Wednesday, August 29, 2007
This past weekend I used King David as a case study on submitting our own personal emotional pain to a higher mission. David’s army had just won a military victory over a coup led by his own son Absalom, killed in the battle. David turned what should have been a national day of rejoicing into a time of mourning. His general Joab takes a huge risk and “leads up” by telling David to suck it up, that there were greater things at risk in Israel than his personal loss…like the respect and leadership his soldiers and people needed at this critical time. David did exactly what Joab said. That’s vulnerable leadership.
David is an endlessly fascinating character for me in the Old Testament. He was intensely passionate, but balanced with a cool theological logic enabling him to shift emotional gears in a moment. After he was exposed in a scandalous affair and murder plot, David wept, fasted and laid on the floor for his yet unborn illegitimate baby. The baby died seven days after he was born. David’s servants were afraid to tell him for fear he would do something desperate, but finally acquiesced. It reads:
Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate. His servants asked him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!" He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The Lord may be gracious to me and let the child live.' But now that he is dead, why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me." 2 Samuel 12:20-23
David’s hyper-logical understanding of God’s sovereignty and his own eventual reuniting with his son seem almost Spock-like. David, the Vulcan-King of the Starship Israel, boldly going where no man had emotionally gone before. Okay, nerds, quit salivating.
But what is with that? Is it just a guy-thing and the ability to compartmentalize, to turn the spigot off and get down to business? Or was it unique to David because he understood his leadership and calling to something greater?
I think—I hope—it was the latter. Perhaps there have been times in your own life where something tragic happened and you had to be “the strong one” for the sake of your family. Perhaps you were the only one who seemed to be able to think straight in the aftermath of tragedy. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t grieve, but rather to suspend your emotions for the sake of something greater, like the need of your kids to be cared for or led during a crisis.
Now expand that to something larger, say, the Kingdom of God. It doesn’t mean that you become stoic through life’s hardships; that’s not healthy modeling. But it does mean you have to realize there may be a greater need in a particular moment than your own: a steady focus on advancing the Kingdom of God.
Maybe that’s why in heaven God wipes away every tear; maybe that’s the time to exhale.
But for now we have a race to finish.
Monday, August 20, 2007
This past weekend I mentioned how the beginning of the story of Jacob and Rachel is drenched with passion. Somewhere down the road, though, Jacob & Rachel inevitably got tired of pitching the tent and feeding the sheep. It's the drudgery of routine. In fact, several years later after being unable to have children, Rachel dumps on Jacob and says “If you can’t give me children I’m going to die”, knowing full well that the problem wasn’t Jacob because he was having babies galore with Leah. Jacob gets angry and shouts, “Oy vey! Who do you think I am? God?”
I would doubt seriously there was a great rush of passionate love at that point.
Later, Jacob and his father-in-law get in a fight and Jacob rehashes the past because Laban accuses him of stealing his idols. What neither of them knew was Rachel had stolen them from her own father and hid them under her saddle. Then she told her dad she couldn’t get off her camel to greet him because it was her “time of the month.” The whole thing could have been chalked up as a PMS issue. We aren’t told if Jacob found out later but it would be my guess that he did and the proverbial manure hit the ventilator. And again I doubt there was any great flood of passionate romance at that moment.
“Falling in love” is what some psychologists believe is the collapsing of so-called “ego boundaries.” Ego boundaries are believed to be something that develops as we mature. For instance, a newborn baby takes time to discover that its hands are connected to itself. After having no sense of boundaries, no distinguishing from itself and the rest of the universe, eventually it realizes that when it’s hungry, mother doesn’t always want to feed it; when it is playful, mother doesn’t always want to play. In his classic book, The Road Less Traveled, the lat author and psychologist M. Scott Peck commented that a baby discerns that its will is “experienced as something separate from its mother’s behavior.” Peck noted that the child’s sense of identity develops out of the interaction between the infant and mother. It’s interesting that when this interaction is “grossly disturbed,” for instance if there is no mother or a severely disinterested one, the infant will grow into an adult “whose sense of identity is grossly defective in the most basic ways.” In one year the newborn goes from no sense of identity to “my foot, my nose, my eyes, my thoughts, my viewpoint, my feelings.” The knowledge of these limits is what psychologists refer to “ego boundaries.” As we grow older, we become painfully aware of our own limitations.
Peck wrote: “Reality (will eventually) intrude upon the fantastic unity of the couple who have fallen in love. Sooner or later, in response to the problems of daily living, ‘individual will’ reasserts itself. He wants to have sex; she doesn’t. She wants to go to the movies; he doesn’t. He wants to put money in the bank; she wants a dishwasher. She wants to talk about her job; he wants to talk about his. She doesn’t like his friends; he doesn’t like hers. So both of them, in the privacy of their hearts, begin to come to the sickening realization that they are not one with the beloved, that the beloved has and will continue to have his or her own desires, tastes, prejudices and timing different from the other’s. One by one, gradually or suddenly, they fall out of love. Once again they are two separate individuals. At this point they begin either to dissolve the ties of their relationship or to initiate the work of real loving.”
The theory is that in “falling in love” we experience the collapsing of those ego boundaries...we are one with our beloved, we merge our identity with our lover, and there is release from loneliness accompanying the collapse of our walls. Falling in love is effortless. And that precisely is part of the problem; for real love is an act of the will, an act of choice, and will never be anything less.
Now think about how this relates to our passion for God.
For instance, I heard a speaker comment that God spoke to him one day and said, “You and I aren’t compatible…and I don’t change.” I wonder if passion for God is connected with the willful collapsing of my ego boundaries? Would “falling in love” with God be similar to that?
Perhaps when Jesus said, “Pick up your cross and follow me,” He was describing the ultimate breakdown of ego boundaries.
Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. 1 Peter 2:11 (Message Bible)
“You must worship no other gods, but only the Lord, for he is a God who is passionate about his relationship with you.” Exodus 34:14 (New Living Translation)
Monday, August 13, 2007
This weekend I talked about leading down, leading up and leading in. It’s obvious how leading in (self-leadership) affects how we lead up or down, but it really came into sharp focus for me a few years back. One of my top 10 favorite organizational books was the best-seller Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by Jim Collins, the follow-up to his Built To Last classic.
His research team studied 1,400 Fortune 500 companies to identify companies that had made the leap from good, solid companies to great organizations based on a set of criteria with tight parameters over an extended period of time. They spent five years isolating the factors that distinguished these examples from carefully selected comparison companies that failed to make the leap (or if they did, failed to sustain it). These were not flash-in-the-pan companies. They defined “great results” as cumulative stock returns at least 3.0 times better than the general stock market over fifteen years, a performance superior to most widely admired companies. For perspective, General Electric from 1985 to 2000 beat the market only 2.8 to 1. Only eleven truly qualified as moving from good to great corporations.
Collins gave the research team explicit instructions to downplay the role of top executives to avoid the simplistic “credit the leader” or “blame the leader” thinking common today. But the data uncovered something surprising…
In their study of the CEO’s of those eleven companies, a surprising pattern emerged. It wasn’t the Iacocca’s that shone. The good to great CEO’s were a paradoxical blend of personal humility and professional will, or corporate resoluteness. It was an odd duality: modest and willful…humble and fearless. As a matter of fact, as soon as the CEO’s began doing book tours and appearing on Oprah, it didn’t bode well for the organization.
When I first read the book several years ago, I remember being shocked. I thought immediately of Jesus, who on the one hand would say,
“You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
…and then scriptures turn around and describe Him with a fierce resolve toward the Kingdom’s mission…
As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem . . . At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, "Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you." He replied, "Go tell that fox, 'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.' (Luke 9:51; 13:31-32).
I’m looking for Leaders 2.0 who will mix those two seemingly contradictory character attributes and create ministries and churches that will not settle for mediocre effectiveness…but genuinely want to see the Kingdom advance powerfully. To use corporate language: I want to see the name of Jesus become the most famous brand in our city.
It’s not about us. But it rests on us to declare that the Kingdom has come.
Humility and a Kingdom resolution. Broken and fearless.
Sunday, August 05, 2007
For one, human beings are the crowning creation of God. We are unique because we are created in the image of God. If the possibility exists that we may come back as something lesser—even an animal in some reincarnation belief systems—because of karmic difficulties the last time around, we are simply no longer a human being with the dignity of God’s image and the beauty of free will. Being a human being is essential to who you are. It’s incoherent philosophically.
I can’t say I follow Christ and subscribe to reincarnation; the Foundation of my faith gave His life as a scandalous sacrificial expression of the love of God, to take upon Himself my sins that I, as the Bible says, might become the righteousness of God. So if by each rebirth I can attempt to become better morally, I have no need of the blood of Christ. It’s incongruous intellectually and theologically with scripture.
Lastly, we have an expert on this issue—Jesus, the only one who died and rose again to never taste death again. He spoke articulately about judgment after death.
If you’re interested in more and have some thoughts as well, read the long email exchange here about reincarnation from someone at the Vineyard. It’s a long post. But hey, it’s shorter than, uh, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows...
Your comments on reincarnation deeply disturbed me. First of all, the Bible is filled with references to reincarnation. Here are two (of many) examples: by inference ... "And as he was passing by, he saw a man blind from birth. And his disciples asked him, 'Rabbi, who has sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind?" Jesus answered, 'Neither has this man sinned, nor his parents, but the works of God were to be made manifest in him.'" (John 9:1)
Or overtly ... "For all the prophets and the law have prophesied until John. And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who was to come." (Matt. 11:13-14) "And the disciples asked him, saying, 'Why then do the scribes say that Elijah must come first?' But he answered them and said, 'Elijah indeed is to come and will restore all things. But I say to you that Elijah has come already, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they wished. So also shall the Son of Man suffer at their hand.' Then the disciples understood that he had spoken of John the Baptist." (Matt. 17:10-13)
Having attended this church for over a year, I can personally attest to being one of those struggling with Christianity, especially with regard to my belief in reincarnation. Taking five minutes to summarily dismiss this profound subject was unreasonable. My own research into this subject allowed me to resolve this apparent discontinuity by gaining historical perspective on the issue (e.g., Council of Nicaea in 325 a.d., and the Second Council of Constantinople in 525 a.d.). Why didn't you even mention these tectonic events in shaping today's Christianity?
Anyway, I don't know if there is any room for an alternative viewpoint, but here is one site that I found particularly interesting was the following: http://www.near-death.com/origen.html
I guess my basic question boils down to this, does my deep belief in reincarnation need to change to become "born again" with Vineyard Community Church?
Sincerely yours, _____
Thanks for writing; I appreciate your honesty. I’m glad you’ve been coming the past year to the Vineyard…I hope you’ve enjoyed your time with us.
The problem with attempting to speak on a Christian perspective of the afterlife is that the topic is way too broad to cover in a single 30 minute talk! Obviously, any of the points could have been a series in itself. You raised a big question at the end that I would like to answer first: “…does my deep belief in reincarnation need to change to become ‘born again’ with Vineyard Community Church?” That’s a layered question.
First, our value is to love people “where they are”, meaning that none of us have it all together and we desire to love first—serve first—and ask questions later! With that in mind, there is a wide spectrum of different people all along the spiritual landscape at VCC. That’s one thing I love about this place.
Second, I’m not sure what becoming “born again” with the Vineyard means! We do adhere to orthodox creeds, but I believe doctrine is often abused in churches. Instead of it being transformational, it tends to be used as a determining factor for who’s “in” and who’s “out”. Doctrine should lead to transformation via the work of Jesus—how we think of Him and receive Him. Honestly, we wouldn’t let someone teach or lead who held to a firm belief in something that did not agree with basic Christianity. What makes someone part of the Church—the Body of Christ (not just VCC)—is being “born from above”, or the overused term, “born again”. That means the first deposit of “experienced salvation”…forgiveness of sin and the empowering of the Holy Spirit. With that, one does not “join” the Vineyard, but rather becomes grafted into the Body of Christ via surrender to His Lordship and subsequent transformation.
Reincarnation is problematic for basic Christianity at several levels. I took a look at the website you suggested and felt it was dishonest exegetically, historically and logically. For example, Origen is held up as a proponent of classic reincarnation. While Origen leaned toward universalism and preexistent souls, he certainly did not believe in reincarnation. In a book written toward the end of his life, he plainly gave his view of reincarnation. In his Commentary on Matthew he resists the idea of John the Baptist being Elijah: “In this place it does not appear to me that by Elijah the soul is spoken of, lest I should fall into the dogma of transmigration, which is foreign to the church of God, and not handed down by the Apostles, nor anywhere set forth in the Scriptures; for it is also in opposition to the saying that "things seen are temporal," and that "this age shall have a consummation," and also to the fulfillment of the saying, "Heaven and earth shall pass away," and "the fashion of this world passeth away," and "the heavens shall perish," and what follows. …The spirit and power of Elijah - not the soul - were in the Baptist…For, observe, he did not say in the ‘soul’ of Elijah, in which case the doctrine of transmigration might have some ground, but ‘in the spirit and power of Elijah.’"
It simply is not true that the early church fathers believed in reincarnation; that’s just bad reporting. Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa, and Jerome all refuted it plainly. And frankly, the Council of Nicaea dealt with Arianism (was Christ created?) and the Second Council of Constantinople was primarily about the Monophysite heresy (was Christ human and divine?) and the preexistence of souls but literally nothing about reincarnation. The books of the New Testament were not altered at all by this council; they had already been in place about 200 years earlier.
In the case of the man born blind, Jesus could have used it as an ideal teaching moment for karma and reincarnation, but clearly didn’t. His answer was simple: neither the man or his parents sinned. The reason his parents were brought into the equation was because the Jews believed that a person’s bad actions had ongoing consequences that rippled out to future generations (“The Lord is slow to anger, abounding in love and forgiving sin and rebellion. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.” Numbers 14:18). That was not reincarnation. The other scriptures listed were really out of context in my opinion; the writer confused “resurrection” and “conversion” passages with reincarnation. Context is critical: for example, the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus is absolutely central to Christianity; it is the focal point of the New Testament. Reincarnation forces that to be a moot point.
Gnosticism, which included a lot more than the preexistence of souls, was the first great heresy to be tackled by Christians. New age writers often use scriptures out of context and avoid whole principles.
The essence of Christianity is the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. Because of that, eventually reincarnationists have to redefine who Jesus is and avoid the many passages Jesus spoke of regarding judgment and hell. The very essence of Christianity is difficult for the reincarnationist; usually the divinity of Jesus and the purpose of His mission are the first things that have to be reconstructed. That’s where it begins to deviate from “mere Christianity”.
All we want to do at the Vineyard is offer the grace of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. There is no shortage of other views of Jesus: every major religion has their own interpretation of who He is, not to mention the myriad of cults. That is what defines Christianity. Usually the question is not “What do you believe about reincarnation?” but rather “Who is Jesus to you?” I would hazard a guess that if you’re struggling with Christianity as you mentioned in your email, the problem is not so much about reincarnation as it is about who Jesus is.
If you really want to be fair and scientific, you have to explore both sides of any issue. After I became a believer, I read Bertrand Russell’s anti-Christian books, as well as the “pop”-atheists Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov. I read a little of H. G. Wells; he ranted too much for me! But you cannot read how a reincarnationist interprets scripture to understand both sides. I might suggest a couple of books on the flipside: Mere Christianity and The Problem of Pain by C. S. Lewis, The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, Jesus Among Other Gods by Ravi Zacharias, and (specific to the issue) Reincarnation by Mark Albrecht. Any of these could be found in a Christian bookstore. Here are a couple of webpages that are decent counter-arguments as well: http://www.issuesetc.org/resource/archives/gudel.htm and http://www.comparativereligion.com/reincarnation.html#worldreligions
Hope you continue to hang with us to explore all Jesus has to offer you. Thanks again for writing.
Wednesday, August 01, 2007
It got me thinking about how convoluted and intricate the global economy is. We currently have a family from Germany staying with us. The euro is very strong against the dollar; our friends will do well at the mall. And now the vast new market in China is radically shifting everything as well. It’s interesting how inflation in one part of the world can create a rift in the economy of the whole planet.
And then I compared that to people…with all our idiosyncrasies—emotional versus stoic, logical versus irrational, apathetic versus enmeshed, proud versus broken, and all our fallenness, wounds, dysfunctions, sins and genetically-whacked out systems—with currency, a non-living, static thing. Now how much more complicated is that? You think you could build a better mousetrap? Get a grip. God is amazing…and I’m not just sucking up (..as if He reads this. Uh, but of course he heard it in my head…).
You don’t even need a devil to make it complicated. But throw one in (literally…Rev 12:9), and it gets even more squirrelly. Some of us Christians need an apologetic for evil personified; I admit that’s a tough one. But for the Church, the best apologetic is simply the way Jesus talked about Satan. Jesus was either terrifically confused, or not who He said He was, or the writers just slipped this cosmic conflict stuff in when no one was looking. According to the record, the idea of a rebellious war being waged by enemy spiritual forces was a part of Jesus’ vocabulary. His followers picked this up as well. The apostle John, who was in Jesus’ inner circle since he was in his twenties, wrote in his old age some sixty years later that:
The Son of God came for this purpose: to destroy the devil’s work. 1 John 3:8b (New Century Version).
In other words, it was still a foundational piece of Christianity that Satan, and therefore spiritual conflict, was a factor in the confusion, pain and suffering of this planet.
That doesn’t solve the philosophical quandary; as a matter of fact, it makes it somewhat more sticky. But of all the proposed solutions for the problem of pain, this is the best I’ve heard. Especially when I consider the Messenger.
God is complex. Love is simple. Trust is critical.
This week I’m speaking on heaven and hell. Pray for me.