Tag Archives: gospel

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.

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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.


the gospel of Gordon Ramsay (re-posted)…

In celebration of the return of my favorite show, Kitchen Nightmares, I’ve decided to re-post an entry from a year or so ago.  I hope you enjoy it…

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Chef Gordon Ramsay, if you don’t already know him, is a foul mouthed, temperamental, highly strung television chef.  He is also one of the greatest examples I’ve seen to date of the way the Gospel operates.  If you are of a mind to, you can see the show Kitchen Nightmares here (be warned, you will hear lots of bleeping, and a lot of the words that are pretty rough, but no longer bleeped on television.  If that offends you, don’t click the link).  The episode that made this Gospel parallel clear to me was called “Revisited: Gordon Returns.”  It recaps six restaurants he visited, and shows them a year later.  Watching them all in a row like that really drove home the way Chef Ramsay does his thing.

Basically, the premise of the show is that some restaurant is failing for whatever reason.  Enter Gordon Ramsay.  He comes in, eats whatever they serve him as their specialty, and then proceeds to verbally abuse them at every turn.  He slams the food, he goes into the kitchen and shows them every piece of dirt, filth, lazy short cuts, and non-chefliness (is that a word?  No, worries, we’ll make it a word.) that they might have.  He pushes until he hits the wall.  And the thing is, that wall is always there.  Always.  He has said on several occasions, “Are you angry?  Good, now maybe you can learn something.”

Chef Ramsay understands something that we would do well to understand as well.  When we realize that we are failing, that things are not going the way we want them to, our first course of action is to make excuses.  Like the people on his show with their failing restaurants, we blame others, we blame circumstances, we blame anyone and anything but ourselves.  So many of us keep trying, more and more emphatically, to do the same things we’ve been doing all along.  One restaurant Chef Ramsay visited had a stock pile of absurd signs and posters of specials and give-aways.  Basically doing the same thing, over and over again, even though it was obviously not working.  “Maybe half off soup and sandwich will work since free appetizer with two dinners didn’t.”  It reminds me of an analogy I heard Tony Jones give.  He compared a person to a lawn mower that is running out of gas.  Right before you run out of gas in your lawn mower, the engine revs up to a high pitch, and runs hotter and faster than normal just before it sputters out.  This is a good picture of that “anger wall” that blows up just before we sputter out and become ready to be refueled.

(On a side note…Tony Jones is the director of Emergent Village.  There are a lot of good things and a lot of not-so-good things coming from the Emergent “conversation.”  Click *here* for the interview Tony Jones did on Steve Brown Etc. which is where the above analogy came from.)

Lao Tzu says, “If you continue in the same direction, you might just end up where you are going.”  My dad says it even better, “If nothing changes, nothing changes.”  As long as we keep making excuses for ourselves, we are going to continue down the same path.  Chef Ramsay understands that this excuse making is an obstacle to growth.  He also understands that when he hits that anger, resentment, and fear, that he is at the breaking point.  He realizes that he just held up a mirror, chased them around the room with it, beat them over the head with it, and just past the anger point, he has them huddled in the fetal position in the corner, crying uncontrollably, but looking for the first time in that mirror without any masks or pretense.  This is where growth and change happen.  New gardens grow in the dead matter of the old garden.

In Luke 18, the Bible has this to say:

To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’

“I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”

There is something underlying this story.  The tax collector stood at a distance.  He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast.  This is just my theory, but I think that tax collector probably spent a long time thinking along the same lines as the Pharisee.  The business of tax collecting in that day was usually a pretty dishonest one.  In order to make your living doing something you know is wrong, you have to have a pretty special ability to delude yourself into thinking somehow you are right to do wrong.  But something happened in this man’s life that made it unavoidable for him.  He had to face the ugliness of his own sin.  Something or someone came along that made him understand just how dark and small his heart really was.  That something/someone was ultimately the Holy Spirit working through people and circumstances in his life to show him the reality of his darkness.

Gordon Ramsay is, in many respects, a great example of the way the Spirit works in our lives.  He holds up a mirror.  We glance, and turn away, and superimpose the image we like to see of ourselves in place of the one that is real.  Then the Spirit says, “Your best effort is horrible.  Your food is inedible, your kitchen is filthy, your dry storage is infested with roaches, you are a horrible excuse for a chef.”  And we get angry.  “How dare you come in here and tell me something like that!”  The Spirit says, “Oh really?  So, what you’re doing is working then?  You’re a blinding success?  Then why are you looking for help?”  And eventually we are left with the choice.  We can take a good honest look at the filth in our kitchen.  We can take a good honest look at the pre-packaged, frozen, bought-in junk we are trying to pass off as gourmet righteousness.  Or, we can continue in our delusion, and end up a failure, sunken under our delusions of right-ness.

On Kitchen Nightmares, the people who change, and stick with it, are invariably successful.  The ones who do not, invariably fail.  One striking similarity I see in all the people who opt not to change (and really, in the initial resistance that everyone shows) is their fear that Chef Ramsay is trying to change their “self-ness” that they have put into their restaurant.  Each and every time the fear goes something like this, “I have built this on my dream.  There is so much of me in this.  I worked so hard on this.  I don’t want someone coming in here and changing what I have planned for this place.”  This is so much like our resistance to change into what the Spirit has for us.  We are so afraid that we will be turned into something different that we truly are.  Like we’ll be turned into one of the pod-people from Invasion of the Bodysnatchers.  But in our lives, as in Kitchen Nightmares, if we listen to the suggestions and changes that are being offered, they will always be something that is in keeping with who we are right now.  Chef Ramsay doesn’t ask a vegetarian restaurant to become a steak house.  He doesn’t try to turn and Indian restaurant into an Irish Pub.  He shows a place what they are truly good at and will enjoy, not what they think they want to be good at and enjoy.  The Spirit is the same.  We are shown what we are good at, we are shown the skills that God has given us.

When we hit that wall, break through, and see ourselves as we truly are, we learn two things.  Those two things are, as my friend Scott Stewart says, “The bad news of the Gospel, and the Good news of the Gospel.”  The bad news is that we are far worse than we can see.  The good news is that we are more loved than we could ever imagine.  The great news is that in the good news of the Gospel, we are loved and given talents, and affinities that, if we listen to the Spirit and use them according to the plan, will give us more of a true “self” than anything we could do in the horrible “freedom” that we demand when we want to be “ourselves” without God.

I pray, for myself as much as anyone, that we can take a look at the brutal, cold facts of our filthy-rag righteousness.  And that from that honest knowledge, that we can begin to grow and change.  I pray that we can let go of these ideas of our “self” that we hold so closely, and embrace the Truth of who we really are.

C.S. Lewis says in just a  few sentences more than I’ve said in this nearly 1500 word article:

“We are to be re-made. All the rabbit in us is to disappear—the worried, conscientious, ethical rabbit as well as the cowardly and sensual rabbit. We shall bleed and squeal as the handfuls of fur come out; and then, surprisingly, we shall find underneath it all a thing we have never yet imagined: a real Man, an ageless god, a son of God, strong, radiant, wise, beautiful, and drenched in joy.” – C.S. Lewis


Prodigal Christianity…

I’ve been co-leading a class on Tim Keller’s book The Prodigal God.  He explained something I had never considered before.  When we hear the word “prodigal” we think of it as “wayward.”  The word has the connotation of wild and reckless behavior.  And in a sense that is true.  But what Keller points out is that the actual definition of the word is “recklessly spendthrift.”  The sense here is of pursuing your goal with reckless abandon.

So, in the story of the Prodigal Son we are not looking at a wayward son who runs off and then is welcomed back.  I mean we are, but that isn’t all we see.  We actually see three examples of a prodigal nature.  All three of the main characters of Jesus’ story are prodigal in their own way.  Prodigality is, like most things, not a matter of being the wrong way to be.  It’s a matter of being prodigal in the proper way.  The issue is not even that their ultimate goal is wrong.  What is wrong with both sons is that their prodigal nature leads them to miss out on their goal.

If we take all sin and suffering out of the Bible we are left with four chapters.  We have the first two chapters of Genesis, and the last two chapters of Revelation.  We are left with a book that starts with a garden with no suffering, and ends with a city filled with God’s light.  This is ultimately what every one of us is after.  We may not really know it, but every time we work to end suffering in the world or in our own lives it is because we have a deep seated sense that things aren’t meant to be this way.  Somewhere in our bones we realize that life is not meant to be about suffering and pain.  So we pursue ways to end that suffering in the most prodigal way we know how.  Each example in the parable Jesus tells represent one of the ways in which we do this.

The first example in Jesus’ story is the example we are familiar with.  The youngest son goes to the father and says, “give me all that is mine.”  This is shocking to the consciousness of first century Palestine.  He is basically saying to the father, “I wish you were dead.”  He is recklessly casting aside any love for the father, any love for his brother, and any love for his community.  All he wants to do is to get out and party.  He takes the ostrich approach to pain.  He buries his head in the sand.  He stays numb.  He buys friends.  He sits in front of the television.  He goes out to clubs.  He does anything he can to avoid any real questions about his life and where he fits in the world around him.

The elder brother is the opposite, but the result is exactly the same.  The elder brother follows all the rules.  And he follows them with a reckless abandon as well.  He is so committed to following the rules that he won’t have anything to do with anyone who doesn’t.  It would have been his responsibility to go out looking for his younger brother when he took off.  But he didn’t.  He was all about keeping up the status quo.  He wanted the father’s things as much as the younger brother.  He was just placing his bets that the best way to get those things was to play nice and follow the rules.  So he was furious when the father gave the younger brother his inheritance.  And he was even more furious when the father accepted the younger brother back as a son.  The elder brother also wanted to avoid opening his heart to those around him.  The younger brother built a wall of licentiousness around his heart.  The elder brother built a wall of laws around his.

So we are left with the third way.  The Gospel is always the third way.  The father is prodigal in his love for both sons.  But unlike the sons he recklessly casts aside his own status and self-interest in order to pursue the love of his children.  When the younger son says, “I wish you were dead…give me what is mine.”  He does not run him out of town or have him stoned to death as the Law would have prescribed for such a thing.  He makes the sacrifice himself.  He sells off part of his land.  He gives up a portion of his wealth so that the youngest son can have what he asks for.  And when the elder son refuses to come in to the celebration of his brother’s return the father does not force him to do anything.  He takes the public humiliation, and he leaves the party so that he can beg his son to come in.  And when the elder son is berating him for his prodigal love of the youngest son the fathers reply is this.  He says, “All that I have is yours, and has always been yours.  All I have ever asked of you is for you to love me, and love your brother.”

Many of us hear this story from the perspective of one son or the other.  We might be younger brother types who focus on Jesus’ teaching that the elder brother is equally wrong if not more-so.  We might be elder brother types who focus on the fact that Jesus gives a very clear example of what happens when the younger brother gets exactly what he wants.  But either way, if we read this story and find ourselves saying, “Yeah!  That’s right!  You tell ’em Jesus!”  Then we are missing the point completely.  The point of the story is to understand the prodigal love of the father.  If we can find ourselves beginning to read this story and feel our heart break for both of the brothers, then we are starting to get it.  And if we can look at those around us, especially those who are the opposite from us, and not be angry, but be heartbroken for the ways in which they are broken, we are starting to get it.  And if we can truly want what is best for those around us no matter what the cost is for us, then we are finally beginning to see with the Father’s prodigal eyes.


The Gospel of Stamos and Gimmesome Roy…

There was a show in the 90’s called Full House.  Some of you probably remember the cheesy glory that was Full House.  Bob Saget, Dave Coulier, and John Stamos were the saccharine odd trio who somehow found a way to work together to raise three girls.  In one episode Uncle Jessie (played by Stamos) had to make a decision.  So, he got one of those old school balance scales.  He piled up red and black checkers in front of himself and settled into the decision making process.  Every pro was a black checker on one side.  Every con was a red checker on the other.  In the end, the decision was as simple as looking for which side of the scale was heavier.

Even if we have a real sense of the Grace of God, there is still somewhere in our collective psyche this image that God decides our fate in the same way as Uncle Jessie.  We maintain this notion, maybe just subconsciously; that there is a balance sheet somewhere and that when we die we’re going to sit through a film of our lives with God and St. Peter standing behind us saying, “tsk, tsk, tsk.”  In some cases it’s almost something we crave.   A friend once told me that he wanted to go to a church where the preacher stepped on his toes.  He wanted to leave knowing that he was doing wrong, and to be told what sins he was committing.  I can almost understand where he’s coming from.

There’s a beautiful freedom in the Gospel.  But there is also an incredibly frightening aspect of it as well.  When we realize that God has made the ultimate sacrifice for us, we then realize that we owe him everything we are.  If God is a ledger keeper, then we just need to be sure that there are more black checkers than red.  We don’t need to worry about our motives.  We don’t have to worry about our heart.  If God is a ledger keeper, then we just need to make sure that we come down on the “not-sin” side more often than not.  And we want to be sure that when we  do sin that we make up for it by feeling good and guilty.  Is this what God is about?  Is that really Good News?

To find out the reality of how God operates we need to look at what Jesus says of him.  Jesus tells a lot of stories.  People ask questions, and Jesus either answers with another question, or simply starts into a story that contains the answer.  When discussing God’s nature, and the nature of God’s love for us, Jesus tells stories of beloved things that are lost.  He tells of a woman who lost a coin and searched everywhere until she found it.  He tells of a shepherd who had 100 sheep.  One was missing, so he left the 99 and went to find the one.  He tells of a man who’s son said, “I wish you were dead”, took his inheritance and left.  After squandering his money this son saw the error of his ways and returned.  The father ran to him with open arms.  There was no need for explanation.  There was no need for guilt.  There was no need for these things because there was true repentance.  When the prodigal son realized what he had done, he soon discovered that the father’s lavish love was waiting for him the whole time.  He discovered that his punishment was self-chosen when he ran from the father.  And He discovered that the father did not require the penance he prepared for himself.  All that he needed to do was to repent, turn around, and walk back to the father (who was waiting for him all along).  When he did that, the father ran to meet him where he was and walked back with him.  Then he celebrated the return of his once lost son.

When my friend told me that he preferred a church where the preacher stepped on his toes and made him feel guilty I was forcibly reminded of a poem my Shel Silverstein.  The final lines of “The Quest of Gimmesome Roy” sum this up very well (I will edit it for the more sensitive reader):

“Well, that is that,” says Baba Fats, sitting back down on his stone,
Facing another thousand years of talking to God alone.
“It seems, Lord”, says Fats, “it’s always the same, old men or bright-eyed youth,
It’s always easier to sell them some [lies] than it is to give them the truth.”


Our testimony…

Today at Grace Community Church and Grace Foothills (our “One church multiple congregations” church) the sermon was on 2 Corinthians 4:1-6. The verses are about spiritual blindness, and the illumination of the Spirit. The pastors saw fit to use a short video of the testimony of my wife and me. I will let the video speak for itself. I hope God uses it to touch your life.

Here is the link:   http://graceinfo.org/video-av/mills.html


Someone else’s words…

Okay, so I’ve been slack on the blog of late.  I have an excuse.  Seminary is turning out to be more time consuming than I originally anticipated.  I have some things to say, but no time to say them right now.  For now enjoy some words from Tim Keller that really spoke to me…

“Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures.” Luke 24:27

“Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us.

Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal.

Jesus is the true and better Abraham who answered the call of God to leave all the comfortable and familiar and go out into the void not knowing wither he went to create a new people of God.

Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us. And when God said to Abraham, “Now I know you love me because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love from me,” now we can look at God taking his son up the mountain and sacrificing him and say, “Now we know that you love us because you did not withhold your son, your only son, whom you love from us.”

Jesus is the true and better Jacob who wrestled and took the blow of justice we deserved, so we, like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.

Jesus is the true and better Joseph who, at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them.

Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord and who mediates a new covenant.

Jesus is the true and better Rock of Moses who, struck with the rod of God’s justice, now gives us water in the desert.

Jesus is the true and better Job, the truly innocent sufferer, who then intercedes for and saves his stupid friends.

Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.

Jesus is the true and better Esther who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but lost the ultimate and heavenly one, who didn’t just risk his life, but gave his life to save his people.

Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so that we could be brought in.

Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, the true bread.

The Bible’s really not about you — it’s about Him.”

(quoted by Tim Keller at a Resurgence 06 seminar entitled “Preaching the Gospel”)”