Sunday, September 07, 2008

My Paradigm Shift: Part II

My first paradigm shift had to do with losing my politics, after that it was time to lose my religion. Not lose my faith but rather those things that we use to help hold up or faith. In my case I would say that it was modern conservative protestant evangelicalism. It all started with a simple question. I remember the conversation clearly, sitting around our dining room table talking with a friend who was seriously looking into Eastern Orthodoxy (he has since joined the Eastern Orthodox Church). The question that we discussed in our conversation was, "Why is it that we accept the canon of scripture, the 66 books in the protestant Bible (I say protestant because the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles include the Apocrypha so they have a few more Old Testament books), so why do we accept this canon of scripture decided by a Church council in AD 393, yet reject so many of the traditions handed down by these same church leaders?"

I have to admit that this question threw a wrench in so many "givens" that I had accepted and believed to be true or false my entire life. For example, these same church leaders prayed to the saints of old, baptized their infants, believed that the bread and wine were more than just a symbol of Christ, they used icons and liturgies in their worship, they had a strict hierarchy of Church structure... all things that I had grown up rejecting. In this new light it seemed like great arrogance to throw off the traditions of your forefathers who were godly and intelligent men.

So was I wrong to not only ignore these 1700 year old traditions but hold some of them with contempt? This kicked off a year long journey of studying the Eastern Orthodox faith and traditions. It was actually a very difficult time spiritually for me. I felt that if I continued down this path, a large part of the faith of my youth could be proven wrong. It wasn't like I was considering converting to Islam or Buddhism or something, it was essentially the same faith, but yet very different.

I started meeting with 3 other guys every Monday night, not as a Bible study, but simply with the purpose of discussing spiritual ideas. One of them was already Orthodox and had in fact lived as a monk in California for a year, the other was my friend I mentioned earlier who was at the time pursing Orthodoxy and another guy who was protestant, but not attending a specific church at the time.

The group, which I still attend, has since grown to about 8 regulars and maybe 6 or so other guys who come semi-regularly. One of the reasons I love this group so much is because we discuss things that after 25 years of Bible studies, Sunday school, sermons, youth groups and Bible College I have never talked about before. We talked about things like: the "River of Fire" (which I hope to discuss in a later post), the nature of Salvation (it is much broader than I ever imagined), justification & sanctification, saints of old, monasticism, veneration of saints, the contrast of American Christendom with Eastern Orthodoxy, etc...

For me it was and is a place of fellowship and learning. I was there to broaden my horizons and see my faith in a new light. I wasn't there to debate them. I would ask questions until I understood and we would discuss things but I never argued with them, that wasn't what it was about for me.

Just to name a few topics... it has deconstructed my idea of Salvation, a topic which I think tends to be shallow here in America. It has completely redefined my view of Hell and Justification and in so doing completely changed my view of Gods wrath, which in itself has had great practical implications upon my life. It has also opened my eyes to the importance of the incarnation.

I have now worked on this post on 4 separate occasions in about as many weeks and I am afraid I am loosing my focus, soooo to sum it up: One of the main reasons I was attracted to Eastern Orthodoxy was that it had so much depth, and I felt like modern evangelicalism was so shallow. Evangelicalism itself is only limited to about 100 years, and protestantism to around 500, everything between the book of Revelation and Martin Luther is largely overlooked, because they prayed to Mary. Eastern Orthodoxy has a full 2000 years of deep contemplation, reflection and tradition. It is very sad how so much of Christianity ignores that. Instead we are concerned about the latest trends and the newest books. Even though most of us would mock the gospel of "Health and Wealth", this lie of a doctrine has infiltrated most of Evangelicalism to one point or another. We have books like The Prayer of Jabez and How to be a Better You. We ignore deep and moving prayers of the past because "prayer should be from the heart", but instead we are stuck praying to "Father Weejus". You know, "Father, we jus' ask you to bless us today. And we jus' pray that you will be with us..."

Anyway, I am starting to rant and get preachy. Please don't take any of that the wrong way. I have been there and I am still struggling to get out of it. I am so thankful for The Wheatland Mission. It is amazing how God brought us to a group of people who are all somewhere along the same path, who also are tired of shallowness. God has brought us to a place where "Deep calls to deep". Not that I am there, but I think that is part of the point, at least now I know I am not there.

My Paradigm Shift: Part I

"What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man's spiritual history will positively  demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God.  Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.  

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like.  We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God...

Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, 'What comes into your mind when you think about God?' we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man."

-A.W. Tozer
"The Knowledge of the Holy"

I think the above quote is a good place to start in journaling my spiritual journey.  I have grown up in the Church, for which I am very thankful for, but that comes with a lot of baggage.  I first realized that sometime in the fall of 2006.  I think up until that point of time most of my spiritual growth had been simply building upon past ideas, one block upon another.  Some of the blocks weren't square though, some were starting to crumble.  So, I needed to go back, or rather God did, and replace some of the blocks, repair others, and completely remove some.

The first block that needed replacing was my narrow understanding of what it meant to be a Christian.  I read Don Millers book Blue Like Jazz.  It was in this book that I first realized (sadly) that you didn't have to be a conservative republican to be a Christian.  Shocking, I know, not everyone has to believe or think like me politically, socially and even religiously.  I am not saying that all roads lead to heaven.  In fact, most lead to hell.  But I don't think that it is defined as I always believed.

What I am saying is that you can believe in big government, high taxes, gay marriage, weak national defense (although no one would claim that one),  socialized health care, evolution, and radical environmentalism and still follow Jesus.  In fact you can believe in those things because you follow Jesus.  I used to think that you might be able to believe those things in spite of following Jesus, but not have those views informed by your faith.

This of course led me to the question of just how involved in politics we should even be as Christians.  Lets face it, politics, bureaucrats, and elected officials, no matter what party they are from are NOT going to change the world, not for the better anyway.  I honestly believe there is only one thing that can change the world for good and that one thing is LOVE.  I know it sounds like a hippy thing to say but it is not the weak kind of love that I think of when I think of "hippy love".  It is strong and unrelenting, unconditional, self sacrificing, always giving and never taking and it is extremely personal.  Politics is none of those things.  Politics is about power and control.  Love is about dying to oneself for the gain of the object of love.  The world is changed not by the power of politicians and world leaders but by the love that comes from a servants heart, of course the ultimate example of this came from love incarnate, Jesus.

So my conclusion in this first step of my paradigm shift is that God is not so concerned about peoples politics and so I should be  much more open and accepting of people with opposing political and social beliefs.  As a result I went from being a political junkie to caring very little about politics.

I wrote more about Faith and Politics back in this blog post

Friday, August 01, 2008

On Second Thought

I have considered annihilating this blog several times in the past and more so recently. I look back at some of the things I have written and cringe. Not only that but I flat out disagree with some of it. Many of my beliefs have changed in the last year and a half. I hope matured. For now though, I have decided to revive this blog without deleting it. Maybe it will help someone to see my transition. Unfortunately, I didn't blog much of it for a couple of reasons. First, I didn't blog about it out of fear of freaking people out, or being called a heretic. Second, I hadn't fully processed everything I was going through so it was hard to express or put in words, probably still is. That of course, would only lead to more misunderstanding and excommunication.

It is easy on my personal blog to post pictures of the kids and talk about funny story's from work, but it is hard to bare my heart. My wife has always been better at that. This is why I started this blog though, to go deeper than just posting funny youtube video's or discussing news events.

So I guess I will try. Try to communicate the change that has happened in my life and is still happening. Try to explain what shook my faith in who God is and what my relationship to him should be. Try to show how I have come out on the other side better for it. I had a lot of beliefs that held me down like chains wrapped around me. They made perfect sense, I could explain them logically and defend them boldly. I had a lot more answers back then. I guess I have gotten dumber over the last year and a half, but I would rather live wondering what the truth of heaven is than putting faith in a lie from hell.

I am sure my vagueness is annoying, but if you have bothered reading this far, then please understand that it took me months and months of wrestling with God and truth to come to what few answers I have now. There is no possible way that I can cram that in a few short paragraphs here. I will say this for now... God is much better than I ever dreamed he was and, to borrow a phrase from someone else, I am gratefully disillusioned.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Does prayer work?

I just heard a clip of someone asking Senator and Presidential hopeful John Edwards if he thought prayer works. He said he didn't think so. He prayed before his son died and he prayed before his wife was diagnosed with cancer to no avail either time. So prayer doesn't work. I have to commend him for his honesty and I can't imagine the pain that his answer came from.

I don't write this to condemn him in any way but rather to condemn the question. When people ask "does prayer work?", what do they mean by "work"? They mean do you get what you want. But God isn't a genie in a bottle granting wishes and the better you are or the more you pray the more wishes you get answered. Prayer isn't about getting what you want or about getting God to do what you want. Prayer is about a relationship with God. Thats like asking "does talking with your wife work?". Assuming nothing is wrong with her hearing, of course it works, she hears me and as a result of our talking our relationship grows. Just as talking with Jenny is my way of connecting with her so praying with God is my way of connecting with him. So does prayer work to connect with God and grow closer to him? Yes.

Now if I came home from work and said, "Jenny, thank you for being my wife and for all the things you do, please do the dishes, vacuum and cook dinner. I love you, bye." then I went downstairs and watched TV... in that case you might say that "talking" didn't work. If that is how I talk to my wife then not only will I not get what I asked for, but it won't bring us closer together either. So will prayers like this "work"? No.

On the other hand when we face hardship and we pray like Jesus "Lord please let this cup pass from me, but not my will be done but rather yours." Instead of only asking for healing or for the situation to be changed we open ourselves up to seeing how God is working through this pain or trial. We begin to see how Gods Kingdom is moving forward and how we can line ourselves up with Gods perfect will. We may not always find answers in this but we will find peace.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Prayer of Saint Francis

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.



On another yet similar note I heard a speaker on the radio on Saturday (sorry I can't remember the name) say how, as Christians, we all like to be called servants but few of us like to be treated as a servant. He gave the example of how when he was scheduled to speak at a national conference he noticed on the printed schedule with all of the other speakers it gave their PH D's and other credentials but for him it only had his name. He felt slighted because he too had the same education as these other guys. Then he was convicted of his pride in wanting to get the credit that he deserved and realized that servant hood is just something that we do but it is an attitude of selflessness.

It really struck me with my own life. I don't like to be treated like a servant. It is one thing to do an act of service out of the "kindness of my heart" but it really grates me to be treated like a servant. It wounds my self worth I suppose. I think when I do an act of service voluntarily I am still in control, but when I am treated poorly like a servant I feel out of control and devalued.

Jesus humbled himself to not only wash the feet of the disciples but then to allow himself to be handed over to the Jews by Judas and then to the Romans by the Jews, to be beaten, spit on, mocked and crucified. Jesus "Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant..."

Wednesday, February 21, 2007


I haven't had much to say lately. Been a little dry, a little busy, a little sick... I will say this though. I have noticed a pattern in my personal life that the closer I am to God the more of a sinner I realize I am, the farther away from God the more of a "good guy" I think I am. Of course at either position I would tell you the same with my mind and my lips, that "I am a wretched sinner undeserving of anything good, thank God for his mercy and grace." But during the time that I am more distant from my savior the less I feel the above statement in my heart or live it with my life.

I think this pattern is probably true for everyone. Scripture shows at least two incidents that I can think of right off. The first is of Isaiah when he finds him self caught up in the temple of God in Heaven and when he sees the Lords glory he falls down on his face and says:
“Woe is me! For I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for my eyes have seen the King, Yahweh of Armies!” -Isaiah 6
Then again when Jesus has just finished preaching to the masses from Peters boat and then upon Jesus' word Peter catches so many fish that the boat begins to sink...
But Simon Peter, when he saw it, fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, Lord.” Luke 5:8
The other day I was driving past a Raytheon building, like I do at least 4 times a day almost everyday. Only this time I saw something I had never noticed before... the little tiny doors on the side to get in. I realized that the building is set farther back from the road then I had previously thought and the doors gave me perspective as to how big the building really was compared to a person. It was much bigger than I realized, not ginormous or anything but what I thought was a 2-3 story warehouse was actually closer to a 5-6 story warehouse.

Sometimes I see myself a lot bigger or better than I really am and then I catch a glimpse of God, gain some perspective and see just how small I really am in comparison to him.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Changing the world...

"I can't change the world but I can change the world in me... if I rejoice" Bono sings on the U2 album October. If the journey of a thousand miles starts with one step then changing the world starts with one man. Don Miller in his book Blue Like Jazz talks about being at a political protest of the president with a friend. He was there for poverty in Africa but he was surrounded by a variety of protesters with a variety of causes. By the time the day was done he came to the realization that he hadn't done anything to help poverty in Africa so why should he demand it of others. He realized that he was a hypocrite and wished that he could carry a sign that said "I AM THE PROBLEM!"

I have still been contemplating the question of should politics and religion mix and if so how. Unfortunately, rather than coming to a conclusion it is more like I have come to the first step to ascend a stair case. I believe that yes politics and religion should mix and in fact have to, but certainly not in the common way that they are mingling now. The answer as to how is the first step at the bottom of the stair case. It is by speaking the truth in love. The Church loves to speak the truth but often not in love. The next question is, "how is that carried out?" I have a decent idea of how love should play out in our personal lives, but how it should work in politics seems more problematic or complex. I know the principles are the same but the details elude me at this point. Until I come to a less ephemeral answer I will leave you with the below passage from an essay entitled "How To Save Western Civilization: C.S. Lewis As Prophet"
"It is good to work for peace in whatever social and political ways really do work, whether this means working for disarmament or for stronger armaments. We do not know with certainty which way will work best on the political level (though we nearly always claim we do). But we do know with certainty (because God himself has told us) what will work on the spiritual level, and we also know that that level cuts deeper and works at the roots. So to anyone who is concerned with peace and with the life and survival of our civilization, here is a summary in a single paragraph of what I have learned from my master C.S. Lewis:

"Sodom and Gomorrah almost made it. If God had found but ten righteous men, he would have spared two whole cities. Abraham's intercession nearly saved Sodom, and it did save Lot. We must be Abrahams. Charles Williams said that 'the altar must often be built in one place so that the fire from Heaven may come down at another.' It is also true that the altar must be built and prayer and sacrifice made at one place so that the fire from Hell may not come down at another. It can be done. The most important thing each of us can do to save the world from holocaust and from Hell, from nuclear destruction and from spiritual destruction, is the most well-known, most unoriginal thing in the world: to love God with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

"You the individual can make a difference. You can be the straw that breaks the camel's back, the vote that wins the election. You can save the world."

Monday, December 18, 2006

Deserving Death?

Do we really understand the consequenses of our own sins? Do we truly believe in our hearts that we deserve death because of our sin? For some that may be easier to believe than others. I have never killed or seriously hurt someone. I have never broken up a marriage or stolen money from anyone. I have never done any of the really bad things that we think about being serious sins. It is hard to believe that I still deserve death. In my mind I know it is true, but in my heart...

How can we as a Church convince the world that they are in desperate need of a Saviour, that their life depends upon it, if I can't convince myself that I truly am a wretched and miserable man that deserves death? Sometimes I know it is true more than others; there are times when I come face to face with my own black heart and come close to understanding the depth of my own wickedness, but most of the time I just make excuses for myself.