"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

A Percieved Incongruity w/ Prayer

Posted in Friends, Questions For You, Theological by matt on Sunday, November 29, 2009

Cayla and I took part in a discussion with our friends in Iraq that – even after a month – I haven’t managed to shake. Fortunately, hours of hearty heart-to-heart can be summed up succinctly:

We’re encouraged to pray, and God says that we’ll find and He’ll give, but we often don’t find or get. Why?

There were a bunch of scriptures that got ping-ponged around the room, but the focal passage, as I perceived it, was Luke 11: 9-10. Jesus says,

So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.

Call me blasphemous…but really? Just like that? Where are the theological strings? The context? The important disclaimers? Come on Luke you’re supposed to be the detail guy – give us details!

It didn’t take long for the conversation to became a friendly but flustered tennis match between the ‘feelers’ and the ‘thinkers’ in the room. We discussed the possible contexts, different translations, the preceding parable and the analogy that came after, but perspectives basically stayed the same.

The ‘thinkers’ saw the incongruity: why would God promise to give and then not do it? Especially when we’re asking for something amazing (like for a baby to survive heart surgery). But Jesus doesn’t offer disclaimers or a preface, so how do we interpret this? How do we explain this to our friends who ask why God doesn’t answer their prayers like He said He would?

The ‘feelers’, in turn, pointed out that God welcomes our involvement, and that this passage is encouraging our involvement and that involvement doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll always get what we ask for.

My thinking is that God isn’t talking about giving us stuff, but that He’s actually talking about giving us wisdom and the faith to trust Him, though I can’t offer contextual evidence for that claim. What do you think? Do you see incongruity? Surely you’ve been frustrated or discouraged when it didn’t seem like God was responding to you.

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Radical

Posted in Good Quotes, Questions For You, Theological by matt on Sunday, November 15, 2009

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If you light yourself on fire, the world will come to watch you burn. ~John Wesley

Repeat after me: “It’s OK to be radical…it’s OK to be radical…it’s OK to be radical.”

Really, it is. But recently the word ‘radical’ has been tragically hijacked by the hijackers. When most people think of ‘radical’, beauty is the last thing they’re thinking of (especially in the area of religion). Instead they think of bombs, jihadists, crusades, wars, and on and on. But let’s be real, these things are radical, aren’t they? They’re radical in the negative way.

I believe that negative connotation needs to be redeemed. Good connotations are possible.

Followers of Jesus don’t have to hide from words just because they’ve got a bad rap on the nightly news. Every action of every person is continuously contributing to the meaning of words. Words are static. And that’s good news because it means that negative words can be redeemed! Godly actions can inject new meaning into godless words.

All that brings me to this: How is a follower of Jesus meant to be radical? If godly living begets godly word-meanings, how should we live if we’re going to change the meaning of the word ‘radical’ into something godly?

I’ve been encouraged to be ‘radical like Jesus’ in the past, and, in turn, I’ve encouraged others in the same way. But what does that encouragement entail? What kind of radical are we talking about?

This is a trending topic among many believing college students, but the enthusiasm usually (at least in my experience) results in lots of talk about problems that need to be changed with those people/institutions/beliefs rather than how they themselves are going to make a radical change. It’s much easier to deconstruct others than to change yourself, but that’s another post.  : )

If there’s anything I’m certain of, though, it’s that there’s nothing passive about being radical. If you’re intentionality isn’t making a few people nervous then I doubt you’re on the right track.

Everything I believe about radical living can be summed up with the cross of God: our need, God’s love, and the redemption of everything in existence is about the most beautiful kind of radical I can think of. And God invites us to join Him in the redemption of all things to Himself. He invites us to be radical with him.

So, whether you comment or no, please consider: how does the word ‘radical’ manifest itself in your day-to-day? Are there set ways for every Christ-follower to be radical? Or is it different from person to person? Or both? Can you think of any examples of people who showed you a good kind of radical?

I’d love to hear from you.

“Gospel” Meaning…What?

Posted in Questions For You, Theological by matt on Friday, August 14, 2009

Sooooo I’m just gonna come straight out with it: I’m not entirely sure what the term “gospel” means.

Yup, I said it.

I know some of my readers probably haven’t even heard the word, but for my fellow heritage English speakers around the world this is a pretty common term. It’s used to refer to a type of music, as a term for four books in the Bible, or as just an everyday word to describe something as being absolutely true. It’s a fairly common word.

And, of course, people with church background know that the term originates from the word euangelion meaning ‘good news’ or, more specifically, “the good news about Jesus Christ.” My dictionary simply defines gospel as “the teaching or revelation of Christ.”

So what’s the good news? What are these teachings and revelations? That may be the most important question a person can ask when considering the Christian faith.

In my experience, this question has almost always been answered by quoting – whether it be directly or indirectly – Paul’s definition in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4.

Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved, if you hold fast to the word I preached to you – unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (ESV)

Blood given for the forgiveness of sins. It’s the classic substitutionary-atonement interpretation of Paul. And this is a glorious, fundamental part of our faith. But what about what Jesus says about the gospel? Does it differ? In Mat. 4:23a it says,

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom… (ESV)

What gospel is that?

Jesus talked a lot more about the ‘gospel of the kingdom’ than he did about the gospel of substitutionary-atonement that we see in Paul – isn’t that significant? I don’t consider them opposed to one another, but what the heck is the ‘gospel of the kingdom’?! That’s a new gospel to me. And there are so many other passages where Jesus is either teaching, preaching or referencing ‘the gospel’ (Mat. 9:35, Mark 1:14, Mark 10:29, etc.)

But Jesus obviously wasn’t running around telling people, “I’m going to die for your sins (in your place) and come alive again on the 3rd day and thus conquer death. Believe and trust in me!”

So what “good news” was he telling people? How do we understand these different uses of the term ‘gospel’ and how do they tie together?

(This isn’t rhetorical, by the way. I could use some insight.)

Good Quote/TED talks

Posted in Good Quotes, Questions For You by matt on Saturday, July 25, 2009

Last month some of my trendy tech friends introduced me to an annual conference called TED. TED stands for technology, entertainment and design and the talks are typically centered around those types of subjects, though, there have been some from other fields (religion, for example).

I’ve really enjoyed these talks whenever I get free time throughout my day and I enjoyed one today that I thought worth quoting. The man’s name is Clay Shirky and he did a talk called “How cellphones, Twitter and Facebook can make history.” At the end of his talk he summed everything up with this statement:

“The media landscape that we knew – as familiar as it was and as easy conceptually as it was to deal with the idea that professionals broadcast messages to amateurs – is increasingly slipping away in a world where media is global, social, ubiquitous and cheap. In a world of media where the ‘former audience’ are now increasingly full-on participants; in that world, media is less and less often about crafting a single message to be consumed by individuals, and it is more and more often a way of creating an environment for convening and supporting groups. Everything is changing.”

This sort of thing is especially interesting to me because it’s exactly the sort of thing I studied in some of my communication classes. It makes me wonder, though, what’s going to happen? That question may sound silly, but I really wonder sometimes: how different will technological mediums be in 2 or 3 decades when they’re already changing insanely fast as it is?

One of the staff at my church put it this way, “What if, one day, instead of saying ‘I don’t know’ when asked a question everyone just always said, ‘Hold on and I’ll check.'”

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Belief

Posted in Questions For You, Theological by matt on Thursday, October 30, 2008

Can we take a few minutes to clear something up? Good.

Belief is a beautiful armor, but makes for the heaviest sword.

-John Mayer

Can I just say that this statement is a perfect example of the average Americans take on personal beliefs. Please allow me to point out this subtle cowardice by using obnoxious amounts of repetition. Our subconscious works itself out sort of like this: Bad beliefs hurt people, good beliefs don’t. Bad beliefs offend, but good don’t bother. Bad beliefs intrude while the good keep quiet. Bad beliefs get you labeled, good beliefs keep you ‘normal’. And, if I may be so bold, bad beliefs are expressed, good beliefs are contained – so keep your mouth shut.

And the whole irony of Mayer’s song is that he’s expressing his own beliefs to sing about the dangers of expressing beliefs! Yet the Bible explicitly says that beliefs and personal faith must be both worn and wielded! Scripture compares God’s word (something we must believe and express) to a sword (Eph 6.17, Heb 4.12). Notice they didn’t say a sharp stick, a letter opener, or even a machete…they said a freakin sword! Like, the thing used to chop off heads and gouge big holes in people.

So here’s the rub: most of us are scared to live bold, outspoken lives because our culture tells us faith doesn’t offend, but bottled beliefs will eventually die because real belief – true faith – must express itself. I’m absolutely convinced that this is the nature of genuine belief – or at least of a maturing belief. We must resist becoming like our culture in this way!

And here’s the inevitable preface. I’m not saying we shouldn’t be loving, respectful of other stances, tactful, or even quiet when the time is right, but modeling the life of Jesus means we’re definitely frustrating people, too – especially other religious people.

So please do what I’m doing now and ask yourself, “Why am I so worried about upsetting people? Why am I unwilling to hinder relationships with what I say and do? Isn’t Jesus worthy of this?”

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