Rob Bell Show Taping in LA
May 14th we’re taping the first two episodes of my new television show and I’d love for you to be there-
Here’s more info: http://bit.ly/1lFLrzl
I’m thrilled to let you know I’ll be going on tour with Oprah this fall. The Life You Want Weekend tour will travel to 8 cities starting in September. Tickets haven’t gone on sale to the general public yet so I thought I’d send you a code to get yours early.
grace and peace and see you this fall,
Learn More About Oprah’s Life You Want Weekend
Register Now with Presale Code: LYWWRB
Auburn Hills, MI
San Jose, CA
If you’ve found this series compelling, then I need to introduce you to Steve Chalke, a friend of mine who’s recently written a magnificent piece on the Bible.
Here’s the link:
and you’ll also see there are a number of resources Steve and his organization Oasis have made available. Inspiring people doing great work.
I’ve got lots more posts coming in the near future, but right now I have to give my energies to finishing a project I’ve been working on a for a while.
Let me see if I can clear a few things up in less than a thousand words.
First, if I were to ask you to define the word sin, how would you answer?
My guess is you’d probably say something like Sin is when you break God’s laws or Sin is disobeying God or Sin is whatever you do that makes God angry…
While those may sound accurate, they don’t tell the whole story. Which is why many don’t know what to do with the word other than cringe when people use it with a straight face.
Now, for a definition. The great theologian Cornelius Plantinga in his book Engaging God’s World (add that one to your list, it’s great) puts it like this
Sin is culpable disturbance of shalom.
Shalom. Shalom is the Hebrew word for peace, wholeness, health, and blessing. Shalom is the harmony God intends for the world. Shalom is how God wants things to be. Shalom is peace with yourself, with your neighbor, with the earth, with God.
Disturbance. Things aren’t how they’re supposed to be, are they? From environmental degradation to domestic violence to Wall Street corruption to the petty little ways we disrespect each other, this world isn’t everything it could be.
Culpable. Guilt, responsibility, ownership-culpable is any way you have contributed to the disturbance of shalom we see all around us.
Sin is anything we do to disrupt the peace and harmony God desires for the world.
Here’s the problem with how many understand the word: When sin is understood primarily in terms of breaking or violating or disobeying there’s no larger context to place it in. There’s whatever you did or didn’t do, and then there’s God’s anger or wrath or displeasure with you.
But when you place it in the larger context of the good, the peace, the shalom that we all want for the world, then it starts to make way more sense. Of course I’m guilty of disturbing shalom, is there any sane person who wouldn’t own up to that?
In the New Testament, there’s only one kind of sin: The kind that God has forgiven in Christ. The invitation is to trust that this is actually true and then make amends with whoever you have wronged. There is an important distinction here: We make amends not to try and earn forgiveness but to extend to others the grace and love that God has extended to us.
In the New Testament, we are not identified first and foremost as sinners, but as saints. Saints who sin. This is important: Your primary identity, your true self, is found in who you are in Christ, not in the ways you have disrupted shalom.
In the New Testament, people are taught first who they are in Christ, because the more you know about who you are, the more you’ll know what to do.
This is why some sermons that talk a lot about Jesus can be so soul-sucking. They aren’t an announcement about who you are in Christ, they’re all about what you’re not. They’re boring and lifeless and produce all kinds of despair even though they quote lots of Bible verses because they mistakenly teach you that your identity is found in your sin. It’s not. It’s found in Christ, who has taken care of your sins.
In the New Testament, sin is the middle word about you. The first word is that you’re created in the image of God, crowned with glory and honor, a child of the divine. That’s who you are.
The second word is the honest, unvarnished truth about how we all fall short, we all sin, we all disrupt the shalom God intends for all things. To grow in maturity is to own up to this, making amends with whoever you have wronged.
The third word is the continual insistence that the last word hasn’t been spoken about you and your sin, that it’s all been taken care of by Jesus, peace has been made with God through the cross, and you have been restored, redeemed, reconciled, and renewed. We are invited to live as if this is actually true, letting it shape us and mold us and transform us into grounded, centered people who increase the shalom in the world.
After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.
There is so much here, where do we start?
First, Jesus rolled deep.
The literal Greek word here is posse. (I couldn’t resist.)
As Jesus went from town to town, he was accompanied by a large group of people, both men and women. The disciples were referred to as the twelve. (Get it? There were twelve tribes of Israel, and Jesus is calling Israel back to her roots and mission, and so he starts by surrounding himself with…twelve.) And then a group of women…
These women helped pay the bills.
When the check for the meal came to the table for this large group, it was the women who took care of it. (For the record, do you see how crazy it is when churches don’t allow women to do certain things like lead or teach or preach or be elders or priests? This movement started with women not only being fully empowered participants but bankrolling the ministry. How insane is it when a church has a list of what women can and can’t do?)
These women had fascinating stories.
Like Mary Magdalene, who had previously been possessed by seven demons. (Someone counted.) Can you imagine her perspective on things? You can feel Luke’s perspective in a line like that, can’t you? He wants you to see what Jesus was about, what he’s doing, the kind of people he attracted-the kind of people this message is for…
And then there’s Joanna…
Ah yes, Joanna.
Who is Joanna again?
Oh yes, the wife of Chuza.
And who is Chuza?
The manager of Herod’s Household!
Now that is a bomb, dropped right there in the middle of the paragraph.
A little background: Herod the Great was the king of the land who died around the year 4. He was a towering figure who dominated the socio-political landscape for years, building massive palaces and theaters and fortresses and killing lots of people. (He’s the one who ordered the execution of those children when Jesus was born.) When he died, Rome decided to divide his kingdom among his sons. Philip got the east, Herod Antipas got the Galilee, and Archelaus got Judea which included Jerusalem. Archelaus quickly made a mess of things and was ultimately replaced by a Roman governor named…Pilate. (Yes, that Pilate.)
So when Jesus came on the scene, Herod Antipas was the ruler of the Galilee. And Herod Antipas was a very, very rich man. He owned lots of land and had palaces and guards and servants and a massive household, the biggest in the country.
And who managed this king’s household?
So Chuza would have been responsible for a massive amount of wealth which would have brought him wealth. He shares this wealth with his wife, who is traveling with an itinerant rabbi and his formerly demon possessed friend, among others, paying the bills.
Let’s pause for a moment and let that sink in: Joanna would have been the elite. Her husband is the president’s chief of staff. That’s lavish banquets that go on for hours with singers and dancers. That’s various homes scattered around the country. That’s the best clothes, the best art, the best furniture…
That’s a life she apparently doesn’t find that interesting because she’s sharing a room at the Motel6 in Cana with Mary Who Used To Have Seven Demons. She’s sitting around the dinner table with small town fisherman who would probably been in their late teens, early twenties.
She’s hanging out with lepers.
Everybody has a story, don’t they?
Now, one more detail: Notice this verse from Luke 13:
At this time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him
“Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.”
Now, let’s connect all the dots:
wants Jesus killed because
Jesus is proclaiming a kingdom other than Herod’s and that makes Jesus a threat-
Jesus is able to travel around giving this message
because there are a group of women who travel with him and pay his bills, including a woman named Joanna who pays his bills whose husband just happens to be the household manager for…
Herod, in other words,
ends up indirectly funding the very thing he’s trying to stamp out.
All that, in a little paragraph is the eighth chapter of one of the gospels…
Next: Sin. With a period.
It’s Friday, so let’s do some questions.
theshoutingstones asked you:
Really enjoying this series on the bible. I was wondering about the story of Job. Growing up in the Bible Belt, it was always taught as a literal story. In the light of your other lessons I have a feeling that the real point of this story has also eluded me. I have always struggled with the idea that Job was “better off” or “more blessed” after God’s bet with Satan. He lost his family… something, in my opinion, that cannot be replaced. Blessed? No way-No matter how awesome the material reward.
Yes, the story of Job is a confounding one, isn’t it? I believe that’s the point…and I think that’s why the story has such power to this day.
Why? Because it’s a story about a man who’s life falls apart. His friends then come to comfort him, sitting with him and offering their explanations for why this has happened to him, explanations that fall flat.
Now here’s where things get interesting: How does the book begin? With the story teller pulling back the curtain and showing us that the whole thing is a set up: These terrible things have happened to Job because of a bet between God and Satan. Satan taunts God with this whole Job only reveres you because you’ve set him up with a nice life and God responds with Well fine, then have your way and you’ll see what he’s made of…
Do you see what I’m getting at here? The author begins the book with the author’s explanation for why Job suffers-it’s because of a bet God made.
Imagine if your friend got cancer and then shook her fists at the sky and asked Why me? and then suddenly a voice from heaven said You want to know why you have cancer? I’ll tell you why, the devil and I have a bet about you…
What kind of explanation would that be?
A crap one, of course.
My point? All of the explanations for Job’s sufferings are rubbish, including the author’s!
Which takes us deep into the heart of the enduring resonance of the book of Job. In this story, it’s not just that the explanations themselves aren’t helpful, it’s that the very idea of trying to explain suffering is pointless.
That’s why you struggle with the story-the good that comes Job’s way at the end can’t begin to make up for the loss he’s endured. He’ll never be the same again. He may be grateful and he may enjoy his life again and he may have another family and he may find love again but he will carry the scars with him for the rest of his life.
Why has this story endured? Because this is how life is. No matter how much good comes your way after you’ve suffered, no matter how much you make peace with your past, you still walk with a limp. Suffering has no explanation and no matter how much we heal and move on, it shapes us in innumerable ways.
yositodr asked you:
Rob, I love your series about the Bible. My question is, as I’m reading these, I realize that I’ve grown up in a religion that has lost sight of the value of these stories, and turned them into a list of rules. I find it difficult to celebrate these stories, because they are so attached to the baggage that I’ve grown up with. Aside from reading your posts, how can I learn to celebrate these stories and allow my life to be inspired by their meaning?
Okay, here we go:
First, I think you should read God Was in this Place and I, I Did Not Know by Lawrence Kushner.
Then, you ought to read Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff by Christopher Moore.
And then, jump in to The Five Books of Miriam by Ellen Frankel.
Start there, my friend, and let the fireworks begin…
sguilford12 asked you:
Another one: what do you think of penal substitution?
I think it sounds like a disease. Or an operation of some sort, presumably involving a transplant. I also think that any explanation for anything in which people have to be rescued from God is very, very disturbing. And if you actually believed it, could do great damage to your heart and your capacities to love yourself, those around you, and your enemies with the kind of love God has for everybody. God is the one who rescues us, right?
robinellingwood asked you:
Hey Rob (or whoever reads this!), Have you ever spoken or written on Jesus’ words in Luke 23:43 to the criminal on the cross “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise”? If so, where could I find it? Btw, I’m a big fan of your work. Thank you for spreading the good news of God’s love and grace!
Nope. But that word paradise is an interesting one, it’s Persian, and it refers to a walled or enclosed garden. It’s a word used early in the scriptures to describe a place called Eden. So when Jesus says this, he’s dropping all kinds of hints about an Eden reclaimed. Interesting.
monzagirl asked you:
I am really enjoying this series, but I still wonder why in our modern age we would choose to align with this ancient world view. Is it any more logical than believing in Zeus and his gang? I get that the stories are subversive when compared with others of their day but what makes them true? Believable? Followable? Or are we just, as in the Life of Pi, choosing the better story?
Yep, that’s a good one. Several ways to approach it, I’ll start with this: Yes, it is a story. A story about a person, who millions and millions of us believe actually lived and actually lives and actually makes a difference not only in our lives, but in, well, everything.
Let me say it another way: I understand this particular Jesus story to be a path that you take. A way of orienting your life, a a north star of sorts, a mode of living and talking and directing your energies. It’s an active, dynamic, surprising, humbling, inspiring, invigorating way of understanding life. Less worry, more love, less anxiety, more compassion, less judgment, more courage, less fear, more generosity.
So yes, people do argue about which is more logical and true and all that. But I don’t understand it first and foremost in those terms: I believe it’s about each of us getting the help we need to be everything we could be.
And I haven’t seen Zeus do that.
edoubledielong asked you:
Can you talk about what the bible is talking about when it talks about salvation, eternity, judgement day, and stuff like that?
Sure. Next week then, I’ll write about
and that question that has been nagging you for years…
Who paid Jesus’s bills?
When you talk and write about the Bible, what you’ll hear often is the question Why is the Bible THE BIBLE? Why this library? What about books written after the Bible? Why is the Bible a closed library and not an ongoing library that can be added to?
There are lots of answers to these questions, among them I have no idea and Because that would be one massive library. (By the way, the Bible is a fairly large book, correct? Over a thousand pages. It’s funny that one of the most common questions about a book that is over a thousand pages is Why isn’t it longer?)
However you answer those questions, people have been talking and writing about God/Faith/Jesus/Truth/Hope/Salvation/Light/Life for thousands of years now, which means there is a bottomless well of wisdom and brilliance for us to explore.
How familiar are you with the wisdom and brilliance of the Christian tradition? With the mystics? The Church Fathers? The Fransiscans, the Dominicans, the Jesuits? Maximos, Macarius, Climacus?
What I’ve seen again and again is that many religious people are cut off from their own tradition, unaware of the intelligent, insightful, extraordinary things that have already been said about the questions we all have and the topics we all find compelling.
A while ago my friend Brian Pletcher starting sending me quotes from the ancient writers-mostly church fathers, but a few others as well. Over time I began to think that these writings are the best answer to that question Why isn’t the Bible still being written?
Maybe it is…
Let’s start with an epic one from St. John Climacus
God belongs to all free beings. He is the life of all, the salvation of all —faithful and unfaithful, just and unjust, pious and impious, passionate and dispassionate, monks and laymen, wise and simple, healthy and sick, young and old —just as the effusion of light, the sight of the sun, and the changes of the seasons are for all alike; ‘for there is no respect of persons with God.’
from The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 1, Passage
Boom! See what I mean?
I love this one from Met. Kallistos Ware
True faith is a constant dialogue with doubt, for God is incomparably greater than all our preconceptions about Him; our mental concepts are idols that need to be shattered. So as to be fully alive, our faith needs continually to die.
from “The Inner Kingdom: Volume 1 of the Collected Works”
Here’s one from St. John of Kronstadt
Never confuse the person, formed in the image of God, with the evil that is in him, because evil is but a chance misfortune, illness, a devilish reverie. But the very essence of the person is the image of God, and this remains in him despite every disfigurement.
And another from St. Maximos the Confessor
The Holy Spirit is present unconditionally in all things, in that He embraces all things, provides for all, and vivifies the natural seeds within them.
from First Century of Various Texts, The Philokalia, vol. II, p. 180
Vivifies the natural seeds!
How great is that?
Here’s St. Macarius the Great
It often happens that Satan will insidiously commune with you in your heart and say: ‘Think of the evil you have done; your soul is full of lawlessness, you are weighed down by many grievous sins.’ Do not let him deceive you when he does this and do not be led to despair on the pretext that you are being humble. You should answer: ‘I have God’s assurance, for He says: “I desire, not the sinner’s death, but that he should return through repentance and life” (Ezek. 33:11).’ What was the purpose of His descent to earth except to save sinners, to bring light to those in darkness and life to the dead?
This is excerpt is from “The Philokalia”
And then there’s Elder Thaddeus
Our life depends on the kind of thoughts we nurture. If our thoughts are peaceful, calm, meek, and kind, then that is what our life is like. If our attention is turned to the circumstances in which we live, we are drawn into a whirlpool of thoughts and can have neither peace nor tranquility.
from Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives: The Life and Teachings of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica
Elder Ambros of Optina brings it:
Living simply means not judging. Do not judge anyone. For example, here comes Elikonida. She passed by, and that is all. This is what thinking simply means. Otherwise, at seeing Elikonida passing by, you could think about her bad side: she is such and such, her character is thus and so. That is not simple.
To wrap all this up, a few thoughts:
Tradition can be a beautiful thing.
I share these with you because it’s important to always keep in mind that you are not the first. Whatever you’re wrestling with, whatever questions you have, whatever struggles you are facing, someone else has already been there. And a number of them have a lot to teach us.
Welcome to the ongoing conversation.
For a lot of people, the way they were taught about faith was framed primarily in terms of I believe X or Y or Z, which is very different from I am part of a community of people who have been headed in this particular direction for thousands of years… Do you see the difference? It’s not that beliefs aren’t at the center of it, but western spirituality has placed so much stress on the individual that for many people the communal dimensions of faith have been lost along the way.
And then one more, just to keep it real, this one from St. Anthony the Great:
To say that God turns away from the sinful is like saying that the sun hides from the blind.
Next: It’s Friday.
Let’s take a few verses—average, ordinary verses from the Bible, the kind you’ve probably never heard a sermon about, the kind that don’t inspire any bumper stickers, the kind that you’re not going to see on the back of a t-shirt somebody made for their mission trip— and read them.
How about 2 Peter 1v3-4. Sound good?
Here they are:
God’s divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
First, a bit about the words. Stay with me here, because we’re headed somewhere…
The word power here in the original Greek is the word dunamis, from which we get the word dynamite.
Dunamis means energy or force or might.
The word godly is the Greek word eusebeia, which is made of two words: eu means good, and sebeia comes from the verb sebomai which refers to paying homage or reverence. This is important to understand here— godly doesn’t first and foremost mean following a particular set of rules or avoiding certain behaviors or aligning yourself with a specific belief or practice, eusebeia is your inner response to the divine, the reaction in your heart that naturally expresses itself in a sense of wonder and awe. It’s the spontaneous, authentic reaction you have to your pure and real experiences of the divine.
The word knowledge is the word epignosis, which refers to the kind of knowledge you have from personal experience. Epignosis is that which you know because you’ve tasted it and seen it and felt it first hand.
To review, then, the writer here believes that God’s dynamite-like energy gives us everything we need to live lives in which our hearts are transformed as we experience the divine.
All right, then. Moving right along.
God’s great promises. The word great is the word megista. I just like typing that. Megista. Good name for a band, isn’t it? Or your newborn daughter.
And the word promises? It’s the Greek word epangelmata.
Epangelmata. Sounds like a disease, doesn’t it? Here’s where things get fascinating: There are two kinds of promises in the Greek language, one kind are called hyposxeseis and they’re the kind of promises you make to someone when they ask you for something. They make a request of you and then you say I’ll do it. That sort of promise. But epangelmata is different, it’s the kind of promise that is voluntarily or spontaneously made. You commit to doing something for somebody simply because you want to…
And what do these promises do?
They allow us to participate in the divine nature.
Nature is the Greek word phusis (Pronounced foosis. Nice. Foosis. Say it with me. Foosis.)
Participate in the divine nature?
And what does that mean?
Notice how the verse ends…
You participate in the divine nature because you’ve
escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
Escaped in Greek is the word apophuego.
Apo means from,
phuego means to flee, move on, escape by flight, break away by separating.
Corrupt is also translated decay, it’s the word phtheiro, and it refers to moving down from a higher to a lower level of quality.
And there’s evil desires, which is the word epithumia,
epi means focused on,
thymos is passion and desire built on strong feelings
(from which we get the word Thermos. Get it? It holds the heat in…clever, huh?).
Now, for the fun part. Let’s explore just what is going on here and what it means for you and me in 2014.
Whatever these promises are, they appear to unleash something fairly awesome.
So what are these promises? Well, there are lots of them. The Bible is full of them. Hundreds of them, thousands of them. You’re a new creation, you aren’t who you were, you’re redeemed, forgiven, born from above, a child of God, saved, nothing can separate you from the love of God, you reflect the image of God, you’re a saint. The list goes on and on. Too many to count.
The divine energy and power comes from you trusting these promises. The power and transformation and joy and authentic response of your heart does not come from you beating yourself up or speaking negatively about yourself or reminding anybody who will listen of what a sinner you are but from focusing on who God insists you already are.
When you do this, trusting that who God says you are is who you actually are, you will find yourself crossing over into an entirely new mode of living. The writer here uses the phrase evil desires. There’s nothing wrong with desire, desire is actually the engine of this passage. It’s your desire to live in to who God insists you truly are that unleashes the divine power within you. Our problem is we settle in our desires, we find ourselves wanting things that will never bring us the joy or satisfaction we crave. Your problem isn’t that you want certain things, it’s that you want lame substitutes that can’t deliver what you’re really looking for…
The power of these promises is the desire they provoke within us for new and better and inspired life. They wake you up, giving you a new vision for life, guiding you in to your true self. This is why the Jesus story continues to have such enduring power in our world-he comes in his full humanity to lead us in to our full humanity.
And when this happens, you find yourself participating in the divine nature (foosis!!!).
We come from God. We bear the image of the divine. We live and move and have our being in the divine. All of our lives flow from this one, singular source.
Which of course raises a number of questions: What stories do you tell yourself about who you are? Do you endlessly beat yourself up for all of your shortcomings? Do you have negative voices that play on repeat in your head and heart? Do you constantly feel plagued by who you aren’t?
Why? Does that make you a better, more loving person? Does listening to these voices fill you with joy and inspire you?
Of course not. Why? Because that’s not where the life is. The life, the engine, the catalyst, the thing that unleashes the divine dynamite in you is when you trust that you really are who God insists you are.
You can experience this,
you can live this,
you can taste this,
you can participate in the divine nature.
Next: Welcome to the Tradition
A few years ago I was speaking somewhere in the midwest and at the end of my talk I took questions and a young fella stood up at one point with a large Bible open in his hands and he began his question by reading from the book of Romans and then he asked me Is your God big enough to predestine some people to hell because of divine wrath?
Or something like that. It was as awkward as it sounds. I’ll tell you how I answered later, but part of me at the time considered responding So, what Bible college do you attend?
Because it’s usually only really, really religious folks who ask questions like that about who is chosen and who isn’t and who’s elect and who’s predestined and who’s in and who’s out.
So here’s what I think about all that: It’s a completely ridiculous discussion that only leads to insane debates and ideas that make people miserable and confused and distract them from actually becoming the kinds of people Jesus teaches us to be.
But not really, right? Because why then do we find find these words predestined and elect in the Bible? Why did people use these words? What were they getting at by using these words?
A few thoughts.
In the scriptures, election is always instrumental. What do I mean by instrumental? Think about how we use the word election now: People vote for someone to do a particular task (President, Student Union Leader, Sanitation Supervisor) by having an election. The person who wins, who’s elected, is elected to do that particular task. People aren’t elected simply to be elected, election is for the purpose of doing something.
Now, let’s think about this in relation to the Bible. What is the Bible about? It’s about a tribe of people who have this sense that they are called to be a tribe unlike the other tribes. At that time, tribes existed to serve themselves, to accumulate and form alliances for self preservation. But this tribe, this tribe starts with a story about a man named Abram who’s God tells him that the whole world is going to be blessed through him. This tribe believes they have a calling that extends way beyond themselves, to the ends of the earth. They’re a tribe that exists not just for their own well being but for the well being of all the other tribes.
Can you see why they may have used a word like election? The word was organically connected with mission, purpose, calling, action on behalf of others, for their well being.
Were they always true to this sense of election?
No. That’s what you see in the gospels again and again: Jesus calling his tribe back to their origins, to their mission, to their divine responsibility to be a light to the world.
The word occurs 6 times in the Bible.
In Greek the word is proorizo which is two Greek words, the word pro which means before
the word horizo from which we get the word horizon,
it also means boundaries or limits or to mark out before hand
Now, let’s look at one verse Ephesians 1 where it’s used:
God predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with God’s pleasure and will—to the praise of God’s glorious grace, which God has freely given us in the One God loves…
A couple of observations:
The context is adoption.
Have you ever been in an airport and there’s a crowd of people waiting at the gate because a family member or friend of theirs has gone overseas and adopted a child and now they’re about to land and all these friends and loved ones have gathered to welcome the family and their new child home? They’re holding welcome home signs and they’ve got stuffed animals and t-shirts that say grandpa and grandma on them (As if the baby can read! But it’s still moving, isn’t it?) and there’s always a brother-in-law, the techy one, who’s holding a video camera. And then the plane lands and the family comes down the hall and they turn the corner and everybody starts crying and hugging and you’re standing there totally caught up in it, aren’t you?
Adoption. That’s the context of this verse.
In accordance with God’s pleasure and will…
What God does in this verse, namely adopting lots of kids, is for God’s pleasure. God is a pleasure seeker, and what brings God immeasurable pleasure is welcoming people home into the family.
Which God has freely given us in the One God loves…
The One there is a reference to Jesus. The writer Paul here wants his readers to see the point of Jesus, which is to show us the love that God freely has for all of us, expressed specifically in the love God has for him.
Now, an illustration. Let’s say that your friend Lulu from college works in a city far from where you live and you haven’t seen her since you graduated but one day you learn that you’re going to be taking a business trip to that city. You track Lulu down and suggest that you get together for a meal while you’re in town. You tell her the hotel you’ll be staying at and she emails back that she works just around the corner from there so why don’t you meet her at her work? Sounds great. The day comes and you show up at the address she gave you which is a little hole in the wall that looks like it used to be a barber shop…
A bit of background on Lulu: She was always organized. Crazy organized. On it like no one else. Shelves neatly organized, desk spotless, clothes hung perfectly. Not in a neurotic way, just in a Wow, Lulu like things organized kind of way.
So, you walk in the door and Lulu is sitting at a desk showing something on a large sheet of paper to a woman who is sitting next to her and they’re deep in conversation and the woman is listening intently to whatever it is Lulu is saying. She sees you and gives you the just a minute sign and so you sit down and watch her. Whatever it is, the woman Lulu is talking to is soaking up her words and when they’re done the woman thanks Lulu profusely and gives her a hug and says I don’t know what I’d do without you and then walks out.
You and Lulu then greet and hug and then you ask Lulu the question you are dying to ask, which is, of course…
Lulu, who does your hair?
(Hahahahaha, got you! Didn’t see that coming did you!)
No, you don’t ask her about her hair, you ask her
Lulu, what do you do?
She then explains that after college she got a masters in social work and then she was hired by city social services but over time she learned that most of the people she was interacting with needed help organizing their lives, setting up a budget, prioritizing needs vs. wants and that if she could help them do that, it might save them lots of hassle and stress in others areas of their lives. So she found this old barbershop and set up a non-profit life coaching practice and she’s never had more fun…
You are so inspired by this story Lulu is telling and you think about what she was like in college and you picture that woman’s face who she was helping and you say…
Lulu, it feels like you were meant to do this.
Now, let’s pause and focus on this word meant that you just used, because it has huge significance. You’re struck with how it seems Lulu was meant to do this. What do you mean when you use this word meant? What you mean is that this isn’t an accident, who Lulu is and the kind of skills she has and the work she’s doing aren’t random or pointless but it in some very difficult way to describe speaks to you about how the universe is supposed to function.
What you just did in talking about how meaningful it was to watch Lulu do her thing was to refer back in time, to your sense that Lulu’s life has been leading up to this moment. To give depth to the power of what she’s up to in the present, you placed her job in the context of her whole life, naming the trajectory that you saw early glimpses of in college but are now seeing in its fullness, and it’s beautiful. So when the first Christians were trying to explain this extraordinary new thing that was happening in people’s hearts and lives through the resurrected Christ, can you see how they used language that implied a sense of intention and purpose from earlier in time?
All that said, a few truths to wrap this up:
People often use these words to narrow God’s actions, but in the Bible they’re used to expand our understanding of what God is up to.
The God who freely gives, who calls us children because it brings God pleasure, people who have a sense of election by which they mean responsibility and destiny to bless others…These words are continually, consciously used to speak of God’s expansive desire and efforts to rescue and redeem and restore everything and everybody.
(By the way, if anyone ever quotes Romans chapters 9-11 while arguing their case for why some are predestined and some aren’t, point out to them that the crescendo of that particular section is 11:25 where Paul writes that all Israel will be saved.
All. Israel. Will. Be. Saved.
If the passage is about some kind of God who chooses some and not others, then why is the exclamation point at the end that all of Israel will be saved? Boom.)
Always ask yourself when you come across something that religious people have been debating and discussing for years what would happen if you actually had concrete answers to the questions.
When I have been asked whether some are chosen or not, I always ask How would you ever know such a thing? and more importantly How would that ever make your life better?
Some things that religious people make a big deal of are rather pointless. Avoid the insanity.
How often do you ask What would it feel like to swallow a hair dryer while it was turned on?
No, you don’t, because it’s not interesting. And if you could answer the question, what would you have gained?
Here then is my word to you: Don’t participate in discussions that are pointless. You can say yes to God’s love and grace today, you can be grateful for each and every breath, you can trust that there is meaningful work for you to do today in the world. You can heal, you can be free, you can become more and more courageous and full of joy. All of this can be more and more the dominant reality of your life as you become more and more the person Jesus insists you can be. Why would you spend time on topics and discussions that have nothing to do with the very real invitation every single one of us have right now to live life to the fullest?
Oh, and that guy who stood up and asked that question?
My answer was
Talking about music is like
dancing about architecture.
-Thelonius Monk (Or was it Frank Zappa? Or Elvis Costello? Or someone else…?)
It happened again yesterday. It happens all the time. I meet someone who is on a journey, like we all are, and they’ve recently grown in their understanding of faith. Growing up they were handed an understanding from their parents, church, college, youth group, town, etc. and as they got older it simply didn’t work like it used to and they began to be less and less engaged.
And then something happened. They read a book, they had a conversation, they heard someone speak, and for the first time they had language for what they’d been experiencing. They realized there are others way to talk about and understand faith/Jesus/God/The Bible/growth
and they’re thrilled.
And then they share what they’re learning with the people around them and it doesn’t go so well. Their friends and family and roommates don’t get it, furrowing their brow and saying things like I’m concerned about your new theology and This new direction you’re taking is troubling and the clincher Where is Jesus in all this?
Is this you?
This post is for all of you are are alive in ways you’ve never been before, learning and growing and making connections and seeing things you haven’t seen before but when you’ve shared this new faith and understanding with others you’ve been dismayed to discover that not everybody is so thrilled.
Having heard the stories of countless people like you, here are a few things to keep in mind:
You can’t take people where they don’t want to go. The thing that you are so happy to be freed from works for some people. They like it. It feels safe. It provides meaning and security. So when you challenge it and quote whoever you’ve been reading lately and ask the questions that opened new doors for you, they do not find this energizing.
Groups have a center of gravity. Families, friends, churches, offices and schools all have a dominant consciousness, a center of gravity, a party line. It’s the often unspoken agreement that keeps things running smoothly based on what to believe, how to behave, what’s acceptable and what isn’t. So when you charge in all excited about whatever it is you’ve learned, you are a disruption. And systems don’t take kindly to disruptions, often expending extraordinary energy to quell the disruption, pushing it to the edges, discrediting it. This is why some churches ban books, this is why certain topics are off limits at family gatherings, and this is often why people use words like heretic.
Because of this, some voices that you once listened to will no longer be helpful. In fact, some voices that once helped you if you continue to listen to them will hinder your growth.
It may even feel like a step backward-because it is.
This is normal. Painful, but normal. If you continue to listen to them as you get increasingly frustrated and angry, it is not their fault, it is yours. They are continuing to do and be who they have always been, it is you who have changed. It is your responsibility to stop listening to voices that hinder your ongoing growth and maturity.
You may need to create boundaries with certain people. For some people, it will appear as though you are going off the deep end and they may see it as their sacred task to rescue you. No matter how earnest they are, their constant desire to engage you may not be very life giving, and you may have to kindly but firmly say to them We are not going to have this conversation again.
Third, you may be kind and gracious and generous and you still may lose friends. You may be labeled something crazy and untrue. You may find that certain people avoid you. This can be disorienting, to say the least. In those moments, when you are feeling the cold, stiff breeze of loneliness, I want you to ask yourself this question: Would I rather go back?
Would you rather be alive and free and open and thrilled with all that is happening in your heart or would you rather go back to who and how you were before? I didn’t think so. Remember that.
It is very difficult to find words for experiences. You may be exploding with new insights and hope and life but if your friend hasn’t experienced something similar, you going on and on and on about it may not be helping them see what you’ve seen. In fact, it may be causing harm. Be patient. Don’t force your experiences on others. The moving of the spirit is a great mystery, and how or why or when certain people wake up is beyond us. Let people have their own experiences.
Bitterness is not your friend. It’s easy to become cynical, focusing your energies on them and endlessly wondering why they aren’t more evolved and why they are still stuck back there, repeating the same slogans and going through the same motions. If you are filled with pride over how free and intelligent and enlightened you are in comparison to their backwards, antiquated ways, your new knowledge has simply made you arrogant. Watch your heart carefully, because if you aren’t more compassionate and more kind and more understanding then you haven’t grown at all.
Celebrate. Think back over the last six months, over the last year, over the last five years. You aren’t the person you were. You’ve grown, evolved, opened up, been set free. Celebrate that. Not because you’re so great, but because you’re grateful. If all of the new things you’ve experienced don’t first and foremost make you grateful, then what have you gained?
For Jesus the criteria is fruit. You’ll know people by their fruit, by their life, by how they actually live in the world. Lots of people get excited about new ideas and then they shove these new understandings in other people’s faces and become the very thing they despise. (If you have bought more than five copies of Love Wins for the same person and they still haven’t read it, I’m talking about you. Haha) If a new idea or understanding or interpretation doesn’t help transform you into the kind of person Jesus is calling us all to be then it isn’t worth much. Are you more forgiving that you were? Less judgmental? More present? More courageous? Less worried and anxious, more free and loving? That’s what interesting, you being transformed. You can debate and discuss and try to prove and show who’s right and who’s wrong-but living the life Christ invites us to…that’s where it’s at.
Remember that you are not alone. Never ever forget this. Especially if you’ve tried church after church in your town and you’ve begun to despair that you’re the only one who sees it like this. You’re not alone. There are millions of us.
Are some of the dominant understandings of what it means to be a Christian going through massive upheaval?
Is something new being birthed, something involving what it means to follow Jesus?
Are things changing on an epic, historic scale?
I believe so.
Are we living in the midst of a new Reformation?
I think so.
Is there hope for everyone who feels like they’re the only one in their town thinking like this?
What is the Bible?
Next: Predestination, Election, and that Burning Feeling in the Pit of Your Soul