Visiting with Jesus

I first caught a glimpse of him through the doorbell camera at church. He looked cold and a little scraggly, and when I went to open the door, he was shorter than I expected. But there he was: the Son of God in human flesh. We talked for a while, as anyone might when they have the chance to speak with someone so important and famous. We talked about theology, about the church, about the state of our world. Unsurprisingly, I thought about our conversation for the rest of the day and much of the following week.

I guess that’s what happens when you visit with Jesus. Continue reading

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Struggling to Discern God’s Will

Our lives are often guided by the questions we ask. Great inventors are driven by the impulse to build a better world. Explorers ask what lies beyond the edges of their map. Great philosophers question and question until they find a satisfactory answer. The curiosity of children leads them to wonder “why?” without end.

A question that has dominated my own life is, “How do I know what God’s will is?”

I’ve asked this question—in varying forms—to well over 100 different people now, including parents, teachers, pastors, professors, friends, and others. Most of the time, people do their best to answer in some form. “Search the Scriptures” said one person; “God’s will is whatever you want it to be,” said another. Over the years, I’ve come to realize that other people’s answers to this question won’t satisfy my wrestling. This is a question that I must reckon with myself. Continue reading

The Personal Nature of Grief

“Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda” — Proverbs 25:20 (ESV)

Grief is miserable. Suffering and loss are perhaps the lowest points of human existence. Nothing compares to the emptiness felt inside after the death of a loved one; nothing can prepare you for the sting of loss.

Yet far too often we act as if saying something like “he’s in a better place now” or “a least she died peacefully” makes the loss less real, painful, or devastating. Even worse is when we expect those who have suffered loss to put on a tough face and “be strong for the kids” or “think positively about what happened.”

Now, I want to be clear about what I’ve just said. There’s nothing wrong with feeling or thinking in any of the ways mentioned above, especially if you’re the one doing the grieving. What’s unhelpful and uncaring is allowing your own perspective on grief to overwhelm the experience of the those who are doing the grieving. Continue reading

Listening to Destitute Minds

I believe we suffer from a propensity to look at people with whom we disagree and say to ourselves, “That person can’t teach me anything. They are so wrong in how they think, so insufficient in their intellectual capacities, so distorted in their worldview, that I could not possibly see reality more clearly by interacting with this person.”

Think of the political divide. Republicans decry working with “the other side” as a compromise of values. In turn, Democrats seriously question the sanity and morality of those who disagree with their principles. Both sides react with disdain when anyone seeks a third way for moving forward.

Consider the culture wars. One side sees evil lurking everywhere.Government, the news, schools, technology–-all are trying to poison the hearts and minds of the faithful. The other side sees the forces of corruption, corporate task masters, and institutional suppression reigning supreme, preventing people from experiencing true liberation.

Think of what is now 500 years of theological division (non-Chalcedonian and Orthodox brethren aside, of course). For some, the Reformation was the moment of freedom, the removal of the shackles of theological corruption, the purification of doctrine and practice, and remains a cause for great celebration. For others, the Reformation was a grave mistake, a continued blight on the landscape of Christianity, a massive embarrassment, a destruction of unity that should be mourned, not celebrated.

The very way in which we talk to and interact with others is poisoned by the mindset, “You’re wrong. I cannot learn from you.” Too often, the logic is frighteningly simple: Someone is different than me. Since I’m right, that someone is wrong. Therefore, they have nothing of value to offer me or my tribe. Continue reading

How to Approach Theology

New College CloistersTheology is important. Good theology is even more important. Everyone is called to “do” theology.1 These are guiding principles for my theological work, which I seek to undertake with thoughtfulness, faithfulness, and charity. Of course, to merely say (or write) that theology holds a place of value is not the same as actually living out one’s faith while seeking understanding.2 Too many times in my own life it is at the place where the proverbial “rubber hits the road” that my abstract, intellectualized theological principles fall prey to my sinful nature and laziness. As important as it is to speak truth, it is not enough to merely say the right things. As James says in his epistle, “Show me your faith apart from works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”3

Thus, truly good theology consists not only of thinking rightly about God, but also living rightly (and righteously) in his presence. Of course, this raises that all important question of how: how do we not only think but also live faithfully? In reflecting on this task, I have developed some practice-oriented musings for how we should live as Christians in today’s world, which I now submit as theses for discussion: Continue reading