Sunday, February 26, 2006

Re-Drafting My Spiritual Formation—Log #4: Watching For “The Rapture”?

My childhood took place in a Fundamentalist venue. My parents and much of our extended family believed the Bible literally. I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard a preacher say, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it!”

Unfortunately, if you took what the Bible says literally, not only did it not settle much anything, but often more questions arose than were answered. One of the areas of perpetual concern for us was “end times” doctrine.

Are we now living in the “end times”? Are world conditions falling into place to facilitate Armageddon? What is going to happen next?

Fundamentalists – and many dispensationalist evangelicals – believe that the next major eschatological event will be “the rapture”. This is the "predicted" future occurrence when Christ appears in the heavens and calls “true” believers, along with the “dead in Christ”, up, up and away from earth to be removed from the hideous things that will then take place on this planet - such as the battle of Armageddon.

Then, after a period of time with Christ somewhere in the heavens, all Christians of history would return to earth with Christ for his millennial reign – a true theocracy. Somewhere in that time line, however, would occur a great judgment where true believers would be given eternal life and non-believers would be sent away to roast forever. Not exactly comforting thoughts.

As a young boy, I can often remember waking up in a cold sweat in the middle of the night from a nightmare in which the sky had suddenly become brilliantly bright accompanied by incredible thunder and lightning. I expected to see Christ himself walking on the clouds and reaching out to me, but instead I would always wake up in my dark bedroom wondering what had happened and why I was soaking wet.

The imagery no doubt was from an old black and white movie called The Rapture (redone several times through the years, I think, by well-meaning film makers). This movie was somehow ok to view in church, flickeringly screened from a noisy 16mm Bell & Howell or Revere projector. But we dared not go to a theater to see really good films.

Fast forward some five decades. I still continued to wonder about “end times” and “the rapture” – especially with the likes of current evangelical TV prognosticators like Hal Lindsey, Jack Van Impe and others. Of course I wasn’t alone. Millions have swallowed the conjectures put forward by Tim La Haye and Jerry Jenkins in the Left Behind book and film series.

I’ve recently completed reading a book by Craig C. Hill, a brilliant New Testament professor at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., titled, In God’s Time. It’s the best read I’ve come across to help (me) sort out a great deal of (apparently widespread) convoluted thinking on the subject.

Tony Campolo says of the book, “At a time when popular books on the second coming are leading to confusion and a right-wing political mind-set, here is a book that is balanced and inspiring and helpful”. Eugene Petersen, author of the acclaimed paraphrase The Message concurs, saying the book provides guidance “through the verbal clutter and emotional hysteria” of end times thinking.

I’d suggest reading the book for yourself; however, you can get some preliminary info here. Obviously, I can’t do its content justice in a paragraph or two. In a nutshell, Hill suggests that if you try to understand “end times” prophesies by a literal interpretation of the Bible, you’re in a pack of trouble.

Here’s just one thing from the book that astounded me but at the same time gave me hope for a rational future. You won’t find “the rapture” in the New Testament – or in the entire Bible, for that matter.

The idea of TWO returns to earth by Christ (the first being “the rapture” and the second the millennial reign) was invented by 19th century fundamentalists because it was the only way they could make literal interpretations of scriptures fit into their kind of coherence.

A lot of the problem is that much of Biblical prophecy refers to the nation of Israel and was applicable (and probably fulfilled) during and just following the first century. But these same prophecies, if appropriated to the “church” – as do many of the aforementioned prognosticators – could be very well misapplied.

As I said earlier, you need to read the book yourself to capture its impact and perspective. Craig Hill also suggests that we as Christians might be far better served to be living every day for the Kingdom of God rather than trying to comprehend if Magog is Moscow or if Armageddon is around the corner.

Far better that we love our spouse, our neighbor or our co-worker and express it with action as refletive of Christ's love for us, than to lie awake at night waiting for the rapture or for a seven year peace treaty between Israel and the Arabs.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Blast Blew By (You?:-)

Not great humor in the head, but for anyone who cares, our “Arctic blast” came and went without significance. Oh, it did get a bit chilly at night for a few days, but the sun came out beautifully in the day time to make the temps tolerable.

Of course when the warmer weather came back a day or two ago, so did the clouds. It’s the clouds, say weather wags, that keep the heat down where we can feel it. Without clouds, heat rises and disappears. I assume they mean in the winter, as I’ve been through a lot of blazing hot August days that had no clouds.

With my wife busy with her family for a time, I’ve got ample time this week for reading. Currently I’m paging through Craig Hill’s In God’s Time in which he pretty well bulldozes concepts propogated by some well known evangelical “end times” authors.

It’s interesting how one’s perspective can be enriched when biblical texts are understood in their cultural and religious contexts. Look for a post on the subject sometime soon (yawn:-).

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Waiting For the “Arctic Blast”

For several days now, here in the northwest, weather wags have been talking about an approaching “Arctic Blast” of dry, cold air that is supposed to arrive later today and last till at least noon on Sunday.

I’m getting a big kick out of the media “experts” who, instead of focusing on real issues, waste theirs (and our) time with atmospheric drivel.

On the radio yesterday, when my wife, Buddy (our dog) and I were running errands, we heard described, among other things, “how to prevent your water pipes from freezing” (let the faucet drip), “how to insulate your exterior doors so cold air can’t get in” (weather strip them) and “how to prevent your shrubs from freezing” (cover them).

Now, come on, do we need media blowhards giving us this obvious, common sense advice?

I suppose there are people who wouldn’t think of doing anything when the temperature drops dramatically (especially here in the “mild” northwest) but I never cease to be amazed by the media’s “concern” with weather. If you want to know what the weather is like, look or go outside. If it’s cold, put on a coat. If it’s raining, take an umbrella.

Getting advanced warning about an expected drastic temperature drop is nice. But I’m likely not going to remodel my house before it comes. Plus, what they’re calling an “Arctic blast” is two days of temps with a range of a high of around freezing and a low in the teens.

Maybe the weather wags ought to live in International Falls, Minnesota. There, they’d quickly learn what an “Arctic blast” really is.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Great Weather Turns Thoughts to…

In the northwest, a week of spring-like weather in the middle of winter can quickly turn a man’s thoughts to… fishing! (I did NOT forget Valentine’s Day, just to keep things in perspective.)

The weekly emails from Fishing and Hunting News keep reminding me of all the great nearby lakes where they’ve planted some monster 5-lb hybrid trout (I know, I know, but you’ve still gotta CATCH ‘em.)

And then there are the fertile reservoirs along the Columbia River system just east of the Cascades that hold spunky rainbows, winter steelhead and even walleye, all on the prowl right now. Of course that doesn’t even mention neighboring western Washington coastal rivers that are still giving native steelhead a route home to spawn. It’s enough to drive a fisherman crazy.

The boat I got last year is too big and heavy to drag a long way (it’s mostly for nearby Puget Sound salmon fishing), so it’s not quite time to pull it out of its winter slumber under the canvas and get it ready to go.

For this reason, I’m starting to think it might be better to have a lighter, smaller aluminum boat that I CAN drag most anywhere easily and quickly. In fact, I’ve even peeked at a few online ads (please don’t mention this to my wife; she already thinks I’m nuts regarding boats :-).

I don’t know how far in that direction my idea will take me, but maybe in the short term my fishing longings will defer to “sell the boat I have and get an aluminum one” deliberations.

Maybe that’ll keep me from thinking about what I can’t easily do right now (go fishing) due to other vastly more important concerns.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Look Carefully

With available software, images can be "doctored" to create incredible photos. I received these via email from an old friend in California. Click on each for a slightly larger image to get the full effect. I call the one on the top "Hang On!", and the one on the bottom "Alligator shoes" . Enjoy.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Taking a Deep Breath

Today I had to spend much of the day dealing with several personal business things. So it was a good opportunity to pause, take a deep breath, and just reflect on what I’ve been focused on of late – my shifting spiritual formation.

Over the past couple of days I’ve also had several email exchanges with a couple of my old college cronies from the SF Bay Area. These back-and-forth missives through cyber space help to sharpen all of our thinking (I hope) and, from my perspective, offer some very important feedback for my own views.

I’ve known these guys for more years than probably any other friends I have. I value their input and have a high regard for their thoughtful views on “the faith”.

The process has been pleasantly rewarding. I’ve gained perspective, and I hope they have, too. Life-long friendships truly encompass a lot of satisfaction and enjoyment.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Finally - Clear Skies

After every night there is the dawn and after every rain there is the sunshine. I can't remember whether I'm quoting Solomon or song lyrics or my mother, but I'm pretty sure someone said it before. So, even though the Seahawks came in second yesterday in Detroit, today dawned as beautifully as ever.

The best part is that I think we're going to have an almost week-long break in the cloudy, rainy, gray weather we've had for the better part of two months. The sun just barely lighting the freshly snow-capped Olympic mountains was what greeted Buddy and me early this morning as I took the dog out to "express his inner-most feelings". "We agreed" it was great to be alive.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Re-Drafting My Spiritual Formation-- Log #3: Affluence Can Dull Our Sensitivity to Real Need

The growing disparity of wealth in our own country (think New Orleans), to say nothing of the relative gap of possessions between the U.S. and the third world (think parts of Africa - or Central America at left), has occupied a lot of my recent thinking.

The reason is simple and obvious: how can I as a follower of Christ continue to live in the spoils of relative luxury, when there are those both domestically and elsewhere who have virtually nothing?

Last November my son Gregg preached a sermon in his church that helped to shape my contemplation of this issue. One of Gregg’s sermon points was that it’s not difficult to understand the Bible’s teaching; our challenge lies in doing something in light of the enormity of the need.

One of the ironies for me personally is that my “bent” in life has been very entrepreneurial. I always believed, and still do for the most part, that “he who takes the risks and endures the pain, deserves the reward”. If we didn’t have the Hewletts, the Packards, the Gateses, and many others like them, we wouldn’t have what we have as Americans – the most successful economic system in the world.

No, the problem is not in the achievement. What is coming into focus for me, however, is the misbehavior of excessive accumulation and self-indulgence as a result of our relatively huge affluence (does Enron or World Com come to mind?).

Rather than considering the apportioning of at least some fraction of our gross prosperity to those in desperate need, we sooner acquiesce to our selfish human instincts to continue hoarding. Of course these considerations are all arbitrary, but at the same time, it’s an unsettling dilemma for a discerning Christian.

All my life I worked hard (some of my close friends might question that :-) so that at some point in life I wouldn’t have to worry about an ongoing need for a paycheck. I even had my own small ad agency for a decade, but mostly my working life was spent as an employee of one company or another – even a very large evangelical church (did I think this would score brownie points with God?). What I had anticipated sort of came to pass but not in the way I had imagined.

A few years ago as I was beginning to approach “retirement” age, my wife and I were very fortunate to receive some estate proceeds from my dad and stepmom’s holdings as well as from my wife’s parents’ properties. O, we didn’t become rich by any means, but it did put us in the position from which, with social security and other small earnings infusions, if we managed the resources well, we could get by without either of us “having to have a job”.

When the full realization of all of that hit me, I felt (and still feel) extremely grateful. We had finally “arrived” at what I had been working for all those years. But I am never forgetful that it took estate proceeds from thoughtful loved ones before us to actually bring it to pass. Since that time we have invested fairly well, and now we are able to focus on enjoying our married sons’ families and our three granddaughters.

That should be the happy ending to a nice story, right? Wrong.

My wife and I are now increasingly aware of the fact that our good fortune has placed us in a relatively privileged group of “haves”, and we cannot put out of our minds the vastly larger number of those who “have not”. Why should we be so blessed just for being born in this country and to our particular parents?

I must admit that the realization of arriving at a certain point caused us to relax for a short time. I even had the thought that it was good to live in this country and not have to worry much anymore about the pressures and drudgery of a day-to-day job or about struggling to keep our heads above water financially. In my twisted appraisal of things, I felt a degree of relief; now it was “other people” that would have the worries – not me or my family.

What sheer nonsense and condescendance on my part – to even go near the arrogance of contemplating distance between one’s self and others who might be relegated to the tedium of earning a living – just because I now didn’t have similar anxieties. I am ashamed of that.

But, on the other hand, don’t most Americans, including Christians, think that a degree of financial independence is what we all work so hard for? And shouldn’t we feel good about it? Possibly.

But wait! Get a glimpse. Have I already forgotten that Christ, as God’s son, emptied himself of everything – unfathomable wealth, power and majesty – and gave it all up with his life on a cross so I, in turn, could live forever and ultimately share in that glory? And didn’t he do that compassionately and willfully, while I (along with all of humanity) was incapable of self help?

I am becoming persuaded that what Christ voluntarily did on the cross for me, for you, and for all of humankind, we who have the means must now do for the victimized and desperately needy of whom we become aware in one way or another.

You can let your mind wander as to how that might be accomplished. The point is we need to be about “building the Kingdom” with what we have instead of focusing even more on accumulation.

Henri Nouwen, in his book, Compassion, points out that Jesus “requires us to unmask the illusion of our competitive selfhood, to give up clinging to our imaginary distinctions as sources of identity, and to be taken up into the same intimacy with God which he himself knows.”

Nouwen continues, “This is the mystery of the Christian life: to receive a new self, a new identity, which depends not on what we can achieve, but on what we are willing to receive” (and by extension, also give).

This is the kind of thinking – and living – I want to imitate as part of my rejuvenated spiritual formation. Compassionate action is a worthy consideration for me and for every follower of Christ, even though the challenge is daunting. I need to get busy and find a way to lay a brick in the Kingdom.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

Almost “Super” For Our Seahawks

For me, it’s like “deja-vu all over again”, to quote Yogi Berra. The Seattle Seahawks are finally going to the Super Bowl where Sunday they will find out if they are the best football team in the NFL. But for me and our family, it’s eerily like it was in January of 1982.

That was the culmination of the season of “the catch” when Joe Montana hit his tight end Dwight Clark at the back of the end zone to enable the San Francisco 49ers to beat Dallas and go on to their first Super Bowl Championship. If this could be the first of multiple successful trips for Seattle as well, that would be beyond wildest dreams.

There are more eerie “links” between this year’s Seattle accomplishment and that of the 1982 red and gold machine. Seattle’s head coach, Mike Holmgren, was once the offensive coordinator for the 49ers. Hawk defensive coordinator, the recovering Ray Rhodes, was once in the same position for SF.

Dwaine Board, Seattle's current line coach, actually played on the Forty Niner 1982 Super Bowl winning team. I’m not sure off the top of my head if either Mike Holmgren or Ray Rhodes were there in the 1982 SB, but I know that both were an integral part of the 49er rise to glory in the 80’s.

Want another "eerie coincidence"? The 1982 Super Bowl was also played in Detroit (actually Pontiac, MI)

Here's still another interesting “twist”: the 49ers have five Super Bowl wins, and the Steelers (Seattle’s SB opponent) have four SB victories. If Pittsburgh wins, it would tie them with the 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys for all-time Super Bowl Titles. So, being a life-long 49er fan as well, I’m pulling for Seattle not only as a local “fanatic”, but also as a “Steeler-Stopper”.

This is being dabbed the “biggest” Super Bowl ever, playing on the Roman numeral symbol for 40 – “XL” – which also denotes “extra large”. It’s going to be big for sure – especially if the Seahawks win. Then Seattle will finally be able to truly call its team SUPER!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Re-Drafting My Spiritual Formation-- Log #2: Negotiating the Journey

This is just the second post in the faith journey series during which I hope to convey some adjustments I’m making after examining the apparent cracks in my spiritual formation. It should be obvious that our spiritual formation shapes our understanding of our faith and how we live it out.

In recent years I have been rather dissatisfied with my spiritual formation (“fundamentalist” upbringing and long-time “evangelical” approach to beliefs). I realized that my views in many cases were not consistent with what I had been recognizing they should be for a follower of Christ. The inconsistencies became too perceptible to ignore.

A short time ago, we acquired a wonderful little dog. He’s a very smart Cavalier King Charles Spaniel. Buddy constantly follows my wife or me around the house – virtually everywhere. He just wants to be with us, and he is totally focused on us.

He even ignores his food just to be around us until we finally sit down to eat. Then, and only then, will he go over and consume the food in his dish. He is modeling us as closely as a dog can.

If I’ve gotten anything at all from the recent books I’ve read, I’ve grasped one thing. If we as Christians want to be true followers of Christ and actually help fashion the Kingdom, we, too, must model his teachings and his behavior.

I realize that most Christians, including evangelicals, would agree. However, it's important to me to do so in a manner that is consistent with understanding the contextual implications of Christ's imperatives and how that might affect today's applications. How does historical and cultural understanding of his teachings affect today's implementation?

The difficulty with the evangelical approach, for me, is that it too often takes strictly at face value what Christ or the apostles said or did, without scrupulously considering what it meant in the then religiously-charged Jewish culture that was influenced by Roman rule. What it could or should mean for us today might be either less emphatic or a whole lot more inclusive, depending on the translation we're reading and the cultural biases or political conditions at the time.

There are many complexities with this, of course. Christ lived 2,000 years ago in a culture whose people had definite expectations regarding a coming messiah. How, then, do we extrapolate from these teachings and apply them to our lives in our culture?

Fortunately we have lots of help. Theologians, historians and astute thinkers have been illuminating the Biblical teachings of Jesus since the time he lived on earth. And of course we have the canon itself, plus a wealth of church history and tradition to enrich the process.

My recent readings have helped immensely in providing some fresh (for me) thinking on some very knotty faith issues amidst our affluent society and post-modern thinking. My next post in this series will deal with one of them.