Living at God Speed

16 September 2017

Once upon a time, a fast-paced American moved to a little village to learn what it meant to really know people, and be known by them. He had no idea of the journey he was beginning. As one of the villagers put it…

Godspeed

The film is 40 minutes long, and you should watch it.

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Can You Be A Christian And…?

3 August 2017

When you’ve been in the ministry as long as I have, you find that there are certain questions that come up over and over. This post is about one of them. I’ve heard it in all kinds of different forms.

  • Can you be a Christian and commit suicide?
  • Can you be a Christian and homosexual?
  • Can you be a Christian and an alcoholic?
  • Can you be a Christian and commit murder?
  • Can you be a Christian and a witch?
  • Can you be a Christian and believe ____[fill in the blank]___?
  • Can you be a Christian and not believe __[some basic Christian truth]__?

Of course with any of these issues there’s a lot to talk about, and the pastoral situation in which the question comes up is often very delicate, and calls for a nuanced approach that has little to do with answering the question as asked. Very often the stupidest thing I could possibly do is just answer the question, and the best possible answer is to drop whatever I’m doing, focus my whole attention on the person who asked, and say, “What makes you ask?”

All that to say that there’s a whole pastoral angle to addressing such questions that is an entirely different discussion from where I’m going today. Today, I want to talk about what all these kinds of questions have in common.

One of the things such questions have in common is a presumption that there’s a line you can cross somewhere that makes you not-a-Christian. Let’s talk about what that might look like.

Based on the evidence in the New Testament, it’s possible to be a Christian and deny Jesus (cf. Peter). It’s possible to be a Christian and commit murder (as some of the addressees of the epistle of James had done). It’s possible to be a Christian and an adulterer (as had some of the Corinthians). It’s possible to be a Christian and so abuse the poor at the Lord’s Table that God actually kills you over it (the Corinthians). It’s possible to be a Christian and a deny the resurrection (Corinthians again — they were a mess!) And so on. In none of these cases does the writer say that they have somehow crossed over and are no longer Christians. In fact, in each of these cases, the writer rebukes them as Christians and calls them to repent and return to faithful practice.

Is it possible to be a Christian and _______?  Yes. Whatever you’re filling the blank with is either sin or it’s not. If not, what’s the problem? If it’s sin, then Jesus died for it, precisely so that such things cannot define you out of the family. God is a better Father than that, and He has already prepared for every sin and mistake you could ever make.

Is it possible to be a faithful Christian and ________? That’s a different question, and a lot of the time, when we’re asking the question, we already know the answer is no.


Dust and Breath Podcast Episode

25 July 2017

I had an opportunity recently to be the guest on Eden to the City of God for a discussion of the creation of man. We could have talked for hours, but had to cut it off after one. Check it out!


Fey?

20 July 2017

I have recently run back across an older post by Doug Wilson that is simultaneously one of the more sensible things I’ve seen on the cessationism issue, and in another way, pretty silly.

“I don’t want a deep chasm between natural and supernatural. They are both part of the universe that God made, and they are woven together. So the fact that something is “spiritual” doesn’t make it inspired. Inspiration, of the kind described above, has ceased. But we still have spirits and souls and bodies, and the way they all are connected (within each man and between all men) is not something that we should allow materialistic atheists to define for us. The revelatory gifts have ceased. That does not mean that it is impossible for a man to be fey.”

Let’s grant all that for a second. If a man is fey, he ought to be fey subject to the Scriptures, in the service of Jesus Christ, for the glory of God’s kingdom and the benefit of the Body. He ought — not to put too fine a point on it — to behave generally in the way described in 1 Corinthians 12-14, the same way anyone should use any ability. That is, he should use his gifts lovingly for the edification and growth of the Body.

And what might such fey-ness look like? Well, it might look like…

  • knowing things about people or situations that the person “shouldn’t” know
  • preternaturally deep understanding, knowing what to do when the person shouldn’t have that kind of insight
  • an unusual degree of trust in God for improbable things to come to pass…but they usually seem to
  • an ability to make people feel better by touching or spending time with them, a pattern of people getting well with unusual speed around him/her
  • an accrual of other inexplicable happenings around him/her
  • a spooky ability to call out the secret desires and longings of a person’s heart

In other words, it might look like something you could describe as a word of knowledge, word of wisdom, gift of faith, healing, or prophecy…hmmm.

So when Grandma always seems to know when one of the grandkids gets hurt, even though she lives 900 miles away, what are we to call that? When a lady in the church is able to deliver on-target encouragement consistently to people whose life circumstances she could not possibly know, what are we to call that? When a man is able to identify the internal makeup calling of people he’s just met, turn them to living in the kingdom of God, and leaves in his wake a trail of transformed lives, what are we to do?

I submit we should kick the failed cessationist theological project to the curb and admit that the Spirit is doing, right in front of us, things which correspond to the words the Spirit used to describe such doings in the first-century church. Which is to say, we can either use the vocabulary God gave us, or we’ll have to make something up. Like “fey.”


Strong Magic Takes Blood

14 July 2017

My essay, “Strong Magic Takes Blood” was published at Theopolis Institute.  Take a look. 


Nobody Will Notice: A Love Letter

29 June 2017

“Pastor” means “shepherd,” but most of the people who have the word “pastor” on their business cards are not, in fact, shepherds. (This is okay; you can be a legit church leader without a shepherding gift. The Bible has other words for that — but that’s another post.)

Churches mostly don’t seek, interview for, or pay for shepherding. When it comes to the position we call “pastor,” churches mostly pay for the same things that any other corporation might pay for in a leader: visionaries, fundraisers, orators, administrators, technocrats — things that are visible or sexy (or preferably both), and relatively easy to track and measure.

Shepherds are hard to track.

The nature of effective shepherding is that if you don’t do it, nobody will notice. Injured sheep tend to hobble along with the rest of the flock as best they can, trying to look normal. They don’t want anyone to see. The whole group will join them in the pretense and be willfully blind to their wounds, because wounds make everyone uncomfortable. Lost sheep do not report themselves missing, and they don’t send up signal flares so you can find them. Nobody — not the missing or injured sheep, not the church leadership, and certainly not the rest of the flock — nobody actually wants a shepherd to do his or her job. Nobody wants the wound treated like it’s really there. Nobody wants to know why the lost sheep left.

You will be rewarded for following the crowd in their pretense that everything is fine. No one will complain. For the most part, even the lost and the wounded don’t expect you to help them. (In fact, “Why are you doing this?” is one of the most frequent questions I encounter. The answer is always the same: “Because you’re worth it. Because Jesus would.” They don’t believe me at first, but that’s okay.)

If you resist the temptation to ignore the lost and wounded, if you roll up your sleeves and do the hard work of fostering real healing, for the most part, no one will know except the people you help. You won’t announce to the world that you’re going to call Jack, who seems to be isolating himself, or that you think Madeline is not dealing with her mother’s death as well as she’s pretending. You will just call Jack and Madeline.

In most organizations, even those ostensibly devoted to healing, no one will assign you this job. If you resist the temptation to ignore the lost and wounded, about the best you can hope for is that nobody will notice. But honestly that’s not likely.

More likely, people will resent your shepherding without ever knowing what you are doing. Shepherding takes time, and you will always have other responsibilities. You will be encouraged to spend your time on visible, trackable things — managing programs, initiating a new social media marketing campaign, updating the website, promoting the building program, speaking, whatever. If you actually go and spend significant time with Jack and Madeline, your superiors are going to wonder why you’re not at your desk where you belong. What could you be doing, anyway, and why aren’t the TPS reports done?

(This is like wondering why a shepherd is out looking for a lost sheep instead of hanging around the sheepfold all day — but  good luck getting the board of your 501(c)(3) corporation to understand that.)

So you will initiate this work on your own, and in the teeth of your other responsibilities. You will just call a wounded sheep and say, “Hey, let’s get a cup of coffee.” Or you will swing by their house with a six-pack after work, sit on the patio, and drink and talk. You won’t just keep their secrets; you’ll keep it confidential that you even met, unless you want it blabbed all over church, or showing up as a sermon illustration. (Yeah, sorry, but that actually happens. Regularly.) It’s no one else’s business but theirs.

Maybe it’s one meeting. Maybe it’s two hours a week for a year. It doesn’t matter, because when you made that first phone call, you were signing up — to the best of your capacity — for whatever it takes. If you can’t help, you connect them with someone who can, but you usually don’t just get to drop it at that point. You check back in. You walk with them through it. Whatever it is — and it might be minor, or it might be literally the worst thing you’ve ever encountered in your life.

That’s the discipline.

That’s what good shepherds do.

If there’s a way of making a decent living at this, I certainly haven’t figured it out. But if Jesus called you to it…do it.


Helping Refugees: Effect or Display?

6 June 2017

As a sometime lifeguard with a few saves to my credit, I know that I can go into the water and pull a drowning person out. I’ve done it. I also know that it’s harder than people think. A drowning man will literally try to climb my body to get another breath. If I let him, I drown. And then he drowns anyway. 

I know I’m better off throwing him a rope or a float or one end of my shirt or *anything* he can grab onto than I am trying to grab him — it’s safer for both of us. But if I haven’t got anything handy, I’ll go in and get him anyway, risk be damned — I’m not going to sit on shore and watch the guy drown when I can do something about it. I can handle one guy trying to climb me. I’ll have to fight him to save him, but I’ll win, and we’ll both come out of the water alive.

I know I can’t go in and get three people at once. I can’t manage that many panicky people at the same time. They’ll climb me, and we’ll all die — or some other lifeguard will have to work that much harder to save them and me, too. Hard as it is to not just dive into the water, we’re all better off if I take the time to grab a float or a rope or branch. The goal is not just to “do something,” the goal is to actually help — effect, not display. When I spend precious seconds rummaging for a rope, one of them might go under for the last time. That’s awful.  But saving two is better than playing hero for a few seconds and drowning all four of us.

I believe in helping the stranger, the foreigner, the refugee. How many can we absorb into our country before our country — like theirs — becomes a place to flee from instead of a place to flee to? The answer cannot be zero, but as the experience of Europe is presently  demonstrating, the number will not be infinite, either. If we want real results and not just the warm feeling that we’re “doing something,” then we will have to accept two hard realities: 

1. There’s an upper limit to how many people we can help at a time.
2. There are ways of helping that will work, although they’re harder, and other ways that will fail, even though they will feel good and look heroic at first. We need to learn to tell the difference.