Monday, November 21, 2011

Is Hell Occupied?

I received this link from a dear friend.

It's a discussion about whether or not we should love or hate a couple of contemporary writers (C.S. Lewis and Rob Bell). I find it strange that so many spend so much energy worried about other people who think that maybe God's grace is sufficient alone. So many want to believe that heaven is reserved for those with the secret knowledge. It's called gnoticism and the church considered that heresy a long time ago. Salvation is all from God, not an ounce from us. I'm too broken to figure it out. God has to do it. I am so thankful that God is not relying on me one bit to figure out what is needed for salvation. I'm not that smart. Instead I get to bask in the wonder of his grace and yearn to share it with others.

They used to say that the definition of a Puritan is something who is deathly afraid that someone out there is having fun. I'm beginning to wonder if there aren't some of us who are deathly afraid that hell -- as real as it is -- might still be empty. Could it be true?

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

In gratitude for Senator Mark Hatfield

Senator Mark Hatfield died two days ago. He was a 30 year Senator from Oregon and an instrumental person in my life. I was a Political Science major at Westminster College and in my Senior year became Chairperson of the college's Mock Republican National Convention. Admiring from afar the political career of Senator Hatfield, whose Christian conviction had often put him at odds with the Republican party (opposition to the Vietnam War, the arms race, etc.), I took the chance and invited him to be the keynote speaker at the convention. He accepted! We met a few months later at an anti-nuke rally in New York City that we were both attending and discussed his speech. Months following, whenthe convention rolled around, prior to his address we met again and had about a 20 minute conversation. At that time I was considering a career either in politics or in the church. I shared these thoughts with Senator Hatfield and asked him as a Christian in politics what he thought I should do. He said this: " Leadership in the Church has a greater chance to change the world than leadership in politics. If I were you I'd pursue the calling to the Church, before the calling to politics.". Those words came to me at a pivotal moment in my life and greatly impacted my decision to go to seminary and serve the Church. I've never regretted it. Mark Hatfield remained for me a model of a person who was willing to let his Spirit-guided conscience lead him into places where often angels feared to tread. In this age of hyper-partisan politics we should all pray for the likes of Mark Hatfield to appear again. Praise God from whom, and to whom, all blessings flow.

Thursday, June 9, 2011


In our C.S. Lewis reading group we have been looking at The Screwtape Letters and at the end of Letter 8 there is this great line spoken by the Devil's undersecretary, Screwtape, reflecting on the challenges of tempting a human away from the faith. He says, "(Hell's) cause is never more in danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy's (God's) will, looks around upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have fanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys." I have read and reread those lines while preparing my Pentecost sermon and it's gotten me to thinking how the Spirit's power is intended to empower our obedience. We don't have the power to obey God's commands. We don't have the power to obediently walk the path he intends for us. But the Spirit does. We are inclined to want the power for our purposes, but God intends it for our obedience to his will and way of life. Only the Spirit can keep us on course while the evidences of God's presence seem scarce. Sometimes our mere "staying the course" is enough evidence that the Spirit is at hand.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Israel Day 8

Back on American soil. Last day in Israel included a walk down the Mt. of Olives following the Palm Sunday processional. We stopped at the Garden of Gethsemane at the foot of the mountain. Reflected on the great struggle of Jesus to carry out the mission and the great struggle of the disciples just to stay awake. In jesus' greatest moment of need is when he finds himself the most alone. Sometimes you're on your own when God calls you. Bonhoeffer said it well: when Jesus calls us he singles us out and we are on our own to respond. We proceeded to the Old City and walked the Via Dolorosa - the walk to the cross. From there it was to the Upper Room.

After lunch at a nice restaurant in the middle of Jerusalem we went out to the Herodian, Herod the Great's place outside Jerusalem. From the palace walls you can see the town of Bethlehem and the fields of the shepherds. What a juxtaposition! A baby born to peasants in the shadows of the King's palace.

We ended the day with a lovely dinner at the American Colony Hotel.

What do I take away from these days of walking the footsteps of Jesus?

How thankful I am for the chance to step back into the region where God emptied himself and took on the form of a servant. Being there gave me the chance to read and hear so many of the stories again and get connected again to the growing conviction that the mission of Jesus was to reveal the relational core of God by loving the unloveliest parts of us. We know Jesus only as we experience his relational identity and mission.

Ministry is to invite people to be in a relationship with us as we journey with them into a relationship with God. We miss the whole point if we try to bring people into a relationship with God without first seeking a relationship with them ourselves. All people - friends, strangers and enemies. If we can't relate to our fellow human beings, how can we expect them to understand the relational three-person God?

Maybe that's why the Beatitudes spoke to me so much on this trip. Only a relational God would see blessedness this way. Meekness. Mercy. Peacemaking. Poor in Spirit. Mourning. They all speak to our need either to be in relationship with God and/or with others.

Love God. Love Neighbor. Both commandment and commission! This is truly what it means to walk in thee footsteps of Jesus.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Israel Day 7

A day of extremes: began with a walk through the Western Wall tunnel and more interaction with the fevered worship of our Jewish brothers and sisters. Then onto Yad Vashem, the Israel holocaust museum - to be reminded of man's inhumanity to man ... the fevered hatred of one race toward another. Then on to the Israel Museum to see the Dead Sea Scrolls. After lunch in the Old City we spent time in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (place of Jesus' death and resurrection). From there it was to the home of Caiphas where Jesus was tried and convicted. We ended up at the Garden Tomb where we saw another possible site, though less likely, of Jesus' death and resurrection. We shared communion there amidst the beautuful gardens. Tonight in the hotel lobby we watched a Muslim wedding celebration. Fascinating. To be honest it didn't look too different from most Christian wedding receptions I've been to. Two becoming one and trying to find joy and peace.
At communion I shared the message that without the resurrection, the trip has been in vain. It's the whole point and the lynchpin of our faith. If there is anything to get fevered over, it's that. This should be the core of our message - the blessedness of the resurrection. In fact, I wonder if the blessedness that Jesus speaks of in the Beatitudes extends from the blessedness of the resurrection. We live in the new realm of resurrection and from that life takes on a new meaning. We live for something different now. We can wrap ourselves in peace and meekness and mercy and poverty of spirit because we know that's where life is headed. We live for these things out of the blessedness of resurrection.
Why not be fevered over mercy, meekness and peace?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Israel Day 6

Jerusalem and Bethlehem today. Spent the morning on the Temple Mount and the Western Wall. Then on to Hezekiah's Tunnell where we waded through a water tunnel 2 feet deep of water. The afternoon it was to Bethlehem to see the Church of the Nativity, Manger Square and the Shepherd's Fields. There is most certainly a spiritual energy that surrounds the Western Wall. Religion at a fevered pitch. In the Holy Land, for better and for worse, it matters what you believe, It involves life and death and conflict. It can be explosive.
The circles I run in tend to spend a lot of time trying to seek common ground and resist conflict. But sometimes to the end that the content of one's belief is inconsequential to the conversation. Relationships turn innocuous.
What matters about what you believe and is it worth potential unrest?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Israel Day 5

Began the day in Nazareth. Then to Acco. From Acco to Mt. Carmel. On the way to Jerusalem we stopped at Megiddo and toured the tel where there are 25 layers of civilizations. Jerusalem at dinner time. A walk into the old city after dinner where we stumbled upon the Jerusalem Day celebration. I've never seen more kids in my life. There were tens of thousands to be sure. They believe in their city!
At Mt. Carmel we read the story of Elijah and the contest with the prophets of Baal. It begins with Elijah's question: How long will you go on limping between two different opinions? Spirituality seems always at a fevered pitch here in the Holy Land. There's little limping between opinions.
What are you certain of in life?

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Israel Day 4

Covered lots of ground - primarily New Testament: taghba (loves and fishes), mount of beatitudes, capernaum, sea of galilee, Dan, Caesare Philippi, and the Syrian Border. Beginning the day at the place where Jesus delivered his sermon on the mount and said things like "blessed are the meek, the peacemakers, the poor in spirit" and then ending up at the Syrian border where two nations remain enemies, it makes me think about wether we will ever accept the fact that what Jesus teaches is really how the world is supposed to work. So many times I've heard people say to me about Jesus' teaching that "that isn't how the world works", as if the way we choose I.e (Syria/Israel) is how the world does work. Jesus turns it all around and says the world works through meekness, peacemaking, poverty of spirit, etc. It's so different from what we're used to it's hard to believe we will ever give it a chance.
How does your world work?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Israel Day 3

Full day. First to Masada - the palace of King Herod the Great, and then later the hideaway for Jewish zealots fleeing the invasion of Rome. The Romans built a ramp to the top and the Zealots chose a self-imposed death over slavery. On to En Gedi where David took refuge from Saul. It's a beautiful oasis with a lush waterfall deep in it's valley. Some wonder if David wrote the 23rd Psalm there. After that it was to the Quamran caves and then to Jericho - where Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus' house. Finally, before driving to Tiberias for the night, we stopped at Beth-shan where Saul met his demise.
A theme that jumped out at me today was "loyalty". When Saul pursues David to En Gedi, David sneaks into Saul's camp and instead of killing him he cuts off a corner of his cloak. He shows mercy out of loyalty to his King. Later when Saul is killed and his body is desecrated by the Philistines, it is the "valiant men" of Jabesh-gilled who sneak into the Philistine city and retrieve their bodies and bring them back to their home for a proper burial. They do this because earlier Saul showed them mercy and defended their town from attack by a much greater force.
Never forget a friend. Never forget your loyalties and who's been loyal to you.
Any friend of yours you're in danger of forgetting?

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Israel Day 2

If you're looking for Day 1 there isn't one. Too tired to write yesterday. After getting off the plane yesterday we drove up to Caesarea on the Medterranean. Saw the remnants of the city that Herod built. Drove back to Tel Aviv, had dinner and crashed.
Today it was on to Joppa, then to the valley Elah, where David and Goliath squared off, and then on to the Bet Guvrin-Maresha National Park (amazing underground dwellings, cisterns and wine presses). We finished with a drive to the Dead Sea where we swam/floated, sat by the pool, ate dinner and then retired for the night.
Caesarea and Joppa factor greatly in the life of Peter and, in turn, our own. Joppa is where Peter had his vision of eating both the clean and unclean animals and Caesarea is where Cornelius is the one Peter was called to and, as a result, became the first Gentile convert. Joppa is also the place that Jonah left by ship to flee the call of God.
Consider Joppa: where two men who received visions - Jonah and Peter - and the two different paths taken. One fled and the other pursued the call. Life is filled with those choices. What to do with the sense that God wants us to do something - especially if it means reaching out to persons unknown, unfamiliar and unlikely to welcome us?
What's God asked you to do lately?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The primacy of now

George Macleod, the 20th century Celtic/Scottish saint said that, "the primacy of God as Now is what we must recover in Christians mysticism." Later quoting George MacDonald he says, "'Whatever wakes my heart and mind, thy presence is, my Lord.' Our innumerable 'nows' are our points of contact with God." Too often, I think, we relegate the perceived presence of God to the prayer closet. Bidden or not not bidden, God is here. All life is sacred as we see it enfolded in the presence of God.

Lewis, in Surprised by Joy, talks of how Arthur Greeves introduced him to the experience of the "homely": "Often he recalled my eyes from the horizon just to look through a hole in a hedge, to see nothing more than a farmyard in its mid-morning solitude, and perhaps a gray cat squeezing its way under a barn door, or a bent old woman with a wrinkled, motherly face coming back with an empty bucket from the pigsty. But best of all we liked it when the Homely and the unhomely met in sharp juxtaposition; if a little kitchen garden ran steeply up a narrowing enclave of fertile ground surrounded by outcroppings and furze, or some shivering quarry pool under a moonrise could be seen on our left, and on our right the smoking chimney and lamp-lit window of a cottage that was just settling down for the night."

I'm not sure I understand all of what Lewis and Greeves meant by "homely", but part of what I take from it is that nothing escapes the redeeming presence of God.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Practiced Presence

Reading Brother Lawrence's "The Practice of the Presence of God" I was struck by his invitation to experience the continued presence of God. God is in our midst whether we want to pay attention or not. He seeks to be known. But do we really want to know him? Do we really wish to acknowledge his presence in every little corner of our lives?
Says Brother Lawrence: "We must know before we can love. In order to know God, we must often think of Him. And when we come to love Him, we shall then also think of Him often, for our heart will be with our treasure."
This cycle of invoked presence leading to knowledge leading to love of God can turn quickly into a healthy and vibrant pattern for life. But it begins, I suppose, with practicing the presence. Hard to do when you think life is supposed to be all about you!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

What I could be doing if I wasn't watching the Super Bowl

To study the life of C.S. Lewis is to be astounded by the amount of words he read, wrote, prayed, spoke and thought: 49 books written, 3 volumes of letters that stretch across half a book shelf, hours a week in prayer and worship, two meetings a week with the Inklings. The man was intelligent to be sure, but there has to be more to it than that. Or maybe the most intelligent thing about the man is how he chose to spend his time. It's hard to imagine Jack Lewis spending four hours on a Sunday night watching ANYTHING on TV, the least of which a sporting event. It makes me think of my use of discretionary time. I do a lot of mindless things with it. Not that every waking waking moment is supposed to be filled with thinking, reading and writing. The mind and spirit are called to rest - that is what Sabbath is about. Yet I suppose I could come up with more to offer the world if I wasn't always planting myself in front of some screen - movie, TV or computer. Maybe life would be more purposeful if we did more purposeful things with our time. Back to the Super Bowl.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


I suppose a lot of how we look at life has to do what we take as a given. If we take as a given that life is about consumption then we will gauge success by how much we have If our"given" about life is that it is to be a bed of roses, then when challenges come we will grow disillusioned. I think the greatest opening line in a non-fiction book is the one found in "The Road Less Traveled", when he writes: "Life is difficult.". Do you know truer words? How we deal with that reality says a lot about how we find meaning for our days. Is difficulty to be avoided? Ignored? Medicated? Or is it be lived into? Are we to shy from those righteous things that mean suffering or hardship? Only when we think that difficulty is something that we can somehow dodge in this life does the door open to bitterness when things don't go our way. But It is a liberating thought to know that if life in itself is hard then it might as well be hard doing the right things. I'd rather stay awake at night worrying about the consequences of a courageous decision than in thinking about how to avoid making one. (Not that i've made many or any courageous decisions in my life.) So I guess that's what we see at the cross -- the righteous life meets the difficult life. Therein we find our salvation.

Friday, January 21, 2011


In another one of Lewis's great sermons, "Transposition", he talks about a mother who gives birth to a son in a prison cell. As the boy grows his mother tries to describe the outside world by drawing pencil sketches. She tries to picture for him fields, rivers, fields, etc. And the boy for years gets along with these depictions. But then one day the mother realizes that the boy really thinks the world is filled with pencil lines. He can't imagine anything different. He does not understand what reality is really like. The shapes of the real works are not defined by lines, they "define their own shapes at every moment with a delicacy and multiplicity which no drawing could ever achieve.". As Lewis imagines our earthly lives in relation to our heavenly ones, he continues, "...we may be sure we shall be more, not less, than we were on earth. Our natural experiences (sensory, emotional, imaginative) are only like the drawing, like penciled lines on flat paper. If they vanish in the risen life, they will vanish only as pencil lines vanish from the real landscape, not as a candle flame that is put out but as a candle flame which becomes invisible because someone has pulled up the blind, thrown open the shutters, and let in the blaze of the risen sun.".
What a message of hope! We can't begin to imagine what reality really is! We aim short when we project our greatest pleasures onto heaven's landscape -- golf courses, fishing holes, beaches of powdery sand. These are just the pencil sketch. What awaits us is immeasurably greater. The fullness of time and the fullness of our selves! Hard to imagine and wait for!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Far too easily pleased

From, in my estimation, one of the greatest sermons ever preached, "The Weight of Glory", Lewis said, "We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased." When I think about the amount of time I apply to seeking entertainment I can only wonder what I'm missing. Joy comes from peace, i think,and peace is found in the abiding confidence we have in the presence and promises of God. And abiding confidence results from abiding. Abiding in the shadow of the Most High. Little chance of doing that while watching the Golden Globes. I am far too easily pleased.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Which question?

There seems always to be two questions that you and I vacillate between as we go about our days. How we live between them seems to make all the difference. The first question is one we started asking pretty early: what is the meaning of my life? As soon as we started asking our parents all those "Why?" questions we were trying to figure out what meaning there was behind all the things we were experiencing. Later those "meaning" questions took on greater measure as, perhaps, they guided us in our early life decisions. The second question is: how do I manage my life? Somewhere along the way we get preoccupied with the little management decisions of life. How do I make an income? How do I succeed in my job? How do I provide for my kids? What should I set aside for retirement? And then before we know it the management answers supplant the "meaning of life" answers. The meaning of my life is now determined by how I manage my life. And when management drives meaning life gets smaller and smaller. It grows as small as our calendars or checkbooks or retirement accounts. But when meaning takes center stage and we ask questions like, What is my God-given purpose? What does God want with his world? Where does life end up? Answers to these questions serve to compete with the decisions of "management". They push us not to give up control, but just to let the other answers take over.

There don't appear to be a lot of kingdom awards handed out to those who are efficient and organized. Jesus seemed more interested in those who were willing to live, and die, for a cause. Meaning trumps management.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sense in a senseless world

It's interesting to watch the attempt by many to attach this senseless Arizona assassination attempt and murder spree to someone or something. It seems to be a typical human response to try to to figure out who to blame. Over the next several months we'll find out who's to blame --a lone gunman and perhaps an accomplice. Why go further than this? Perhaps we want to spend time and energy assigning further blame because we don't want to stop and wonder about a more important question: how do I bring sense to an often senseless world? Chaos is the symptom of evil. Order is the fruit of goodness. As cowardly as it was for that young man to step into the fresh and beautiful morning God had made for the people of Tuscon and spew violence and mayhem, what brave thing can I do in response? What is my countervailing act of beauty and goodness? A random act of kindness (perhaps many) in response to a random act of violence?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

more thoughts on the new year

When the crew of the Dawn Treader are making their way toward the Dark Island and anticipate being swallowed by the imminent darkness, Drinian, the captain, wonders what use it would be to proceed into the uncertainty of the dark. Reepicheep, the valiant mouse, retorts:

Use? ... Use, Captain? If by use you mean filling our bellies or our purses, I confess it will be no use at all. So far as I know we did not sail to look for things useful but to seek honor and adventure. And here is as great an adventure as ever I heard of, and here, if we turn back, no little impeachment of all our honors.

I was asked this morning what my hopes were for the year. I rattled off a few tangible goals I hope to accomplish -- achievements I hope to claim by December 31. I can tell you though, adventure and honor were not at the top of my list. But they make for interesting aspirations, don't they? Have we thought about aligning our lives around some holy adventure and displays of Christian honor? Would that be enough for you to say at the end of the journey -- that it was a God-filled adventure and I displayed honor through it all? Life has to be more than filling our bellies and purses. Maybe that's why the one talent servant in Matthew 25 gets such harsh treatment when he confesses to the master that he simply buried his talent. Where's the adventure and honor in that?
So it's on into the darkness of the New Year!

Monday, January 3, 2011

In the beginning

Three days into the New Year it came to mind a thought Jack (Lewis) had of all our beginnings. In his ruminations on agape love in The Four Loves Lewis imagines what God had in mind when the universe had its beginning:
God, who needs nothing, loves into existence wholly superfluous creatures in order that He may love and perfect them. He creates the universe, already foreseeing -- or should we say "seeing"? there are no tenses in God -- the buzzing cloud of flies about the cross, the flayed back pressed against the uneven stake, the nails driven through the mesial nerves, the repeated incipient suffocation as the body droops, the repeated torture of back and arms as it is time after time, for breath's sake, hitched up. If I may dare the biological image, God is a "host" who deliberately creates His own parasites; causes us to be that we may exploit and "take advantage of" Him. Herein is love. This is the diagram of Love Himself, the inventor of all loves.
All the debates that go on about our beginnings -- scientific, philosophic and otherwise -- leave out this picture of what may truly have happened when God thought to form the universe. How much did God know when he formed us of the dust of the earth? It's love enough that he gave us life -- it is extraordinary love that he formed us knowing the humiliating outcome. A potential parent might think twice about having a child if he knew in advance that such child would rebel and make for him a living hell. God doesn't think twice. What better way to star the new year than with the realization God has no second thoughts concerning us. The first thought will be the last. The love at the beginning of the year will be the love at the end of the year, no matter what we've done. With all the uncertainties a new year brings, it's good to be sure of at least one thing. Even better that it's the most important thing.