Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Gravitational Pull: An Illustratration of Being Converted to True Center

We all have a point of view. We look out at our world in every direction, and from that location, we are the center. Point of view defines what we mean by “here” and “there.” It is implied in our prepositions, such as “away from” – me, and “toward” – me.

Point of view rules in our relationships. We think of people in terms of how they relate to “me.” He is “my brother,” or “my neighbor.” We come to see people as friends or enemies, depending on how they treat us. We categorize them according to what we ourselves have experienced from them, for instance, “that boy is really mean,” meaning, of course, that that boy is really mean to me.

And so the contruct of our universe places ourselves at the center; we are, indeed, self-centered. And I would like for you to imagine that your universe has a gravitational pull, toward the center, toward yourself. Even the divine is evaluated and defined in terms of your gravitational pull. When we believe, we pull him in; and when we want to be left alone, we shut him out.

But when a person comes to Christ; when the reality and significance of Christ dawns upon him or her (cf. John 1; Colossians 1; Hebrews 1), the Bible describes something that happens in one’s own human, personal experience. He/she experiences conversion, including repentance and faith: a turning from a set of viewpoints and beliefs and behaviors, and a turning toward a Person, Jesus Christ.

This person realizes that he/she is not the center, but Christ is, and that gravitational pull is found, not in me, but in Him. And so we stop praying to ourselves (“do better, do better, do better”). We stop depending upon ourselves (“try harder, try harder, try harder”). We stop doing things merely for ourselves (“I want, I want, I want”). This is conversion.

But then, those who are Christians may be willing to admit, there seems to be a problem in our everyday experience: partial conversion. We worship Christ, but we continue to throw (quite) a few honor-offerings our own way as well. We religously differentiate mankind as either saved or lost, but we still really evaluate people on how they react to us. There seems to be at least as much gravitational pull toward ourselves as there is toward the True Center.

This can’t be good. It is inconsistent. It introduces tremendous dissonance into our lives, between what we say we believe, and how we actually behave. I think this has been called, “hypocrisy,” two-faced, but in terms of gravitational pull, two-poled.

Are you half-converted? Yes, if you are a believer in Christ, both a saint, but still a sinner. A half-believer? No, not in your religious confessions, but yes, in your practical behaviors. And we pray for a full conversion; for a mature faith; for a relief from the tension between Him and me.

We don’t convert ourselves. But we seek a more complete conversion. Having already trusted in the redeeming work of Christ, we seek to open our hearts to the conviction of the Spirit of God, who will lead us into greater, ongoing repentance; and we invite the promising Spirit to grow our faith, to expand our appreciation of Christ, and to blow out the false limits of and contradictions to our honor of Him. We humbly ask God that we might experience a more complete conversion of comprehension: “to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth” (Ephesians 3:18 ESV) of His gravitational pull.

Friday, November 21, 2008

On Your Shoulder, or Back?

Is God on your Shoulder?
- or - do you feel like
God is on your Back?

What a difference of perspective! And yet I am afraid that there are many people who feel like God is constantly on their back, and that it is the job of the church to make sure he stays there. It may very well be why some people avoid church. They don’t want to be reminded how they don’t measure up to God’s high and holy standards.

But there is something missing here, since none of us measure up - correct? Why is it that some people find comfort in God, even though they are not perfect, and other’s feel threatened? It comes down to a certain faith-attitude toward God. When a person truly trusts God, then he/she will have a sense of “God on one’s shoulder.” He is there to provide and to protect; to lead in the right path and the guide our very steps. But when one is not willing to trust God, then he/she will have the sense of running from God, always listening for his advancing footsteps.

Perhaps the big dog illustrations will help. The large gentle creature is as gentle as can be so long as you face him and pet him and enjoy his company. But as soon as you begin to run away, the gentle giant barks and begins his pursuit. Same dog; different posture on the part of the person.

Biblically, we find the invitation to draw near to God. As we do so, we are in a position to enjoy all that God will do for us as a gracious and giving God. But the Bible also uses the phrase in that God will draw near, and in that context, He comes in judgment.

So are you pursuing God, and finding the God on your shoulder to be a source of blessing, or is God pursuing you, and you are running so that you can keep your life to yourself?
SJS, 9/02

Thursday, November 06, 2008


Thinking through Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be), by Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck. Moody, 2008

In the Introduction, p.17, the authors refer to a lot of those in the emergent world as “talkers.” I’d like to work on that theme for a little while.

The emergent preoccupation with “conversation” is, in some ways, a reaction to ways in which conservative evangelicals talk past one another. We tend to state our point of view without listening carefully to either the questions, or to other points of view.

Call it conversation if you want, but I’m not sure that emergent leaders are much better at listening than are their more conservative counterparts. But, in the current environment, to question the conversation is rude, like ending a phone conversation when it was not you who called. So on it goes, and we find that there is much talking, but little is said. The booksellers are making a bundle, but few of the books are worth re-reading, or keeping.

I struggle to find a Biblical basis for this “conversation.” I’m much more comfortable and confident when a speaker says, “Thus says the Lord.” When God said, “Let there be light,” there was not a conversation. And when God said, “Thou shalt not,” again, He wasn’t asking, “what do you think?” God’s speech is to be met with confession, agreement, and obedience. Why all the conversation?

I understand that there can be fruitful interaction in discussing how to apply principles and graces in the grayness of this world. So I do find that conversation is helpful in this regard. But not in trying to reframe the Biblical material in some way that warps historical theology and redefines classic doctrine. In that case, conversation becomes perversity.

So there must be a difference between prophetic proclamation, and applicational conversation. There must be a difference between humble and ready response to the Word, and the sharing of creatively comfortable points of view that divorce the text from the author’s intent. We cannot be just “talkers.”

I cam across a fascinating passage in Ezekiel about prophetic speech, and the people’s contemporary (then, and now) response.

““As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD.’ And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”” (Ezekiel 33:30-33 ESV)

So I agree with the authors, that much of emergent-ville amounts to swarms of words. And incessant talking only serves to further cheapen words, and lead poor listeners to be even poorer.

But as I said in the first post in this series, my main goal is not to critique the group being critiqued, but to use the book to ask, “what can I learn about myself, and the weaknesses and dangers to which conservative evangelicals are prone?”

As a pastor, I’m a talker. I talk a lot. And I’m sensitive to the fact that people sit and listen to me talk. But I don’t want to be just a “talker.”

• We become mere talkers when we preach our opinions rather than the substance of God’s Word.

• We become mere talkers when we preach doctrine that is unrelated to life; when we dump loads of information without demonstrating its significance and application.

• We become mere talkers when we repeat our Biblical formulations and doctrinal statements by rote, without thinking about how this material is being received.

• We become talkers when we use philosophical or technical language that may impress, but does not lead to understanding. There is a certain kind of understanding that requires the work of God’s Spirit, but there is also a kind of understanding that happens when the speaker is speaking your language.

• We become mere talkers when we refuse to listen carefully to the questions people are asking. Now it is true that, at times, people ask the less pertinent question. And there is then the responsibility and opportunity to direct people to the better, more telling question. But all of this requires listening.