Friday, September 24, 2010

Don't Waste Your Life @JohnPiper @christianaudio @caReviewers

John Piper is a prolific writer who people seem to either love or hate. In December, I had the opportunity to review his latest book (in audiobook format), which made me into a non-fan of Piper. I cross-post my reviews on other sites, including Amazon. It was quite interesting to see how passionately people defended Piper in response to my review. And how they review the usefulness of a review and people's comments based on their agreement with them.

Another of Piper's books became available in christianaudio's reviewers program (with a complimentary copy), so I decided to take the opportunity to give Piper another chance. Don't Waste Your Life is actually an older book of Piper's (from 2006), and it definitely gave me a more positive view of Piper.

I'm still not a Piper fan, but he presented a much more balanced view of life in this book. As the title suggests, he is encouraging people to not waste their lives. In short, we need to live for Christ and not for the materialism of the world in order to not waste our lives. He gives an excellent story from his childhood that his father would frequently tell people about an older man who died feeling like his life was wasted on "worldly" endeavors.

I agree with this viewpoint. We need meaning and purpose in life, and the only way to get true meaning is by loving others through Christ (or more accurately, letting Christ love others through us). I also appreciated that Piper acknowledged the various ways people can enhance the Kingdom--not always through explicit ministry. He did an excellent job of supporting an incarnational view of spreading the Gospel, as he noted the critical need of people to do "mundane, secular" jobs.

He illustrates these points with nice stories, anecdotes, and metaphors. At the same time, it would have probably been easy to make a more concise version of the book.

In his eagerness to emphasize the tragedy of a wasted life, Piper also invalidates other life tragedies. He explicitly states that people getting cancer and dying in accidents are not tragedies. I greatly and passionately disagree. These are all tragedies; just different types.

Further, there was still too much emphasis on sin and leading a holy (meaning morally pure) life. From my post Wednesday: "While we do need to combat sin and move toward moral purity, this is something that is impossible in this world. And it's not the primary goal of the Gospel or what God wants, in my opinion. He wants a relationship with us. And battling sin can get in the way of that. If we are always beating ourselves up in order to repent, we are ignoring God's redemption and therefore ignoring God."

Different Christian traditions emphasize the roles of repentance and redemption to varying degrees. Piper clearly comes from one that sees the role of continual repentance as central. I think we need to emphasize redemption more.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Centrality of the Resurrection

I have lately heard many people emphasize the importance of the resurrection in their theology. They have said that if Christ did not rise from the tomb, their whole faith would be lost.

Honestly, I don't really understand this.

Is the resurrection central to Christianity? Of course. Is it a defining variable? I'm not so sure.

It's distinctive, but how different is Christianity from ancient, pre-Christ Judaism? In specific practices and culture, it's of course different. And people could argue a focus on the law. However, a focus on the law was really within certain Jewish traditions. And there's plenty of Christian traditions that focus on the law just as much.

In my studies, I have seen a rich and vital faith in ancient (and modern) Judaism that really connects with God, seeing God transforming lives. God is involved in the present, changing lives now.

However, that is often not as emphasized in a lot of modern Judaism. There is a big trend of seeing God less involved. That is a power of Christ--Christ came to bring life. Not just in the future, but now.

When we forget about the now, we only focus on life in the future (i.e. eternity). And if there is no resurrection, then of course we should be afraid of our life after death. However, when we see our faith and experience with God transcending more than just death, then we can value many more things than just the resurrection.

Would the absence of the resurrection make my faith different? Probably, and likely in ways I don't even realize. However, my faith is also not rooted in historial facts. It's rooted in faith. Belief that God exists and transcends not only death, but life itself. I have experienced that. And if someday I find out the resurrection did not historically occur, I think (and hope) I would still have a vibrant faith in God...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Sin of Holiness

According to Richard Foster in Streams of Living Water, the holiness stream is a focus on the virtuous life, as in right living and purity from sin. This perspective develops from the Wesleyan holiness movement that focuses on sanctification by avoiding sin and being morally pure.

Is this perspective in the Bible. Absolutely. God wants us to avoid sin. However, being morally pure does not guarantee that we are close with God. Just read the Gospels regarding the Pharisees and Paul's writings.

Being holy is not the same as being morally pure. Sacred is a better synonym with holy.

To be holy or sacred is to be made special for God. We can be set apart by being morally pure. However, God, through Christ, makes us holy. Regardless of our behavior.

As I also discussed in yesterday's post on confession, we often focus too much on sin and not enough on moving closer to God. There, of course, is a balance, as sin and God don't do well together. However, as Christ did many times on earth, he will also come to us in the midst of sin. And frankly, that's when we experience God the most. Christ physically came to those who were sinning. He didn't come to those who were pure.

Of course that doesn't mean we should sin in order to be with God. However, in many attempts to remain pure, we often blind ourselves to experiencing God, as was my experiencing with fasting. As we seek to do things for God, we often forget to be with GodWhile we do need to combat sin and move toward moral purity, this is something that is impossible in this world. And it's not the primary goal of the Gospel or what God wants, in my opinion. He wants a relationship with us. And battling sin can get in the way of that. If we are always beating ourselves up in order to repent, we are ignoring God's redemption and therefore ignoring God.

So I think in our aim to be holy we may actually lose our holiness by participating in life with God less.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


The word confession can bring up a lot of feelings in people, often negative ones. That's usually because it's associated with sin. I most frequently hear people use the term confession to be synonymous with saying something they've done wrong.

However, that is not always true. While to confess can be to acknowledge one's sins, it can also mean to acknowledge and profess one's faith or beliefs (don't believe me, here's some definitions). This is actually how the term was used quite frequently in early church writings.

These uses actually work quite well together. We can confess a sin while confess our faith. However, in society today, we focus on the first half, usually associated with shame. We like to tear ourselves and others down. God gives us the opportunity to build ourselves and each other back up through a confession of faith.

What would happen if we started using the term confession to emphasize the building up of people rather than their tearing down? How does this affect our theology when approaching the concept of confession?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reflection on Fasting

Last week I engaged in my first intentional fast from food for spiritual purposes. My wife and I were going to a church meeting, and they had asked us to fast from noon until we ate together that night. I thought it was reasonable and not too long, so I went for it.

Now some backstory on fasting. I haven't fasted before because I've never felt called nor any passion to fast. I understood the theoretical/theological idea of fasting, but also didn't think it was a universal standard (specifically fasting from food). The idea of fasting is to focus on God and give something up that's important to you. Food is clearly important to life, and the hunger pangs are supposed to remind us to focus on God. And we can use the time we would prepare food and eat to pray and be with God.

Fair enough. Except that I can relatively easily skip a meal by simply being busy and forgetting. Fasting is supposed to be a sort of sacrifice. Food fasting isn't that much for me. Other things (i.e. email, internet, etc.) would be much more so.

But getting back to the present story, I thought this would be a good opportunity to try out a food fast. So I did. I made it to the end of the work day without too much problem. In fact, skipping lunch fed right into my tendency to just work more without thinking. Frankly, I don't spend much time making food or eating. I multitask the whole time.

At 6PM, my wife and I get to the meeting, and I'm thinking we'll eat within the next hour, which will definitely be good. Well, I was wrong. We didn't eat until 8 or 8:30. There were messages and times for reflection. By this point, I was VERY hungry. So much so that I was critical of almost everything the speakers said and had extreme difficult focusing on the reflective tasks. My mood was sour and my energy level was almost non-existant.

During the last reflective exercise, food was set out on all tables. We came back and there was a little more talking while everyone was really more focused on the food we couldn't touch. This was the most meaningful time of the fast, as I contemplated how we "needed" this food NOW since so many of us hadn't eaten for 12 or so hours. What about the people who only eat a couple of times a WEEK and nothing close to meal we were having?

We ate, and I could quickly feel my mood brighten and my energy level return. I suddenly saw utility and God's presence in the speakers' words. Honestly, this experience verified my bias that food fasts are not helpful to all people. For me, it actually seemed to bring me farther from God.

Again, there have been fasts from other things that have been much more effective. And I think that's biblical. In a group discussion on the spiritual discipline of fasting, we were exploring how biblical times people really didn't have much else to give up besides food. So a fast truly was synonymous with food. In today's time, we have the luxury of giving up many things. And frankly, we put many things as more valuable than food.

I usually approach food as simply body fuel. Without my body functioning, I can't connect to God spiritually. There are other things that definitely impeded my connection to God, though, that a fast would aid in our relationship.

What about you? What would be useful for you to fast from?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Article Round-up 4 (Spiritual Formation)

The edition on spiritual formation

How to Get Out of a Devotional Rut: Excellent article exploring out the things we think are devotional actually can hinder our relationship with God.

Digital Fasting: The relevance of taking a break from digital things.

Confessions #1: A sample of confessions related to Anne Jackson's Permission to Speak Freely.

Our Relationship to Fear: Visualizing people's comments about fear. Watch the video for some interesting interpretation.

The Duct Tape Solution: How we respond to fear.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Article Round-up 3 (Church Structure)

The edition on church structure.

House Church, Part 1 and 2: Reflections on the institution of the house church.

For The Love Of Your Pastor: Emphasizing how damaging it can be to have the pastor do everything.

How to Become a Successful Religion: The horror of marketing on the church.

Drive-Thru Church?: A humorous, but all-too-true view of the contemporary church.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Our Idea v. God's Idea @keithgiles

Keith Giles recently posted a series of awesome, short posts, comparing what our ideas of things are versus God's ideas (rooted in biblical comments). I could probably elaborate on each of them for a while, but I'll let them stand on their own (for now :) ).

What's necessary to plant a church


Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Article Round-up 2 (Theology)

This is the theology edition of articles. :)

The Parable of the Good Muslim: Nice redeux of the Good Samaritan.

What is Forgiveness: Self-explanatory. Not over-simplified, though.

The Secret Formula of the Kingdom: There is no formula.

Hell: A struggle with the theology of Hell. Nice, honest reflections.

A Mother's Dilemma Regarding Hell: Another struggle with Hell theology.

The Problem With Literalism: Noting interpretive problems with using literal interpretations of the Bible.

Letters to God... Pornographic?: Examining the definition of pornography and how else it can appear and be damaging.

What Do You Mean By Literal?: An exploration of how the word literal can actually mean different things, making its application to biblical interpretation very different.

Does the Slippery Slope Always Go To The Left: Noting that the fear of the "slippery slope" is always that people will become more liberal, not conservative. I think both ways can be quite scary.

Thoughts on Unity and Integrity: Excellent post on what actually unites people. It feels similar to my post on Big Tent Christianity.

Who Says That's an Error?: Exploring the definition of error in Scripture.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Article Round-up

It's been a while since I posted some good articles, so here they are (well, part 1):

Faith and Doubt: This could almost be a post on its own. It's a very moving and important emphasis on how faith and doubt not only can co-exist, but reinforce one another.

Isn't Counseling for Crazy People?: Another article that I could write a whole post on. Excellent emphasizing the utility of therapy for all people.

Sin in the Church: How often we ignore sin within the church while condemning it outside of the church.

4 Ways Christians Damage Sex: Excellent article (self-explanatory).

And for something fun: Cross USB Drive

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Technology and the Presence of God

Yesterday, I reviewed Gregory Boyd's Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now. As I said in it, I particularly love the practice of the presence of God. I find focusing on the present very meaningful and important both psychologically and spiritually.

Traditionally, this spiritual discipline has not received a lot of attention. Perhaps that is because it is so simple (yet so complex). Maybe it's because in its simplicity and incarnational approach, it's not always explicitly "spiritual." And people like feeling "spiritual."

However, I also wonder if it has to do with a societal shift. In another book I'm reading on Celtic spirituality, the author noted that people's activities were often mundane, repetitive, and boring. They livened the activities up by creating prayers and praise songs to go along with the daily activities. In many ways, this is a perfect example of living in the present and seeing God's presence in all we do.

With technology, many of these mundane, repetitive tasks have become automated and literally mechanical. This is a good thing. We have been able to achieve so many wonderful things in the world because of these advances. However, with the advances, we are now free to focus our energies on more engaging tasks. These tasks are less boring and require us to truly focus on them. That makes focusing on something else (namely God) more difficult. It's easier to say a rhythmic prayer while churning butter, doing laundry, or cooking a meal than it is writing a paper, doing therapy, teaching a class, running meetings, etc.

Could this be part of the reason that (stereotypically) blue-collar workers can often have more vibrant spiritual lives than white-collar workers? White-collar jobs often feel like they can do more good for the world and more ministry-related than many blue-collar jobs (again a generalization and stereotype that could be the topic of an entire other post). However, these ministry-related jobs may be the things that are removing us from God more than anything else because they distract us.

We are often doing so much for God, but doing it without God by our sides...

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Almost Perfect Present Perfect @zondervan

As many people who know me well know, I love spiritual formation and exploring the spiritual disciplines. However, I also have a lot of criticism for most of the disciplines. My favorite has been the practice of the presence of God, particularly made famous by Brother Lawrence's book of the same name. That made me very excited to have the opportunity to review Gregory Boyd's Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now, made possible through a complimentary copy from Zondervan.

In this text, Boyd explores the practice of God's presence, particularly leaning on the works of Brother Lawrence, Jean-Pierre de Caussade, and Frank Laubach. While I was familiar with the former, I was not aware the latter two authors contributed to this little-known discipline.

Rather then a rehash of what practicing the presence of God is and how to live living in the present out, Boyd does a nice job of taking it to the next level. He explores the ways it can be beneficial in a modern era and also many of the modern hindrances to this practice. This approach makes the book very useful to people already familiar with the discipline and concept of living in the present. Further, Boyd's writing is very accessible, making it much easier to digest and interact with than old translations of Brother Lawrence's tome.

Boyd also takes a bit of a twist on the practice of the presence of God, emphasizing staying present as a way to accomplishing experiencing God's presence. This is an excellent approach, biblically, psychologically, and sociologically. Particularly in modern times, we are living in the past or the future, neither of which are where God is, as Boyd states. We need to remember to live in the now much more frequently. That is where we find God. There are plenty of hindrances to living in the present, many of which are psychological and which Boyd addresses quite well (that may be a topic for a future blog post). Presenting living in the present in such a hope-filled, life-enhancing way, Boyd encourages the readers to really struggle with themselves and with God in order to truly engage more effectively.

Additionally, the focus on staying present fits well with a lot of pop psychology, pop spirituality, and even true clinical psychology. Staying grounded in the moment is actually a clinical technique (and a very good, effective one). Intentionally or not, Boyd capitalizes on this trend and shows how it can be used to enhance our spirituality. Once again, psychology and spirituality need not be in conflict, but rather mutually supportive.

I highly recommend Present Perfect for both people struggling spiritually and who also want to grow spiritually. It's also one of the few books that explores an incarnational view of spirituality.


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).