Archive Page 2

01
Oct
13

Unity in conflict

Disagreement, conflict, friction and opposing preferences are all part of life — even life in the local church community.  There is just no way around it.  As Christians, we’d all like to agree on all things all the time and enjoy the ensuing harmony.  But realistically, we will never agree on everything even on matters relating to faith, theology, and practice.  And if our hope for harmony rests in us always agreeing we will be sorely disappointed.

In his book, This World: Playground or Battleground?, A.W. Tozer explains it this way, This world AW Tozer

“Some misguided Christian leaders feel that they must preserve harmony at any cost, so they do everything possible to reduce friction. They should remember that there is no friction in a machine that has been shut down for the night. Turn off the power, and you will have no problem with moving parts. Also remember that there is a human society where there are no problems: the cemetery. The dead have no differences of opinion. They generate no heat, because they have no energy and no motion. But their penalty is sterility and complete lack of achievement. What then is the conclusion of the matter? That problems are the price of progress, that friction is the concomitant of motion, that a live and expanding church will have a certain quota of difficulties as a result of its life and activity. A Spirit-filled church will invite the anger of the enemy.”

Tozer is right, a living and expanding church will have a certain quota of difficulties and disagreements.  God understands this and is neither surprised nor displeased when friction and disagreements arise among his people.  For God, the issue is not will such things happen but how will we handle them when they do.  The enemy works for anger and division.  The Spirit of God works for humility and unity.

In our secular culture, I believe a key to the Church’s future impact rests on Christians’ ability and willingness to sometimes agree to disagree on non-essentials.  Humbly accepting some of our differences and joyfully rallying around those things that unite us – specifically around the one who unites us, Jesus, is critical.  Given our sinful tendencies, Jesus recognized the challenge and prayed for us  – his followers – the Church.  He said, “Father, I pray for those who will believe in me…that all of them may be one, just as you are in me and I am in you.  May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  Summary?  Unity and oneness was Jesus’ desire for his people.

True oneness, however, requires a realistic understanding that conflict occurs.  But it also requires we learn to humbly live with the tension of disagreement.  As Tozer says, “The dead have no differences of opinion.”  Let’s face it … if you have an opinion it means you’re alive.  But no living human being is infallible. So as long as we joyfully unite around the truth of Jesus and his Gospel of grace, our ability to impact the world remains strong.  Perhaps this is one other thing we in the church can all agree on.

11
Jul
13

Fascinating

Not only is Eric Metaxis an accomplished New York Times best-selling author, but he’s aamazing-grace1fascinating and very funny guy with quite an unexpected story. A while back I had the opportunity to spend a weekend in Michigan with Eric and a small group of people cloistered together in a quaint little Inn. Here is his story, in his words…

Is it possible for one’s life to change literally overnight? In 1988 I had a dream in which God spoke to me in what I have come to call “the secret vocabulary of my heart.” The next morning, all was new and newness. Perhaps even newness-ness.

I had the dream around my 25th birthday, and if someone had investigated my life at that time to determine who I was, they’d likely have settled on three themes at the heart of my identity: first, that I am Greek; second, that I loved freshwater fishing; and third, that I was deeply committed to the life of the mind and the search for meaning.

My parents are European immigrants (my dad is from Greece, my mother from Germany) who came to New York in the mid-1950s, met in an English class in Manhattan, and married. I came into the world in 1963 at Astoria General Hospital, and attended a Greek Orthodox parochial school through fourth grade. In 1972, we moved to the relatively rural environs of Danbury, Connecticut, where I went to a public school and attended the Greek Orthodox church every Sunday.

Greeks in America prize their Greekness, and perhaps because I am only half-Greek, it was especially important for my dad to instill this in me. Once, when he saw the chrome fish on the back of a car, he was excited to explain that this was from the Greek word ixthys, meaning “fish,” because the early Christians used this word as an acronym—Iesus Xristos THeos Ymon Sotir. It stood for Jesus Christ Son of God Our Savior. It was their secret symbol.

My only hobby besides watching television was freshwater fishing. I fly-fished, sometimes tying my own flies. I fished for bass, once in a tournament, and of course I ice-fished a few times too.

As an undergraduate at Yale I was exposed to the intellectual life, and I half-heartedly attempted to divine the meaning of life, with mixed results. My Christian faith was essentially nominal; I never took seriously the idea that our lives are meaningless, but neither did I settle on any particular alternative.

Sometime after graduation I came up with a kind of answer, involving the symbolic image of drilling through ice on the surface of a lake. It was a vaguely Jungian/Freudian idea that said the goal of life and all religions was to drill through this ice, which represented the conscious mind, in order to touch the water beneath, which represented Jung’s “collective unconscious”—a vague “God force” that somehow connected all of humanity. It was an Eastern and impersonal idea of God, making no particular moral claims on anyone. How one went about doing any of this was anybody’s guess.
Graduation itself was like stepping off the top of the ladder I’d been climbing my whole life. Good grades got me to Yale and through Yale. I majored in English, edited the Yale humor magazine, worked in the dining hall, and sang in some musicals. At graduation I was Class Day speaker, preceding the main speaker—my future friend, talk-show host Dick Cavett—and I received several awards for my short fiction. What but success could lie ahead?

Instead I was launched into a step-less void, unable to climb toward what I thought I’d wanted to achieve, which was success and acclaim as a fiction writer. For the next few years I tried, mostly in vain, to write short fiction, and eventually sold some literary humor pieces to The Atlantic. I spent aimless and unproductive months at the elite writers’ colonies of Yaddo and MacDowell in New York and New Hampshire, respectively. I lived in sublets in the Boston area and clung to a sad relationship. You might say that I floated and drifted, which inescapably and inevitably leads to that singularly humiliating cul-de-sac of moving back in with one’s parents.

The parents of my friends saw that I was trying to find myself, but my own parents— who’d never had the privilege of a college experience and worked very hard to finance my own—preferred that I simply find a job. It was a seriously awful time. My relationship, now long-distance, was foundering, and I took the only job I could get, proofreading chemical manuals and other nonliterary arcana at Union Carbide’s world headquarters. My cubicle was a quarter of a mile from the nearest window. (And the password is … Gehenna.)

Eric-Metaxas-WebBut it was there, alone in the belly of a corporate whale, that I would finally consider the question of God. In my misery I befriended a bright graphic designer who began to engage me on the issue of faith. Ed Tuttle was older, already married with kids, and one of those born-again Christians I had been trained to steer well clear of at Yale. I was perpetually wary, but in my pain and longing for relief I was desperate enough to keep the conversation going, for weeks and then months. To avoid real engagement or controversy, I cagily half-pretended to agree with him and his positions. But whenever he invited me to church, I demurred.

One day at lunch, Ed said, “Perhaps you don’t really know God as well as you think, Eric.” I was offended. Who did he think he was, and how could anyone claim to know God? Anyone with a brain knew that even if it were all true, we certainly couldn’t know it, and would have to content ourselves with that, with agnosticism. But I wasn’t content. Ed once told me to pray that God would reveal himself to me, but I thought praying to a God I wasn’t sure was there didn’t make sense. But in my confusion I sometimes did ask for some sort of sign.

In June of 1988, my uncle had a stroke and went into a coma. Ed said he and some friends were praying for him. I was astounded at the kindness of the gesture and at the idea that these people believed there was a God who heard prayers like this and could do something about it. A few days later, Ed asked if he could pray for my uncle withme. I quickly agreed and followed Ed into a ghastly fluorescent-lit conference room. I had never done anything like this, but it couldn’t hurt. So I closed my eyes as Ed prayed aloud, and as he did, some transcendent shift seemed to take place. It was as though a window had been opened onto another realm and I’d felt the faintest touch of some heavenly breeze. When it was over, I opened my eyes. What was that?

Around this time a slight shift was taking place in my mind, too. I had picked up M. Scott Peck’s People of the   Lie, and this prominent Harvard psychologist’s experiences with real evil got my attention. If real evil existed, there must be an alternative. Would that be God? I was also reading Thomas Merton’s The Seven Storey Mountain and Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, though I cannot remember if I was reading these before or after the dream. Ah yes, the dream.

One night near my 25th birthday, I dreamt I was ice-fishing on Candlewood Lake in Danbury. I believe my childhood friend John Tomanio and his father were with me. I looked into the large hole we had cut into the ice and saw the snout of a fish poking out. (Of course ice-fishing is never this easy.) I reached down and picked it up by the gills and held it up. It was a large pickerel or perhaps even a pike. And in the dazzlingly bright sunlight shining through the blue sky and off the white snow and ice onto the bronze-colored fish, it appeared positively golden. But then I realized that it didn’t merely look golden, it actually was golden. It was a living golden fish, as though I were in a fairy tale.

And suddenly I understood that this golden fish was ixthys—Jesus Christ Son of God Our Savior—and that God was one-upping me in the language of my own symbol system. I had wanted to touch inert water, to touch the so-called “collective unconscious,” but he had something more for me: this was his Son, a living Person, Jesus Christ. And I realized in the dream that he was real and had come from the other side and now I was holding him there in the bright sunlight and at long last my search was over. And I was flooded with joy.

When I went to work the next day, I told Ed about the dream. He asked what it meant, and I said what I never would have said before—and would have cringed to hear anyone else say. I said that I had accepted Jesus. And when I spoke those words I was flooded with the same joy I had had inside the dream. And I’ve had that joy with me for the past 25 years.

03
May
13

Thank you Amy

In addressing a difficult and often ignored topic, Parkview’s own Amy Simpson openly shares personal and profound insights on mental illness and provides suggestions on how the church should respond to those in our community who suffer.   Most importantly, Amy offers hope to all of us who are affected in some way or another.  Thank you Amy.  I hope many will not only join me in reading “Troubled Minds” but take the steps necessary to understand, reach out to, embrace and help those who have them.

16
Apr
13

Evil in Boston

The tragedy in Boston reminds me of the downside to true freedom — as a human being it cannot fully guarantee my safety.  With freedom comes risk and at times sad consequences.  As author C.S.Lewis aptly pointed out, “God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong, but I can’t. If a thing is free to be good it’s also free to be bad. And free will is what has made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.

boston bombA world of automata – of creatures that worked like machines – would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.  Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will – that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings – then we may take it it is worth paying.”   Today I’m praying for those victims who have suffered the tragedy of freedom.

04
Apr
13

Credibility

With the Supreme Court sharing arguments on gay marriage, it’s no secret. Traditional marriage is an issue most conservative minded Christians embrace. Yet given the current track record of those within the church community, the long held opinion on the matter holds less weight than it once did. For Christians who favor and champion the sanctity of marriage, it doesn’t help that so many in the camp are poor examples of what biblical marriage is purported to be – a lifetime union between a man and women through good times and bad “until death parts us.” Recent surveys indicate that Christians are found to be divorced at a percentage rate “statistically identical” to the rest of the culture. One might then argue, on what moral grounds do we stand as advocates to the sanctity of something we ourselves seem to violate and disregard? In many respects, we’ve lost credibility to speak into the topic. Perhaps before Christians begin lecturing others on the value God places on the union of a man and woman and casting a vision for what is right, we should take a hard honest look at our own practices and remove the plank of rebellion from our eyes and lives.usa-supreme-gay-marriage

13
Feb
13

upside down behavior

Last Sunday I shared this amazing and moving news story. As a former high school coach and extremely competitive person, the out of the box thinking of one Texas football coach along with his players and fans — was humbling to me.  It’s a beautiful illustration of how the Christian church should be – always seeking to love, encourage, help and serve people in outrageous upside down ways – especially the discouraged, lonely, imprisoned, poor, marginalized and forgotten.   If you missed it – here it is….

08
Jan
13

shootings and morality

After a few weeks of grieving the tragic slaughter of innocent children, teachers and administrators in a Newton Connecticut school, I find myself finally moving on to deeper questions of morality. From the committed Christian to the nominally religious to the staunchest atheist, people readily agree on the evil nature of Adam Lanza’s violent rampage and condemn it. The event has prompted universal moral outrage. But were his actions truly evil? When asked, my answer is “yes.” Whether driven by mental illness, some unknown motivation or a combination of the two, I assert that Lanza’s killing of 27 people was an immoral and evil act. It was a violation of the biblical prohibition, “You shall not kill.”

Dec 2012 Connecticut Shooting

Dec 2012 Connecticut Shooting

In the wake of such violence and suffering, many in our culture turn to pastors, priests and moral philosophers for answers. Understandably, we all want to know “why?” As a pastor I long to offer a brilliant and comprehensive response that might make sense of all the insanity … but ultimately my attempts at explanation fall short. I just do not have sufficient answers. For some, the lack of clarity as to why such evil exists leads to frustration and a condemnation of God and religion. One gentleman confronted me demanding an explanation. My best attempt was cut short by an abrupt, “Given the evil in this world, God can’t exist.” For him, if Christianity can’t adequately answer his questions about evil then religion is false and God is a sham.

In fairness, I understand the frustration of having to live with unanswered questions. But I wonder if the same man who approached me questioned an atheist and similarly dissed them for their inability to answer the question? Interestingly, few people turn to atheism in the wake of such senseless violence and pain. And except to share their genuine sympathy and outrage, atheists are mostly silent on such matters of evil.

Unlike Christianity, atheism can offer little to ease our pain in the face of suffering. For them there is no explanation except to say it’s just the brutal reality of a meaningless existence. In the words of well known atheist Richard Dawkins, “In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe has exactly those properties we should expect if there is at the bottom no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is and we dance to its music.”

As a Christian, like the atheist, when seemingly senseless acts of violence occur I cannot offer a comprehensive explanation of “why?” But for me, it’s not that there’s no answer to “why” but that in my limited human capacity I simply cannot grasp the reason. I rest in the hope that some day goodness and justice will prevail. But even here atheism fails to offer any hope for justice. According to Dawkins, there is “no evil and no good…nor any justice.”

Yet when tragic killing takes place, the outrage of everyone, including atheists, cries for justice. The same person who says, “I can’t believe in a good God who judges people” in turn protests violence and moral evil saying, “Why doesn’t God do something?” Apparently, a good God of justice and judgment is acceptable as long as his divine justice is meted out on others and not applied to their own life. However, if there is a God who is good and just then his justice must be applied equally to all in order for it to be truly good and just.

C.S. Lewis offers this observation…

AA Mere Christianity“It is no use either saying that if there is a God of that sort—an impersonal absolute goodness—then you do not like Him and are not going to bother about Him. For the trouble is that one part of you is on His side and really agrees with his disapproval of human greed and trickery and exploitation. You may want Him to make an exception in your own case, to let you off this one time; but you know at bottom that unless the power behind the world really and unalterably detests that sort of behaviour, then He cannot be good. On the other hand, we know that if there does exist an absolute goodness it must hate most of what we do. This is the terrible fix we are in. If the universe is not governed by an absolute goodness, then all our efforts are in the long run hopeless. But if it is, then we are making ourselves enemies to that goodness every day, and are not in the least likely to do any better tomorrow, and so our case is hopeless again. We cannot do without it, and we cannot do with it. God is the only comfort, He is also the supreme terror: the thing we most need and the thing we most want to hide from. He is our only possible ally, and we have made ourselves His enemies. Some people talk as if meeting the gaze of absolute goodness would be fun. They need to think again. They are still only playing with religion. Goodness is either the great safety or the great danger—according to the way you react to it. And we have reacted the wrong way.”




re: the random-ness

Husband. Father. Senior Pastor of Parkview Community Church in Glen Ellyn, IL.

Ok...so you've located the place where I put down my random thoughts. The key word here is random: music, sports, art, food, books, news, spiritual musings, weird stories, etc. I'm especially interested in how everyday experiences of life intersect with the ancient stories of Scripture. Thanks for reading.
June 2017
M T W T F S S
« Apr    
 1234
567891011
12131415161718
19202122232425
2627282930  

Thoughts gone by

"No problem can withstand the assault of substantial thinking." Voltaire

Pages