Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Agree to Disagree

Usually, when you hear "Let's just agree to disagree" that means that the two sides have discussed something and neither has been effective in persuading the other. For the parties involved, agreement on the topic is not likely to happen, so they "agree to disagree". Sometimes that's the best solution to a disagreement.

But that's not what I'm talking about right now when I say "agree to disagree."

One thing I've noticed over the last 20+ years is that all too often, Christians like to disagree. Sometimes they disagree with those outside the church. But mostly, they disagree with those not in the same kind of church. So, a church becomes a group of people who all agree with each other that they disagree with everyone else. Their identity becomes the points of disagreement with other churches.

I've seen this focus on disagreement over and over, and I especially see it on Facebook.

Recently I recommended a quote to a friend. I knew he agreed with the quote and I thought the quote expressed the sentiment eloquently. But the author of the quote is not a member of the same religious tribe. So, the response was something like, "I don't think I would agree with everything he says, but I like the quote."

A couple of years ago, there was a viral youtube video by Jefferson Bethke called "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus". I recommended it on my Facebook page. I wrote a note about it. And I got some very harsh private feedback because I don't agree with what Jeff Bethke teaches and because he is not in my religious tribe, but I recommended the video anyway. At that time, I felt the need to put in a "I don't agree with everything..." disclaimer, something I no longer see the need to do. It's safe to assume that I don't completely agree with any author or speaker that I quote, so such a disclaimer is superfluous.

A Facebook friend recently posted a link about sharing the gospel with gay friends. It was a well done article that expressed the nature and ubiquity of sin and the forgiveness of God very well and exhorted humility. But it was written by someone in a different kind of church. The first comment was a preacher from his religious tribe saying basically, "I don't agree with everything the article says, but it's pretty good."

And I see this. All. The. Time. Over and over. I disagree with this, but...

What the what? Since when do I have to agree with everything someone says before I recommend something he says? And why do people have a tendency to get so focused on disagreement? 

This focus on disagreement is something the Bible warns us about. In the Bible, it's called strife, contention, variance, quarreling, wrangling, etc. It's not good. It's a work of the flesh. (Gal. 5:20; 1 Cor. 3:3; 1 Tim. 6:4; Rom. 1:29 etc. etc. etc.) Don't look for points of disagreement. It will consume and devour you and in turn, you will consume and devour those with whom you disagree.

Oh I admit to being guilty of this. I'm not on my moral high horse here. I've sat through sermons looking for points of disagreement. I've sat listening intently for a mistake so I could point it out. It's horrible and destructive. I've listened to sermons and then talked to people about what all the preacher said that we disagreed with. My partners and I agreed to disagree with the preacher and we enjoyed discussing the disagreement. It's not healthy. Remember, love does not provoke. Love does not think evil. Love does not dishonor others.

For the past 20+ years, I've been trained to find points of disagreement. I've been trained to look for errors. I want to change that focus and look for agreement. I want to find common ground. I want to be more positive. I want to look for what's right. I want to ask, "What good thing can I learn from this author or speaker?" instead of "What bad thing can I expose?"

As I mentioned in a previous post, some say I believe "anything goes". Yet here I am again pointing out something that's wrong. Looking for points of disagreement is wrong. Seeking an argument is wrong. Looking for variance with someone else is a work of the flesh. It robs us of joy and this nit-picking attitude comes from our enemy. It does not come from love.

If the church is known for what it disapproves or for its disagreement, then I fear that contention, strife, variance, quarreling, discord, etc. have a stronghold on the church. Jesus said that His disciples would be known for how we love one another. How about instead of agreeing with each other to disagree with everyone else, let's agree to not be so disagreeable.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

God's Version of Your Story

This post does not contain my own ideas. I recently read "Love Wins" by Rob Bell and this portion of the book stood out to me, and I wanted to share it. I recommend that you pick up this book and read it.

In Chapter 7, Bell tells the story found in Luke 15:11-32 that we know as the parable of the Prodigal Son. I'd recommend that you read that story from the text again now before proceeding with reading this post.

The story goes that a man had two sons, and the younger one asked for his portion of the inheritance early. The father unexpectedly gives him what he asks. The younger son takes his portion, moves far away, and wastes all of it. After wasting everything, he had nothing and became hungry and ended up taking a job feeding pigs who had better food than he had. He realized that his father's slaves had a better life than he had. So, he decided that he'd go home. But he didn't expect to go home as a son. He was going to go home and beg his father to allow him to be a slave, knowing that he didn't deserve to be considered a son any more. Again, unexpectedly, his father runs to meet him and doesn't listen to his spiel about being unworthy and throws a party because of his return.

And often we stop telling the story there. It is a beautiful story if we stop there. The father runs to meet his son who was lost and celebrates with a feast. But there is more. Many in the church have never been lost in the same sense that the younger son was. Many in the church are more like the older son.

The older son was angry and refused to join the feast. His father begged him. But the older son thought he had been treated unfairly. He thought he had slaved for his father and had never disobeyed. Even though he had obeyed and slaved all this time, his father had never even given him a goat, let alone a calf. The older son is angry at his father because of how graciously he is treating his younger brother. Yet the Father says, "All that I have is yours."

Rob Bell's discussion of this story is excellent. Listen to what he says about the younger brother.
The younger brother tells a story. It is his version of his story, and as he heads home in shame after squandering his father’s money, he rehearses the speech he’ll give his father. He is convinced he’s “no longer worthy” to be called his father’s son. That’s the story he’s telling, that’s the one he’s believing. It’s stunning, then, when he gets home and his father demands that the best robe be put on him and a ring placed on his finger and sandals on his feet. Robes and rings and sandals are signs of being a son. Although he’s decided he can’t be a son anymore, his father tells a different story. One about return and reconciliation and redemption. One about his being a son again.

The younger son has to decide whose version of his story he’s going to trust: his or his father’s. One in which he is no longer worthy to be called a son or one in which he’s a robe-, ring-, and sandal-wearing son who was dead but is alive again, who was lost but has now been found.

There are two versions of his story.
And his father’s.

He has to choose which one he will live in.
Which one he will believe.
Which one he will trust.

Bell, Rob (2011-03-15). Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (pp. 165-166). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 

Now, listen to the what Bell says about the older brother.
Same, it turns out, for the older brother. He too has his version of his story. He tells his father, “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours
(he can’t even say his brother’s name)
who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!”

So much in so few words. One senses he’s been saving it up for years, and now out it comes, with venom.

First, in his version of events, he’s been slaving for his father for years. That’s how he describes life in his father’s house: slaving. That directly contradicts the few details we’ve been given about the father, who appears to be anything but a slave driver.

Second, he says his father has never even given him a goat. A goat doesn’t have much meat on it, so even in conjuring up an image of celebration, it’s meager. Lean. Lame. The kind of party he envisions just isn’t that impressive. What he reveals here is what he really thinks about his father: he thinks he’s cheap.

Third, he claims that his father has dealt with his brother according to a totally different set of standards. He thinks his father is unfair. He thinks he’s been wronged, shorted, shafted. And he’s furious about it.

All with the party in full swing in the background.

The father isn’t rattled or provoked. He simply responds, “My son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours.” And then he tells him that they have to celebrate.

“You are always with me,
and everything I have is yours.”

In one sentence the father manages to tell an entirely different story about the older brother.

First, the older son hasn’t been a slave. He’s had it all the whole time. There’s been no need to work, obey orders, or slave away to earn what he’s had the whole time.

Second, the father hasn’t been cheap with him. He could have had whatever he wanted whenever he wanted it. Everything the father owns has always been his, which includes, of course, fattened calves. All he had to do was receive.

Third, the father redefines fairness. It’s not that his father hasn’t been fair with him; it’s that his father never set out to be fair in the first place. Grace and generosity aren’t fair; that’s their very essence. The father sees the younger brother’s return as one more occasion to practice unfairness. The younger son doesn’t deserve a party— that’s the point of the party. That’s how things work in the father’s world. Profound unfairness.

People get what they don’t deserve.
Parties are thrown for younger brothers who squander their inheritance.

After all,
“You are always with me,
and everything I have is yours.”

What the father does is retell the older brother’s story. Just as he did with the younger brother. The question, then, is the same question that confronted the younger brother— will he trust his version of his story or his father’s version of his story?

Who will he trust?
What will he believe?

The difference between the two stories is,
after all,
the difference between heaven . . . and hell.

Bell, Rob (2011-03-15). Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (pp. 165-169). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition. 
Whose side of your story do you believe? Your side of the story?
Or God's side of your story?

Friday, January 17, 2014

Who Should Be There?

Just as background for this post, I'll mention that for some reason, I'm sometimes accused of believing that anything goes. I'm accused of believing that it's wrong to tell someone that something they're doing is wrong. Think about that for a moment. It's self defeating. If anything goes, then anything goes, including telling someone that something is wrong.

To be clear, I do not believe that anything goes. I believe that excessive and harsh condemnation is wrong. I believe that "excessive and harsh condemnation" describes what I see a lot of Christians doing. But that doesn't mean that I believe that it's wrong to help someone identify and overcome sin.

I believe that God did not send His Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him (John 3:17). When we are excessively and harshly condemning the world, we are not following Christ.

Having provided that background... Recently, I was having a conversation with someone about what I believe and why some of my beliefs have changed. During this conversation, the person said something like this: "You just want everyone to be okay."

I wasn't sure how to respond. My initial thought was to try (again) to explain that I don't believe that "anything goes." But then I thought about it and realized that it's a true statement. Yeah. I do. I just want everyone to be okay. I want everyone to be saved. I do. In fact, I want that badly. And the more I think about it, the more I can't understand why someone doesn't. Why would you want someone not to be okay? Why would you want someone not to be saved?

Who should be in heaven?

Who do you want to be there?

Is there anyone that you hope doesn't make it to heaven?

I want everyone to be there.

For God so loved the world.

There. I said it. That's what I want. I hope everyone is in heaven. Furthermore, I can't imagine why someone thinks that's wrong. I can't understand why someone thinks that's a negative thing for me to believe. I don't understand why someone wants someone to be in hell, especially if they believe that hell is eternal conscious torment. I don't understand that level of contempt for another human being.

In fact, God wants everyone to be saved. God wants everyone to be in heaven. Every. One. Of. Us. And He wants that much more than I want it and He's paid a much bigger price for it than I ever could.
1 John 2:2 He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world.
And when I consider the context of 1 John, that makes me want this even more. 1 John 2:1 says that John is writing those things "that you may not sin". And verse 3 says that we know that we know Him if we keep His commandments. That's precisely what I want. I want everyone to know Him. I want everyone to know that they know Him. I want everyone to "not sin" because sin leads to destruction. I want everyone there because I want everyone to do what is good.
1 Tim. 2:3-4 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 
In fact, Paul says that God wants exactly this, too. God wants all to be saved. God wants all to come to the knowledge of the truth. God wants everyone there. All. People. Me. You. My enemies. Your enemies. God wants us all there with Him.
2 Pet. 3:9  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.
Peter says the same thing. Peter's statement is in a context of judgment that is coming. The ungodly will be judged. And Peter says that there is coming a new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells. And not only are we waiting for it, we're eagerly anticipating it. Hoping for it to come speedily. Though the language there doesn't necessarily imply this, it makes me think of our actions having influence over this coming. It makes me think that we can, by bringing light and hope to others, hasten the coming of the new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells.

Now to be clear, I'm not saying that everyone will be there. I don't know who will and who won't, and frankly, neither do you. Also, if the new heaven and new earth is the dwelling place of righteousness, then it follows that sin won't be there. So, the people who are there are the people in whom God has completed His redemptive work, freeing them from sin. So, I'm not saying that everyone will be there and I'm not saying that those who are not redeemed can be or will even want to be there. I'm saying that yes, I want everyone to be there. I want everyone to be okay and God wants that, too.

Who should be there? Everyone.  God wants everyone to turn to Him and turn away from sin. That's what I want, too. I want everyone to be made more like Him.