Saturday, September 29, 2007

why do you call me good?

So there’s this new book out by Chip Ingram called Good to Great. It’s about, in his words, the only way the church is going to become the church, what it’s supposed to be, is if leaders and mature Christians take it to the next level. And so “good to great” is about getting to the next level. And personally, I like the idea of taking it up a notch.

The problem I have with this is, or the confusion I have, is this. There was this guy who went to Jesus and he addresses him, “Good Teacher”. And then Jesus says, whoa, hold on there. Why do you call me good? Because there is only one who is good, and it’s God.

So, I mean, Jesus looked out and he said, look, there’s no good people, there’s only one who’s good. It’s God. I know people who I would like to call good people, but can I? I know there are pockets of good in all of us, and I think it’s like a preview, a foretaste, a share of the divine nature. A helping. But is anybody only always good? To Jesus, nobody’s good. Nobody’s truly good. Except for God.

But this book is supposed to take us beyond good to great.

So what’s my problem?

I think somebody’s response to me about all this would be, “Steve, you’re harping on semantics. We’re not talking about nobody’s perfect (and that’s clearly what Jesus was talking about—no one is perfect), but we’re talking about good as in, “It’s good, you know, but it could be better.”

My question to that is: When did good get a downgrade? When did being good become less than being great? When did being good become less than being perfect? When did being good become less than being right? Who came up with the phrase, “a good thing is the enemy of the right thing” (the right thing being the greatest)?

When did good get a downgrade?

Because clearly to Jesus, good was not second place. There was only One who is good. There are all kinds of people that do things right, that do things well, that do things beautifully, but to Jesus there’s only one who’s really, truly good.

Jesus didn’t say there’s only One who is perfect. Actually, in another situation he said, “You be perfect, for your heavenly father is perfect”. So he does expect that some can be perfect.

But good…

Good, Jesus holds in highest honor. Jesus reveres Good. He says, “There’s only one who is good. Why do you call me good?”

So my question to Chip is, “Why do you call me good?”

the radio goes to heaven again

So this morning Dr. Ed Young, whom I believe is the father of Megapastor Ed Young, is preaching a series on heaven, “the realm of eternal rewards". Not heaven the realm of God. Not heaven the realm of holiness. Not heaven the realm of goodness. But heaven the realm of eternal rewards.

And his interpretation of heaven is that it’s the place and time where you get all the rewards. It’s like a homecoming where you get recognized and rewarded.

He told a story about a missionary in years gone by who was on the same boat as the President of the United States whenever he arrived back from an overseas life in mission work. And there was all this fanfare for the President, and when he and his sick wife get off the boat, there’s no fanfare, nobody there to meet them, so he goes back to his hotel room to pray about that, the bitterness (which was a good idea). And God says to him, “but you’re not home yet.” Which is a moving story. And…it’s true. You’re not home yet. Why are you worried about not getting the praise of men? You’re not home. Your only home is me. But I don’t think that’s the way the doctor was looking at it. He was talking about it as in “You’re not home yet, because you haven’t died, you haven’t got your castle in the sky.”

So today he’s talking about heaven. The same heaven the other radio preachers have been talking about—the one that is for dead saints. And he brings up the story Jesus told of (bizarre enough!) the owner of the vineyard at harvest time who goes out and finds the workers. He finds the first workers and he promises to pay them a day’s wages, and then he goes back into town, makes another round and picks up some more workers, and he goes back into town to get even more workers, and he goes back into town however many times. The last crew he picks up an hour before sundown, and they come out for an hour and do the work, and he pays them a denarius. He pays them all a denarius. And then the first workers, who got paid last, so they got to see everybody else and how much they got paid, as if to RUB IT IN THEIR FACE, the owner of the vineyard pays them a denarius, one day’s wages, just like he promised them. He gave every single person the same exact reward.

And so this guy, Ed Young’s application of that, Dr. Ed Young, is…everybody gets heaven.

Everybody gets heaven.

So, you may serve your life faithfully for 30 years as a Christian, as a believer, 50, 100 years, and then some guy just accepts Christ at the last minute and gets in, and he’s going to get the same reward. He’s going to get heaven, too. He’s going to get to go to heaven. And you’re going to go, “Dude, how come he gets heaven, the same as me?”

He actually told a story about a man to whom he had witnessed for 10 years, trying to get him to accept Christ, and the guy “played games with God,” and “played games with the church”, and wouldn’t accept Christ. But then he got cancer, and 3 months before he died, he actually accepted Christ. He said the guy lived an incredible 3 months for Christ. He was a man of influence, and he used his influence and lived a great 3 months, whatever that means. But for 3 months? That’s all? He gets to go to heaven, too? (Note: I noticed that he didn’t say there was a guy on death row who just raped and murdered a handful of women, and he accepts Christ from the chaplain right before they throw the switch, but he did mention that there was this guy, and he was a “man of influence”, for 3 months. I wonder if he would have told about Jeffrey Dahmer, to whom it’s said that Dr. James Dobson witnessed and he accepted Christ while on death row…)
Anyway, the story of the workers in the field has nothing to do with the afterlife and the place where you go to get rewarded.

Oh! Before I go on… His applications were 3. He said this parable teaches you how to work for God: (1) You need to “invest” in God. The first guys, the ones who ended up bitter, came and worked their contract, whereas the later ones came out and just freely worked. They didn’t have a contract. They just trusted in God’s goodness. (2) You need to “prime the pump”, which is like a corollary to investing in God and trusting in him. Prime the pump because if you will work sometimes without having a guarantee on the table, it will come back to you and pay you dividends. (Prime the pump I think refers to giving in faith when you’re not receiving anything, in the hopes of a future return—I think he was referring to story #2 on this page) (3) And finally, it was this idea of not working for God in a contractual relationship, but trusting that God will reward you with what is—what he called—fair.

Ok, the parable is not about rewards. At all. I know us plain folks don't see all the story, but the doctor is looking at it backwards, from the reverse angle, from the same angle as the religious people Jesus was trying to reorient. Jesus is not trying to say, “You gotta trust God, and this is how it goes. You just gotta trust God and he’ll give everyone what is fair, because everybody deserves the same thing. You all get to go to heaven.” But this is how this parable gets filed. This parable gets thrown in to the conversation about heaven (the realm of rewards after you die), and it’s part of where this theory of heaven comes from. “Look, it’s all just about, did you say yes to God (in Jesus), and if you did you go to heaven and that’s perfect. That’s all. That’s the ultimate.” But that’s not at all what Jesus is talking about.

Jesus makes clear what the story is about. Jesus says this parable is about greed. Envy. The master comes to these people at the last and they complain. They say, “We worked the whole day, and we only got paid the same as them.” And the master says, “Don’t I have the right to do what I want with what is mine, or is my generosity making you envious?” As the KJV says, “Is thine eye evil because I am good?” It’s a stark contrast, isn’t it? Maybe even ironic. Certainly tragic.

Jesus is not trying to teach people what it’s like to die and go to heaven and get fairly rewarded. Not at all. What he’s trying to teach us about is how heaven is. Now. Heaven is like a generous vineyard owner. God is generous. And if you don’t take to generosity then you’re not going to take to heaven. So, if you’re concerned about the unfairness of God in dealing with people (he’s too generous), then you need to check and see what’s going on with your greed, your evil eye. And if you’re quite ok with your greed, the message of this story to you is that you’re going to miss out on heaven. If you’re not happy with the generosity of God, you’re not happy with the way heaven is. You’re not understanding God. You’re not abiding in heaven. You’re not inheriting eternal life.

The whole thing is about the generosity of God. This is how God is. This is what the kingdom of heaven is like. It’s like generosity. Do you like that? No? Then you don’t really want to inherit eternal life. You don’t really like the heaven that is available to you, even now. Jesus would say, the reason you don’t like me is because you’re greedy. You don’t like that I’m coming and offering something to sinners. This is the source of your woes, not the Romans.

One final observation. There are only a couple of places where I read about Jesus saying, “The kingdom of heaven will be like…” Mostly he said, “The kingdom of heaven is like…”

Friday, September 28, 2007

the radio goes to hell again, part iii

And another problem with the theory that heaven is the place to go when you die if you have confessed Jesus as your personal savior....

The end justifies the means. It seems to authorize Christians to do whatever they want to do in the name of saving souls. It's like this trump card. I can make outrageous claims, beg, plead, cajole, pressure, exhaust financial resources, creatively interpret the truth, even lie to people because their situation is so dire (they'll go to hell and be tortured for a trillion years if they don't accept Jesus as their personal savior). It's all in the name of it being worse for that person to go to hell when they die than to suffer me right now and my antics.

This preacher on the radio the other day was saying that people give him this excuse when he tells them they need to evangelize: "Well, you can never know for sure who's going to heaven, so I'll just leave that to God." His response to these lazy Christians is, "It's true that we don't know who IS going to heaven when they die, but we can absolutely know who is NOT—it's the person who will not submit to your assertion that there is only one way to the Father." (Note for a future post: what a bizarre infatuation we have with "knowing for sure" - a very modern age philosophy to be sure. Like what? we can't live unless we know for sure?)

To me it's one thing if you are a true evangelist, if you have a passion for people to know Jesus, to be saved, as Rose said, "in every way a person can be saved". It's quite another if you have set up a hyperlogical scheme of prosecuting unbelief. And I'm pretty sure I smell some control issues and some power grabs there anyway.

But I have even a bigger problem than all the abuse....

My bigger problem with heaven being the eternal home of the dead is the whole idea of a reunion of the inhabitants (Christians).

I don't know if your experience is like mine, but there's all kinds of Christians who hate me, who do all kinds of things to hurt me, who snub me, who abuse me, abandon me, or who won't associate with me for whatever reason. And I know other Christians who have just been incredibly abused by other Christians, divorced by them, beaten by them, raped by them, murdered by them, you fill in the blank. Everything has been done. And to me, none of those are as bad as, "Well, we just see things differently, and so we won't be with you any more." I would rather you murder me.

And I just wonder, how does THAT work? So, I die and go to heaven because I did the legal transaction with Jesus while I was alive. And you die and go to heaven because you did the thing with Jesus while you were alive. And then, even though you won't talk to me here, and you have anxiety attacks that you might accidentally run into me somewhere, when we get to heaven, we're suddenly just going to be one big happy family? No wait. Not even one family, we're going to be ONE? even as Jesus and the Father are One?

If we don't go to heaven now and embrace each other now, what's going to be different after we die?

If the thing that's important is who's right, who's in the right, and who ought to submit to the other one, when is the magic moment? I mean is God going to come to along in heaven after we die and smack one of us on the head and say, "They were right. And so to make you one I'm going to put you in submission to them; you'll serve them for a trillion years, because, you know, you blew it. You had your chance. Yes, you're in heaven, but they were right. And now you have to admit that and they get to gloat for a trillion years."? I mean if that's what it is, how does that work?

It seems to me that Jesus was more concerned with, "Settle things quickly. Do it now. Don't wait. Life does not begin after you die. Life is now. Let the dead bury the dead. You live."

I don't know. I guess us plain folks don't see all the story.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

the radio goes to hell again, part ii

The problem with heaven being “the place you go if you die when you know Jesus” or as the evangelicals remind us, “when you die if you know Jesus” is…it’s such a small view of heaven, and it rejects the real heaven. The thing is, heaven is everywhere. It is all around. It affects everything. It flows in and out of every good deed, every act of godliness and love everywhere. It embraces everything. It pervades everything. It is in all, and through all. It’s here, it’s now, it’s past, it’s present, it’s future, it’s everything.

And so when you say, “Everyone needs to accept Jesus as their personal savior so that they’ll go to heaven when they die”, you are rejecting every other instance of heaven, except for the one you’re in after you die, wherever that happens to be. You’ve never seen it, experienced it, Jesus didn’t even really talk about it (except in the vaguest and most enigmatic terms). That’s the real problem.

And because you are rejecting heaven, you’re winding up with all kinds of unheavenly things…like a divorce rate that’s higher in the church than it is in the secular world, out of the church. Priests and pastors in these heinous sexual sins and crimes. Like, just bizarre stuff. Because heaven really hasn’t come to all those places.

Just like it hasn’t come to all of my life, and my domain. There are places in my life where I am not holy, where I have not been swept into heaven, been rescued from sin, and been given the peace that comes only in heaven. There are places. But I’m looking for heaven. I want heaven to sweep me away, to take over, to baptize me, to immerse me in goodness and holiness, in righteousness. I’m not writing it off to “oh well, it’ll just…someday when I die, then I’ll be perfected”. That is totally anti-Christ. Jesus talked about heaven, this heavy way to live, where you can experience the rule and the reign of God now. The rule and reign of God is awesome. You’ve never known what a real and good king, and the pleasure and joy and peace and satisfaction and freedom he brings until you’ve known…until you’ve been to heaven. There’s no abuse. There’s no abuse of power, no abuse of priviledge. It’s amazing.

But the thing is people put heaven off. And so you get people that casually divorce each other and abandon friends, that bail on people, that just act completely selfishly, and do other things that we’re tempted to say, “Oh it’s just a weakness of theirs”, but they end up hurting other people. Anyway, that’s another story.

Monday, September 24, 2007

the radio goes to hell again

If I hear one more radio preacher say that Jesus talked more about hell than he did heaven I am going to puke. Jesus only talked about heaven. Everything Jesus said and did was heaven. It is all he offers us. Sometimes I get the impression from being around Christians that they think Jesus offers not only heaven, but also blessing and forgiveness and riches and abundance and a whole list of other things. Healing. Success. Conviction. Service. A long list. And when I engage that ideology, I get...tired. So many things to choose from. Do I get it all? Or do I decide which? Does he decide which?

Jesus only offers heaven. That's it. Heaven is way bigger and way more beautiful and way more real than these people make it.

When you talk about heaven as a real place somewhere else, and when you talk about hell as a real place somewhere else, you betray yourself. Your underwear is showing. You show how fragmented your belief in God is. You show that you think something called heaven is important, but so is paying bills and getting enough exercise and not flirting. The problem with this is that Jesus had no compartments. He wasn't concerned at all with paying bils or getting enough exercise or flirting.

Everywhere Jesus went he took heaven with him. This is why there is always a halo above his head in every painting.

All he talked about was heaven. When he talked about the chasm separating Lazarus and the rich man, and when he talked about the wedding feast, and when he talked about virgins, and when he talked about lost sheep and coins and people, he was talking about heaven. If you want to know where heaven is, look around. If you want to know where hell is, look around. You don't have to wait until you die. And you don't have to wonder what it is like. Ask someone who has been raped. Ask someone who has been cherished. Ask someone who has been bludgeoned by New Testament Law. Ask someone who has had their bills paid by someone who cared.

It's pretty easy to figure it out really. When God reveals himself somehow - whether through nature or by Jesus' words or whatever - everything that embraces him is in heaven, and everythying that refuses him is in hell. All the talk about judgment is just another way of saying that someday God will get to the end of his rope for letting the masquerade go on, and then everyone will be seen for who they are and for what they've been doing. The notion that sinners will be judged and Christians get off with their "get out of jail free" card is hogwash. Everything will be revealed.

I am certainly not convinced that Jesus promised that everyone who believes in him will go to a place called heaven when they die, where there are bizarre hybrid creatures and stuff made of gold and precious jewels.

I am certainly not convinced that Jesus promised that everyone who rejects him will go to a place called hell when they die, where there is pain and torture for a hundred years, a thousand years, a trillion years like the guy said on the radio today.

What I am convinced of is that Jesus lived in a certain way, a way he called heaven, or the kingdom of heaven, or the kingdom of God, or simply God. He lived it in wherever he was before Abraham was born, and he lived it when he was on earth, and he's living it now.

Heaven is the way things really are, not a place to go when you're done here. Hell is the way things become when you have a better idea than heaven.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

number two

There’s this hilarious video on youtube that some guy put together with movie clips form Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s called “Why is the Rum Gone? - REMIX”. To get the full effect, you should watch the 1-or-so minute clip of the original scene, and then the remix, which is easy to do because youtube lines up several other videos to the right that you might be interested in after watching the first (Like they do… Like they brilliantly do…) One of those is “HARRY POTTER WHY IS THE RUM GONE???”. The interesting thing about it is…they totally just ripped off the first guy’s original music (which was a quite good adaptation on the Pirates of the Carribean movie score) and replaced the first guy’s video with clips from the Harry Potter movies (I suppose…never seen them).

So the guy who had the original idea sees the second clip, and what do you think his response was?

He really had two choices.

One, he could express indignation at the blatant theft of his intellectual property, the product of his thought.

Two, he could be honored that someone enjoyed his creation, and appreciated it to the point of giving it a go on their own.

He chose number two. His exact words were, “Woah...no way!! Somebody spoofed my video! I feel so honored!! Thank you!”

I think God is like number two.

I think the world for the most part is like number one. And I include in the world politicians, celebrities, businesses, megachurches, and Western Christians. Most of what I see is people striving so hard to get ahead, and then protecting their interests. Remember the Flower Mound Pumpkin Patch Feud? This includes an obsession over who gets the credit. I’ve even heard sermons about “God gets the credit” more than twice.

Not only do I like the first guy’s creation. Because of his generosity, I also like the creator.

Regarding God and heaven and faith and hope and love and all that, I want to be like number two, too. Not so God will get the credit. Just because I think God’s production is cool. And because I think I have what it takes to do my own version of it. I know I’m not very good at imitating God most of the time, but I keep coming around to give it another try because I’m holding out for God to say about me, “Whoa…no way! Somebody spoofed my life! I feel so honored!! Thank you!”