Wednesday, March 30, 2005

mcmanus thoughts

erwin mcmanus spoke tonight at pts. i admire this servant of Christ because he is free and he lives and leads out of his love for Jesus Christ and his authentic sense of freedom. a couple ideas stayed with me from what he shared tonight. these are probably not the main ideas that he intended to "stick with the audience" but they are the ones that leaped out at me...

1. parable of the talents. Jesus called the one who hid the talent wicked and lazy. why was hiding the talent wicked? using the talent to hire an assassin or a prostitute sounds wicked but hiding it doesn't. the hiding was wicked because he did nothing. most Christians are content with doing nothing. how does God view that? doing anything (or nothing) that keeps you from being who God wants you to be is equivalent burying the talent.

2. participatory does not always mean that everyone is doing everything. something can be participatory for a group if they feel like they are doing the action. for example, including a painter in a worship experience is participatory even though everyone is not painting. each person can feel like they are painting by simply watching and experiencing the creation of the artist.

3. tell a story as if you are experiencing it for the first time. that way, your audience will not think that you know how everything in this world works out and/or fits together. let them experience the story and the suspense with you. don't tell the story from the end's perspective, tell the story from the beginning's perspective.

4. self-denial is not denying who you are as a person. Christians tend to be more Buddhist than Christian. self-denial is denying everything that gets in the way of you being who God wants you to be. do not fall into the thought process that you should avoid your strengths simply because "in our weakness we are strong." aren't we still weak even when we are living out our strong areas?

5. mosaic is not a place where people get fed. when they come, they go away more hungry. most Christians are bulimics, they eat a ton and then go home on sunday night and throw it up and then wait for the next week. Christians do not need to get fed, they need to exercise!

6. Christian discipleship is too standardized (moving toward a standard). uniqueness is key, there is not a standard way to experience God (either in community or individually). the problem with many ethnic churches is they automatically standardize the people to the ethnic background and their ways of doing things. the same applies to any church.

great stuff...

Monday, March 28, 2005

layers of addiction

what role does addiction play in the Christian experience of forgiveness?

i don't have the answer to this question and i do not propose that i am even close. i do want to share some observations regarding addiction and the process of a Christian seeking forgiveness of sin.

one aspect of an addiction is the behavior or substance use relieves stress. without a doubt, a person's sin causes a level of stress. devout Christians sense this stress due to a rupturing of their connection with God and a feeling that they have grieved the Holy Spirit. the movement toward seeking forgiveness through the confession of sin is the right way to address the problem. as Christians, we are to seek the forgiveness of others when we do wrong to them and we are to seek the forgiveness of God when we sin.

for many, including me, the process of humbly coming before God to confess my sins and to experience the renewal of my connection with God is a real experience. the weight of sin is lifted and the distress is removed.

is it possible for me to become addicted to the process of sinning, experiencing sorrow, confessing, experiencing assurance of pardon?
the general application of addiction may not be the best way to approach this possible flow of experiences. a more specific question is an addiction to receiving forgiveness possible for a specific habitual sin where the person finds relief in the confessing/forgiveness cycle?

i have described this as the inhaling and exhaling of the Christian faith. it can become seemingly the way of life, or better put the means of experiencing God, for individuals who consistently sin in the same way. the actual experience of receiving forgiveness is the very source of their knowledge that God exists and is real.

what happens when the person moves away from that sin? will that person know how to experience God apart from that experience?

if not, then i posit that the person is experiencing two layers of addiction. one layer is the obvious addiction to the sinful behavior. the other layer is the addiction to the process of sinning/confessing/receiving forgiveness itself.

am i the only one who sees this?

another country

i have a friend from florida... he needs to get over the fact that he no longer lives in florida

Saturday, March 26, 2005


why are the things that we want to control the most the most uncontrollable?

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Saturday, March 19, 2005

gospel differences - one Jesus or many?

text criticism has long been a stumbling block for many Christians who learn this method for studying the writing of the Bible. many reject all of the ideas of text criticism due to fear while all others embrace all of them due to fear.

i am not writing ideas today to address the whole breadth of text criticism. i do want to mention one idea that i am going to be pursuing going forward.

if the Gospel of Mark was written first and Matthew and Luke use Mark as a source (there is ample evidence for this assumption), then many interpretations of what Matthew and Luke wanted to portray can be determined from seeing the differences in the parallel passages between Mark and their versions. one example is the account of Jesus walking on the water in Mk 6:45-52. the disciples first think that Jesus is a ghost and then Mark writes that they did not understand and their hearts were hardened when Jesus entered the boat. Matthew, however, includes the description of Peter walking on the water and the disciples as worshiping Jesus saying "Truly you are the Son of God" in Matthew 14:22-33.

2-3 years ago, my reaction to these differences would be to say that Matthew and Mark simply recorded different details about the same story. the problem with this response, however, is it does not account for the major difference between the disciples' reaction in the two passages just discussed (hardended hearts versus worship/you are the Son of God).

should these differences be ignored?

an individual who is looking for a quick way to discredit the Bible would point this as an inconsistency in a story about Jesus and, therefore, the written accounts of Jesus are not to be trusted.

is this too simplistic a response?

i would say so. this response is based on the assumption that the gospels are a rigid set of historical accounts that were written in the same exact way as a history book would be written today. there are, without a doubt, historical references in the gospels but was the intention of the authors to write history books or to provide "the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God"? i will write another entry sometime soon on the term 'gospel' and its meaning to the original Greek and Jewish audiences as well as the genre of writing that was for all intents and purposes created by the writer of Mark's gospel when he started the book with the self-description of a gospel.

for now, let's return to the simplistic response of the Biblical critic based on Mk 6:45-52 and Matt 14:22-33. if the genre of writing is not a historical textbook than what light does that shed on the differences between these passages? i have two initial responses to this question. one sees this question as an opportunity while the other sees this question as a major challenge to my faith.

1. i see the differences as an opportunity to see how Mark, Matthew, and Luke viewed Jesus and his disciples. their understanding of Jesus and the disciples comes out in their writing of the their respective gospels. we can get a glimpse into the different audiences of the gospels and the communities that initial received them and formed around them.

2. the jarring question then is what is the real picture of Jesus and the disciples? i cannot escape from this question. were the disciples followers of Jesus who were perplexed and had hardened hearts (Mk 6:45-52) or were they followers of Jesus with great faith, as evidenced by Peter walking on the water, and worshiped Jesus as the Son of God before the crucifixion (Mt 14:22-33)? at this point, i do not have a coherent to response to this question.

again, going back 2-3 years, my response to the differences in the gospel would go something like this, "the gospels were not written, from what i know, when Jesus was alive. the writers were eyewitnesses who later on wrote down what they remembered from Jesus' life and his teachings. the differences are similar to the differences that would come from 4 different people writing about what happened on Sept 11th, 2001. the main event would be the same but the exact details (times, order of events, reactions of people, etc) would be different. just think, can you describe in full what happened from 8 AM to 8 PM on Sept 11th, 2001? grab 4 people, have them write it down, and compare. the bottom line is there was a terrorist attack in NY City, Washington D.C., Pennsylvania (plane downed) with some key events."

this response provides some explanation for the differences in the gospel but it doesn't account for all of them. the walking on water example is one of them.

if anyone actually read this, then i'd love to hear your ideas or comments on this subject.

the scary part of this discussion for me is will i be able to look at Jesus as described in the gospels as 100% the God that i worship or will i have to think "how did the other gospel writers describe Jesus here" and then try to choose or reconcile the description each time...?

Saturday, March 12, 2005

initial thoughts on addiction

i was going to pour out some thoughts on addiction that i have gathered from my Addiction & Grace class when i realized that i had already typed up a bunch for the required class journal. here is my first entry that i wrote after reading some initial ideas about addiction in Gerald May's book titled Addiction & Grace:

The initial readings provided a set of very useful preliminary definitions associated with addiction and showed how the paradoxes of addiction are not puzzles that can solved by willpower. Gerald May’s definition of addiction as any compulsive, habitual behavior that limits freedom of human desire redirected my focus away from the object of the addiction to the resulting reduced level of freedom. May addressed the object in his definition of attachment as the process that enslaves desire and creates the state of addiction. The relationship of attachment to addiction opened my eyes to the process.

In addition, the five characteristics of addiction provided a fresh set of criteria for testing whether a behavior is an addiction. Tolerance and withdrawal are two characteristics that I already associated with addictions to alcohol and tobacco. The other three, self-deception, loss of willpower, and distortion of attention were new criteria for me. May’s descriptions resonated with the examples that I encountered with alcoholism.

The main insight that I gained from these initial descriptions is that the paradoxes of addiction clearly exclude a self-willed treatment and point the addicted individual to grace as the only true hope. The result of addictive behavior is shame and the response of the person is to either ignore that shame or to attempt to remedy the shame. May states that one paradox of an addiction is that the addiction enslaves a person with chains of his or her own making but, paradoxically, the chains are beyond that person’s control. Furthermore, the attempts to defeat the addiction feed pride which serves only to deepen the addictive mentality.

The last three characteristics of addiction for me displayed the internal battle that displays this paradox. First, the addicted individual deceives himself or herself due to a series of mixed motivations and contradictory desires. A result from an unclear direction is the addicted person ends up creating more chains of self-deception. Second, a person’s loss of willpower increases with each failed resolution of self-will. Again, the failed attempt to stop the behavior leads a greater sense of helplessness that in turn emboldens the addiction. Finally, the mind tricks associated with addiction capture our ability to love and create a greater gap between where we want to put our affections and where we end up putting them, namely, the addictive behavior. These three characteristics contribute to the first paradox of creating chains beyond a person’s control.

The other paradox is that addictions may be the only real means by which a person can learn to deeply appreciate grace. Grace is a term that many Christians cite when they need an answer to a complex problem. The reality, however, is that most people do not understand grace until they experience its work in their lives. Repeated descriptions of grace are not a substitute for the real encounter with it in real life.

In the case of addictions, person’s pride is attacked and that person is brought to their knees. More specifically, an addiction not only controls a person’s behavior but it also drains the energy that would normally be used to combat the addiction itself. In the case of grace, the person’s ability to accept grace is blocked. Eventually, a person will come to a place where he or she will realize that they are not in control and they not God. This realization exposes that the person is his or her own worst enemy. Grace is able to enter at that point of emptiness. The paradox is that addictions, though they can block grace, are the means by which a person becomes available to that same grace.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005


is there a limit to how much a person should study the things of God...? at what point do we start making things up in order to sound important or to explain away the things that are unexplainable?

this is not a license for ignorance but these questions are starting to find their way into my head as i spend more and more time studying the various theories that 'scholars' have posited regarding how we should view the Bible and theologies. i'm starting to wonder if the amount of energy that i am dedicating to wrapping my head around deep theological/philosophical problems is keeping me from using that same energy for simply loving people...

i'm sure i am just venting my frustrations with the amount of schoolwork that i am trying to do but these questions are still floating nonetheless...

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

AA Meeting

i attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting last thursday to fulfill a requirement for my Addiction & Grace class. i was looking forward to the opportunity to witness first-hand an AA meeting. one of the points of contact set up a pre-meeting with some of the organizers and participants. here are some descriptions of what i experienced...

march 3rd - 7 pm (pre-meeting), 8 pm (meeting)

i attended the meeting with four other students from pts. Ben met us at the door and led us into the methodist church where the meeting was held. we spent approximately an hour with Ben and another organizer named Doug.

Ben has been with AA for 27 years and Doug has been with AA for 6 years. Ben is Doug's sponsor. we asked them spontaneous questions. we asked about the religious nature of the 12 steps. Ben responded that the 12 steps focus on the role of spirituality but without any specific religion. his quote was "religion is for figuring out who goes to hell, spirituality is for people who have already been there." Ben and Doug shared that many AA participants do not want to hear about God when they first come through the door because their thought process is "if God was real, then He wouldn't have allowed me to get into this mess or God would have rescued me when I called out to him." the reference to a higher power is not as offensive because they realize that they need help from something beyond themselves.

Ben proceeded to let us know that the black church was one of the last groups to find value in AA because they believed that they could preach people away from alcohol. Ben shared that it was a lack of education that kept the black church from referring people to AA. he shared that there are numerous black churches that now see the value of AA in the recovery process.

Doug then shared about the role of a sponsor. Ben was Doug's sponsor. Ben has a sponsor who has been with AA for over 40 years. Doug is also sponsoring someone who has been with AA for 1 1/2 years. Doug shared that a person starts with AA by attending 90 meetings in 90 days. the sponsor connects with the person and helps them through that time period and beyond as they work on the 12 steps. Doug shared that being a sponsor is also a way to help the one sponsoring because he or she is helping another person. (note: the 12th step includes sharing the experience of AA with others and helping).

the last thing i remember from the pre-meeting is that most, if not all, individuals who show up at AA meetings are not there by their own decision. on the other hand, most are there because they have been ordered by a court or another authority. Ben shared that an alcoholic's ego is so full that he or she would never decide to get help. he said that mostly this was because the self-denial is so high with alcoholism. usually someone else notices the problem and reports the problem.

i wanted to ask Ben about how these individuals are integrated into the AA community if they arrive with such high levels of self-denial and a large ego. we ran out of time in the pre-meeting however.


the meeting itself included approximately 30 persons. there was a group from another location. the meeting was called a 'home group' and the other group was another 'home group' who was visiting. the meeting started with announcements of events and welcoming of new members. as expected, each person said "my name is ______, and i am an alcoholic". the group responded with "hi ________". if the person was new they would add "welcome!" there was definitely a sense of openness and shared experiences right from the beginning.

the meeting transitioned from announcements to sharing by the guest group. one person from the guest group stood up and introduced the guest group. he included some words about his experiences but he served more as a moderator. three women shared. i will note some of the ideas or experiences that jumped out to me...

the first woman shared how her love for alcohol started with a family wedding where she ate cake with alcohol on it and then did an elvis impersonation in front of everyone. they all laughed and she realized that she could be entertaining as a result of alcohol. that continued all the way through high school and college. eventually, alcohol became an addiction and she found ways to hide it. eventually, alcohol led to her losing her nursing license and she realized the problem was deeper than she could control. she joined AA and now she finally worked back to getting her license and she is clean. she realizes that one drink will destroy her entire life. she now is engaged and is living again.

the second woman focused a lot on the spiritual aspect of AA and how she refound her faith as a result of AA. she shared that she now wakes up, asks God for help, works hard at the 12 steps all day, and then by God's grace gets through the day without taking a drink. she said that she realizes now how empty she was without her faith.

the third woman shared about how she grew up in a house where the smell of alcohol was as prevalent as the smell of bread in some houses after a person baked bread. she always remembered smelling alcohol. she said that her dad let her drink from a can of beer when she sat on his lap and he played guitar. she shared that she dragged her family from minnesota to new jersey and that her addiction to alcohol increased and increased. she eventually joined AA and she said that she knows that if she takes another drink then she will end up dead. in her words "if i take another drink, then i will end up dead because my body has gone through way too much to handle another run".

overall, there was a consistent sense that taking one drink will destroy the life of the recovering alcoholic. each of the women realized the stakes of the decision. in addition, they saw how the community of AA was integral in them keeping clean of alcohol. the 12 steps, the sharing of stories, the ways to help (sponsor, set up, clean up, etc) all contribute to their staying away from alcohol.

in many ways, there was elements of a 'true' church in the AA meeting.
openness with regards to real problems
community that holds up individuals so they do not fall back into alcohol
sharing of stories of past horrors and recent successes
sharing of 'conversion' stories
sponsor - similar to discipling relationship, generations of sponsors
visiting other 'home groups'
multiple types of meetings - open sharing, learning from books/application of 12 steps
coffee :)

Ben said that the only requirements for starting an AA meeting are a location and a coffee pot...

i was emotionally moved by the experience and i saw how a person who understands the extent of their helplessness is available to help from beyond themselves.

i couldn't help but think that the middle-upper class individual who has enough distractions to medicate his or her life doesn't see the need for any help from God - especially Jesus Christ...