Thursday, August 31, 2006

Spiritual GPS

Brian McLaren, who is an author and a pastor in the Emergent Church movenent, spoke at Vision New England's annual Congress event in February of 2006. As a person in an organization there promoting our ministry, I couldn't wait to get the chance to duck in on his session and hear what he had to say. There are a couple of things he said that really stuck out for me. One of which I'll share now and one a bit later in another posting.

While Brian was speaking, he said these words that resonated within me. He said, "When you have a lot of change in a short amount of time, the old maps no longer show us reality."

Now he, nor I, is not referring to the Bible as our map that doesn't show reality, rather, it's the accepted ways of doing things. How we get to the ends we're trying to achieve sometimes changes. This is illustrated adeptly in the Rand McNally Road Atlas. It's updated every year. Why? Because the roads and routes whereby people have taken for years to get to work, vacation etc. have changed greatly in some places. Where I live, the infamous "Big Dig" of Boston has changed everything in how to get into the city, to the bus station, to the airport etc. The old maps really don't reflect a picture of reality anymore. I remember going to the bus station to pick up my sister-in-law in Boston. It was the first time in a couple of years where I had to go to the bus station. It was frustrating because I couldn't go the way I used to. That way didn't exist anymore!

So what does this mean for Christian spirituality in today's day and age? Well first of all it doesn't mean that the message changes one bit. God loves us, is willing and ready to punish sin and forgives us based on his wrath being satisfied through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ is still the way it is. But, we must admit some things have changed.

1. How people hear has changed. We can no longer assume that people know and understand who Jesus Christ is. In this generation, we are dealing with a people that are totally ignorant to the concept of the biblical Jesus. We can't just tell them Jesus loves them. They don't even know who Jesus is. There must be a relevant explanation of Christ.

2. What people respond to in regard to the plea of another human being has changed. It was once popular to have a long bench known as a "mourner's bench" or "sinner's bench" in churches. At the end of a very passionate and lively-delivered sermon, there would be a place for all who would walk the aisle and confess their sin in front of the church. In doing so they would be saved.

3. The definition of "Christian" has changed. If you were to look at George Barna's web site ( and see the statistics, you'll find that while many people define themselves as "Christian", most of those people do not exhibit or practice any of the behaviors that a disciple of Christ would exhibit. In this day and age, it can be confusing when you can live how you want and say what you will and call yourself a Christian, meanwhile, exhibiting none of the behaviors of what Jesus would call a disciple.

It's time we all get a spiritual GPS! A GPS simply takes information from a satelite above and shows the up-to-date map so the user can travel quickly and efficiently. If one misses a turn, the information from above shows alternate routes and guides the user back on track.

It's time we get synched up with the things above so we can effectively travel the routes that God has planned for us. While some believers will insist that the road they used to use is the best way to go, reality is telling everybody else that that road doesn't even exist anymore.

I believe that God is leading a bunch of people in a path of discipleship that looks like it's off the beaten path and it may well be, however, in time we'll see that it's the path God intended. I believe we'll see people using methods, venues, all kinds of places to bring people into the knowledge of Jesus Christ that were unheard of 50 or 60 years ago, maybe even 5 or 10 years ago! But it's OK. As long as we stay connected to the Giver of the information above, he will lead us and guide us into all truth.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Pluto Isn't a Planet and Other Things We Didn't Know

On August 24, 2006, the International Astronomical Union met in Prague. This union is a vast group of distinguished men and women who have devoted themselves, their entire lives, to the observation, study, understanding and discovery of all things astronomical. If it's in space, they're interested in it.

During this year's general assembly, some interesting things happened. One which was the re-defining of what a planet is. To some this may be immaterial, however, it has some ramifications and, as we will explore, some spiritual parallels.

A planet must a) be a celestial body that orbits the sun b) posess enough gravity to pull itself into a spherical shape c) have "cleared the neighborhood around it".

One may say, "well what's the big deal?" Well, the big deal is, when I was in school we had nine planets. All I've ever known was Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune and Pluto. However, according to the new definition, Pluto is no longer a planet! Now we have eight. What am I going to tell my kids? Not only that, according to the new definition (with Pluto being a dwarf planet category body now), there have been discoveries of other celestial bodies beyond Pluto that fit Pluto's description of "dwarf planet". The astronomical "landscape" (if I can say that) is changing. What we've always known and understood can no longer be accepted as it was anymore.

I take opportunities like this to think about the spiritual questions this type of thing raises. I, like many other people, have been raised in a religious, Christian culture. For centuries the "norms", the rules that define what a Christian is or is not, the accepted thoughts and acceptable teachings from what we think we know and understand of the Bible, have been put in front of us in text books, self-help books, Bible lessons, Christian radio and TV programs and Sunday morning sermons. My question is not, "was that all wrong?" but "is there more out there we're not discovering?"

Jesus came to the religious people and REDEFINED what a servant of God was. I contend that he even came to redefine for our clarification who God was. He re-drew the lines and in doing so, people discovered that there was a lot more to God and being a person of God than they thought. Yes, Jesus even challenged the orthodoxy of the day. The right teachings that came from the spiritual leaders of the day, founded by Moses, given from the hand of God were all challenged by Jesus. Jesus was telling them essentially that there were now eight planets, not nine like they were taught!

So, yes there will be people who will always think that Pluto is a planet. They will say that it's always been a planet so why change it now? It was good enough to be a planet when my parents were kids and when I was a kid so why can't it still be a planet now? They may even ask, "who are they to redefine what a planet is anyway?" In the same manner we will always have people who want to hold onto old religious norms. It was good enough for them so it's good enough for me. Besides, who are you to change anything?

I think we should look at it a bit differently. The people who are re-defining what a planet is or isn't aren't trying to limit or hurt anyone. They are exploring the vastness of the universe and finding out new things. In fact, in their process of defining and re-defining they are actually refining their knowledge. It is based on what always was that they didn't know yet!

So for all of you on your quest to know God more, don't be afraid to explore. Don't be afraid to ask questions and observe. In doing so you'll find that many things that you may question that you thought were rock solid about your faith (i.e. Pluto is a planet) will lead you to discover new things about the heart of God that you'd never known had you not gone through that process.

So love Jesus, obey his commands and explore the vastness of God.