Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Another myth bites the dust...

Ever since I first listened to Wayne Jacobsen's Transition Series back in Feb/Mar this year a few things have happened. Firstly, my whole life changed. My understanding of God changed. My thoughts on the religious structure changed. And for the first time in my journey as a Christian, what I understood of God in my heart gelled with the description of Father that Wayne was detailing.

But it wasn't all farts and roses. There were a few things that, although I was elated if they were true, I wasn't sure Wayne debunked the original presupositions 100%. This is ok, because he was mostly focussing on detailing a better understanding of what the gospel is, and why we should be happy about it, and not on giving reasons to debunk the previous presupostitions.

One of the main issues that I've had a bit of a hard time with was the concept that the cross was a cure not a punishment. Although it was one of the most freeing things to hear, I'd always had a niggling feeling that there is something somewhere in the Bible that specifically talks of the cross as a punishment... because my spirit sat so right with the cure concept, I felt that if I was wrong, God would show me, and I'd rather believe something this freeing than hang onto the constrictive 'punishment' theory. It's been at the back of my mind ever since, slighty worrying me, but never really taking precedence, because I didn't have an answer on it.

Just a few months ago, I was having a chat with a woman in the congregation I'd left, who had always seemed to have a great understanding of God's love and grace, and seemed to express it in the way she lived. Her daughter and I are friends, and she'd mentioned how she's read the Shack and had been in contact with Wayne, so in talking to her mom, I told her how freeing I'd found Wayne's recalling the cross as a cure, and not as a punishment. Her reaction really suprised me. She kind of blurted that the cross as punishment is a biblical idea, and walked away.

If it did anything, it brought back the worry that this punishment thing is a solid biblically-based bit of dogma. As I liked the cure idea so much, I still didn't do much about it.. (woops) but recently on reading through the blogs in my rss reader, I came across a blog by one of my fellow bloggers, Rick Gibson, regarding "A 'Punishing God'?". Today I read his follow up to that post, which more directly discusses the problem of punishment vs cure in the context of the reason Jesus died.

I found it so helpful that I though I'd ping-back on the articles so whoever reads here can read it too.

One of the things that really helped was this: Rick says that there's only one verse in the bible that refers to punishment in the context of the cross. That verse is Isaiah 53:5 (in the NIV), and this is what he has to say about it:
In all of scripture there is only one verse that comes close to calling the cross 'God's punishment'. And that is Isaiah 53:5, yet even this verse uses a Hebrew word that is distinct from the word used for punishment. This word, muwcar, means chastening, correction, or instruction. This of course differs greatly from punishing someone for a criminal act. So you still have to bring your own presuppositions about 'punishment' to the text in order to read it that way (which, unfortunately, the NIV translators did). Excerpt from the article A 'Punishing God'? - Thoughts on the Cross and Forgiveness, Rick Gibson
This has been such a revelation and relief to me. I still want to make sure that it is the only 'punishment' scripture, but it's awesome to see (as I noted in another post) how God seems eager to settle my worries and point me to truth, be it with a soft assurance, an unspoken word or thought in my mind or someone's blog article.

It's a good feeling to know Dad is as excited on seeing me grow to know Him better as I am (read: immeasurably more than I could ever be)!

It may be a race, but that doesn’t mean it's a competition.

I have this recurring thought and it has haunted me for many years now. It is the worry that “I’m not where I ‘should’ be in my relationship with God”. Today, as it hit me again, I felt someone (read: Holy Spirit) point out that although this may sound like a valid relational question, as much as it may be disguised as one, it is actually a religious law-dripping question whose only fruit is condemnation.

I started thinking about why I feel this way and again something reminded me that oddly enough (or not so) this thought would come in the voice of one of the elders I had the most contact with in the religious establishment I recently left – and the same elder that felt it was his duty (and I’m sure he felt it was the right thing to help me) to express to me how badly he thought I was doing, and how I’d been wasting time the last few years messing around on figuring out who I am (it was prophesied that God wanted to work on my identity) instead of being more involved in ‘the life of the church’. The problem (in his eyes) was I wasn’t really going to ‘church’ or attending the weekly prayer or home-cell meetings regularly enough. Also, I was haphazard in most things church-lifey and made enough religious faux pas (and some very blatant ‘sins’) to warrant his dissatisfaction with me. And I do understand where he was coming from. From a religious ‘legal’ viewpoint, he had full right to be concerned and unhappy with my track record. But the thing is - we’re no longer living in condemnation and he’s judgment meant he was blind to what God was busy doing in my life. I am sure that if he had taken the time to be more involved in my life and actually dialogue with me instead of making conclusions from the sidelines (what might have helped is if he’d seen me as a fellow God-seeker, and not some mindless sheep that he needed to lead), he might have seen things as I’d been seeing them - differently. From my side, the past 3-4 years have been active God years. Most of them have been incredibly hard, out-in-the-desert type years - I’ve felt dry and hurt and far from God, I’ve felt confused, lost and alone, I’ve been wounded and rejected and sidelined - but I’ve always known He was there and I’ve always had the sense that He’s been doing a work in me. Truth is I have seen God grow me immensely in the last few years (so much so that I’d rather do the detail in another post someday), and it has resulted in me being closer to Him than I’ve ever been. One of the biggest things that has happened is that I have come from a place of over-reliance on the pastor and church leadership being ‘god’s voice’ and mediator between God and me to Dad cutting out the middleman (through some rather painful circumstances) and leading me to relying on Dad to guide me, and learning what it’s like to hear Him speak and learning to let Him be who He’s longed to be to me.

I’ve really come far over these years and stepping out of the religious box has only been some of that journey – outwardly, I think it’s been a big part – but it’s only been a small result of what Dad has been busy doing on the inside. That said, I know there is still so much more Dad is doing and going to do in me, and some of that is what I started the post about, the ‘not good enough’ complex Dad revealed to me today. As I thought about it, what hit me was that even though I’ve ‘left the building’ (out about 6 months now, although it’s been coming for a lot longer) I am still struggling to shake the religious dust off my feet. To some degree or another, I still feel like I’m caught in the religious rat-race of comparison and competition and ranking and gauging. I still subconsciously rank myself with those religious goggles, even if it’s just against some made-up ‘perfect’ ideal. And the whole thing stinks.

As I’ve been pondering on why I still struggle with this, I’ve realized that just because we’re “out of the religious setting” doesn’t mean we’re automatically out of the religious mindset. I suppose this ties in with Wayne’s remarks on how people who have ‘left the religious box’, wanting to start a ‘new improved’ house church thing often slip into the same religion just in different packing.

For me, this has shone a light on the slimy, squalid ‘how Christian are you’ mindset that is so prevalent in the religious environments I’ve been involved in. Shockingly, it’s so deeply set that it’s taken 20+ years for me to realize that it’s not actually a right and godly thing to yearn for, but that it’s actually a hellish mechanism that draws us away from God. It’s a lie draped in truth. It’s a snare that ensnares too many of God’s children. Sadly, today really is the first day I’ve realized that this mindset is actually wrong.

This whole thing strikes me as typical older brother behaviour, don’t you think? To constantly compare ourselves with the brothers and sisters around us, or even worse, against an imagined ‘perfect persona’ ideal is so typical of the older brother. Doesn’t this just show how ancient and entrenched in our religious dogma this mindset is!

For too long I have been beating myself up over ‘not being where I *should* be’ in my relationship with God. Funny thing is, I’ve never bothered to ask Dad if I’m where He wants me to be! (Sadly, just writing this welled up a sense that “I’m obviously not where He wants me to be, how could I ever be…” – oh how deeply entrenched this religious mindset lies!)

Thankfully, God is bringing me to this realization – it is one that I logically know, but it often gets drowned out by the religion-lies: He has me where he wants me. I’m at exactly the right place now that He wants me to be. I have realized (as obvious as it sounds) that it takes focusing on Him to change me, not on striving toward some unachievable, vague ‘perfect man’ ideal. That is just the law packaged in its oldest form. Where the law cries out: “Strive! Perform! Compete!”, I hear Dad whisper: “Come to me, all who are heavy-laden, and I will give you peace.” This grace-talk, this freedom-speak – it is revolutionary and so counter-cultural. It was 2000 years ago, and it still is today.

Where religion seeks to constantly bring us back to the law and condemnation, Dad seeks to take us into His freedom, into His life of abundant grace. This is the place of peace and joy. Isn’t this a scandalous gospel!

Tonight my heart’s cry is this: “God, please save me from my religious pride, and let me learn to rest in You”.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

I'm a dad!!

Today, at 4:06am, I became a dad. Emi Jessicah Olivier was born a healthy 3.1Kg! I still can't believe it! :) it's been (what feels like) a long week, with a 2 false labours and then a very long induction, but she made it and she looks more beautiful than I imagined! I'm still all 'WOW!'.

But now I need some shuteye.. been up for +24hrs.. so starting to feel it.. still can't believe it's true!!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

So God made us in His image...

I've been thinking about this on and off for the last few months. It is actually something that has been on my mind since my previous to last post, which I wrote almost 3 months ago now I think (apologies for the long delay.. I've been incredibly busy - got 2 jobs all of a sudden, trying to get ready for the baby and all).

What's struck me is this: If we really are made in God's image, then conversely - how much of God do we humans reflect. Stated another way - By looking at mankind, how much can we say is a direct reflection of God?

I haven't done much study into this, and maybe some of what I'm saying will be 'duh' statements for some of you, but I really believe that 'made in the image of God' has little to do with surmising that God has 2 arms and 2 legs. It needs to have a whole lot more to do with our character, our relational attributes and our spiritual being.

What's really been interesting me though is that if we believe that God is the creator of all things, then the relational dynamics that we experience as human beings have to have their starting place in Him.

On a slightly different topic, I've been fast coming to the conclusion that everything we experience has it's place on a sliding scale between fully God and fully not God. What I mean by this, is that where love has God as it's purest origin, hate, or the lack of love (or 'love' only for selfish means - which by definition isn't love..) would be on the opposite scale - as sans God.

So, that said, I've come to understand that all our relational dynamics are either from or sans God, or somewhere in between. This, if we tie it into the original statement leads me to this:

If the concept of relationship comes from God. And if we, as humans are made in His image, then what can we deduce to be aspects that we might find in God's relational makeup and as part of His temperament?

We know that God is love. However, we (ok, I) find it hard to see God laughing, or having a good time. I still do - and it's something that Dad's working on. But I think as I thought of the things that make me, and us, as humans happy and satisfied, I started to think - it must be the parts of God in me.

As humans, the closer and more intimate and stable a relationship we have in our fellows, the happier and more content our souls are. Surely, if that is what are wired to feel happiness about, then, how much more wouldn't that be what God is longing to offer us, and what brings Him joy?

If we enjoy laughter, and happiness and real emotions, how much more does God enjoy those things? or at the least, enjoy it in us?

If, as parents, we are filled with pride when our child takes their first step or says 'mommy' or 'daddy' for the first time, how much MORE does God revel in the smallest thing that draws us to Him?

And on. I know there has been much talk of 'making God in our image' and that it's a negative thing. To some degree, I agree. But, surely we can look at how we are made. The good things at our core, and make some deductions that it would reflect the God who made us?

I know, to some degree, this should be something that 'goes without saying'. It should be the accepted norm. But I don't think it is.

When we think about it, we could come to this conclusion. If I had to ask the most 'angry-God' christian if God is love, their answer would most probably be yes. Mostly because it says so in the Bible. But that wouldn't mean that it was a reality in their lives. And I think for many Christians it isn't a reality. It has become a concept. Something 'out there', away from any real-life proof. We'll say we believe it, but if we had to think about it, we most probably don't. We read Jesus' parable about a father not giving his child a rock if he asks for bread, but we behave with God in a way as if we expect Him to give us the rock (all puns of Jesus being 'the Rock on which we stand' aside).

What I'm saying, is that I'm beginning to see God as 'human' in perfection (and eternity more than that) - but I mean it in that because He is God, He loves, He is patient, He rejoices over us, He is Kind, He gives all and expects nothing in return, He gathers us up as a hen with her chicks. He is the perfection of a loving Father, a caring husband. He offers us the perfection of intimacy and whole relationships. Everything good that our hearts long for is found in Him.

Yet we believe Him to be cruel, and just only so much as to have an excuse to punish us. We believe Him to be hard and cold. We believe Him to be distant and far-off. To give us rocks and snakes when we ask for bread. To treat us as exactly our sins deserve. How wrong we are!

These few months I've been realising how much we reflect (often incredibly poorly) our creator - and (shockingly) that the Bible actually speaks of our God in the same way.

I am once again in awe of Dad, as He reveals more of himself to me. I am also saddened as I repeatedly realise how much of Him I have so wrong. So skewed. So totally opposite to who He really is.

My hearts cry is that He will continue to change my heart to start understanding and seeing Him as He really is, and through that changing, that I will be changed to be more and more like Him!

Our first bundle of joy is almost here

So, my wife and I have been expecting our first child, and she was due on Thursday. So she's about 2 days over now, and we're getting tired of waiting! But we're very excited all the same. We've had a few 'she's coming, oh, wait she's not' moments, the last one early friday morning where we ended up in the hospital, only to be sent home again because all the signs stopped.

We've had a nice relaxed day and a half so far with little to no indications that she'd like to enter this world (her lateness makes it seem like she's taking after her dad in that regard).. but it's such a honour(read: Crazy scary and awesomely joyous) to think that I'll be responsible for this little person. To shape her and mould her into a well-adjusted woman one day. I'm very grateful that Dad's been taking us on this journey (well that I've realised that I'm on the journey..) - because I can't wait to share it with her!

We've decided to name her 'Emi'. It means 'smile' in Japanese (well that's what the baby book said.. ). I know that she's going to be a joy to us. We just wish she'd hurry up and arrive already..