Tag Archives: god

God is NoWHere…

There is an old story that is often used in sermons. It’s one of those “brilliant Christian student embarrasses the evil snooty professor” type stories. In the story the professor writes “God is Nowhere” on the chalk board. Somewhere by the end of it the clever student rearranges the letters so that it says, “God is Now Here.”

But often it seems to me that both of them miss the boat. Somehow it seems to me that there is a tension between the two notions. Because there are times when I cannot deny the presence of God. There are times when God is so real and vibrant and true that I cannot imagine how anyone could ever deny that God is right here among us. But on the other hand, there are times when I wonder how I could have been so blindly optimistic. I look around at the pain and suffering in the world and I just don’t see how God could be so close. And to be honest I can sometimes get a bit resentful that God seems to be hiding.

But I read something online. It was another of those cheesy sermon illustrations. In this story there is a couple and the husband is dying. And the wife says, “I love you so much, what will I ever do without you.” And the husband replies, “Take that love you feel for me and give it out to the world.”

And suddenly it makes a bit of sense. If God, the Ultimate, the object of ultimate Love, were physically right here with us in the same sense as you and I are sitting in this room, then we would miss out on the very thing that God seems most interested in. God is all about our relationship with God, yes, but also with others.

So, perhaps this absence we often feel from God is God’s way of saying, “Take that love, that hope, and that devotion that you would pour out on me and spread it to everyone you meet.” Because somehow, in some strange way, that is the way that we can best experience the presence of God.


The Present of the Present…

So, it’s another new year, and I’m looking for something new to say.

It’s my favorite holiday. It truly is. But it’s still completely covered with cliches. I mean, really. How are things going with last year’s resolutions? Did you lose that weight? Did you quit smoking?

Maybe you did. But if you did then you are the exception to the rule.

But still we keep trying. So why do we do that?

Why is it that in the face of almost certain failure, we keep resolving to do better? Why do we keep resolving to change?

Because somewhere, deep down, every one of us is starving for a new start.

You can hear it in the modern myths we tell. It’s often repeated as a fact that every 7 or 10 years every cell in our bodies dies and is remade. So every 7 or 10 years we are a completely new person. That isn’t really true, but our desire to make it true speaks to something deep inside of us.

We want a fresh start. We want to wipe the slate clean, set fire to everything, and start again.

All we are looking for is an excuse.

Because somewhere deep down we realize that we are caught in a trap. We are stuck in a loop of clinging to the past, and worry about the future. We are stuck feeling guilty or nostalgic for things that are long gone. And we are stuck feeling hopeful or apprehensive about the future. And we miss out on being where we are.

Alan Watts says it like this, “If my happiness at this moment consists largely in reviewing happy memories and expectations, I am but dimly aware of this present. I shall still be dimly aware of the present when the good things that I have been expecting come to pass. For I shall have formed a habit of looking behind and ahead, making it difficult for me to attend to the here and now. If, then, my awareness of the past and future makes me less aware of the present, I must begin to wonder whether I am actually living in the real world.”

And maybe that is what Jesus keeps trying to get at. If you look at his teachings you will notice a pattern. He says, “Let go of the past…your sins are forgiven.” And he says, “Stop worrying about the future. Today has enough worries of its own.”

In other words, “Be where you are!”

Every breath is New Years Eve! In the moment that you read these words, you are a unique expression of what God is doing with you. May we not miss God’s fingerprints because we are too busy trying to wipe away the smudge. The Kingdom of God is eternal life. And eternity is right here, right now, in this moment. Your past is reconciled. Your sins are forgiven. Your future will worry about itself. God is breathing life into you right now. In this moment. In this instant. If you need a resolution…resolve to be present in the present.

Love is the Word,


reboot your brain…

So, the other day I got an ad that popped up on my cell phone. It was the first time I’d seen anything like this. And now it does it all the time. It used to be that in the top I’d get a little bug of a notification. But now I get ads that hijack my phone and throw full screen pictures up of games and junk that it wants me to buy. It gets all glitchy, and there doesn’t seem to be anything I can do about it because I don’t know which app I installed that is causing the problem.

It looks like I have nothing left to do but to reformat the thing.

Now this is a pain. It means that I will have to rethink everything that I have done with my phone up to this point. I will have to decide which things I used and which I didn’t. I will have to decide which things wasted my time, and which things got in the way of my doing things that were more important. I will have to decide which things were useful and necessary, and which things were just like a lead weight slowing down the proper working order of the phone.

It’s a pain, but really, it’s kind of exciting too. I get to start over. It’s like new year’s eve for my phone.

And it’s got me to thinking, how often might it be useful to do something really similar with our ideas about God?

Because let’s look at the way things have gone from the start. Let’s look at the Christian creation narrative. God creates Adam and then Eve. They walk together with God in the cool of the evening. They have a deep and loving relationship. There is one basic rule. God says, “Don’t eat the fruit from that tree over there.”

Now, I don’t know why. It never made much sense to me why God would bother putting the tree there. I mean, I get the discussions about free will, and that sort of thing. But to me the tree seems like entrapment. But I guess that’s why I’m not God.

Anyway. Like I say, there’s this one rule. Don’t eat that fruit. And then comes this snake. And this snake says, “Aww, come on. One bite won’t hurt.” And Eve says, “Nope. God said don’t eat from the tree. DON’T EVEN TOUCH IT.”

Did you catch that? God never said not to touch the tree. Eve has added a rule to the rule.

But before we string her up for being such an idiot. I have to say, I think that there wasn’t much wrong with her extra rule. Given that she didn’t eat the fruit until this snake talked her into it, it would seem that her rule was helping her to stay away from the tree. You know, it had fruit that was pleasing to the eye and everything. Probably not a bad idea to just draw that line a little farther back and to decide, “yep…better not even touch that tree.” I mean if you’re an alcoholic, you don’t hang out in the bar.

So we don’t really have a huge problem yet, but then as we continue to read on we see people constantly adding one more rule to the rule. Installing one more app on the phone, so-to-speak, until we find something like 614 rules about the rules. And things start to get a bit glitchy.

So, God comes along in the form of Jesus. And Jesus tells us, “Look, you’re getting off base. Let’s reformat this thing. And here is what you need to reinstall. Love. That’s your starting point, and if you have to start over again, it always comes back to Love.”

So my challenge for you and for me and for all of us is to face the anxiety of a reformat. Take your images, take your ideas, take the things that you have been wasting time with and that have been getting in your way and delete them. It is terrifying. It will cause a great deal of anxiety. But ultimately it is freedom. It will set you free from the things that keep your faith from functioning the way it was designed to function. Hit the reset. You’ll be glad you did.



The Grammar of the Reformation…

On October 31, 1517, a young man named Martin Luther wrote a letter. The purpose of this letter was to speak against the selling of indulgences. In other words, Luther felt that it was wrong for the church to ask people to give them money for a certificate to show that they bought their deceased loved ones way out of purgatory. Obviously this was a very unbiblical practice, and Luther courageously asked the hierarchy of his church whether they might stop doing this.

Enclosed in this letter Luther added a copy of a writing called, “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” Luther’s purpose in writing this was to offer scholarly reasons why this practice ought to end. However, those who held those positions of power were not impressed. They did not feel that it was Luther’s place to challenge the practices of the church. And as Robert Wilson said, “Most people live in a myth and grow violently angry if anyone dares tell them the truth about themselves.” When Luther held up his mirror to the corrupt leaders of the church, they grew violently angry with him.

Copies of Luther’s Disputation were translated and circulated widely. This Disputation came to be known as Luther’s “95 Theses.” A legend formed around the writing that Luther had nailed it to the door of the All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg. The writing sparked what came to be known as the Protestant Reformation. In 1520 Luther was brought before Pope Leo X and in 1521 he came before the Roman Emperor Charles V. In both accounts Luther refused to recant. He stood in the face of these men who were entrenched in their clout and power and refused to submit to anything other than his conscience and understanding of God. He was excommunicated from the church and declared an outlaw of the state.

Now, as you go out into some circles of church life today you may hear people every Halloween saying, “Happy Reformation Day!” This is the history of why you may hear that. It is not exactly a happy day, but many Christians do choose to commemorate Luther’s brave challenge of the established order of the church on October 31st.

The reformation is a period in church history in which the church had to correct itself to get back into line with the teachings of Jesus. It is something that we ought to appreciate. But there is one danger. Often we look back at this time and we say that after the Reformation, we became “Reformed.” And we can draw new lines and build new walls that establish a wholly new hierarchy. I consider the reformation to be for the corporate church something like our own individual sanctification. It is not something that should ever end with “-ed.” It ought never be put into past tense. Instead it ought to always end with “-ing.” We ought to always be becoming, but never arriving.

When we put the reformation of the church in the past tense and say that we are now “reformed” then we allow ourselves to stagnate. We establish a new hierarchy that centers around arguments that are on the cutting edge of the 1500’s. This is true of both sides of the coin when it comes to “reformed” or non-“reformed” theology. May we always be reforming. May our reformation never be complete. And may we celebrate the corrections that the church has made while knowing that we will always have more ways in which we need to change.

If each individual making up the church is constantly growing into a more Christ-like person, then it stands to reason that the church will have to constantly grow into a more Christ-like group. Sometimes that means embracing the past. Sometimes that means jettisoning things that we have made more important that the one thing we are told to cling to. Love God, Love each other.

Love is the Word.  Believe. Amen.

Scripture, perception, and walking in through the out door…

There are many facts which are up for debate.  But one thing is absolutely certain.

Often the way my mind works is a little off…

Now that we all agree to this obvious point, let me explain why I bring that up.

I work in a restaurant.  It is a corporate chain restaurant which will remain nameless.  I stand in front of the grill all night.  Recently the fine folks in the corporate headquarters have begun trying to keep a better handle on the workings of the restaurant.  For example, we aren’t allowed to have drinks on the cook line.  Instead we get 5 oz portions in little sno-cone cups, then wash our hands and return to the line.


Anyway, another of these rules is that they have decided to post “entrance” and “exit” on the appropriate side of the double doors leading from the front-of-house to the back-of-house.  You know…because no one knows that foot traffic moves like car traffic, and you keep to the right side of your path so you don’t slam into anyone…especially when going through double doors carrying large trays of food.

Okay.  So, far we are at the level of mildly insulting and annoying.

But here’s where my mental issues come into play.  When you start toying around with the idea of perception and preconceived notions, even with the clearly labeled doors, this “entrance” and “exit” conundrum gets a lot weirder.  Say for a minute that you’ve never driven a car.  Say you hire two people who come from a foreign country that has no protocol for which side of the pathway to walk on.  We’ll say one of them is hired to work in the kitchen, and one is hired to work on the waitstaff.

Imagine for a minute you are the person hired to work on the waitstaff.  When you approach double doors that go between the kitchen and the dining room – one saying “entrance” and one saying “exit” – how does your job affect your perception?  Are you exiting the kitchen into the dining room?  Or do you go through the door that says “entrance” because in your mind the dining room is the main part of the restaurant…therefore you are entering the dining room?  And the same with the kitchen staff.  If you walk from the dining room into the kitchen, do you go through the “entrance” door because you are entering the kitchen?  Or do you walk through the “exit” door, because you are leaving the dining room?

If we strip away the cultural context, we are still left with our own personal perception of what is most important, where the priority lies, and into what place we personally find ourselves fitting.

The same thing happens when we go to interpret scripture.

Often we hear people say that the Bible constantly contradicts itself.  They insist that the Bible simply cannot be trusted because of these obvious contradictions.  See Isaac Azimov’s guide to the Bible for a million examples.

Others insist that any contradictions in the Bible are merely apparent.  In other words, if we read one part of the Bible that seems to contradict another part, then we must be misinterpreting the contradictory passage.

That’s fair.

But there’s a problem…

The “all contradictions are merely apparent” faction tends to explain the contradictions with a somewhat misleading phrase.  They say, “scripture interprets scripture.”  To my odd little mind this seems a bit like saying that you can use the entrance door to interpret how you interact with the exit door.  In other words; it works, but only as long as everyone agrees to the same set of rules ahead of time.

And this is where the factions of the Church come into play.

We each come to the scriptures with our own agenda, preconceptions, biases, and preferences.  So, one group favors the Biblical concept of Grace over works.  They favor the idea of Christ as substitute for each of us on the cross.  They favor the idea of the depravity and utter helplessness of humanity against our own broken nature.  Each of these concepts has a very strong Biblical basis.  But then we see another group which favors the Biblical concept that “faith without works is dead.”  They understand the Bible to be a revolutionary book calling for social justice, non-violence, and equality for every living being.  They understand Christ’s death and resurrection as the ultimate victory over sin and death.  Each of these concepts also has a strong Biblical basis.

But then we treat them as mutually exclusive.

So, what if we are finding a group of like minded people who are reading the text in the same way as us?  What if we are having conversations with them to determine the best way to explain away the passages of scripture that contradict our agreed upon conclusions?  Of course we would never say as much.  But it seems to me like this might  be exactly what is happening.

But I would argue that this is counter productive.  The humble, Christian way of looking at this would be to open a space for conversation.  Paul teaches that we can come to a place where we choose a teacher and exhort them above the material they are teaching.  In the context, he tells the Corinthian church not to distinguish between the theology of himself versus a man named Apollos.  He says it is God who makes the faith grow.  And this applies to the debates between Calvin and Armenius, the Pope and Luther, Bell and Driscoll, Piper and McLaren.  What if the question really comes down to whether we are “front of house” or “back of house”?

What if the entire point is for us to wrestle through these questions together?

And what if the sacrifice of Christ…whether is be substitutionary atonement or victory over death and hell…what if that is what actually binds us together?

I argue passionately that it is this very sacrifice…it is this very Love…that binds us all together on this journey of faith.  And it is to our own peril that we lose the conversation in favor of the debate.  It is our own throats that we cut with our swords of truth.

It is my prayer that we can enter into a conversation.  It is my prayer that we can walk together in this journey.  And let those who favor Calvin, and those who favor Armenius, and those who favor Ekhart, and those who favor Schaeffer…let us all take our place in the Body of Christ.  A pinky toe and an ear lobe are equally important, but it is rarely necessary for them to walk side-by side.  But neither the pinky toe nor the ear lobe will ever get more than a few feet if they don’t agree to be in different places, and then move ahead together.

This is my prayer for the Church Universal.  I pray that we walk this path together whenever possible.  And I pray that we separate while maintaining unity.  Let the Love of God be the sinew that binds the bones in the Body of Christ.



if i kick out my devils, my angels might leave…

“If I kick out my devils, my angels might leave.” – Iggy Pop

I once heard a preacher say that we should deal with our sins like we are weeding a garden. What I think he meant was that we should be diligent in plucking out the weeds one by one.  We ought to constantly be looking for anything that isn’t what we want to cultivate, and we ought to rip it out.  I agree that we ought to approach sin like weeding a garden, but I think that we need to reevaluate how we weed our gardens.

Let me explain…

Most people I know charge into their garden with pesticide.  They take these chemicals that are formulated to kill off the weeds, but let the plants grow, and they spray them all over everything.  And the chemicals do their job.  Don’t get me wrong.  These chemicals will choke down every single unwanted weed in your garden, and they will allow your vegetables to grow up big and strong.  This is especially true if you use them in conjunction with a few chemical fertilizers.

So now we’ve got no weeds, and we’ve got giant tomatoes…what on earth could my left-wing hippie mind find wrong with that?  Well, if you have to ask, then you obviously don’t know any left-wing hippies…we can find something wrong with anything.

Here’s the problem:

Most of the weeds we have killed are medicinal or are better for food than the plants we are putting in their place.  The lambs quarters you sprayed down and ripped up are way better for you than the spinach you planted in their place.  And the chemicals we spray on the weeds are now in our food.  The soil we are growing the plants in has been monocropped for so long that it has no nutrients left.  The chemical fertilizer we sprinkle on the ground will make the plants grow, but it won’t give back those nutrients.  So, we can make perfect little flavorless, nutrient-free tomatoes that look nice on the vine, but that beyond that will do nothing but cause heartburn and cancer.

And once…

several thousand years ago…

this hippie named Jesus said that a plant is known by its fruit.

So, what if we are doing something very similar in our churches today?  What if we are monocropping in dead soil?  What if we are spraying down and ripping up weeds that might just be better for us than the plants we are trying to force to grow?  What if the fertilizer we are putting down is just making pretty fruits that are flavorless and devoid of nutrition?  What if these fruits that we are growing look perfect on the outside, but they’re really causing heartburn and cancer?

I would argue that this is exactly what we are doing.  We are monocropping in dead soil.  Our denominational politics are seeing to it that nobody with a different viewpoint can speak up in any church.  When they do, they are sent out to find a church where people agree with the things they are saying.  This is not good for the people, and it is not good for the the churches.  It turns churches into echo chambers in which everyone sings the same tune, or at least they learn to fake it really well.

We are spraying down and ripping up weeds that are better for us than what we are trying to grow.  We discourage questioning, doubt, and ambiguity in favor of answers, facts, and rules.  By doing so we cram God into a box.  Anytime God climbs out of that box, we explain it away.  If we are in a “spirit” church, and something intellectual comes along that challenges our thinking, we chalk it up to the devil making those who claim to be wise into fools.  And if we are in a more reformed, cessationist church, then when the Spirit shows up we say, “um…excuse me…can you go sit in the back…it’s just that we have an order of worship here, and you make it difficult to stay on task…”  Sometimes it is the very thing that challenges the core of all the we believe and cling to that we ought to be embracing.

And this fertilizer we put down is making pretty fruit that is empty.  We study all the books that affirm our beliefs.  We listen to music that always has an uplifting message.  We say things like, “scripture interprets scripture.”  But what we really mean is that the scriptures we believe are used to interpret the scriptures we don’t really believe.  Everything is set up so that what we are growing in is pure, bright, white, and clean.  And we produce fruit that is as bland and flavorless as those genetically modified, chemically grown tomatoes.

In actuality what makes a real, delicious, nutritious fruit is something completely different.  We take heirloom seeds, passed down from generation to generation.  Seeds that have seen abundance, but also drought.  Seeds that have survived through good times and through times when it looked like those seeds could never grow.  And we put them in soil that is full of death and decay.  Soil that is mixed in with rotten, decaying, used up things.  These are the things that give the soil its substance.  The things that have been sacrificed.  We give them pure water and bright sunshine.

And sometimes we pray for rain.

And there are “weeds” we allow to grow.  We mix flowers in amongst the plants.  We don’t put things in straight lines, because that’s what the predators are looking for.  We let things be messy and sloppy, and not technically correct.  And the fruit we produce may be ugly.  It may have lumps and dark spots.  It may have a place where a worm had lunch.  So be it.  Cut it off, and enjoy the rest!

This imperfectly perfect fruit will be the greatest you have ever tasted.  It will give you life which springs forth out of death.  It will give you joy that springs out of the pain of labor.  It will surprise you.  It will shock you.  It will leave you standing in gape-mouthed wonder at the beautiful flavors that can come from something so plain.

But it will never…


be bland.



Uniformity vs unity…

There’s a story we tell in churches.  Maybe not in all churches, but in most.

It’s a story about belief.

Often we stand together, and we read off a list of things we believe.  We read an apostle’s creed.  We read puritan prayers.  We run down lists of propositions, and we nod our heads and affirm each item on the list.

Now, I’m not saying that these creeds and prayers and lists are bad.  It is deeply important for us to take stock of what we believe.  We are dealing with infinity.  We are dealing with a being so vast that every aspect of the universe was created by this being’s word.  We are dealing with a being so intimate that you cannot split open even the tiniest molecule without this being’s love rushing over you like the ocean’s crashing waves.  Without some sort of system of knowledge to make some sense of this, we’d never be able to digest any of it.

But there’s a danger.

Too often we take these propositions – we take these tools – and we make them into a yard stick by which we can measure our faith.  We take these propositions and we tell everyone, “You need to agree to each of these, or else you are not fully a part of the club.”

And so we play a game.

In order to avoid being excluded from the club, we stand together and we say, “I affirm this belief.  I believe each point on this list.”  But in our minds we might actually struggle with some of it.  Maybe we even disbelieve some of it completely.  And most shockingly…maybe we’re not alone.  What if there is a whole lineage of Christians who have wrestled with the delicate balance between doubt and faith?  What if even your pastor or your worship leader or your Sunday school teacher have questions and doubts?  What if they even sit down and discuss those doubts with each other, and it is a beautiful and deep part of their Christian life?  But then they stand up on Sunday morning and say, “I affirm these beliefs.”  Doesn’t that in some way reduce faith?

Jacob’s name is changed to Israel because he wrestled with God, and with men and prevailed.  And then Israel becomes the name of God’s chosen people.  God chose a people who would wrestle, who would ask questions, who would push back.  This is what a relationship is like.

So in the church when we use our doctrines and creeds as ways of saying, “I’m in because I will intellectually affirm each point (whether I truly believe it in my heart or not), and you’re out because you doubt,” then we do a disservice to God.  We dissect God into tiny parts leaving only the corpse of an idol in God’s place.  Meanwhile the world looks at these parts of God that we are holding up and saying, “you need to worship this,” and they say, “Why?  You’re only showing me a corpse.”

In reality we are talking about a God that won’t fit inside a creed or a doctrine.  Our creeds and doctrines tell us a lot about who God is, but they are not God themselves.  The menu is not the meal.  The map is not the road.  So we can stand together, link arms, recite our creeds, and talk about how this is unity.  We can exclude anyone who does not get on board with that so-called unity.  But we are not talking about unity anymore.  When we deny our real and honest questions, doubts, and disagreements, we have moved past unity and into uniformity.  When you put on the uniform it doesn’t matter what’s inside.  We all look alike on the outside, and we keep any disagreement carefully concealed.

If this is faith, you can have my share.  If this is Christianity, I’ll pass.

But it isn’t.  Faith is a vibrant, living, breathing thing.  Christianity is a relationship.  There has never been a lasting relationship that had no room for doubts and questions.  There has never been a true relationship that couldn’t survive some real, honest discussion.  In fact there has never been a true relationship that could survive without it.

So, I ask my fellow Christians – and beyond that, I ask my fellow humans – can we please keep our doctrines and beliefs where they belong?  I would love to sit down with anyone and have a conversation that says, “In my experience, and to my understanding, this is how God seems to be…” Then we can offer feedback to each other.  But can we please stop picking up those beliefs and smashing them over each other’s heads?

And specifically to my Christian family…

Can we learn the difference between unity and uniformity?  The world does not need to see a band of robots swallowing orders and towing the party line.  If they want that, they can get into politics.  What the world needs to see is real people being real.  They need to see a different sort of society in which we can disagree.  We can even disagree about some very fundamental things.  But those disagreements do not have to be a source of division.  Maybe we can maintain our disagreements in love.  We can disagree without saying, “You are no longer welcome here” or “You have no more valid opinions because we disagree on this.”

My heart breaks with longing for a time in which we can disagree with love and respect because we know that God is bigger than our ideas about God.  Grace is stronger than legalism.  Love is stronger than hate.  And as Rob Bell says, “The Good News is better than that.”

I love you,


P.s.- as usual, I am indebted to Peter Rollins for much of my thought here. If any of this strikes you, I’d suggest you check him out asap. http://www.peterrollins.net