So who of you has ever read an article and gotten really excited or really angry over what you were reading, maybe even forwarded it onto someone or posted it on Facebook/social media only to discover that it was either a bogus tabloid article, a "too good to be true" sales pitch, or a fake news story specifically designed to get people wound up and "won over" to their way of thinking? I hate to admit it but I have been "suckered in" on a few occasions which is probably one of the reasons I have a certain level of cynicism and trust issues to this day. And yet, maybe in a good way I am a lot more measured and not (as) prone towards hype and hysteria.
The bottom line is this: people HATE feeling deceived or ripped off. And if we are honest, this carries over into faith, religion, and "church". There have certainly been enough "fake news" stories about phony healing testimonies, preachers embezzling funds, having affairs...to cause people to have their own "trust issues" and cynicism when it comes to God, faith, and the church. Who could blame them?
With that said I am still 100% convinced that "the gospel (good news) of the kingdom" isn't fake at all! But how do we know this for sure? Some might argue that there is no way to know for sure, but for me, some of the questions I ask are: are the poor and downcast being loved and encouraged? Are the hungry being fed? Are the homeless being housed? Are the sick being healed and the blind receiving sight? Are the captives being set free? Once hearing the message, are people more inclined to respond to others in love rather than hate or fear? That's certainly not an exhaustive list but those are a few indicators to let us know if we (as a church as well as individually) are on the right track and if what we are doing falls more under the category of "good news" rather than "fake news".
A Time For Gathering
Does the church experience the "summertime blues" or the "dog days of summer"? Well, I guess if the first thing you think of is programming, then maybe yes, the church does experience a bit of a lull during the summer months as we, along with most other faith communities tend to pull back on programming and activities. BUT, if when we think of "church" things like gathering for fellowship, prayer, teaching, and the breaking of bread immediately comes to mind, then no, other than the week or two we might spend away for a vacation, we shouldn't experience much of a drop-off. In fact, I think there is some considerable merit to giving the overwhelming majority of our time and energy towards those 4 things listed in Acts 2.42 and streamline a lot of the other things that consume our time and resources. I have no desire to see the SPV become the busiest or "most active" church in town (whatever that even means). Instead, I would love to see us be a community of people that worships, learns, breaks bread, and prays together while along the journey ministers to the poor, makes new friends, and fully invests in our families. For me that is the anecdote to "dog days" and "the blues" regardless of the month or season. So with that said I hope to worship, pray, break bread, and learn together with you this Sunday as we start our new series "God on your iPod".
The Kingdom of Heaven is WITHIN YOU!
I apologize in advance that this email will be a little longer than the norm but it is a very important concept that I want to pass along to you so here it goes!
For most of my life I have been on this journey to discover theological truth and get to the heart of what God is truly all about. Sometimes that can be incredibly frustrating because deep down inside I know it's probably not even possible, especially when the old adage becomes true: "the more you know the more you realize how much you don't know." And yet at other times it is exhilarating to learn something new, unpack a concept you've wondered about for a very long time, or to finally connect a couple of dots causing that proverbial "light bulb" to come on.
This past Monday at God & Guinness we read and discussed one of my all-time favorite theological articles (for some extra credit you can read it here if you want: https://www.peteenns.com/fall-augustine-really-screw-everything/). It is amazing to me how (in my opinion) one theological conclusion from 1700 years ago could so deeply and dramatically affect the way we view the world, the way that we view ourselves, and the way we view one another! This one perspective on "the fall" has led to destructive (IMHO) doctrinal positions such as total depravity, the view that people are inherently bad, evil, and even repulsive in God's sight. Efforts have been made to sugarcoat this view with phrases like "when God looks at you he sees Jesus" which sounds kind of nice initially but when you stop and think about it it's like "wow, so how much could God actually love me if he cannot even stand to look at me without his Jesus filter?"
The good news is that if we are proper students of Scripture and with the help of people smarter than us (like Dr. Enns and others) we can learn that there are better and more accurate ways to unpack some of these concepts. Jesus gave us some pretty strong clues that he himself did not buy into such silliness when he said things like "let the little children come unto me for theirs is the kingdom" rather than "let these little grotesque, sin filled, totally depraved heathens come unto me and I'll do my best to tolerate them for a moment!" Jesus also said something incredibly profound when he said: "the kingdom of heaven is within you!" Now how can that even be possible if we are TOTALLY depraved? He didn't say "the kingdom of God CAN be in you"...once I go to the cross and you repent and you grovel and you beg for forgiveness and mercy and if I'm in a good mood then maybe, just maybe I will wash you white as snow and then maybe just maybe I can actually look at you." I know I am being a little silly now but hopefully you get the idea that bad theology can be really really destructive and one of the things that we will continue to do here at the SPV is to challenge and deconstruct some of what I consider to be incredibly harmful and even anti-Jesus theological concepts. I know that has and will get frustrating at times, but I believe with every fiber of my being that doing so is not only necessary but will lead us to a place far away from religion and towards increased freedom, liberty, and agape love. So if ever I talk about something that you don't agree with or I do a poor job of explaining where I'm coming from and you come away feeling more confused rather than enlightened, please do me a favor: 1) forgive me for my heart really is in the right place and 2) just rest in the fact that your heavenly father loves you and that his kingdom really is within you...and he doesn't just love you because when he sees you he's really only looking at Jesus. No, he's really looking at you and he REALLY does LOVE you (and so do I).
Hello SPV Family!
One of our family's favorite sayings is "Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Can't Lose" which we claimed/borrowed/stole from one of our favorite TV shows "Friday Night Lights". I love this because it emphasizes a few things:
1) Clear Eyes: so often we lose sight of the important things because we're too focused on the peripheral, the distractions...choosing to fixate on the lesser and insignificant. I want to be a person who sees clearly and spends my energy on that which is important and lasting.
2) Full Hearts: my heart is very full right now. I've never been more in love with Jesus than I am right now and I'm deeply appreciative of the Lord for the family and friends he's placed in my life. Being anchored in the truth that God IS Love and being surrounded by people who continually choose love (rather than conflict, division, grudges, unforgiveness...) makes for a Full Heart.
3) Can't Lose: while the context of this phrase involves football, points, and winning and losing, it is often followed up with something like "if we do the right things, stay focused on what is important, and have each other's backs, it doesn't matter what the scoreboard says gentlemen, you'll be winners in my book." We need to keep score differently, not based on military conquest, squashing our enemies, padded bank accounts, fame, and who can stay looking youngest the longest. I want winning to be defined by how well we love, the level of our compassion, the depth of our gratitude, and choosing joy at every turn.
Much love, compassion, gratitude, and joy to you winners out there,