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Seasons of Death, Life, and Growth

Spring has officially arrived in the Midwest and new life is blossoming all around, from the cacophony of bird songs in the air to the flowers on the trees and in gardens. If you’re like me, the arrival of spring is met with a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Spring comes just at the moment when you are most sick of the cold and deadness of winter. It erupts in beauty and color and finally gives a break in the weather that will allow you to leave the house without 75 layers of clothing. The days begin to lengthen and you’re more likely to see sunshine during your day. The apprehension comes from knowing everything that spring brings with it–allergies and insects to start with. With more time comes the need to do more work–more yard work, more cleaning, more organizing, more gardening. Spring is beautiful, but it sure is hard work.

As I look ahead to summer, I think about the people who live in year-round warm climates. The people who don’t experience winter, not the icicles-on-your-eyebrows, foot-of-snow-and-more-forecasted kind of winter. As often as I have wished to live in one of these warmer climates, more often I am grateful for living in a temperate climate, where I get my fill every year of the hot, sultry days of summer as well as the cold, frozen days of winter. Most of all, I love the in-betweens: spring and fall.

In between the hot deadness of summer and the frozen deadness of winter is the blaze of life and color that come with spring and fall. In spring we celebrate new life, new growth, colorful blossoms filling the trees even before the leaves grow. As the world thaws, everything comes back to life in full force. In fall we celebrate the culmination of life with harvests of pumpkins and apples, and garish displays of plenty at our Thanksgiving feasts. The trees blaze with glorious color even as we are reminded that the leaves are dying. This is what I love about the Midwest and why I can suffer through 30 below windchills year after year. There’s a saying you often hear in the Midwest “If you don’t like the weather, wait 10 minutes.” I would change this to “If you don’t like the season, wait 3 months.”

God promised that as long as the earth endures, we will have seasons. Which is good news if you like spring.

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C. S. Lewis gives the best explanation for seasons in his book The Screwtape Letters:

Since they need change, the Enemy [God] has made change pleasurable to them, just as He has made eating pleasurable. But since He does not wish them to make change, any more than eating, an end in itself, He has balanced the love of change in them by a love of permanence. He has contrived to gratify both tastes together in the very world He has made, by that union of change and permanence which we call Rhythm. He gives them the seasons, each season different yet every year the same, so that spring is always felt as a novelty yet always as the recurrence of an immemorial theme. He gives them in His Church a spiritual year; they change from a fast to a feast, but it is the same feast as before.

God has designed us for change, for seasons, and like the seasons in nature, we each experience seasons in our lives. Lewis talks about these seasons earlier in The Screwtape Letters, in the character of Screwtape, a senior demon giving advice to a younger demon about tempting humans using what he calls the law of Undulation. “Their nearest approach to constancy is undulation–the repeated return to a level from which they repeatedly fall back, a series of troughs and peaks.” He goes on to explain to his underling that troughs, or periods of dryness, are God’s way of producing growth in his followers. “It is during the trough periods, much more than the peak periods, that it is growing into the sort of creature He wants it to be.”

It is the long, cold, dead winter that makes way for spring.

There’s an interesting phenomena about tree roots. They don’t grow during the winter, but they are always ready to grow. At the first hint of spring, long before anything above ground has had any sort of growth, the tree roots do the most growing. . It’s not a slow, steady growth, it’s a burst of growth, right at the end of winter. Just when the tree looks deadest, it experiences the greatest growth. Winter is necessary for spring. Growth happens when the old has a chance to die.

Sometimes in our understanding of theology we refuse to let old thoughts and old systems die. We understand growth in theology. Yes, it’s important to keep learning, keep studying, keep thinking. But we have a hard time giving up the old ways of thinking. Admitting that the old way of thinking is ready to die is perhaps admitting that we believed something false or taught something wrong. So, instead of learning and growing, we instead work even harder to prove that our old way of thinking still works. Imagine a tree fighting to keep its leaves through the winter while still attempting to grow new leaves for the next season. It’s impossible.

Just as a parent must explain to a small child that their baby teeth have to fall out to make room for their adult teeth. So, in our belief structures, the immature beliefs have to die to make room for the mature beliefs. God desires growth and growth becomes impossible when we refuse to let the old die.

Winter doesn’t kill the tree, it kills the leaves. The tree remains and when new leaves grow in the spring, the tree is even more beautiful, mature, solid than before. Maybe it’s time to find out what is the tree and what are the leaves of your theology. Let the leaves die.

What are some old beliefs that you’ve had to let die? What did you discover that hasn’t changed?

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Top Eight Ways Theology is Misunderstood

For the last decade or so, I’ve really enjoyed theology and what it has taught me so far, and I’m constantly excited to find something new to learn about.   As I go to share about the exciting things I’ve just discovered with others, I have come to realize sometimes people have a misunderstanding of what theology is and the purpose it serves.  So, I thought I would take this blog and take time to debunk theology’s most common misunderstandings.

1.  “Theology is for smart people who overanalyze”

Truth is, theology is for everyone.  In fact, if you are a person who wants to learn about God and grow in your relationship with him, then technically, you’re a theologian.  How can that be?  Theology means, “the study of God”.   So what one believes about God is his/her theology.  Sometimes, it can be intimidating by all the big words, but most of what you believe already has a big word to it, you just may not know it.  For example, we probably have all heard the phrase “God-sized hole in our hearts”.   We understand this concept, but we may not know there’s a big word for that, and it’s Prevenient Grace.  Concepts are more important than big words.  And really, big words can be broken down or can be renamed to make it easier.  No Ph.D. is required to be a theologian, just a mind that is open and is willing to be challenged about what one already knows about God.

2.  “It’s boring.  I know everything there is to know about God.”

No one knows everything there is to know about God.  I have heard testimonies of others (and my own testimony as well) is that walking into a seminary theological class is a rude awakening to how dynamic and bigger the study of God is!  Theology is so far beyond clichés, and easy answers.  He is FAR greater than our minds can conceive and He’s constantly revealing Himself.  It’s possible to be bored because one has heard the same beliefs several times and isn’t being challenged, but it’s impossible to be bored because one knows everything there is to know about God.

3.  “Theology is a bunch of people arguing.”

Well, yes, theology can be a bunch of theologians sitting around arguing, and those are the theologians I would HIGHLY recommend one to stay away from.  There are plenty of theologians who are willing to sit down and discuss conflicting points of views without arguing, they just aren’t as visible.  Why?   Well… because their images don’t sell like those who fight.  In Church history, discussions about Jesus happened often and people came with ideas and threw ideas around and that was it—people learning together and from one another.  However, our culture has a lot of arrogance and pride in thinking that he/she is right.  Stay away from pointless arguing, it’s access drama we don’t need in our lives.  Discussion is great for the soul though.  And remember, “Agree to disagree” is a great phrase to not only say, but practice as well.

4. “Education can’t teach us about God, only the Holy Spirit can.”

This one confuses me when I hear it.  It almost insinuates that the Holy Spirit has only existed within my lifetime, and is only able to talk to me today.   Truthfully, the Holy Spirit has been around since eternity, and The Holy Spirit is omnipresent.  The Holy Spirit has spoken through theologians such as John Wesley and Barbara Rossing and thousands of others.  The Holy Spirit has spoken to teachers who educate at colleges and institutes.  The Holy Spirit has spoken to so many people over the years and years of its existence.  To say only the Holy Spirit can teach me is to limit the Holy Spirit’s voice by shutting down other believers’ testimony.  We need to understand that The Holy Spirit doesn’t only speak to me, but speaks through educators as well.

5.  “It’s too confusing and I don’t like it.”

I don’t believe it’s too confusing for 99% of the population.  What I really think is behind this statement is that it’s outside one’s comfort zone.

In the church realm, if I don’t like, per say, teaching a 5 year old Sunday School class, I’m told to get out of my comfort zone.  Try something new!  It’s important to be stretched.  But if I bring up a challenging concept of theology, it’s can be shrugged off and everyone is okay with moving on to the next topic.   I’m left with this question, “Why is it required of me to get out of my comfort zone when it comes to action but not in beliefs?”  But why and how does theology get one outside of his/her comfort zone?  Sharon Putt once said, “I think that, traditionally, theologians have always messed around with the doctrines.  Our tradition is to continue interpreting and reinterpreting the traditions…  It’s our tradition to keep messing with tradition.”

In other words, theology takes us outside of our comfort zone, because it’s challenging what we already know and have made a regular practice in our Spiritual lives.  But just for the sake of clarification, theologians don’t stir things up just for the sake of annoying people or making people uncomfortable.  No, rather, it’s to make The Bible still applicable today.  Our lives around us change from generation to generation, so God is constantly revealing Himself through those changes.  And we constantly have to evaluate and reevaluate how God is revealing Himself today verses how He revealed Himself yesterday. And just because one has studied with an open mind about a different theology doesn’t mean one has to readily accept it, that’s not the point.  The point is to look at something new.  Sometimes change is made, sometimes it isn’t.

So get out of your theological comfort zone!  Try to understand and learn something new!  It’s good to be stretched!  J

6. “Ah, that’s for the pastors.  He/she will preach it to me.”

Did you ever watch “Reading Rainbow” or perhaps watch it with your kids?  And do you remember how Levar Burton would say the books were great but, “Don’t take my word for it” meaning, you should probably go get the book, read it, and enjoy it for yourself.  I feel the same way about The Bible, “don’t take my word for it”.  Search it out, seek it out, study it, ask questions, memorize it, critique it, tear it apart and put it back together again (metaphorically, not literally), etc…  Trust me, your pastor doesn’t know it all, because us pastors are not God.  We don’t know it all.  But if you learn some, and I learn some, we can learn and grow twice as much together.

Plus, thinking like this leads to ignorance.  Ignorance is not bliss.  Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”  If we open up our understanding to various views of things than we can learn more about people even if we don’t agree with them.  Shutting a topic out doesn’t make it go away, but it can make one’s faith pretty insecure and shaky.

7.  “If my salvation doesn’t depend upon it, it’s not important.”

Yes, yes it is.  If salvation doesn’t depend on it, then it’s not worth arguing and fighting over, however, EVERYTHING is worth a discussion and conversation.  Why?  Because what we believe affects our actions far beyond what we think or imagine!  My biggest character changes have come from changing my beliefs, not from “trying harder” which only lead to failure.

8.  “What if I believe something wrong?”

In the strictest form, Orthodoxy is the only place we need to be concerned about what is right or wrong.  Orthodoxy is the universal beliefs of every Christian Church.  For example, all Christian denominations believe Jesus is God’s Son and He died on the cross and rose again.  Not all Christian Churches believe communion is required for salvation, so therefore, that topic is not Orthodoxy.  There are tons of topics to explore and draw from, and if you are really concerned, seek out a mentor who is willing to guide you and someone you trust.  Discussion is good for the soul.

Jesus

Father Forgive Them

Caiaphas rubbed his chin, “We have got to get rid of Jesus!” he said to his fellow priest.

“He’s a threat!”

“He’s beyond a threat.  He forgives without offering sacrifices.  He socializes with the outcasts.  And this week he said he was going to tear down this temple and rebuild it in three days.  Tear down our temple!  And then he comes in scattering all the merchants this way and that proclaiming zeal for his Father’s house.  If we don’t get rid of Jesus, he’s going to lead people away from us, and before you know it, no one will be in the temple.  No, no, he’s far worse than a threat,” Caiaphas explained.

“And that means we no longer have a hold on the religion and we’d also lose our political power.”

“Exactly,” Caiaphas agreed.  “We need to get rid of him and there is only one way.  We must kill him, but not just any way.  We must kill him in a way that he will be an example as to scare off any other trouble makers that arise.  We don’t need any of his disciples taking his place in this rebellion against the temple.”

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Judas clung onto the 30 pieces of silver as he led the Roman soldiers and chief priests to where Jesus was at in the Garden of Gethsemane.  What an easy way to earn money.  All he had to do was identify his Messiah.  Judas even found the perfect way to identify him, and it was with a kiss.  Such a simple deed for a good sum of money.

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Pilate’s wife said to her servant, “Send a message to my husband.  Beg, plead and do whatever need be to make sure he doesn’t kill the innocent man on trial.  For I have been tortured about it all night long.  I can’t take it any longer!  Just tell him to free whoever the man is so I can be at peace.

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The crowd became louder, “CRUCIFY HIM!  CRUCIFY HIM!”

Pilate heard the roar.  So to keep himself from being convicted of sentencing an innocent man to death, and from keeping a riot from occurring, he washed his hands and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood.  It is your responsibility.”

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“Hey aren’t you one of Jesus’ disciples?” a person in the crowd called.

Peter flinched.  Jesus was being sentenced.  What was going on?  It was happening so fast!  All Peter knew for sure is that if the people found out he was one of Jesus’ disciples, he would likely be in the same place as Jesus.  “No,” Peter denied Christ.

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Jesus, beaten and bruised by the very people he loved and was saving, hung on the cross.  Nailed pierced his hands and feet.  The guards gambled over Jesus clothes.  People spit on him and mocked him.  His family crying.  The crowd dispersed. And Jesus called to His Father, “Father, forgive them…”

The only selfless deed in the entire tragedy that had unfolded.

Passover Lamb

Passover Lamb

It was twilight.

Moses took a deep breath and slaughtered the lamb and watched the blood go into the jar that laid under it.  Blood.  The sign of life.  Moses recalled the stories Jethro had told about when God had made a covenant with Noah saying that he may not eat the meat of an animal that still had blood in it, for blood was a sign of life.

Life was something that would be taken that night.  God had told Moses that Death would visit them and would kill every firstborn… unless…  Unless the blood of a lamb would be put above the door and on the sides and top of the doorframes.  Then Death would pass over them.  There would be a great wailing throughout Egypt.  This was the tenth plague.  A plague brought on by the Pharaoh’s stubbornness, pride, and hard heart.

God had promised life, too.  A new life.  After Death’s visit, God promised freedom from the Egyptians.  Freedom from slavery.  Freedom from pain, exhaustion, suppression, and freedom from unimaginable amount of work.  Once Death took the firstborn, new life and freedom was promised after 400 long years of slavery.

Moses, his family, and a few neighbors prepared for the meal.  They tucked their cloaks into their belts, kept sandals on their feet, and kept staffs in their hands.  They ate the lamb in haste that had been roasted over the fire with bitter herbs and the bread that had been made without yeast.

In the middle of the night, Moses was summoned to the Pharaoh.  Standing over his dead son, Pharaoh gave this command to Moses, “Up!  Leave my people, you and the Israelite.  Go, worship the Lord as you requested.  Take your flocks and herds as you said and go.  And also bless me.”

With that Moses went and proclaimed the news to the Israelites, and they left!

Years passed.  Centuries passed.  God continued to meet with His people and every year they celebrated a Passover Meal as a remembrance of the deliverance God had brought to His people.

God became silent and remained silent for 400 years.  Then a cry of a baby born in Bethlehem broke that silence.  The baby’s name was Jesus.  He grew from baby to toddler, to young child, to a young man and into manhood.  He ministered for three years.  He called 12 disciples to follow him more closely than the others.

It was Passover.

Perhaps a typical Passover Meal.  They had celebrated this special remembrance with Jesus since they had started following Him.

Jesus knelt down and became a servant, the lowliest of them all.  He began to wash their feet.  He removed the dirt and dust from the soles of their feet.  It was strange…

This Master.

This Rabbi.

This Son of God.

This Son of Man.

Washing feet…?

Jesus and the 12 disciples reclined at the table.  They feasted on the lamb.  They remembered the Passover.  The day Moses lead the Israelites into freedom by the blood of lamb that was put on the top and sides of the door.

Blood meant life.

Then the One called the Bread of Life lifted up the bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to His disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.”

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, and they all drank from it.  “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them.  “I tell you the truth, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it anew in the kingdom of God.”

They sang as they continued to remember the Passover, the freedom that the Israelites were given, and the relief of suppression.

Then they journeyed to the Garden of Gethsemane.

All journeyed, but one.

For Judas had already left the group.

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”  

-John 1:29-