thegoodenoughpastor

Enjoying the freedom of being good enough

Archive for the category “Theology”

Finding the Gospel in surprising places

A friend of mine, Dr. Paul Fitzgerald, recently put out a challenge to those who’ve been involved in the work of his HeartConnexion Ministries to listen to Jason Mraz’ song, Living in the Moment, once a day for the next 30 days.

I took Paul up on the challenge.

I find the lyrics to be a liberating, challenging, surprising and refreshing echo of Jesus’ message to us to live with no worries of tomorrow, celebrating the grace and love the Father has for us here and now, and living life as little children.

I have no idea what Mraz’ spiritual paradigm is. But this song, in many ways, expresses the Gospel more accurately than some of the theology I’ve come across. The songwriters seem to “get it” more than I tend to.

Here are the lyrics:

(Songwriters: Nowels, Rick / Mraz, Jason)
If this life is one act
Why do we lay all these traps
We put them right in our path
When we just wanna be free

I will not waste my days
Making up all kinds of ways
To worry about some things
That will not happen to me

So I just let go of what I know I don’t know
And I know I’ll only do this by
Living in the moment
Living our life
Easy and breezy
With peace in my mind
With peace in my heart
Peace in my soul
Wherever I’m going, I’m already home
Living in the moment

I’m letting myself off the hook for things I’ve done
I let my past go past
And now I’m having more fun
I’m letting go of the thoughts
That do not make me strong
And I believe this way can be the same for everyone

And if I fall asleep
I know you’ll be the one who’ll always remind me
To live in the moment
To live my life
Easy and breezy
With peace in my mind
I got peace in my heart
Got peace in my soul
Wherever I’m going, I’m already home

I can’t walk through life facing backwards
I have tried
I tried more than once to just make sure
And I was denied the future I’d been searching for
But I spun around and searched no more
By living in the moment
Living my life
Easy and breezy
With peace in my mind
I got peace in my heart
Got peace in my soul
Wherever I’m going, I’m already home

I’m living in the moment
I’m living my life
Just taking it easy
With peace in my mind
I got peace in my heart
I got peace in my soul
Oh, wherever I’m going, I’m already home
I’m living in the moment
I’m living my life
Oh, easy and breezy
With peace in my mind
I got peace in my heart
I got peace in my soul
Oh, wherever I’m going, I’m already home
I’m living in the moment

Here’s a link to a video of the song: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YUFs_1vKYlY.
For more information on HeartConnexion Ministries, check their website: http://www.heartconnexion.org.

More assorted thoughts

This is a continuation of some of the ideas presented at the School of Theology my wife and I attended.

  • The bottom is the first place that many find a place to stand.
  • Nothing can separate us from the love of God. We imagine that there are things and circumstances and sin that separate us from the love of God. But those are just imaginations. They aren’t true.
  • When you see the Father, Son and Spirit interact with each other in deep love, you are seeing the deepest essence of who God is. There is no hidden agenda or attribute of God lurking behind the surface or in the shadows.
  • The three exegetical rules that govern many of us in the ministry are: 1) Job security, 2) Peer recognition, and 3) Homeostasis.
  • If we really know the character of the Father, then we will run to Him with open arms and beg him, “Please judge me to the core.” The fire is for us, not against us.
  • We often look for leaders who are good at being on the platform, while Jesus asks us to be at the table.
  • If you don’t trust God, you have to trust systems.
  • Are you smoking the brand you’re selling?
  • I don’t care if those “outside” the faith hate us. I care that they know we love them.
  • When we are suffering we find creativity. Creative suffering happens when we look for God in the midst of suffering. This is our push-back.
  • We need to move beyond inquisition to inquisitiveness.
  • On the road to Emmaus, the disciples didn’t recognize Jesus and know he was the Messiah until Jesus broke bread with them. This speaks to the importance of an apologetics of relationship.

It was truly a rich week.

Assorted thoughts

My wife and I had the privilege of attending the School of Theology recently in Oregon. SOT is an intimate gathering of about 20 people from around the country who assemble to discuss theology and its implications/applications. The specific theological focus on the table was exploring the beauty of the Trinity.

I’m offering a variety of thoughts, observations and statements presented during the week. I am purposely omitting names of the speakers. I’ve learned the hard way that Christians tend to become polemic around personalities.

We draw circles around theology, organizing theological “truth” by who is “inside” and who is “outside” our particular camp. We often refuse to listen to those outside our particular group, dismissing their views merely on the basis of who is speaking rather than being willing to evaluate actual content. We much prefer to listen only to those we already know agree with us.

We resist the discomfort of learning and growing. We opt for the psychological security blanket of affirmation and conformation.

As an ancient Greek philosopher noted, “It’s impossible to teach a man what he already knows.”

I can be as guilty as anyone.

With that, here are some nuggets of thought from SOT:

  • Much of what is presented as the “Gospel” is basically, “You suck. Try to suck less.”
  • In the fundamental, evangelical paradigm, what’s important is being “right.”  Unfortunately, everything else gets crushed, one way or the other.
  • You cannot compare your damage with anyone else. Everyone has their own capacity to bend, adapt and adjust. There is no simple solution to the healing of the human heart. This the beauty of the work of the Holy Spirit being poured out on every human heart, on a personal level.
  • “Unbeliever” is not a category. It’s an activity.
  • The lies that exist in our heart do not exclude us from the fact that God includes us in His love and His life.
  • Shame destroys our capacity to discern between an observation and a moral statement.
  • The value of ambiguity is that it reveals the heart.
  • The greater our maturity, the more we are like little children.

I’ll share more at another time.  To close, here are a few pictures I took during our free time at SOT. Lake Sparks is part of the Cascade Lakes near Mt. Bachelor in central Oregon. It’s beautiful at sunrise.

The Wonderful Discomfort of Change

I noticed in his recent blog, Donald Miller (Blue Like Jazz, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years) addressed the difficulty in making changes.  I’ve been thinking of that very fact lately, too.

The difficulty of change is tied to our natural resistance known as homeostasis. We resist change, even beneficial change. We and the systems we are a part of fight to keep things the way they are, even if those ways are detrimental and destructive to us and those around us.

Change is anxiety producing. Maintaining homeostasis temporarily relieves our anxiety. We typically opt for immediate gratification. Eventually, the scales tip, and we launch out into the change process. Or, an external force pushes us headlong into the change process.

I’ve heard it said that, “Until the pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change, we will choose to stay the same.”

This is challenging because God is all about change. He embarks with us on a journey throughout the life process. Any movement down that path incorporates change. We constantly come face to face with this tension between wanting to maintain homeostasis and the demand to move forward and grow. 

I find my greatest challenge  in the change process is faith. Is God strong enough to hold me through my change? Will He have enough grace to cover me, especially if I don’t get it right? Is God going to be there on the other end of change?

One of the more difficult areas of change is when our theology shifts. I’m convinced that the willingness to adapt our theology and doctrines are crucial and inevitable to growth. They reflect the normal progression of our development.

Many of us assume that theology and doctrine are supposed to be fixed and unchanging. But when they become rigid they don’t serve us well. Rigid things tend to break under stress. Our belief system is no different.

When we undergo inevitable changes in our belief systems we naturally feel uncomfortable. We may be embarrassed for “getting it wrong” in our earlier positions. We might be angry at those who taught us the prior doctirnal views that we now question or discard. Saying goodbye to old belief systems is like saying goodbye to an old, trusted friend. We’re not sure what to do without them. We fear the rejection of the community that helped form our beliefs. The risk of heresy stares us down and stirs anxiety.

There is no easy way through this. Change is difficult, no matter how we slice it. Transformation only occurs when we can master the anxiety inherent in the process. It’s a people growing machine.

I’ve found some ideas to be helpful in the process. One, I need to accept that change is normal, including change in my theology, doctrine and beliefs. It’s not only normal, it’s healthy. It’s part of maturing.

Two, God provides many resources for the process. Scripture and the guidance of the Holy Spirit are vital. In my experience, they were the only tools I was taught to rely on. I’ve since discovered another crucial resource–the community of faith. I can get myself in all sorts of trouble if left to my own thoughts. I need the input of others. This assumes that the community creates a gracious and safe atmosphere that tolerates questions, creativity and differences of positions.

Finally, trust that God is at work is critical. God isn’t nearly as concerned about getting it right as I often am. He’s more interested in the process than the destination. He’s much more focused on me developing into a loving and gracious man than my capacity to cross all my t’s and dot my i’s. He’s committed to leading me into all truth, and I can trust Him to fulfill His goal for my life.

School of Theology

I recently had the privilege of participating in the School of Theology, directed by John MacMurray. John convenes the S.O.T. once or twice a year and invites selected theologians, authors, and other thinkers to present and discuss theological issues and their implications for life. In addition to formal lectures, there is ample time for questions and responses and ongoing dialogue as participants eat, hang out and generally do community together for a week.

The most recent S.O.T. was held near Winter Park, CO, in a beautiful mountain setting. September brought out the best of the golden aspen, and the weather couldn’t have been better. The house we stayed in was situated adjacent to the 9th hole fairway of a spectacular golf course. Most of our instructional times were held at Young Life’s Crooked Creek Ranch.

The guest lecturers were C. Baxter Kruger, Paul Young, and Dr. Roger Newell. Some may recognize Baxter from his theological works on the Trinity. Paul is known for his book, The Shack. Dr. Newell is a professor at George Fox University and has published some works on C. S. Lewis.

Kruger focused on the Father, Son and Spirit’s great love and desire to include us in the Trinitarian experience of relationship. One of the most helpful things Baxter shared came in a personal conversation with him. I had shared with him some of my own journey of embracing the “good enough” concept and the struggle to overcome personal shame.

His comment was empowering and liberating. He told me that Jesus’ goal is to bring us fully into the knowledge and experience of His Father’s love. In that, God has us on a trajectory. He is committed to taking our moments of greatest shame and pain, and transforming them into sacraments of His grace. Not only will they be our points of most profound healing and salvation, but will also be our most effective points of ministering to others in their greatest need.

I’d heard this expressed in similar ways before, but this time it seemed to “take.” I got it. And it’s made a huge difference in my life.

I’m including a couple of photos of the beauty that surrounded us–another sacrament of His grace.

 

 

Aspen among the evergreens.

Atop Adams Falls.

 

SURPRISED BY HOPE (N.T. WRIGHT)

I recently finished reading N. T. Wright’s book, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Hevean, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. Wright, a leading contemporary theologian, examines common beliefs about heaven, the afterlife, and the resurrection, both in Christian traditions and from the secular perspective. What is often passed off as ‘orthodox’ thought, simply isn’t Biblical.

Wright goes to great lengths to emphasize that “dying and going to heaven” is not the real Gospel. As good as that idea might be, it’s simply not good enough. It falls short of what our real hope (and the real power of the Gospel) is. Our real hope and power is the resurrection.  One of my favorite phrases Wright uses is “life after life after death.”

Resurrection, Wright contends, is a statement of God’s commitment to the restoration of all creation. It’s a work begun in the resurrection of Jesus and will continue until all is fully restored. We are part of that process. Not only do we have our own resurrection to look forward to, we get to be co-laborers in the work of God’s kingdom. The resurrection makes all of our life relevant, important, and significant.

Paul exhorts us, at his masterful conclusion of his argument for the resurrection, “Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain” (1 Cor. 15:58).

Of the many statements I could point to, this one stands out foremost:

“You are—strange thought it may seem, almost hard to believe as the resurrection itself—are accomplishing something that will become in due course part of God’s new world. Every act of love, gratitude, and kindness; every work of art or music inspired by the love of God and delight in the beauty of his creation; every minute spent teaching a severely handicapped child to read or to walk; every act of care and nurture, of comfort and support, for one’s fellow human beings and for that matter one’s fellow nonhuman creatures; and of course every prayer, all Spirit-led teaching, every deed that spreads the gospel, builds up the church, embraces and embodies holiness rather than corruption, and makes the name of Jesus honored in the world—all of this will find its way, through the resurrecting power of God, into the new creation that God will someday make.”

A Theology of Brokenness

I haven’t read this book yet, and I know the danger of appearing to endorse a book I haven’t read yet. But, I came across this quote on another blog and thought it fits well with The Good Enough Pastor.

It comes from Kathy Escobar’s book, Down We Go: Living Into the Wild Way of Jesus.

“A theology of brokenness embraces our spiritual poverty, questions, doubts, and desire for love, hope and redemption, and reminds us that the stink and the beauty are wrapped into one. We can’t just focus on the group of people who will confirm that our ministry is a success. Instead, we must include people who will challenge our definitions of success and stretch our imaginations about what the kingdom of God looks like. It turns things upside-down. It includes people we wouldn’t. This is the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

This gives us much to ponder. If this quote is an indication of the rest of the book, it would be a good read. I’ll leave it for you to wring out the meanings this quote has for you. But one thought I’d like to raise is this: what she says about embracing the stink and the beauty in those we minister to also applies to embracing the stink and the beauty in ourselves.

 

Some Practical Theology

I am reading Viginia Satir’s The New People Making. Published in 1988, it’s hardly “new” anymore. Her insights, however, are timeless.

I am not aware that Satir, a pioneer in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy, ever professed to be a Christian. But her writing indicates that she “got” grace more than many who profess Christ and espouse the Christian theology of grace. For all our talk in the church about grace, I find that a good deal of our Christian systems are more shame-based and performance-oriented than manifestations of grace. But I digress.

Satir’s book explores the role of the family system in shaping and forming the individuals within it. It’s an extensive and exhaustive expose. In reading it, I’ve been struck with the idea that her concepts and processes make for good practical theology for church life. Let me share a few examples:

“Feelings of worth can flourish only in an atmosphere in which individual differences are appreciated., love is shown openly, mistakes are used for learning, communication is open, rules are flexible, responsibility (matching promise with delivery) is modeled and honesty is practiced–the kind of atmosphere found in a nurturing family. It is no accident that the children of families who practice the above usually feel good about themselves and consequently are loving, physically healthy and competent” (p. 26).

What she states about the family is true for the church. Imagine a church operating from a relational system such as she describes. She provides us with a great definition of a culture of grace. Sadly, too many churches operate from a shame-based and shame-producing culture.  Specifically, communication is not open. Only acceptable, agreeable statements are  welcomed and tolerated. Rules are rigid, harsh and unforgiving. Mistakes are dealt with punitively. We seem more intent on making others wrong and making sure they are put in their place. Honesty is preached about, but pretending and keeping up an image are modeled. I agree with Satir, a church that can practice what she is promoting will produce people who are good with themselves, loving, healthy and competent.

“Some styles of parenting are based on comparison and conformity” (p. 34). How many pastoral styles are based on these? What if we as pastors could shift away from this and be comfortable with uniqueness, diversity of view points and individual expression of gifts. Seems like the Apostle Paul had a similar vision of church life.

“Eyes clouded with regret for the past, or fear for the future, limit vision and offer little chance for growth or change” (p. 64).

How true for us pastors and our churches. This speaks to the courage it takes to embrace forgiveness, grace and faith. What would our lives, our ministries and our churches look like if we allowed the God of grace to free us of these fetters? How would our vision expand–what could we see and what possibilities would we pursue?

A final quote, “Spending time on any kind of blame just makes you ineffective and limits your energy for change. Blame is an expensive, useless, and destructive way to use your energy” (p. 211).

Ever notice how much blaming can go on in congregations? Among pastors? I wonder what it says about us when we blame others, our church board, the contentious parishioner who gives us fits, denominational leaders and/or political leaders? Whatever generates blame, one thing is sure. Blaming keeps us stuck in the process and mires us in continuing to be part of the problem.

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