustine was truly converted. He was a changed man. He believed that the truth he had searched so hard for -- and failed to find by reason alone -- was revealed to him by the grace of God. He realized that he could not be saved by his own power. He could not reason his way out of his dilemma. He was lost and, without external assistance, would remain lost. It was only by admitting his lostness that he would be found.

After his conversion, Augustine gave up his career, refused to marry and renounced the world. He needn't have done any of those, but he did. Thankfully, this did allow him a great deal of time to think, study and write.

He believed that God is supremely good and loving. God created a world which is basically good instead of basically bad (as the Manicheans believed). He wrote, "We move towards God not by walking but by loving." Great sentiment there.

He also believed the humanity has fallen short of God's original intent and desperately needs to be restored. He really could be credited with the formalization of the doctrine of "original sin" -- arguably the most empirically verifiable doctrine of the Bible.

Further, he believed that God has acted in human history in various ways -- ultimately in the "Incarnation" -- God made flesh. Belief in Jesus is the only way to eternal life. Actually, I think Augustine tacked on submission to the church as the means of maintaining salvation. I wish he hadn't said that. I still think he's in heaven.

Philosophy, for Augustine, became "the study of God and the human soul." The way forward, according to Augustine, was by exercising our faith: "Vision will be granted to him who lives well, prays well, studies well."

He continued to believe that death was not the end for the human soul, but now his belief was rooted in his personal faith in the risen Jesus -- not in Platonic philosophical speculation.