Thursday, May 26, 2011

Why Everyone Can't Go To Heaven

"Heaven" is a misnomer. I talked about this in my "misconceptions of heaven" article, so I won't repeat myself. Just to summarize, when Jesus speaks about a future utopia, it is on earth, headed by the Messiah and it is a perfect kingdom. "Perfect" doesn't necessarily mean without any possible fault. However the following descriptions can be made about the kingdom:

The kingdom is ruled by a benevolent dictatorship.
The kingdom is made up of every current nation, ethnicity, language and creed.
The kingdom has one God who is honored alone as the Creator and Ruler of Heaven and Earth.
The kingdom is ruled by those who were once outcast and poor and rejected by this world.
The kingdom is filled with people who are resurrected into powerful, never sick, never dying bodies.
The kingdom is where all creation and humanity is at unity.
The kingdom is ruled by a government that is more interested in bringing peace than retaining power.
The kingdom's economy is based on plenty for all and giving to all, withholding nothing.
The kingdom always cares for the poor, providing their need.
The kingdom provides merciful justice to everyone.
The kingdom's citizens are the formerly poor, oppressed, heartbroken.
They are the merciful, the forgiving and the forgiven.
Every citizen of the kingdom wishes, with all their heart, to love and obey God and to love their neighbor as themselves.

If the kingdom of heaven is like this, it means that there are many who just don't belong. It isn't so much that certain people are punished by not coming in. Rather, it means that there are many kinds of people who just don't fit. They wouldn't feel comfortable there. And there are others who could take advantage of the system, in order to destroy it.

Murders cannot be allowed to remain in God's kingdom, for their violence would ruin the peace.
The greedy or hoarder cannot be in the kingdom because they would undermine the economy of sharing.
Those who abuse power cannot be in the kingdom because all citizens would be granted great power.
Those who oppress the poor cannot be in the kingdom, for they would undermine justice.
Those who are not merciful cannot be a citizen, for all the citizens are merciful.
Those who are prejudiced against another nation or race cannot be in the kingdom, for all nations and races must coexist peacefully there.
Those who destroy creation cannot be in the kingdom, for that would undermine the harmony.
Those who demand democracy or some other form of government cannot be in the kingdom because it is a dictatorship.
Those who do not forgive cannot be a citizen because every citizen is imperfect and forgiven.
Anyone who willingly, continuously rebels against God's will cannot enter into the kingdom, for that would undermine the peace which the law of the kingdom establishes.

This doesn't mean we have to be perfectly merciful, forgiving, obedient, loving all the time to enter into the kingdom. No one is perfect. But we have to show that we are willing to rely on the Spirit to be these things.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Interpreting Scripture

There are many different ways to interpret Scripture. We could have the Talmud interpret Scripture or the Church fathers do so. We could have Paul interpret Scripture or the Mosaic law.

My conscious decision is to allow Jesus and Jesus only be the lens through which I interpret the rest of Scripture, for Jesus alone was risen from the dead and sits at the right hand of the Father.

Let me give an example of how this could be done. The Mosaic law says that all Canaanites must be killed. However, the Scripture is not consistent in that, for Rahab was spared because of her faith in God and the Gibeonites were spared due to their cunning. God rescinded his command to kill the Canaanites in Judges 2. Jesus, however, explains how we should act in his response to a Canaanite. They are deserving of the full blessing of God if they show faith and humility in God's promise. Thus, Jesus is in agreement with the rescinding of the command and shows us how to love even those under the judgment of God.

Atonement Summary

"A man PLANTED A VINEYARD AND PUT A WALL AROUND IT, AND DUG A VAT UNDER THE WINE PRESS AND BUILT A TOWER, and rented it out to vine-growers and went on a journey. At the harvest time he sent a slave to the vine-growers, in order to receive some of the produce of the vineyard from the vine-growers. They took him, and beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent them another slave, and they wounded him in the head, and treated him shamefully. And he sent another, and that one they killed; and so with many others, beating some and killing others. He had one more to send, a beloved son; he sent him last of all to them, saying, 'They will respect my son.' But those vine-growers said to one another, 'This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance will be ours!' They took him, and killed him and threw him out of the vineyard. What will the owner of the vineyard do? He will come and destroy the vine-growers, and will give the vineyard to others. Have you not even read this Scripture: 'THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone; THIS CAME ABOUT FROM THE LORD, AND IT IS MARVELOUS IN OUR EYES '?"

(MarK 12:1-11)

This is not a description of what I think salvation IS, but how we get salvation through Jesus. This is too spare a summary, but it will do for now:

God wants to forgive us all, but we are all born into systems of alternative salvation and justice. These are governments, religions, economies, etc. that murder, steal and encourage evil to obtain their goals.

Jesus came to show us a new way, of living outside of those systems toward charity, peace and reliance on God's power. Jesus then allowed the systems of this world to kill him, a completely innocent man, the perfect representative of God. Then God, the judge of all the world, raised Jesus from the dead. This showed two things: first, that the systems of the world are condemned and second, that God established Jesus to be the head of a new kingdom with a new law.

Those who wish to be freed from all the acts of evil done under the old system must give their fidelity to Jesus, and commit to him as their king, and willingly live under his law. Thus are we saved from this evil world and Jesus is the ruling king over all who choose Him.

Scripture Summary

A summary of my view of Scripture:

Truth is all around us, in every book that has ever been written. And every book is written by humans, thus open to human truth and fallacy. No book has ever been written by God. Some have written about their experiences with the spirit world. Some have written about their personal experiences with God, and others have had people writing for them. All of these are helpful.

However, there is only one person who has proven to represent God perfectly in love and miracles and resurrection, and that is Jesus. Jesus appointed apostles to memorize what he said which were later written down. Others wrote of their experiences and knowledge of Jesus-- this is what is called the New Testament. Jesus himself affirmed the Hebrew scriptures and their truth, although that truth, he said, is necessarily interpreted by love.

Every Scriptural text (no matter which religion) as well as our own experiences could be interpreted through Jesus' focus on love of God and humanity and we can find the greatest truth. In the end, however, Scripture only leads us to the truth. It does not become real until we apply Scripture and we live it.

Bell's Hell

Well, we might as well get on the bandwagon. Everyone right now is discussing, rebutting or hating on Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. Bell should be proud—whether or not his view is heard, he opened up a discussion that has been under the surface for a long time. Is hell real? Does most of the world go to hell? What is hell like?

Bell himself doesn’t answer most of these questions. Heck, he barely answers any questions at all. He asks some provocative questions and gives some interesting suggestions, but he doesn’t come down on a single definitive doctrine. What he does come down on, solidly, is biblical and important to think about, so the book in general is a success. However, the discussion around Bell’s book says more about the views of others than Bell ever expresses about himself.
What does Bell say about hell? He says that hell is a real place, first of all. He states clearly that the translation “forever” is a difficult one, as it literally means “for a long age”, but this is the same problem for “eternal life” as for “eternal punishment”, so his discussion isn’t very comforting. What he does emphasize is that hell is here, now as well as in the future and that Jesus is concerned about both. That’s an important point.

Bell also points out that we don’t want people who do evil in “heaven”. We don’t want murderers, rapists, the greedy or judgmental in a perfect kingdom. The question is whether these people are redeemed in some way or just punished. What is to be done with them? Bell opens the idea of a second chance to surrender of God after death. He doesn’t say it’s definite, just that it is a possibility. Again, no solid doctrine here.

In general, I find Bell’s version of hell to be pretty vague—very vague as opposed to the book of Revelation—and I don’t have a problem with that. I think he deals with the world we live in realistically and with spiritual insight, but I don’t feel like he has anything new or insightful to say about punishment after death. Which is a shame, really. Good for him to get the conversation started, though.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

A Meditation Exercise on Empathy

From Karen Armstrong's Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life:

"Turn your attention to three individuals known to you. It is important to be specific or this exercise will degenerate into meaningless generalities. Call to mind a person for whom you have no strong feelings one way or another; also somebody you like, such as a friend or a family member; and finally someone you dislike...

"In turn...think of their good points, their contribution to your own life; their generosity, courage and sense of humor. Look deeply in their hearts, insofar as you can, and see their pain: the sufferings you are aware of and all the private sorrows that you will never know about. You will then desire them to be free of their pain and resolve to help them in any way you can. Pray for each of your three people the joy that you desire for yourself, and finally admit that you all have faults-- yourself, the person you feel neutral toward, the one you like, as well as the one you find objectionable. You are striving for... the equanimity that enables you to relate to people impartially.

"The meditation obviously becomes more difficult when you try to direct these thoughts of friendship, compassion, joy and even-mindedness to the person you dislike. Stay with this difficulty and become fully aware of it, because it shows how limited your compassion is. We may think that we are compassionate people, but so much of our goodwill is dependent upon subjective likes and dislikes.

"Notice the angry thoughts that arise in your mind when you think of this individual and see how unattractive they are. Other people like her, so it is probable that your dislike stems entirely from her attitude toward
you. Does she threaten your interests, get in your way, or behave in a manner that makes you think less well of yourself? If so, your dislike is probably based on ego delusion.... There is nothing immutable or objective about friendship or enmity: nobody is born a friend or an enemy; last year's friend can become next years enemy. She has good and bad qualities, just as you do. Like everybody else in the world, she longs for happiness and wished to be free of pain. She suffers in ways that you will never know. How, therefore, can you single her out for your dislike and refuse to direct your feelings of friendship, compassion, joy and even-mindedness to her?

"Be patient with yourself during this meditation. Do not become irritated if you are distracted or discouraged if you seem to make no progress. Do not feel guilty if you are unable to overcome your feelings of aversion. Practiced over time, this meditation can make a compassionate groove in your mind. It should become part of your daily practice.... It should be a relaxed, ruminative process. It need not-- indeed, should not-- take hours of your time. But if practiced faithfully, it will help you develop two new tools: a capacity for inwardness and the ability to think of others in the same way you think of yourself. Only practice makes perfect, just as it takes years for a dancer to turn a perfect pirouette.

"As you conclude this meditation, make a resolution that today you will translate these good thoughts into a small, concrete practical act of friendship or compassion to one of your three people, if you have the chance. If you do not see them, reach out to someone else who needs a helping hand or a friendly word."

While not specifically doing this meditation (as I have just read it), I have practiced this exercise of empathy on many people-- those whom I liked and those whom I disliked and those whom I liked from a distance but disliked many things close up. I was encouraged to think empathetically by my wife, Diane, who has made a life practice of thinking this way. In fact, for those who know me, if you have met my wife you may find that she is much more pleasant to be around. That's because her practice of empathetic thinking is so much more natural. Frankly, she's a naturally better person.

I believe that this meditation on empathy, practiced on people I knew, is one of the most powerful transformational agent in my life. When I do this, I can see a person in a different light. All of a sudden, they are no longer ignorant, stupid or evil; neither are they exceedingly noble or super-powerful. People are people, both like and unlike me; both unique and yet having the same drives as I. I may want to spend time with them or not, but that does not change their value. And when I understand their value in comparison with myself, I am closer to understanding them with God's eyes.

God loves us all-- we evangelicals say that, but we have a hard time actually believing that or practicing that because we don't take the time to see people through God's eyes. When God looks at an individual, he sees that person as the same as every other person-- an object of loving value. We may nod our heads at this concept, but we do not act this way. Does every person we meet know that we believe that they are loved and valued? No, because some people we meet we are treating as less than ourselves. Some people are automatically seen as The Other, the Outsider, the one whom we have a right to despise or at least ignore. It is in our makeup. We are made as people who both accept and reject. We are judges and we do so every time we shake a hand or give (or choose to not give) a greeting.

If we practice this meditation on a regular basis, we find that we see people as no longer the "Part-of-Us" or The Other. Rather, we see them all as people of value. Some we can benefit, and some we cannot. Some we can appreciate fully, and most we cannot. But we can see the value in everyone we do this exercise toward; and we can give a measure of love to each of them. The more we understand others: their positive qualities, their pains, their limitations, their good and bad choices-- the greater the opportunity we give ourselves to love others.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Prayer Before Prayer

Lord, Father, in light of your promises we ask.
We do not ask because we are worthy
for you have created every bit of good within us.
We do not ask because you owe us something
because you have forgiven us our debts.
We do not ask just because of our need
for you have promised to supply our needs.
Rather we ask because it is pleasing to you for us to ask:
as our Lord said, “Keep asking, and you will receive.”
So out of love for your will
and out of love for your glory
we ask and expect to receive.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Too Much, Too Soon

Stacy just found the blogs and writes in:

I wanted to know your thoughts, if you have time, about being fearfully and wonderfully made and having disabilities and/or handicaps. This is something I'm not understanding and have not been able to find an answer I have peace with in my spirit. I've grown up as an army brat when it comes to churches going from conservative to charasmatic to really charasmatic and now attend a great Four Square which is both conservative and has quiet veins of charasmatic running through it which is a perfect fit for me. My issue though is that the school of thought I run into is that something like a handicap or addiction or whatnot is because it's something we allowed into our life, like an open window for the enemy to come in, or our parents sinned and let that spirit /problem in, or generational curses and the like. I've also heard that our handicaps or disability is a gift that is to be used for the glory of God and then others say it can be used by God but that we should always pray to be healed since God wants to heal us.

If we are fearfully and wonderfully made then were do handicaps/disabilities come in? How can one be fearfully and wonderfully made while being say crippled? Or mentally challenged etc. ? I don't see how those flaws fit in with the fearfully and wonderfully made part? I mean noone looks at a crippled person and says "That's great! I want to be that way too!". We all know it's an issue and noone would want that problem. And yet we're told we're fearfully and wonderfully made and God knitted us in our mother's womb. I mean did He knit that crippling/physical or mental problem in too?

My response:

I love my charismatic brothers and sisters, but they have taken their proper emphasis on healing and turned it into an "overrealized eschatology." This means that they take things that are promised to us in the final kingdom of God and expect that we should be living it all now.

In the kingdom, we will all be healed, there will be perfect justice, and we will all be unified. Right now, although there is some unity in the church, there is a lot of division and hatred as well, because we are still working on our maturity in love. Right now, although there is some justice through the church, it is only partially realized because we don't live under the Perfect King. Right now, although there is some healing, not everyone is healed. And some struggle with addictions and sins with no easy out.

We can see this in Scripture. There's the passage you quoted in John 9-- Jesus answered, "It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him." (Joh 9:3 NAU) Also we have the evangelist Epaphrophitus who was "sick even to death" but God had mercy on him to spare him and Paul. This means that he was sick, and he could have died. Eventually he was healed, but it wasn't an instant healing, and he could have died from it. Paul had no expectation that his co-worker should have just had more faith to be healed. Rather, it was the will of God that was the main issue. (Phil. 2:25-27).

Some say that we are promised healing in the atonement of Jesus (Isaiah 53:5). But in that passage we are also promised shalom, the peace and justice of God. However shalom is not yet fully realized, and so we cannot take that passage and say that everyone in all cases should be healed right now. Eventually we will be, but for now, we must struggle.

We can see this with Paul in II Corinthians 12. A "messenger of Satan" attacked Paul continuously. We don't know what this is. It could be a sickness or disability. It could be a sin he struggled with continuously. All we know is that it limited Paul's salvation and that it came from Satan. And Paul prayed about it, but it was not taken away. Instead, God told him, "My strength will be made perfect through weakness." God told Paul to accept his weakness-- to accept a messenger of Satan!-- as part of his life, because God's work was being done through it. Even so, our weaknesses: sickness, addiction, disability-- some of these will be healed. Others, however, we will have to live with because God is at work in us.

God makes it clear that our character will only become mature through suffering.

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.
(Rom 5:3-4 NAU)

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
(Jam 1:2-4 NAU)

These "trials" or "tribulations" are actually best translated "tests" and they can take the form of suffering or persecution or personal weakness or temptations. This is how our maturity happens. Only in this way can we find perfect joy.

Hope that helps.

God bless you and keep the faith in love!

Friday, May 6, 2011

Compassion, Religion and Humanity

The following is the Charter for Compassion. You can find out more about it at this site

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves.

Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the center of our world and put another there, and to honor the iniolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others-- even our enemies-- is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women

-To restore compassion to the center of morality and religion;

-To return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate;

-To ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures;

-To encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity;

-To cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings-- even those regarded as enemies

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, idealogical and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

What do you think of this charter? If these principles were spread around the world, would it change the world?

Just for full disclosure, I affirm the charter and I believe that Jesus would do so as well.