God’s Love, prt. 1


Image courtesy of Jennuine Captures, licensed under Creative Commons

Today I am beginning a four-part series explaining my theology, which is based on God’s unconditional and never-ending love for us. This is theology, so it uses a lot of scripture passages, and I realize there are many passages I do not use that create questions of interpretation. This is always the case in any theology. My intention with using scriptures is merely to show that my theology has deep Biblical roots. Then I will use other analogies, comparisons, illustrations, and arguments to show that it is compelling, common-sense, and — further — the only theology that will not leave us practicing love in a confused and half-hearted way.

I believe God is love.Scripture is clear on this point, and Jesus was clearer on this point than almost anything else he said. That is where I begin. It is not that the rest of scripture is irrelevant to me, it’s just that — if God is indeed a God of love — the rest of the Bible must be interpreted in the light of God’s love. Of course one may ask, “Why do you choose the parts of scripture that mention God’s love over all the other parts? What about the God’s wrath, anger, and vengeance?” My reply to that question is worked out in the rest of this post. This is my theology of love.

My theology of love is very much centered in what we can already know about love as parents. If you were to say to your children, “Repent, for your mother/father is near,” what would this mean? Would your love be dependent on their repentance? Would you love them any less if they did NOT repent? Of course not. Your love is the constant in this equation. You ask them to repent so they can know, experience, and live in this love connection with you. I believe that spiritual repentance is the same — God asks us to repent so we can know, experience, and live in this love connection between God and us. As I sat next to my daughter in the hospital last summer after her attempted suicide, the greatest source of pain in all of it was the chaos and pain she had been living in, despite how deeply loved she was. Her lack of understanding of this love had nearly catastrophic consequences in her life, and ours too.

A call to read less of the Bible

Many Christian people don’t worship God, they worship the Bible. I assume the same is true of other sacred books such as the Koran, the Torah, and the Bagavhad Gita, although it wouldn’t HAVE to be this way. A particular set of circumstances have risen up in the US to bring about this result. But that’s another post, and one that would be really boring to most of my readers.

The point is that Christians are not to worship the Bible.

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The Christian craving for guilt

Christians love feeling guilty. In fact, they positively crave it. In fact, to Christians, guilt feels like devotion. The popularity of books like Francis Chan’s Crazy Love and David Platt’s Radical testifies to this. Anyone who speaks or writes of all the ways the church is blowing it, falling short, and insufficient is almost destined to become a rock star.

It’s in our religious DNA. Read through the gospels and you will be hard pressed to identify anything Jesus said which could reasonably be interpreted as “shame on you,” yet if the Christian gospel as it has actually come to us throughout history could be summarized in three words, I could hardly think of three more appropriate ones. Shame on us for not reading our Bibles more. Shame on us for not praying more. Shame on us for having lustful thoughts. Shame on us for believing Calvin more than Arminius (or vice versa). Shame on us for leaning too much on God’s grace and love and not believing enough in punishment. Shame on us for liking rock and roll, dancing, and places where these things are happening. Shame on us for having marriages that crumble, just like everybody else. Shame on us for missing church. Shame on us for not caring more for the poor. Shame on us for wanting to live the way all God’s other creatures live — in the moment, not analyzing our performance every second of the day, not constantly feeling inferior (or superior) — just wanting to live in peace.

Shame on you is the message. It’s hard to hear it for what it is, because it always come disguised as well-meaning books by well-meaning preachers/teachers, telling us in well-meaning ways how we can be more of all the stuff those preachers obviously need us to be in order for them to sleep well at night: more passionate and compassionate, more fired up, more generous, more committed to God, the church, and our marriages, more, more, more. (Sounds nice, doesn’t it? Many of these are good things!) And the church laps this up. We buy these books and listen to these messages because we are so convinced of our insufficiency. After all, our marriages really are busting up. If we’re honest, we’re really not as committed to God and church as we think we should be. We really don’t give as much as we know we should. So Chan, Platt, and the gang are telling us what we already know is true. We, both individually and collectively, suck.

But the church has NEVER been sufficient, or full of the kind of people Chan cites as the right kinds of Christians. I thought that’s what Jesus was for. I thought the message of Jesus was that we are loved by God in full knowledge of our shortcomings and insufficiencies. Whose gospel is it that we can fix things if we just try harder? And when did anyone get the impression that we can ever try hard enough to assuage our own deep sense that we are not good enough and could always do more? Guilt is killing us, but we love it. We just can’t let it go.

We think guilt helps us perform better, be “better” Christians (or maybe just better human beings), so we refuse to let go of it. But guilt doesn’t help us perform better, it paralyzes us. It reminds us constantly of our insufficiency. As spiritual as guilt makes us feel, it’s what is trapping us. We simply have to let it go.

Guilt always makes everything, ultimately, about us. If I try to love you because I feel guilty for not loving you, I’m loving you not because you are human and deserve to be loved, but to assuage my own guilt. If I give to the poor not because generosity is good but because I feel like a scumbag for not giving enough, I’m not giving for the sake of the poor, I’m giving so that I can feel good again. If I go to church not because church is good and helps me connect to a community of people who love and care for me, but simply because I feel sinful and guilty for not going, then going to church is just about me not wanting to feel guilty anymore.

That’s why you’ll never get anywhere with guilt. Francis Chan, Platt, and so many other guilt-mongers are making the right diagnosis, but their solution is part of the problem. Try harder. Cling tighter to that banana. But the answer is to let go of the banana and plunge headlong into the gospel — the good news that we are fully loved, fully accepted by God at this very moment, insufficiencies and all. As Richard Rohr says, we don’t change so that God will love us, we come to know God loves us so that we can change.

As I learn today that I am loved, change occurs in me. As I learn tomorrow that I am loved, more change occurs. This is an eternal process. At no time do I get to say, “Okay, I now know that I am loved — what are all the projects and things I get to start running around and doing?” This misses Jesus’ crucial words about “abiding” (John 15). To abide is to remain rooted in that love, so that our actions for good are springing directly from God’s loving action for good that is at work in us. This means there is no room and no need for, “Yes, but you must balance being loved with taking action.” There is no separation between love and action. We can trust that being loved does and will lead to action — and to the very best kind: the non-guilty, non-forced, non-judgmental, non-clamoring, non-needy kind.

When we begin to move into this moment by moment experience of being loved, we find that our sense of guilt is beginning to be replaced by a sense of gratitude. We let go of the banana and, for the first time, we are free to become all the things we have always felt guilty for not being. Sounds like fruits of the Spirit. I am going to end this post with a passage from scripture. As you read, replace the word “God” with the word “love.”

Romans 8:10-11 (MSG)
10 …for you who welcome him, in whom he dwells—even though you still experience all the limitations of sin—you yourself experience life on God’s terms. 11 It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself? When God lives and breathes in you (and he does, as surely as he did in Jesus), you are delivered from that dead life. With his Spirit living in you, your body will be as alive as Christ’s!  (emphasis mine)



Sex on the rooftop sells books

Apparently a pastor in Texas is going to set up a bed on the roof of his church and hit the sack with his wife there for 24 hours. The 24 hour bed-in will be broadcast on the Internet. The date corresponds with a book the pastor will be releasing about sex.

Source: http://thesexperiment.com/

Really? When I was growing up in the church, the revolutionary message was, “Christians can rock too!” Now our church leaders are doing “Christians can f**k too?” No thanks. Is that really where we’re at? By the way, I too have had weeks where I have encouraged couples to be intentional about having all the sex they can — I think that needs to happen. But this whole thing reminds me a bit of the scene in that Monty Python movie…(warning to the sensitive — there is brief nudity in this scene, and a comic demonstration of sex):

In what way is this different? The Youngs feel the need to demonstrate sex by getting in bed together, and to do it on a rooftop, put it on the Internet, etc., for the supposed benefit of others. (The mere fact that some, perhaps many, may in fact benefit in various ways is beside the point.)

BTW, my use of the term f**k instead of the less vulgar “have sex” is intentional. It seems to me that once you put it on a rooftop and invite thousands of people out to see it, it could never be anything other than f***ing. After all, the medium is the message, right? Can you take sex and put it in a barnyard and have it in the mud and invite all the neighbors and expect that what they will see — no matter your intentions — is beauty and intimacy in action?

This is Spinal Tap is a brilliant 1984 mockumentary about a fake band called Spinal Tap that is a send up of the absurdity, filth, excess, and stupidity of rock culture. (Great movie, but to be compared to anything that happens in it is not good.) Their song Sex Farm comes to mind here. In the movie the point is made, ironically of course, about how this song debases sex.

Comment on the song Sexfarm,by Spinal Tap, from the movie This is Spinal Tap, 1984

Now for the song. Again, if you are sensitive about sexual things, this lyric will bother you. Don’t watch it. It debases sex, big time. That’s the point.

The song “elevates” sex (according to the band) by taking the idea of it and putting it on a farm. Does it matter whether it’s a farm or a rooftop? Isn’t the medium the message? Aren’t you always saying more by how you say something (and the context in which you say it) than by the words you say? So again I ask my question. Can you take sex and put it in a barnyard (on a rooftop) and have it in the mud (in the sky) and invite all the neighbors (the Internet) and expect that what they will see — no matter your intentions — is beauty and intimacy in action?

My presumption is that Pastor Ed and Linda aren’t actually going to have sex, but that too is beside the point. What is going to be accomplished by this circus that couldn’t be accomplished more effectively by simply modeling appropriate sexual attitudes in one’s personal and public life day after day? I’m not questioning that Pastor Ed is already doing that. I’m just stating that it’s enough.

This media show is every bit as absurd as the Monty Python clip above, isn’t it? And depending on your point of view, it’s every bit as funny. Or every bit as tasteless. Then again, quietly living out a life of sexual propriety, decency, responsibility, faithfulness, and integrity — as great as that is — doesn’t sell books. Besides, who wants to see a pastor and his wife in bed together? Creepy.


What does the world really need?

I heard a good, well-meaning person recently say that prayer is the only thing keeping things in the world from being worse than they are. I disagree with this. Whether or not such people are praying or not, God works through human beings, and it is only as each human being works from a place of peace and gentleness (aka, “God”), combined with education about the complex realities around us, that we can be the channels of God’s healing that are needed in the world.

Shouting, blaming, continual conflict and confrontation, put-downs, hostility, fear-mongering — these methods used as techniques in our political process, in large part, ARE the problem. They come out of human fear, out of anxiety, out of a sense that if the world isn’t as I want it to be, I can’t be okay.

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