Thursday, July 31, 2008

More Surprises

I want to share one last quote from N.T. Wright's "Surprised By Hope." I actually purchased the book because I was curious about Wright's analysis of Scripture as it relates to the afterlife. As much as I enjoyed reading that bit, I have to say that my favorite part of the book was the final third of the book, where Wright applied the "hope" to come to our mission--the mission of the church in all that we say and do. Here's a teeny tiny sampling that I hope you enjoy:

"One of the things I have most enjoyed about being a bishop is watching ordinary Christians (not that there are any 'ordinary' Christians, but you know what I mean) going straight from worshipping Jesus in church to making a radical difference in the material lives of people down the street by running playgroups for children of single working moms; by organizing credit unions to help people at the bottom of the financial ladder find their way to responsible solvency; by campaigning for better housing, against dangerous roads, for drug rehab centers, for wise laws relating to alcohol, for decent library and sporting facilities, for a thousand other things in which God's sovereign rule extends to hard, concrete reality. Once again, all this is not an extra to the mission of the church. It is central.

"When the church is seen to move straight from worship of the God we see in Jesus to making a difference and effecting much-needed change in the real world; when it becomes clear that the people who feast at Jesus's table are the ones in the forefront of work to eliminate hunger and famine; when people realize that those who pray for the Spirit to work in and through them are the people who seem to have extra resources of love and patience in caring for those whose lives are damaged, bruised, and shamed, then it is not only natural to speak of Jesus himself and to encourage others to worship him for themselves and find out what belonging to his family is all about but it is also natural for people, however irreligious they may think of themselves as being, to recognize that something is going on that they want to be part of. In terms that the author of Acts might have used, when the church is living out the kingdom of God, the word of God will spread powerfully and do its own work." (Wright, N.T. "Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church". New York, NY: Harper Collings Publishers, 2008.)

Friday, July 25, 2008

Surprised by Hope

I'm back again to drop another quote from N.T. Wright's book, "Surprised by Hope". I have to tell you--this book has become one of my top favorite books. For the first time in my life, I think I truly understand how Jesus' resurrection, and our eventual resurrection provide us with the Christian hope. In light of this fresh understanding, I feel like I'm seeing the purpose of my life in technicolor--no longer in black and white.

Go get this book. Set aside 3 months and work your way through it. Read it with a friend and discuss it as you go. You'll emerge from your study with an understanding of what to expect when life "as you know it" is over--the understanding the very first Christians had! But, more importantly, I think, you'll have a renewed sense of purpose in your faith, and in how you spend your days on this earth.

Here's the quote I promised. I may be back in days to come with another sample. Hopefully, these teasers will work their magic and you'll read this treasure for yourself. Do it. I'll look for your thank you note in a few months.

"But the most important thing to say at the end of this discussion, and of this section of the book, is that heaven and hell are not, so to speak, what the whole game is about. This is one of the central surprises in the Christian hope. The whole point of my argument so far is that the question of what happens to me after death is not the major, central, framing question that centuries of theological tradition have supposed. The New Testament, true to its Old Testament roots, regularly insists that the major, central, framing question is that of God's purposes of rescue and re-creation for the whole world, the entire cosmos. The destiny of individual human beings must be understood within that context--not simply in the sense that we are only part of a much larger picture but also in the sense that part of the whole point of being saved in the present is so that we can play a vital role (Paul speaks of this role in the shocking terms of being 'fellow workers with God') within that larger picture and purpose. And that in turn makes us realize that the question of our own destiny, in terms of the alternatives of joy or woe, is probably the wrong way of looking at the whole question. The question ought to be, How will God's new creation come? and then, How will we humans contribute to that renewal of creation and to the fresh projects that the creator God will launch in his new world? The choice before humans would then be framed differently: are you going to worship the creator God and discover thereby what it means to become fully and gloriously human, reflecting his powerful, healing, transformative love into the world? Or are you going to worship the world as it is, boosting your corruptible humanness by gaining power or pleasure from forces within the world but merely contributing thereby to your own dehumanization and the further corruption of the world itself?" (Wright, N.T. "Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church". New York, NY: Harper Collings Publishers, 2008.)

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The Resurrection

Hey everyone. Sorry for not posting in such a long time. I've got a lot on my mind these days, but haven't had anything particularly earth-shattering to share with the world.

However, I am finishing up a book by N.T. Wright called, "Surprised by Hope". I intend to return in another blog and share some additional thoughts about this book. There's A LOT packed into this book. The subtitle reads: "Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church." Yeah. Only N.T. Wright could rethink this stuff in 300 pages. Anyway, for all you Christians out there who (like me just a few years ago) think that heaven is the last stop--you're wrong! Go get this book and work (it will be work) your way through it.

Here's a sample, and, like I said, I'll come back later and give you a little more:

"...the use of the word heaven to denote the ultimate goal of the redeemed, though of course hugely popularized by medieval and subsequent piety, is severely misleading and does not begin to do justice to the Christian hope. I am repeatedly frustrated by how hard it is to get this point through the thick wall of traditional thought and language that most Christians put up. The ultimate destination is (once more) not "going to heaven when you die" but being bodily raised into the transformed, glorious likeness of Jesus Christ. (The point of all this is not, of course, merely our own happy future, important though that is, but the glory of God as we come fully to reflect his image.) Thus, if we want to speak of "going to heaven when we die," we should be clear that this represents the first, and far less important, stage of a two-stage process. Resurrection isn't life after death; it is life after life after death." (Wright, N.T. "Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church". New York, NY: Harper Collings Publishers, 2008.)

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Way of the Heart

I just finished reading "The Way of the Heart" by Henri Nouwen. In my ongoing effort to learn to abide (John 15), I found this book to be really helpful. Nouwen builds his book around 3 primary practices that are far too often missing from our modern lives: solitude, silence and prayer. This is a short book, but contains remarkable insight into the reality of our (Christians) distraction, and the way that we can step outside of the frantic pace and enter into a lifestyle of abiding as Jesus did.

The section on solitude was a great reminder for me of the importance of being alone with God regularly. Who among us would argue that we are better people for stopping to be with God on a daily basis? In solitude we become aware of our sinfulness and develop a compassion for others who sin and are in need of grace.

The section on silence was also a great reminder. The book of Proverbs is full of wise sayings that are intended to help us learn to keep our mouths shut. As my friends know, I'm still learning this. When words are many, sin is not absent. Silence keeps us from sin, it teaches us to listen, and when we submit our will to God's, it teaches us to speak only what Jesus would speak.

Finally, the section on prayer taught me that prayer is not merely an intellectual effort where I try to find the right words to say to God. Prayer is much more than words. Of particular benefit to me was Nouwen's insight into the Apostle Paul's meaning in his charge to "Pray without ceasing." I think I understand this now, although it will take awhile for me to develop this habit. I'm intentionally not revealing Nouwen's thoughts on this here, in the hope that you'll take the bait and get the book.

While I don't intend for this to be an exhaustive book review, I will offer one criticism...a word of caution to anybody else who picks this book up per my recommendation (and I really hope you will!). While Nouwen is clearly in touch with reality, he does tend to drift into concepts of connecting with God in your heart / mind / soul that are abstract and ethereal. At least, that's how it feels to me. Perhaps a more experienced and gifted person of prayer would be able to follow, but I confess that Nouwen lost me a few times. But, I'm the kind of reader who can digest the good and discard the (for me) undigestables. All in all, this was an excellent book...and a nice bite-sized read (only 95 pages) for anyone and everyone trying to learn to stay connected to the Source.