Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The offense of the Personal God

Okay, so we live in the western world...and we have ideas about how a God should behave. We have ideas of propriety, sanity, organization, clarity, intelligence. It's mostly a class issue, or a control issue. We can trust a God who is vastly intelligent, full of foresight, and above emotion.

So here we are reading about David's census of the people and God gets peeved about it. So he gives David a choice of 3 days of pestilence, 3 months of war, 3 years of famine. Something like that. David chooses the pestilence cause it's short. But on the first day, wow! So David cries out to God...God repents and cuts the punishment short.

Okay, we have a God who sets out to punish then sees the horror and cuts it short? A God who is outside of time but comes inside it and allows the actions of the people within time to affect Him? A God who rejoices and dances over those who love Him? A God who weeps over His people and earnestly desires His love? A God who is jealous?

And this is not just pretty metaphorical stuff. He really is jealous, gets hurt, etc.

Ah, what to do with this? What does one do with a God who leaps with joy when He's happy? I suspect the Aristotlean logic stuff has affected how respectably we think our God should behave. Folks at other times allowed God's their passions and personalities and didn't think emotion belittled a God. But we so worship reason and the sane westernized model of proper CEO behavior that we don't allow emotion in a personal God.

But isn't that what a personal theistic God implies? A relationship with a being with a personality? And what are we to do with the personality of a God who made all these flowers because he loves beauty? And even creates flowers in places no human eyes can see...because it's his pleasure? A God who loves rocky terrain so much that He probably has made Heaven look a lot like earth? A God who created tons of tastes for our tastebuds? A God who seems to love cuddling cause he pretty much makes all the mammals of the earth cuddle their young and each other? What are we to do with this personal God who went so far as to do some theater stuff and "stretched out his hand to a people" to show his love? Ah, those open arms of our Lord! Or a God who -- after the devil has been chained for 1000 years-- releases said devil so God can see who really loves Him?

This is why we have a God who hates the lukewarm -- the Lukewarm are not hot or cold to anything...and God is anything but a machine. As Archbishop Tutu once said, "God is biased." God loves justice and mercy. He hates injustice, he hates divorce, he hates to see the rights of the poor, foreign, and fatherless trampled on.

A segue for the moment: I think some people think of demons as "putting a bad thought into someone's head." It's as if the demons themselves aren't really overcome with their sins...but just are using these emotions. For instance, it might be possible that demons of racism aren't just putting racist thoughts into people....they might really be downright racist. They might, for instance, hate Black people for a reason...maybe because we look like God's original human creation, Adam.

When I saw the angel near my bed, he was so loving and so sweet and so giddy with joy. It was utterly weird. At that time I suspected angels were holy and I defined holiness as a kind of distant yet good thing. But this angel was brimming over with joy to an almost flaky extent. He looked at me as if to say, "I know everything about you. Yes, you! And I love you, love you, love you anyway!" I always used to wonder why I was not allowed to see his face in a kind of human way but was instead shown all his features as a line drawing of light. But I think I understand now. I have such a temptation to love beauty -- the creature more than the Creator-- that if I had actually seen his face in the normal way I probably would've developed a crush on him. Yet, in some strange way, he shows up -- as all the great Bible princes in the Bible show up-- in my novels. But God spared me from worshiping of angels in this case.

Anyway, the upshot is that in the west, we are taught that emotionality is a bad thing. Supposedly it makes us do irrational things. But emotionality is only bad if the emotions come from an unpure heart. Just as reasoning from an evil heart leads is unfair, so emotions from a heart that is good, holy, pure, and loving can only lead to good. A personal God can have a favorite nation if He wants...not because those in that nation are any better than those in other nations but because God has chosen to love them.

It is quite possible that the world is based on emotions...and emotions are not so bad at all. Joy rules the world. Sure, another God could have made us -- a theistic God we modern westerners could respect. But we have what we have...or rather...we have WHO we have. This is the personality of the God of the universe. We have to live with it. Is He so bad?

How I love Jesus because He first loved me!

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (Paperback) ~ Soong-Chan Rah

The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity (Paperback)

by Soong-Chan Rah
  • Paperback: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Intervarsity Press (May 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0830833609
  • ISBN-13: 978-0830833603
Here's the blurb:
In this book professor and pastor Soong-Chan Rah calls the North American church to escape its captivity to Western cultural trappings and to embrace a new evangelicalism that is diverse and multiethnic. Rah brings keen analysis to the limitations of American Christianity and shows how captivity to Western individualism and materialism has played itself out in megachurches and emergent churches alike. Many white churches are in crisis and ill-equipped to minister to new cultural realities, but immigrant, ethnic and multiethnic churches are succeeding and flourishing.

This prophetic report casts a vision for a dynamic evangelicalism that fully embodies the cultural realities of the twenty-first century. Spiritual renewal is happening within the North American church, from corners and margins not always noticed by those in the center. Come, discover the vitality of the next evangelicalism.
Here are some reviews:
"In this manifesto for change, Soong-Chan Rah calls for the church to break free from limiting and exclusive paradigms and fully embrace the dramatic cultural diversity that is rapidly defining the twenty-first century in the United States. His powerfully persuasive pen engages and challenges the reader in ways that radically transform how church life is to be understood, shaped and lived. Everyone who cares about the Christian church in the United States needs to read The Next Evangelicalism. This book ignites hope for reconciliation in the world through the church." --Curtiss Paul DeYoung, professor of reconciliation studies, Bethel University
"Soong-Chan Rah explores the impact of ethnic and geographic shifts on the present and future state of evangelicalism. He gives us fair warning that parts of his heartfelt book are 'intended to provoke,' and they will. But that doesn't stop his book from being timely, thoughtful and very rewarding." --Philip Jenkins, Edwin Erle Sparks Professor of Humanities, Pennsylvania State University, and author of The Next Christendom
"The Next Evangelicalism reminds me of July 4: there's plenty to celebrate and there are fireworks going off in all directions! But I kept asking myself: What will this next evangelicalism celebration do to us? Will we stay the same or will we follow the leading of God's Spirit into the next era of evangelicalism, one that will surely be unlike what we have now? Sit down, open this book, and get ready to duck!" --Scot McKnight, Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies, North Park University, blogger, JesusCreed, author, The Blue Parakeet
"In this manifesto for change, Soong-Chan Rah calls for the church to break free from limiting and exclusive paradigms and fully embrace the dramatic cultural diversity that is rapidly defining the twenty-first century in the United States. His powerfully persuasive pen engages and challenges the reader in ways that radically transform how church life is to be understood, shaped and lived. Everyone who cares about the Christian church in the United States needs to read The Next Evangelicalism. This book ignites hope for reconciliation in the world through the church."

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church

The Monkey and the Fish: Liquid Leadership for a Third-Culture Church

by Dave Gibbons

  • Paperback: 224 pages

  • Publisher: Zondervan (February 1, 2009)

  • Language: English

  • ISBN-10: 0310276020

  • ISBN-13: 978-0310276029

  • Here's the blurb:

    Tuesday, March 13, 2012

    God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible

    God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible 
    William Lane Craig and Chad Meister,
    Editors (InterVarsity)

    • Paperback: 272 pages
    • November 30, 2009
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0830837264
    • ISBN-13: 978-0830837267

    Here's the blurb:

    The days have passed when the goodness of God--indeed, the reality of God itself--could reasonably be called a consensus opinion. God's reputation has come under considerable review in recent days, with some going so far as to say that it's not we who've made a mess of things. Instead whatever it is we call God is to blame.

    But is such an opinion really a fair assessment? In this magisterial collection, the contemporary complaints against belief in God are addressed with intellectual passion and rigor by some of the most astute theological and philosophical minds of the day:

    * J. P. Moreland
    * Paul Moser
    * John Polkinghorne
    * Michael Behe
    * Michael J. Murray
    * Alister McGrath
    * Paul Copan
    * Jerry Walls
    * Charles Taliaferro
    * Scot McKnight
    * Gary Habermas
    * Mark Mittelberg
    * Chad Meister
    * William Lane Craig

    Including an interview by Gary Habermas with noted convert to theism Antony Flew, and a direct critical response to Richard Dawkins's God Delusion by Alvin Plantinga, God Is Great, God Is Good offers convincing and compelling reassurance that though the world has changed, God has not.

    About the Author

    Edited by:
    William Lane Craig (Ph.D., philosophy, University of Birmingham; D.Theol., systematic theology, University of Munich) is Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, in La Mirada, California. He is also president of the Evangelical Philosophical Society. He has published articles in philosophical and theological journals such as The Journal of Philosophy, American Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Studies, Philosophy, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Modern Theology and Religious Studies. He has written or cowritten more than twenty books, including The Kalam Cosmological Argument; Divine Foreknowledge and Human Freedom; Theism, Atheism and Big Bang Cosmology and God, Time and Eternity.

    Chad Meister (Ph.D., Marquette University) is professor of philosophy at Bethel College in Mishawaka, Indiana.

    He is the author of numerous articles and books, including The Oxford Handbook of Religious Diversity, Introducing Philosophy of Religion, Reasons for Faith: Making a Case for the Christian Faith and The Philosophy of Religion Reader.

    Check out his website, chadmeister.com.

    Monday, March 12, 2012

    Praise for Plan B

    When I first met my husband --at a valentine's day party-- I fell in love with him at first sight. I even dreamt that he was the one. Then a little girl from church had a word from the Lord that my husband wasn't the one. I didn't listen to her and it has cost me much emotionally. Yet God has truly blessed us with a deep love.

    I can tell you it has been a rough road. My husband was perfect and I was perfect. We just weren't perfect for each other. In addition to his folks making my life miserable, I was warm and outgoing and hubby was distant and unemotional. I had never been so unloved or rejected in my life. The first fifteen years of my marriage was grief and loneliness.

    But now, I can truly boast that there is no couple in the world who loves each other as deeply and as wonderfully as we do.

    Sometimes we forget that the plan of salvation was Plan B.

    Think of David. He was God's Plan B. Think of Jesus. God's Plan B as well. Think about what might have happened if our original parents had not disobeyed God and fallen into sin. But they did, and God's response was Jesus. Milton wrote, "Oh happy sin, that showed so good and great a God!"

    What the lives of humans would have been like if our species had not chosen death or chosen to know about right and wrong in the proscribed way we might never know. But would we have known that God Himself was willing to die for us if we hadn't sin?

    God in His mercy had a contingency plan. God is amazing and if we only keep trusting His love, care, and power, Plan B will turn out to be better than anything Plan A would have brought us. God restores, recreates, makes new and blesses even those bad choices we make or the cruel choices others make for us. Praise ye the Lord.

    Saturday, March 10, 2012

    Wisdom of Solomon: the two harlots

    Hubby and i reading about Solomon and the two harlots and the baby. Dawned on me that the women didn't go to the priests or to the lawyers but to the king..hadn't thought of that.

    Isn't it funny how many times one reads a thing and more stuff comes out every time?
    Well I was thinking about taking credit for a thing...if someone took my Bible study and i knew it was mine... would i still want it to exist if someone else took the credit? If someone downloaded my Bible study and kinda reworked it a little then published it and said "this bible study is mine" and I knew it was mine, and there was a lawyer who said, "okay, destroy the book and be done with it" ...I'd say..."I want the Bible study to be out there in the world...
    let this thief take the credit and the cash." (Hoping that doesn't happen but the Christian publishing world is way creepy.)

    But also, the king didn't judge the harlots. For one, who knows how these women became prostitutes? A woman who lost her husband or family had no one to take care of her. Solomon didn't say, "What do i care about you bickering whores and your bastard?" The levites, scribes, priests, might have said that...in their righteous legalism.

    So Solomon is king, advocate, and discerner of thoughts. Also a loving Christ symbol to whom the women knew they could appeal. Jesus wouldn't have judged the women harshly either. Solomon knew that although the women were prostitiutes that one of them had a woman's heart, a mother's heart.

    Honestly, i think the religious world would've judged them harshly and not cared about their problems. Who knows??? Maybe they went to religious people beforehand and there was this long to-do. Not like the Supreme Court but pretty much. How long did it take for them to walk to the king's palace and finally get to the king?

    It seems easy in the aftermath now to say...."ah Solomon said the perfect thing and I probably would've said the same thing as well." But hindsight is 20/20. I think it might have been thought that prostitutes didn't have kindly woman hearts...and there is the wisdom of solomon, he knew they did.

    Anyway...for whatever reason, this post is making me love Jesus very much. Plus it's Good Friday.

    Friday, March 09, 2012

    A meditation on Loving Beauty and Lusting for Celebrities

    You guys know me and my penchant for falling into moments where I ALMOST love the creature so much more than the Creator. Anyway, here is a quote:

    "Do not let any family member who is amiable, moral, and attractive die without coming to You" --the Valley of Vision, Puritan prayers

    Uhm... At first, one thinks... "So what, we are only to pray for the salvation of the amiable moral and attractive family members, not the frustrating immoral ugly ones?"

    But then I got to thinking

    It's funny the human love of beauty. I remember God once or twice challenging me. I have all these actors whom I love -- actors who are beautiful and who i lust for, who are wonderful and witty. And I sometimes just look at them
    and it's like God said to me: "These people who entertain you, and whom you love because of their beauty, and talent, and wit...think about their souls as well. Pray for them to be saved. Don't just enjoy beautiful people and forget about their souls."

    It is shallow to pray for an actor because one likes him because he's beautiful. But there are other actors and celebrities as well. People who are amiable but don't have  beauty. Or folks who, like the Japanese society, have a weirdly communal goodness and morality, people who are trying to be good but who are so far from the truth. 

    It's true that all humans are in need of salvation, not just the good beautiful souls. But there are those we love and who we kinda don't think of their souls at all. We are consumers in this world, and beautiful witty entertainers are people we consume. When they get old and lose their beauty, or their wit...we toss them aside for others who are more beautiful. Can it say we really loved them in any true deep way? Or were we merely consuming them?

    So we really have to remember that those who give us pleasure are not merely things placed on the earth to make us laugh or to make us wonder with their beauty. We can't just stop at using them for their looks or their kindness. We must see a bit deeper and we must learn to want these objects of beauty to live forever in heaven and to be blessed with spiritual truth.

    It's odd this notion of beauty. We love Beauty because we know intrinsically that beauty should be normal, but yet on the earth it isn't. The angels are beautiful, flowers are beautiful. So we do love beautiful people a lot more in many ways. But it is also a shallow age where we have fine-tuned this notion of beauty to a weird degree. But forgetting Beauty for a moment...even if the celebrity is just amiable. Or a great singer. Or has brought us pleasure by his/her wit, we must go deeper into this and not see them as commodities.

    We ignore both the ugly and the beautiful when we pray for only the souls of those who are our friends, families, neighbors, foes. The only thing some stranger we lust for has going for him to make us pray for him might be his beauty or his wit or his talent. This quote FORCES US TO NOT SEE PEOPLE AS THINGS. Of course, all this is spoken by someone who lusts for hottie young Korean popstars and Japanese actors. 

    Thursday, March 08, 2012

    Loving St Thomas the Doubter -- yet again.

    There are truths/revelations the Bible tells us to believe and we Believe them because it says so. There are truths/revelations the Bible tells us and theologians/ministers/priests/older folks have different interpretations of what the Bible is saying so we choose which of those interpretations we will believe. There are truth/revelations in the Bible that we believe because we have had clear revelations in our life that that particular truth is in fact very true and active in our lives. The last of these is the one we tend to trust in. They have become a rhema (personal truth) from the logos (totality of revealed truth) and we are convinced because we have seen this revelation in our lives. I kinda wish I would grow more in personal knowledge of these Biblical revelation. But I definitely feel that many Christians have been given so much personal light on certain passages that we should remember to walk in joy of that light we have received.

    One of the deepest ongoing revelations I have ever received in my life is this. It's from the Psalms (revealed truth) but I've known it to be true in my own life: "My times are in God's hands." I'm totally convinced that God is a great choreographer. I wish I could tell you the many, many, many times God has shown me that he knows when I sit and when I stand and that he's aware of all the thoughts in my head. All those "Godwinks." So many times he shows me he's been with me.

    I think all Christians have these experiences and a good personal revelation of a Biblical truth can last a whole lifetime. Many Christian old folks talk about some of the experiences that made them know something about God's love, grace, kindness, healing power, etc.

    How, then, do we end up with struggling against unbelief? So here is the St Thomas thing again.

    So many Christian pastors are tough on Thomas. They say, "what a fool! He would only believe Jesus had risen if he saw him in flesh and blood!" But he was no worse than the other disciples. They also didn't believe until they saw. Even though the women had told them they saw Jesus. But
    I'm thinking yet again of that lovely Victorian sermon I read by the 19th centrury theologian A B Bruce on St Thomas. Wow! what a sermon!

    Basically he says that Thomas' lack of faith had little to do with being a rationalist. It was not an unbelief of the mind but an unbelief of the heart. He basically states that Thomas tended to despair. When jesus said they would go to lazarus, Thomas said, "Let us go that we may die with him." This is a disciple prone to great pessimism and who is readier to believe sad news than happy news because his spirit is so linked to despair and pessimism of great causes.
    He starts it by saying "Jesus came to the disciples but Thomas wasn't there."

    Now, why wasn't Thgomas there? A B Bruce says he was indulging that melancholy which goes off by itself and leaves its friends to despair in isolation. I actually believe that.

    Thomas' nickname was "the Twin" and we really don't know why they called him that. I've seen some flaky stuff in Christian theology like: "Thomas looked like Jesus and that's why they called him the twin." I kinda doubt that. But Thomas does seem to have been a guy who was capable of great faith and great unbelief at the same time. He believed in miracles and in Jesus and he was the only one recorded in the gospel who said, "let's go to Jerusalem so we can die with Jesus." So, he was always saying something that showed him to be a man who was more full of faith than most and yet.....

    The disciples believed Jesus when they saw him. And Jesus told Thomas, "Blessed are those who believe and yet have not seen." It's a challenge to all doubters but it's a challenge to Thomas to consciously change a mind prone to unbelieving in the good. Thomas needed to be transformed by the renewing of his mind -- to choose joyful belief over pessimism. He had to will his mind to have a confident expectation of good and not to sink into kneejerk despair. It's not really a mind doubt but a heart doubt.

    This really spoke to me. I have faith in the supernatural workings of God in people's lives. But at the same time, I'm a pessimism. I think of Jacob when he said, "I've had a lot of sad things happen in my life." It must have taken so much belief to believe that his son Joseph was alive (risen from the dead so to speak). Just as it took Thomas a lot to believe in the good. Jacob and Thomas both believed in God and yet.... to expect great things! to expect joyful things! To believe in a god of joy in addition to a god of holiness and miracles! To believe in a joyful outcome! ???????? Hard to believe. The Lord prophesied through Jeremiah, "For I know the thoughts I think of you...thoughts of good and not of evil to give you a future and a promise The word translated promise can mean a "looked for hope" or "an expected end."

    We can accept promise but when we see that promise...it gets unbelievable. Like the gospel. Too-good-to-be-believed news. It's not the miraculous we can't believe; it's the joy. It's not, "Am I gullible to believe this weirdo miraculous supernatural crap?" It's "Dare I be happy and trust that this supernatural stuff can happen in my sad life?" and "Dare I believe that God could make me that happy?"

    There are a lotta folks in the Bible who have faith but who simply cannot believe that something good has or can happen. Like Jacob being told his son Joseph was still alive. Took a while to believe that. Like the church praying for Peter's release from prison. Poor Rhoda. Trying to tell all the spiritual giants that their prayers had been answered and they didn't believe her. Sometimes we have faith, we simply don't have the capacity to believe our life can be filled with joy. I think that might be a kind of double-mindedness. At least, we must work to renew our hearts and spirits as well as our minds.

    I really am pondering the joy of the lord now. The meaning of joy is coming closer and closer to my spirit. I'm almosting it. As the psalmist says in 139, "It is 'high' I cannot attain unto it. I hope to attain to it. Heaven is about the capacity to receive and accept joy. Life trains us to be like Thomas...not of two minds but of two hearts. No wonder his nickname was The Twin. But he was not double-minded, he was double-hearted. A sad hopeful heart joined to a despairing heart. Lift up your hearts!

    Wednesday, March 07, 2012

    Hannah and Penninah

    i was reading samuel this morning and about how every year Peninah provoked Hannah.
    every year
    every year
    every year
    and then finally hannah just breaks and tells God the bitterness of her heart and makes the vow to God.

    After all that endurance! We  can see how exhausted the poor woman was. So Eli sees her and blesses her
    and after he says go in peace, she actually does! She actually goes in peace. From that moment "her countenance was no more  sad." There is no external proof that her prayers were answered. And what she has is not "simple faith" as some pseudo-intellectual religious types would describe it. It was faith plain and simple. Hannah knew a prayer had been said for her by a priest, and so she believed her prayer had been accepted and ranted by God. Is it as simple as that? Apparently. Yet, we are all priests...and when we pray for each other we don't make that decision that we have been heard and the prayer has been granted (although John in his first epistle tells us that if we ask anything according to God's will, it's done.)

    Hannah doesn't have this history of "God's will is to make you suffer." And she had managed to put away all the comments her neighbors might have said (Like about Leah or Hagar or whoever.) She knew God had not forsaken her, had not left her as an orphan.

    Peace is two things:
    1) an inner feeling which is also a response to the feeling in one's life that nothing is missing or broken
    (the true meaning of shalom)

    and 2) reconciliation or truce

    What is necesaary for that peace?
    to grow in the feeling that God is with you. To  be reconciled to what is missing or broken in one's life. To give up what is broken and to cut one's losses but to gain spiritual peace in the long run. 

    Who knows if God would've given her the child if she had not made the vow to give her only son to Him?  Who knows if God had appointed her from the beginning to have Samuel? I doubt He had. It's probable that God saw her faith and decided to make her son holy. But who knows? She wanted a son because she was being provoked. Being provoked as a grief, as a cause to push and plead to God, as a reason for prayer to be answered. So wonderful: "God, my co-wife is provoking me! Please give me a child so this vindictive spite will stop."

    A short digression: What's interesting here in this battle of the wombs is the husband's reaction: It's a kind and philosophical comfort. He cares for Hannah and sees how terrible the situation is but he is not the one personally suffering rebukes. It is amazing how one spouse can "endure" another's sufferings...and one wonders how he would have reacted if he had been the one suffering. I'm thinking he's sweet but not what I would call fervent. Because, after all, he has children. He's not like Zechariah who was a childless man and who was fervently praying for a son even in his old age.

    Anyway, Hannah put up with this aggravation and provocation from Penninah for ages and finally she just broke. 

    It always speaks to me that after Eli prayed for her, "Hannah's countenance was no more sad."

    It's hard to figure out the circumstances in this marriage because you don't know who Elkanah married first
    and if the first wife was hated as leah was but those two wife marriages never were good. And one can tell the community was probably not too kind to Hannah, a woman without children. 

    Hannah's song is so full of the hurt she must have received from the "successful women" in the community: all sorts of talk about her being cursed, probably. But even so the reader ends up on being Hannah's side even though her husband may have loved her more than the other. But even if Hannah was the first wife and he married the second in order to have children --like with Hagar-- and didn't really love the second wife one can't help feeling sorry about the situation.

    And then there's little Samuel who really is so so so cute with his little ephod. Of course i love all the prophets. They were a flaky quirky lot. But there is something so noble and sweet about Samuel

    So Hannah let go of her son and gave him up. (Unlike many a woman or mother-in-law) and got five kids from God as a replacement for him. And she didn't even know she would get the replacements. She was quite willing to sacrifice. 

    And when she brings samuel to Eli her words are so funny. It's so full of excitement as if she couldn't quite believe she -- Little old Hannah-- had gotten a miracle

    26And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the LORD. 27For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him: 

    Tuesday, March 06, 2012

    The Hole in Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us?

    Richard Stearns (Thomas Nelson)

  • Hardcover: 320 pages

  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (March 10, 2009)

  • Language: English

  • ISBN-10: 0785229183

  • ISBN-13: 978-0785229186

  • Here's the blurb:

    "Preach the Gospel always.  Use words if necessary." - St. Francis of Assisi

    It's 1998 and Richard Stearns' heart is breaking as he sits in a mud hut and listens to the story of an orphaned child in Rakai, Uganda.  His journey to this place took more than a long flight from the United States to Africa.  It took answering God's call on his life, a call that hurtled him out of his presidential corner office at Lenox-America's finest tableware company-to this humble corner of Uganda.
    This is a story of how a corporate CEO faced his own struggle to obey God whatever the cost, and his passionate call for Christians to change the world by actively living out their faith.  Using his own journey as an example, Stearns explores the hole that exists in our understanding of the Gospel.
    Two thousand years ago, twelve people changed the world.  Stearns believes it can happen again.
    "Read this compelling story and urgent call for change-Richard Stearns is a contemporary Amos crying 'let justice roll down like waters….'  Justice is a serious gospel-prophetic mandate.  Far too many American Christians for too long a time have left the cause to 'others.'  Read it as an altar call."
    --Eugene H. Peterson, translator of The Message, Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology, Regent College, Vancouver, BC
    "Rich Stearns calls us to exhilarating obedience to God's life-altering, world-changing command to reflect his love to our neighbors at home and globally. The Hole in Our Gospel is imbued with the hope of what is possible when God's people are transformed to live radically in light of his great love."
    --Gary Haugen, President & CEO, International Justice Mission 
    "Richard Stearns is quite simply one of the finest leaders I have ever known.... When he became president of World Vision I had a front row seat to witness the way God used his mind and heart to inspire thousands.... His new book, The Hole In Our Gospel will call you to a higher level of discipleship.... Now is the time...Richard Stearns has the strategy...your move!"
    --Bill Hybels, Founding and Senior Pastor, Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, IL
    "Rich Stearns has given us a book that makes absolutely clear what God hopes for and expects from each of us.... He reminded me of my personal responsibilities and the priority I must give them and also where life's true rewards and fulfillment are to be found."
    --Jim Morris, former executive director, United Nations World Food Program
    "World Vision plays a strategic role on our globe. As the largest relief organization in the history of the world, they initiate care and respond to crisis. Rich Stearns navigates this mercy mission with great skill. His book urges us to think again about the opportunity to love our neighbor and comfort the afflicted. His message is timely and needed. May God bless him, the mission of World Vision and all who embrace it."
    --Max Lucado, author of 3:16-The Numbers of Hope, Minister of Writing and Preaching, Oak Hills Church, San Antonio, TX
    "Rich Stearns has penned a passionate and persuasive book aimed at Christians who find themselves absorbed with their own existence, pursuing the American dream of health, wealth and happiness.  Rich traces his own spiritual journey from having it all, to sacrificial living on behalf of those who have nothing.  Not only is Rich eloquent, he's right."
    --Kay Warren, Executive Director HIV/AIDS Initiative at Saddleback Church, Lake Forest, CA
    "An urgent, powerful summons to live like Jesus. Stearns weaves solid theology, moving stories, and his own journey of faith into a compelling call to live the whole Gospel. Highly recommended!"
    --Ronald J. Sider, President, Evangelicals for Social Action, Author of Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger

    "With passionate urging and earnestness, Rich Stearns challenges Christians to embrace the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ by embracing the neediest and most vulnerable among us.  After reading the moving stories, the compelling facts and figures, and Stearns' excellent application of scripture and his own experiences at World Vision, you will no doubt be asking yourself: What should I do?"
    --Chuck Colson, Founder, Prison Fellowship
    "This book is a clarion call for the church to arise and answer the question, "Who is my neighbor?"... If you read this book, you will be inspired, but if you do what this book is asking, you will be forever changed. Rich Stearns' book is like a safari for hurting souls that cannot be written in the safety of an office suite.... If you have been feeling something missing or an aching emptiness inside, read The Hole in our Gospel.  It will show you how to fill that void!"
    --T.D. Jakes Sr., The Potter's House of Dallas, Inc.
    "Rich Stearns' book is showing us through stories and examples how it is better to see a sermon rather than hear one.  This is an important book for all of us!"
    --Tony Hall, US Ambassador and former US Congressman
    "This is much more than "just another book" from a Christian leader.  It's a message to Christendom that we all need."
    --Dr. Tony Campolo, Professor Emeritus of Sociology at Eastern University, author of Red Letter Christians
    "This book represents a powerful personal story; face to face experiences with the poor which changed the author's life, plus, an insightful scriptural commentary.  As happened with Bob Pierce, founder of World Vision; Richard Stearns' heart has been broken with the things that break the heart of God.   Now, Stearns is using his considerable CEO skills to serve the poor and oppressed.  I highly recommend this book."--John M. Perkins, President, John M. Perkins Foundation for Reconciliation & Development, Inc.

    Sunday, March 04, 2012

    Divine Geography: Christ in Me

    Yesterday and last night and for a while Luke and I have been talking about having "opened spipritual eyes" and seeing things the way God sees it, and how interesting it would be to walk around the world as Jesus did, to look at disease the way Jesus did, to look at lack and two fish the way Jesus did, to not let the pundits, health nuts, etc of this world affect us, to be truly people with the mind of Christ.

    Then yesterday morning i read a little book by Witness Lee and Watchman Nee about "christ in you, the hope of glory" and it's weird. I always knew that "God with us," "treasure in earthen vessels and all that" but when they wrote that, I realized that although God is up in heaven and we are seated in Christ in heavenly places ...it was...wow. He talked about how often that phrase "Call upon the name of the Lord" is used, and that when Christ is in us we are calling to him inside us not just to him up in heaven because we are his temple. And it reminded me of a thing that happened to me in 1981.

    I and luke were living in a town near here and this friend of luke's brother came to visit the city --and by God's grace-- luke bumped into the guy in the Marvel office. The guy had no money
    (something about CA bnaks versus NY banks) and it was total grace that luke found him and invited him to live with us. The guy's pretty famous now in hollywood circles (I'll just call him Mike M) but then he was this annoying little california prick with artistic pretentions desperately trying to show his artiness as if his life depeneded on it. And we totally hated each other
    He was a total pretentious asshole and there ws no talking to him. Anyways, one day he said something and i said to myelf -- because i had been reading "For colored girls who have considered suicide when the rainbow was enough" -- "I'm going upstairs to tell that guy all about himself to his face." That's a line from the book.

    So I'm on the stairs and suddenly, I hear a voice. A VOICE. CLEAR. GENTLE. OTHERWORLDLY. VERY STRONG. This wasn't the still small voice one hears normally. It was a very strong voice, as if someone was shouting. It came from inside my stomach and I heard it with my spirit as a loud clear voice. All that stuff Jesus said about rivers of water flowing from deep inside his belly ...well it is all true. The voice said, "Carole, when will you learn how to deal with people who don't know themselves?"

    It was a rebuke. Yes, God had rebuked me. My mouth fell open. I don't think it was demonic because I've had demonic encounters before. This rebuke was a question and God often rebukes with a question? He never accuses. I was so shamed, so startled, I walked downstairs.

    Now, I do't know why God had his hand on that guy. To protect him from debt and being in NYC without money? To protect him from my anger? (I would like to think God was protecting me from Mike because although Mike was scrawny but he was so weird in his vampire outfits that maybe he would've killed me.) But I think Mike was frail and God wanted to protect him and to stop me at that time.

    That rebuke has stayed with me. Because it was so weird and so supernatural and because that seems to have been one of my issues in life, dealing with people who don't know themselves. So when I read this thing by Witness Lee/Watchman Nee about when we pray I got to thinking about what I heard back in the day at an Order of St Luke chapter on healing
    about simply standing aside and knowing God was within and just saying "Thank you Jesus," while you laid hands on someone without doing anything else. Just standing aside so to speak and letting the spirit do whatever He wanted to do because "the Second Adam became a Life-Giving Spirit" and because "the spirit which brought Christ from the dead lives in us and is able to bring life to our bodies." So it is all about keeping your heart and mind on Jesus while calling on him and trusting him to do the work from within.

    Witness and Watchman said that the people who Paul set out to kill were those wo "called upon the name of the lord" and they just used so many quotes about calling up on the name of the Lord. And thinking of Jesus inside us. So i was praying last night and yesterday becuase they said that when we are in trouble, we are to basically know that Christ is not merely above but within. IT might take looking at our chest and speaking to God inside our chest but we must say "Thank you Lord." And "Yes, Amen." And "Hallelujah" to Christ within. (I know some folks are gonna confuse this kinda thing with the New Agey Christ consciousness thing but it isn't. The true Christ within us is there because of our accepting his shed blood for our sins.)

    Anyway, Christ is in us. Because "Amen" is Jesus' name, because Jesus is yes to all the promises of God, and Jesus is the living word of God within us. And "hallelujah" because we are praising God and God inhabits our praises.

    Witness and Watchman said that whenever we are tempted or afraid or in need we must just calm oursleves and say "Thank you Lord Jesus." because by calling on the name of Jesus who lives within our flesh, his own dear temple, he will hear and help us. So I've been trying to do that, to really see Jesus as with us, with all his knowlege, and power. I know that when we speak in tongues we are bringing out the store of wisdom from within. But to really really feel that He is here within -- wow, it was a wonderful revelation to me. So I'm going to use that to pray for Gabe and to be on the diet. The weird thing is: it is one thing to pray to Jesus up there and another to say to him inside one's stomach, the body of one's temple.

    Hard, too, to have sexual fantasies. Cause it's like --ohg my gosh I am quenching his spirit now in order to sin. I am willfully closing the door to him and turning him off. So am thinking It is so very hard to think the wrong things when Jesus is so near.

    And yesterday as I talked to a despairing friend on FB I told him, "Hope is a discipline." And i meant it. Because I get into these despairing modes where i say "Look how fat I am.
    Look at how painful this body is" But then I think, "the Bible tells us to hope in a living God who does the impossible. We have to discipline ourselves to hope."
    It's hard this discipline, but I feel that when I get to heaven God will say to me that I have a strong mind, and a strong spirit.

    Hope builds character (or whatever it is hope builds in that list in Peter's epistle.) I have had to challenge myself to christian hope everyday. So it's like a second muscle now. And God has said, that as long as you have hope, hope doesn't disappoint. It's not just a mental thing. It is a power, and when one realizes that God is within and so near...and all one has to do is to call on Him within.

    I keep thinking that God has told me so much, because he knows the end from the beginning. There was the time I saw Jesus in the dream and he had a sash thingey across his shoulders. Forgot the word for it, but princes and beauty queens wear it. And on it was written "the great amen." He revealed that to me. And when he said so much about how i would go through hell before getting to heaven and all those dreams about being in a pit, then me imagining a crucifix but nothing happened, then me saying "I believe in God" and began reciting the Apostles Creed in the dream and suddenly his hand pulled me up. I cannot help but hope because i feel he has told me personally from the beginning that i would succeed after a long haul of hoping and growing in Him.

    Friday, March 02, 2012

    Anointed For One's Burial

    "She hath done what she could: she is come aforehand to anoint my body to the burying." Mark 14:8

    Okay, so this verse is on my mind today because I listened to a sermon by Esther Ibanga called "anointed for my burial." I

    And it connected to me because it really made me think of taking up my cross, dying to self, crucifying the world to my heart, the fear of man. Much It has to do with my WIP, The Constant Tower. I find that I'm engaging in a kind of self-repression. It's as if I'm afraid to go through the same walk I went through with Wind Follower...so anything that's religious in CT is being squelched. (Yeah, I know...Wind Follower got published by a traditional and respected publisher and got some great critical reviews and nominations...and ...even Publishers Weekly liked it. But there were those two nasty reviewers I have yet to forgive. And the journey of submitting a flaky novel is scarily faithy.) Honestly, whenever my characters say something vaguely religious I cringe. I'm like... PLEASE DO NOT SAY THAT! WHY ARE YOU MAKING THIS BOOK ABOUT RELIGION?

    And so I'm kinda not allowing the story to come out the way it should. Heck, I'm even looking back at My Life as an Onion and saying, "Oh, gee! Why did I include the religious thing in that book?"

    I so wish -- really, i do-- that I were more typical and less weird. The sad, sad, sad truth is that I am quite odd. Oh, okay, normal folks always say how odd they are...and that they have idiosyncracies.  But honestly, they're not that odd. Or maybe their oddness is on a scale of acceptability that mine can never really make. So I'm always terribly afraid to let all that concerns me be in my novel. And yet, there's this weird part of me that puts it into my novels anyway. 

    So, Onion is a black christian YA book but it's not a typical black christian YA book. The character is plainly Christian but frank sexual discussions abound. The character is black and race is a big part of the story but not really. And the characters are super-educated. And now I wait to hear what Delacorte will say. I'm hoping they see how good it is. But wow! what if they don't want it? Would I be willing to remove the quirkiness and the frank sexual discussions and tone it down for a Christian publishing company? What would I do with it? Although weirdly, I'm not too afraid Onion won't find a home. What with all those godwinks, I think God has told me He's aware of it and will get it published. But how can I write CT without any of those godwinks? Can I truly walk in faith when I don't have a godwink guiding me along?

    Anyway, in Esther Ibanga's sermon, she basically talks about the woman with the alabastar jar anointing Jesus and after that all hell broke loose in the form of Judas' betrayal, the disciples fleeing, the religious people turning on him, to solitary suffering in the garden. She says, "Lots of ministers want the anointing to pray powerfully, to do all sorts of great things, but do they want the anointing for their burial? 

    So now I'm thinking...am I willing to be "anointed for our burial?" Could I be anointed to go into the wilderness? To go through a fire? I sooo hate any kind of judgment or snideness from my peers. I HATE rejection. There are kinds of Christianity that are somewhat safe. For instance, the world isn't gonna get into a fight with an Episcopalian -- we American Episcopalians can be pretty trendy and easy-going about stuff like homosexuality, etc. Then there is a Biblical Christianity that is safe for other Biblical Christians: if one goes around being cookie-cutter, conservative, "normal," "happy," and "thorns in the flesh," cake-bakes, prosperity and doesn't talk about stuff like too much about extreme stuff like deliverance, the evils of the conservatives as well as the progressives, the evils of American imperialism, healing the sick, raising the dead, not loving the world or the things in it, etc...

    Also thinking -- cause I have a morbid streak-- if God were to tell me I was to die...would he anoint me in a way that enables me to accept it and go through the valley of the shadow of death normally.

    As a Christian writer, I guess there is a kind of anointing that can come. But if one is a Christian writer --or even a regular person-- who wants to speak of certain unsafe things.... that anointing is definitely necessary. 

     "Father God, let me do what I need to do so I can be who you want me to be so I can write the stories you want me to write. Remove from me the fear of man and let me be anointed for dying to self and to this world. I ask all this in Jesus' name. Amen." 

    Resolution: No more silence before my accusers

    I have a very bad habit which has caused me much trouble over the years. Weird thing is, this troublesome habit which causes me trouble is something I do to avoid trouble. Must think, must think.

    I tend to be silent before my accusers. (I'm talking about friends in real life, not internet folks whom I can always snap at.) The thing is I hate disagreeing with folks.

    This isn't the sane spiritual thing of "not railing against a person" or "returning tit for tat" or behaving like Jesus who opened not His mouth when accused or turning the other cheek. It's nothing that sane. My problem is  sitting still (or standing still) in utter silence while someone accuses you of something you have not done (or someone projects something onto you that you aren't.) I'll admit that when I was a teenager, I thought that sitting around being accused was the spiritual sane thing to do. But I wasn't spiritually sane then, I was bullied and repressed and fearful of challenging the adults around me. But I'm "all growed up now" so why the heck am I still behaving repressed when dealing with other adults? Is it because I don't think I'm an adult in some way? Is it because I am basically a peaceful person and hate arguments? Is it because I want to appear to be a basically peaceful person even with idiots I don't want to remain friends with? And why the heck do I continue to be silent even when I do NOT want to be friends with these accusers? Shouldn't I use the opportunity to totally tell them off and to speak my mind in my own defense? Why can't I open my mouth and defend myself?

    Ah, questions, questions.

    Since this is the year in which I'm aiming to lose my repressions, I really have to work on it. Not that I'm gonna go around writing letters to everyone in the past telling them all about their wrong perceptions of me in the past...but starting now...if anyone accuses me -- demon, friend, family, or foe-- I'm gonna have to speak up.Cause seriously, I have RUINED many a good story by using a plot line to explain myself or to show someone how wrong her projections are. Not that human cruelty makes for awful storywriting, but I can't substitute telling my truth in a novel as a real-life real-time defense

    I remember a day my mother came to visit. I was about 25 maybe. I was reading a Christian book on meditation with the word ecstasy in the title. (Somehow the name "Morton Kelsey" comes to mind but I'm too lazy right now to look up the internet.) My mother saw this book and said with heavy rebuke, "Carole, you shouldn't read dirty books like this."

    Okay, so why didn't I just say "Ma, the book is about Christian mystics like Theresa of Avila." I just stood there. I do that kinda thing ALL the time. I simply allow folks to project onto me or say weird things and I sit there (or stand there.) It's not a religious thing with me. When I'm standing there stunned looking amazed and confused (which my accusers interpret as guilt) I don't think: "Oh, look how spiritually patient I'm being with this person who is assuming stuff about me and projecting this weird thing on me." NOPE. I think, "What is wrong with me? Why can't I open my mouth and defend myself?"

    Ah, me, what a life? At fifty-two trying to figure out how to stand up for myself? Trying to figure out not to be stressed when I open my mouth to some cruel (or not so cruel) person projecting their crap all over me? Ah me, better late than never. God, I'm trusting you to help me on this. Cause even Jesus defended Himself to some folks. And I'm not gonna wait til I'm dead and resurrected for projectors to see that they wronged me.

    Now, back to revising Constant Tower....which is all about a kid who at least defends himself.

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