Tag Archives: grace

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.




Parable of the Zombies…

I have two current obsessions.

I love zombie movies and the parable-ridden theology of Peter Rollins.  Given these two things, it seemed obvious that I should take a stab at writing a parable about zombies.

So…here it is…

The Parable of the Zombies…

Once there were three zombies.

Like all zombies they maintained their sorrowful existence by feasting on the flesh of those still living.  Their beastly, incoherent gruntings were their only communication.  Even this meager communication really only served to alert other zombies to the presence of living flesh to feast upon.

Through their entire dead/life none of the zombies ever really changed their ways.  None of them ever completely stopped eating people.


One zombie was proud to be a zombie.  He was glad to be who he was.

One zombie was ashamed.  He ate people because he couldn’t seem to help himself, but he always felt guilty.

One zombie was indifferent to the whole question.  He simply never thought about it.  He got hungry…He ate people.  He got sleepy…he laid down and slept.  Sunrise…Sunset…never a thought.

One day the zombie who felt guilty planted a garden.  Though he still ate people, from time to time he’d eat the vegetables from his garden instead.

The zombie who was proud to be a zombie was inspired by this.  He planted a small garden himself, and occasionally ate veggies instead of people as well.  Though he never completely gave up eating people either.

The indifferent zombie was busy doing zombie stuff and he missed the whole thing…

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

do the math…

x + n = 0

x + 0 = ∞

James 1:26-27 – The Gospel and the Geto Boys…

thismanmaydie“If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” – James 1:26-27

“The tongue like a sharp knife, kills without drawing blood.” – Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha

“The one who knows does not speak.  The one who speaks does not know.” – Lao Tzu

“Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage.”  – Pubilius Syrus

“Speak when you are angry and you will make the best speech you will ever regret.” – Ambrose Bierce

This is a difficult passage for me.  I mean, let’s face it, I’m a talker.  I am not the type of talker who always has something to say.  In fact in most social gatherings I am the one sitting in the corner not saying anything at all.  But when subjects like religion or herbal medicine or music come up, I don’t know when to shut up.  And usually the things I have to say are things that I have a very difficult time applying to my own life.  “Quit eating fried food and eat lots of garlic and your blood pressure will come down,” I say as I eat another french fry and take my blood pressure medicine.  And I write a blog, and I’m working towards a career as a minister.  I’m still not sure how that came to be, but I am sure that God still giggles when He thinks of it.  Socially phobic Andy is going to talk to people as a career!

So, let’s take a look at what James actually teaches us here.  He says that if we don’t keep a tight reign on our tongue then our religion is worthless, and we’re just lying to ourselves.  That is pretty strong language.  It’s pretty strong language from one of the early ministers and writers in the Church.  So, what can we take from this?  When is it okay to talk at all?  I think we need to look at the second half of this passage in order to learn that.  He teaches us that the religion that God is interested is the one that compels us to help widows and orphans, and to avoid pollution by the world.  In other words, God wants us to be men and women of action.  We can’t be all talk and no walk.  That is worthless religion in which we lie to ourselves.  We are to be ministers, not preachers.  Preaching is one aspect of ministry, but not the main aspect.  Preaching alone is words separated from action.  Ministry is caring for the poor, the orphan, the widow, the immigrant.  We are called to teach all nations, not preach to all nations.  Teaching means we do so that others can learn how to do.

Maybe it is just my own perspective, but the pendulum seems to be swinging a new direction in the Church.  In many ways it is a good and right way for things to go.  In a sense any pendulum swing is a correction, but one that will eventually go too far.  The direction I see the church going is towards the preaching of radical grace.  This is, of course, good and right.  It is God’s grace alone that saves us.  Our works, our righteousness, are filthy rags.  The best of our best is a rotting corpse.  In the past the Church’s focus has been on works righteousness.  A tree is known by its fruit.  We are required to do the work of God.  The outward evidence of our inward conversion is our works.  This is also true, but can be taken too far when separated from the knowledge of our need for grace.  The by-grace-alone salvation from God is one side of a coin.  Our works that flow from God’s love and the understanding that “there but for the grace of God go I” are the other side of the coin.  If we somehow split those two sides of the coin apart, then all we are left with is two worthless clanging bits of tin.

So, with all that in mind, what James is warning of here is spouting off at the mouth and not having the works to back it up.  God wants the works.  Your works will never be sufficient to save you, but He wants your conversion to result in real life changing action.  Otherwise what’s the point?  If salvation is simply the comfort of being forgiven myself, and it doesn’t flow into forgiving and serving others, then it is just a psychological method to help us not feel guilty.  It is simple, and comforting to go to church once a week, and talk about how grateful you are for God’s grace.  Sing some songs praising Him, and then go back to a self absorbed life.  Sometimes even our worship is self-centered, “I don’t like such and such song/style/etc…I don’t feel anything.”  Since when is worship about the worshiper and not the worshiped?  Even if we spend our entire week talking to friends and co-workers about how beautiful and life changing our faith is, if they don’t see it in action, then they have the right to assume that we are fake.  We can wear our Christian t-shirts, put bumper stickers and fish on our cars, even carry picket signs and megaphones, but if we aren’t doing then we are blowing hot air.

On the other hand, when we help those less fortunate than us, when we avoid getting wrapped up in gossip, when we repent directly for the wrongs we’ve done to others, when we steer clear of things we know are harmful, then we don’t have to say a word.  Jesus Himself teaches us to, “let your life shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16).  When I was in college I was an atheist.  At least I thought I was.  Somewhere inside I knew I wasn’t, but I was able to yell enough angry nonsense to drown out that still small voice inside saying, “Ummm…yeah, you can keep yelling, but I’m still right here.”  There were several people who yelled right back at me.  There were people who were so unsure of their belief, that they needed to violently challenge anyone who disagreed with them.  There were people who talked without walking.  Then there were people like J.J. and Chris.  Neither were perfect.  They had their faults like anyone.  They were sinners saved by grace.  And they knew it.  They never yelled at me.  They never really even tried to witness to me.  They lived lives in which I could see a difference.  They had been changed, and I could see it.  As I look back over my life, it is people like that who have made the difference in my life and my faith.

There is a rap group called the Geto Boys.  I don’t suggest them.  They are pretty raw.  They are from an earlier time in my life.    But this verse always reminds me of a line in one of their songs.  I actually can’t repeat the line verbatim in good conscience.  But I will paraphrase it.  They much more colorfully say, “Real gangstas don’t flex muscles because real gangstas know they have them.”  In other words, we don’t have to rattle on and on about our beliefs or how good we are, or how great God’s grace is, or how we need to be doing good deeds.  It’s fine to talk about it, but you had better be doing it as well.  The old saying says that God gave us one mouth and two ears because we are supposed to listen twice as much as we talk.  I’ll go farther, God also gave us two hands, two arms, two legs, two feet, two eyes, and one mouth.  We need to be working, hugging, walking, standing, seeing, listening, and doing at least twice as much as we are talking.  Oscar Wilde cynically says, “The only thing to do with advice is to pass it on.  It is never any use to oneself.”  Let’s do the opposite of this.  Let’s quit dolling out advice, and start living it.  This is James’ challenge to us.  Let’s pray for God to strengthen us to be up to the challenge.

P.S. – After posting this, I received a “quote of the day” e-mail.  I touched briefly on the difference between a preacher and a minister.  This is the quote that came in my e-mail this morning:

“The pastoral charge [does not] consist merely in administering the sacraments, chanting the canonical hours, celebrating masses–though even these are not properly done by hirelings–; it consists also in feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, covering the naked, receiving guests, visiting the sick and those in prison. By the doing of these things is the people to be instructed in the holy duties of an active life.” – Robert Grosseteste (c.1170-1253), Bp., in a letter [1250]


A few days ago I wrote a post that touched on the idea that the reality of a thing should not be confused with the truth of that thing.  Like trying to ride a donkey down a photograph of the Grand Canyon.  I have spent most of my efforts over the past couple of years, and specifically over the past few months working and writing apologetics.  I think it is an important thing.  It is good to have a rational approach to faith.  As the book of Proverbs says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters.  But a man of understanding draws them out.”

God is truly beyond words, beyond rational thought.  Rationality is one aspect of God.  You cannot have a full grasp of the Truth of God without the use of all of your reason.  But you also cannot rely on reason alone to understand the fullness of that Truth.  Tonight I was graced by the presence of God in a way that reminded me of that fact.  My 10 month old son has a cold.  He woke up about 11:30 tonight screaming.  When that happens, often the only thing that will get him to calm down is to take him outside on the porch.  We sat on the swing in the dark.  It was drizzling slightly, and there was that electric cool crispness of the early fall night.  I held him in my arms and hummed the hymns I grew up singing in church.  An unexplainable peace fell silently over the both of us.  I didn’t see any visions.  I didn’t hear any voices.  But as I held my son, comforting his pain and his fear, I had the distinct feeling of being held and comforted by my Father as well.  I know there is nothing in emotional language or experiences that can convince a hard boiled skeptic that there might be something to this God stuff.  But then, it’s not really my job to convince anyone.  I can only bear witness to the change in my life.  It is up to the Spirit after that.  And I suppose that is what happened tonight.  The Spirit washed over me and refreshed this skeptical believer one more time.