Sunday, January 24, 2010

Lamenting For Haiti

Today, was an incredible day at church. It was one of the best in the year and a half I've been at Littleton.

We had a lament service.

I know. I know. It's not what you would expect would be my favorite Sunday. More than anything, it felt good to be honest and relevant with our feelings today. Today the masks came off.

While there are many benefits to worshipping with the lectionary, today provided the opportunity to stop and lament for the tragedies going on in our own lives and across the Gulf of Mexico in Haiti. It's inauthentic to worship God blindly in the midst of such tragedy and we resisted the opportunity to go on with our lives as if we didn't even notice the pain around us.

So, today we started with a reading of Psalm 42, a lament psalm. There are more lament psalms than any other genre of psalms. Yet, for some reason, we don't know how to do lament. After reading Psalm 42, we spent a congregational time in prayer together.

After the silence, I preached on theodicy, the problem of evil. Some of the questions I sought to deal with were:
-If God is so good, why is his world so bad?
-If an all-loving, all-powerful God is running the show, why does he seem to be doing such a poor job of it?
-Why do bad things happen to bad people.

These questions have plagued me at several points on my journey.

After 9/11, I wondered how God could cause/allow such evil to go on in New York. When my grandmother died, I wondered how God could fail to listen to the faithful prayers of my mother. And when Stevie (a boy in our youth group) died, I wondered how God could bring any good out of such a young death.

Today, I think the problem wasn't God's faithfulness. I think the problem was my skewed expectations of God. I'm now convinced that one of the most fatal flaws to faith is bad theology.

There are some competing religious voices that try to explain how God works in the midst of suffering and chaos in our lives:
1) Deism says that "God does nothing in the world." He created the world, but since that act, he's just waiting for it to stop spinning.

2) Calvinism is a very popular view that is gaining a lot of ground in certain circles. (While I consider Calvinists to be my brothers and sisters, I am very uncomfortable with their view of God's action in the world when it comes to suffering.) Calvinism says that "God does everything in the world." Somehow, in the end, you have to trust that the blessings and tragedies with make sense in the end. But make no mistake, God creates hurricanes and heals diseases. The atheists are having a hay-day with this view right now. The problem of evil is especially a problem if evil comes directly from God.

I'm suspicious of both of these views because this God has no appreciation for what he has created and this God isn't worth trusting.

But I think Jesus offers a third way of looking at how God deals with suffering. He admits that pain and suffering are real (In this world you will have trouble), and the genius of Christianity is not that God omits suffering from the baptized, but that God comes near and suffers with us. He's not the God who causes suffering, he's the God who hears the cries of the oppressed and mourns with them. He's the God who sent his only Son into the world to suffer for the sake of the world, so that he could redeem it.

Romans 8:28 has it right. "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

Now, this is one of the most misunderstood passages in all of Scripture. It doesn't mean God is changing circumstances in order to bless his people. It's saying that God can crawl into any situation, no matter how hopeless it looks, and do his work of redemption. God will work IN ALL THINGS (good or bad) to reconcile the world to himself.

God isn't doing everything in the world. He's doing something WITH everything in the world! And that's good news, Amen!

Tragedy is still tragedy. Only time will tell what God will do with Haiti, but I still believe one thing. Nothing is beyond the scope of God's redemption. Nothing!


Monday, January 04, 2010

Committed to Being Formed

Our church is committed to being formed.

Now, that's not how our original vision statement read. It originally read "A Christ-centered community committed to forming disciples..." That's good, but it misses a good deal of the point.

You might ask, "Why is transformation important? I thought we were in the business of "saving souls." Well, we certainly believe conversion important, but more and more, I'm beginning to see conversion as more of a process than an event.

In Scripture, salvation is bigger than baptism. There are three important emphases of salvation in Scripture:
1) We have been saved at the cross and the resurrection.
2) We will be saved when Christ returns to the earth.
3) But there's a third emphasis we rarely focus on. We are being saved!

Acts 2:46-47: "Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number those who were BEING SAVED."

1 Corinthians 1:18: "For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are BEING SAVED it is the power of God."

Salvation has a past, present, and future sense to it. It's rooted in an historical event, waiting on a second coming, and in process in those who have chosen Jesus as their Lord. It's this present sense that spiritual formation focuses on.

The Western Church has thought in either/or terms for so long. And when it comes to spiritual formation there are basically two camps:

One camp says that we are the main actors in our transformation. It's as if we're saved by what we do and changed by the actions we take. You have to do more, work more, and become perfect on your own. Have you ever heard this message before?

The other camp says we can do nothing to jump start our transformation because it's all the work of God. He's elected and predestined certain individuals for salvation and transformation.

I'd like to take a both/and approach. Transformation is the work of God. As much as we want to think we can "pull ourselves up by our own spiritual bootstraps," it takes the fruit of the Spirit to develop an authentic life of faith. God is certainly involved in the process. A caterpillar can’t become a butterfly by behaving like one. Nor can butterflies give butterfly lessons to caterpillars. People cannot change themselves, and spiritual leaders cannot do it for them.

But on the other hand, it's also not a passive process. Christian history is full of people who have submitted themselves to the spiritual disciplines and have seen God's grace at work through them. We have to be committed to spiritual formation as a process or we won't be changed.

In other words, “Only God can bring about change, but he never chooses to do it alone!”

So, I like our statement now much better. At the Littleton Church of Christ, we are committed to being formed.