Friday, April 1, 2011

How I Dealt With Love Wins, by Rob Bell

I originally read this quote on another blog, and knew it was the perfect introduction to a Love Wins post. I laughed, and thought I would use it:

"Just in case you’re an irrelevant Christian who listens to Nickelback instead of Mumford and Sons, has a burden to reach Latin America instead of Africa or Europe, and who has held out on signing up for a Twitter or Facebook account, Christians are in an uproar. Rob Bell released a promotional video last weekend for his upcoming book Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived."

To be fair, I met a few Bible college students the other night who did not know of this internet debate. But one thing is certain, Mumford > Nickelback.

I debated writing my own thoughts. Everyone and their mom has an opinion on this book. What's one more blog post? The decision to write was that I have strong feelings about what I read and have observed. Instead of repeating myself over again, one long post will suffice. I read Love Wins in two days and tried my best to remain objective. I thoughtfully worked through his arguments and stories before formulating my own opinions.

Before I begin, let me say that this topic has reminded me why I hate debating, and why I love discussion. I learn more about a topic by discussing things with my good friend and blogger, LJ, than I do in debates with other people.

In discussions, I'm more open to other peoples opinions, I am more willing to change my own view, I'm more willing to say that I am wrong, I offer more respect and feel more respected, and feel I am more patient.

Some people like to debate. Some people can debate healthily. I can't.

Furthermore, I don't hate Rob Bell. I'm not going to call him a wolf or whatever. I don't hate that he wrote this book. He has the right to write and publish whatever he wants. Do I think it was a poorly written book? Yes. Why did I write this post? Because I have strong feelings about the book's content, and some people wanted to hear my opinion. Simple as that.

I believe that Bell has a huge love for people, which I think fuels this book. His anecdotes are powerful. His passion, contagious.

He has been, and probably always will be, a huge influence on my life and communication style.

So now, here are things that I did not like about Love Wins, by Rob Bell.
(followed by additional thoughts)

1. In the opening pages, Bell claims that the story of Jesus has been hijacked. 

"There are a growing number of us who have become acutely aware that Jesus's story has been hijacked by a number of other stories, stories Jesus isn't interested in telling. Because they have nothing to do with what he came to do. The plot has been lost, and it's time to reclaim it. 
A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better. It's been clearly communicated to many that this belief is a central truth of the Christian faith and to reject it is, in essence, to reject Jesus. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus's message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear." -Bell

That the way every pastor and every Bible scholar has told the story of Jesus, it's a massive corruption from what God intended. As I read it, the first few pages let us know that everything we've ever been told about God's love is corrupted, and that Bell has written this book to set things straight.

I can't help but see this as a slap in the face to everyone who has told the traditional story of Jesus. We hijacked it? Turned it toxic and into an anti-Jesus message?


2. The thesis of Bell's book, as I read it, is that God's love is so great, that after death, people get a second chance of redemption. Hell is a place of temporary correction. To argue this, he looks at Matthew 25:46, arguably the most important verse on this subject matter:

"And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Bell argues that the very idea of 'forever' and 'eternal' as we understand it, is not what the Biblical writers intended. Unendingness is not a biblical reality.

"But 'forever' is not really a category the biblical writers used.
One meaning of aion refers to a period of time, as in "The spirit of the age" or "They were gone for ages." When we use the word "age" like this, we are referring less to a precise measurement of time, like an hour or a day or a year, and more to a period or era of time. This is crucial to our understanding of the word aion, because it doesn't mean "forever" as we think of forever. When we say "forever" what we are generally referring to is something that will go on, year after 365-day year, never ceasing in the endless unfolding of segmented, measurable units of time, like a clock that never stops ticking. That's not this word. " -Bell

Eternal, here, is the greek word aiōnios.

Bell argues that the ONLY way to interpret this word is 'a temporary intense moment of time' an 'age' 'a time with a beginning and an end' . But as I read this Greek lexicon, it gives the outline of Biblical usage for aiōnios:

1) without beginning and end, that which always has been and always will be
2) without beginning
3) without end, never to cease, everlasting

Granted, there are four places where NT translators chose to translate the word aiōnios, or it's derivative as 'an age', or 'period of time': Romans 16:25, 2 Timothy 1:9, Titus 1:2 and Romans 16:26.

What bothers me is that Bell is arguing that the ONLY way to interpret this word is temporary, not our idea of eternal. His lack of flexibility here bothers me.

But what if he is right?

The word is semantically flexible. If punishment/correction is only a period of time, then what about the rest of the verse? Is the alternative, eternal life, merely a temporary period? What happens when our 'eternal' life is over? Do we cease to exist?

I see this as a huge inconsistency.

"And they will go away into 'temporary punishment/correction', but the righteous into 'temporary life'."

What does that even mean? I think this is the most important argument Bell needs to make, and it falls short.

3. The second book under 'Futher Reading' is fictional classic The Great Divorce*, by C. S. Lewis. The book chronicles the narrator's journey. He starts at a bus station that we later find out is hell. Riding the bus into the clouds, he and the other passengers reach heaven. Residents of hell quickly discover that they hate heaven. They are ghosts, whose feet are stabbed by grass. Heaven is such a greater reality, that it turns the residents of hell into mere shadows.

All of hell's residents are given the opportunity to stay in heaven, but most choose to climb back into the bus to return to hell.

I decided to re-read The Great Divorce after finishing Love Wins. In the preface, Lewis gives this warning:

"I beg readers to remember that this is a fantasy. It has of course-or I intended it to have-a moral. But the transmortal conditions are solely an imaginative supposal: they are not even a guess or a speculation at what may actually await us. The last thing I wish is to arouse factual curiosity about the details of the after-world."

I could be oversimplifying, but in my re-read of The Great Divorce, it seemed that Bell's theology was shaped heavily by this fictional book. Bell's description of hell, the postmortem choice and descriptions of heaven share a lot of characteristics to The Great Divorce.

[*I did find the entire book, The Great Divorce, on a website. A great book worth a read.]

4. I'm not that smart. And I've only read the book once. So I look to our leadership in the Church. To respected pastors and Bible scholars for their opinion on Bell's arugments. As I read the many opinions of pastors and Bible scholars that I respect, I haven't found one that agrees with the Biblical arguments that Bell presents.

Here are the only positive reactions I've found:

Greg Boyd says Bell is not a universalist.

Matthew Paul Turner says not to demonize Bell.

Brian McLaren supports Bell, but most do not consider McLaren a reasonable Biblical voice (just being honest).

Ed Dobson didn't read the book, but supports Bell anyway.

If there are others, feel free to list them. I'd like to hear their thoughts.

5. I'm tired of hearing, "You need to read it for yourself," and other similar comments. Is it good advice? Yeah. Do I have a good reason for being tired of it? No. I just wanted to vent.

6. I hate how it's brought the worst out in Christians. Viral blogs are full of commenters gnashing, biting, and arguing about theology. The real tragedy is when we divide love from theology. What's more, is that more Christian attention was put on Bell than the catastrophe in Japan.

7. Bell asks a LOT of questions. Good questions. We have good, satisfiable answers to these questions. But Bell ignores traditional answers. Intentionally, I assume, writing in a way to lead the reader through a series of emotions, opening them up to his answers. But traditional answers shouldn't be ignored.

Most of Bell's questions build emotion in his readers.

"If there are only a select few who go to heaven, which is more terrifying to fathom: the billions who burn forever or the few who escape this fate? How does a person end up being one of the few?
Random selection?
Being born in the right place, family, or country?
Having a youth pastor who 'relates better to the kids'?
God choosing you instead of others? 
What kind of faith is that?
Or, more important:
What kind of God is that?" -Bell
In order to appeal to the heart of the reader, Bell is asking these frequently asked highly emotional questions. The problem with these questions, and the problem with Love Wins in general, is that it starts at the opinions of man (man's definition of love) to point out the problems of a traditional Biblical God.

Rather, we are to start with Scripture, to see that God is Holy and man is sinful. We find that the phrase Love Wins is true, but differently than his book would have us to believe.

Other thoughts:

1. I don't know what Rob Bell was thinking. I enjoy trying to figure out how people think, and why they say the things they say, write the things they write, talk the way they talk. That's why I love watching movies. I'm not just experiencing a plot or characters. I'm trying to figure out what is going through the directors head, why the screenplay was written like that, etc.

For a while, I followed John Mayer on Twitter. After a few months, I realized I couldn't understand anything that he was tweeting. He thinks differently than everybody else. That's why he writes songs no one else can write. He's an amazing writer, but I have no idea what inspires him, or why he goes in the direction he chooses. He's an artist.

I think the same is true for Bell. He's an artist and a genius. He doesn't think like everybody else. His methods have always been unorthodox. From what I understand, he had struggling grades through communication, speech, and sermon classes in school. Not because he can't communicate, but because he doesn't communicate like everybody else. Because he tries new things. Because he goes into uncharted territory.

Why did he write Love Wins? Because he enjoys controversy? Because he thinks all of Christianity really has been hijacked? Because he wants to create meaningful discussion? Because he's a wolf? Because he enjoys being different? Because he wanted to sell books? Because NOOMA videos don't sell as many as they used to? Because he wants to redefine 'love'?

I don't know.

2. Justin Taylor is responsible for the book's massive publicity. I first heard about Love Wins because I read saw Taylor's blog posted by one of my friends on Facebook. Taylor blogs for I read the blog, and posted it on my own Facebook, as I do with a lot of blogs that I read that I find interesting. It eventually went viral because so many people re-posted it. What I didn't know is that Taylor's blog had been revised several times. The original post called Bell a 'servant of Satan' and other off-color remarks.

And then there was John Piper's infamous tweet: "Farwell Rob Bell",

These were both written without actually reading Love Wins. Both jumping the gun, and displaying immaturity.

Greg Boyd put it best in his blog post, Rob Bell is NOT a Universalist (and I actually read “Love Wins”):

"Which is why this is a good conversation worth having…
but not on Twitter…
and not by accusing and labeling and bidding a brother “farewell” before you’ve even read the book!
THAT is madness!"
3. The name 'Rob Bell' and his long time used phrase 'love wins' now carries a great deal of baggage (I know it already did, but more now than ever). I've always liked it when Bell said, "Love wins." It's a powerful phrase. And I still believe it. Just not in the same way he means it. From now on, when I mention Bell, or use a NOOMA video, there will always be an unspoken (or spoken) awkwardness.

In short, he's lost more of his credibility.

4. I'm not sure why people love this book. Some of my friends love this book.

Maybe they agree with Bell's arguments.

Maybe they didn't do the Greek research.

Maybe they don't take the Bible literally. Or take all parts equally inspired by God.

Maybe they love books, speakers, or ideas that make conservative Christians angry. Maybe they get a kick out of making certain people feel uncomfortable.

I don't know. If you love this book, feel free to tell me why. I'm open to listening.

8. I’m not sure what to make of people saying ‘this book is art’ and shouldn’t be judged theologically. If it shouldn’t be judged theologically, then it shouldn’t be taken theologically. Then I better stick it next to my copy of The Great Divorce.

9. I didn't deal with most verses that Bell uses. That would make this post entirely too long. Isn't it already too long? Thank you for sticking with me this far. For an exhaustive discussion on Bell's Scripture usage, see Kevin DeYoung's review God is Still Holy.

10. My good friend wrote this convicting conclusion on his tumblr

"I love Rob Bell and I love John Piper too for that matter. But at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter what either one says. What matters is the searching of Scriptures within context, within community, with one another and God that what is written there has Authority, Mystery, Love, Grace, Justice, Mercy, Adventure, Creativeness, Uniqueness and Power to change lives."

11. Bell asks a lot of good questions about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. He brings up the 'age of accountability'.

"Some Christians believe that up to a certain age children aren't held accountable for what they believe or who they believe in,so if they die during those years, they go to be with God. But then when they reach a certain age, they become accountable for their beliefs, and if they die, they go to be with God only if they have said or done or believe the 'right' things." -Bell

Here is what I believe on the issue.We could debate for a lifetime on who goes to heaven, and who goes to hell. In all of these questions, I rest in the fact that God is Judge. The impossible dilemmas we see are split-second decisions to Him. And His decision goes. And who are we to question? A fascinating ending to the book of Job shows us one great man's reaction to a holy God's presence.

"The LORD said to Job:
“Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him?
Let him who accuses God answer him!” 
Then Job answered the LORD:
“I am unworthy—how can I reply to you?
I put my hand over my mouth.
I spoke once, but I have no answer—
twice, but I will say no more.” 
Then the LORD spoke to Job out of the storm:
“Brace yourself like a man;
I will question you,
and you shall answer me.
“Would you discredit my justice?
Would you condemn me to justify yourself?"
Job, a wise, patient, holy man, when standing before God, could only reply, "I put my hand over my mouth." 

Likewise, I think all of our questions, debates, arguing over what happens in eternity will all fade as quickly as God makes his Judgement.

12. I will always believe that in the end, Love Wins.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

What Do Zombie Films and Billy Graham Have In Common?

I love zombie films.

Well, the entire post-apocalyptic genre, but zombie stories in particular. Zombie movie marathon? Yes, please. And I'll bring the Funyons.

Is it the senseless violence? Sure, that's a part of it. Sometimes it's fun to turn off the realistic part of my brain and enjoy some intense action.

Is it a fascination with the dead? No way. Technically, they're un-dead. But regardless, this has little to do with it. There is nothing spiritual or demonic going on here. Usually just a man made virus, if they even take the time to explain the zombies at all.

Here is why I love zombie stories. Because I can't help but think,

"What would I do?"

Would I be the quiet guy who eventually has a nervous breakdown? Or would I be the unrealistic action seeker and die an early and needless and utterly preventable death? Or would I be the guy who keeps his cool under the worst of situations? The guy with a plan. The guy who inspires hope. The guy who unifies everyone together for the one common goal: to survive.

Post-apocalyptic stories have this way of asking what would life be like if everything had to start from scratch. The world we once knew is gone: laws, order, the American Dream. Now all that is left is chaos, disorder, fear. But there is always a leader who inspires hope to the hopeless. A promise of restoration.

I have been most impressed with the latest zombie story, The Walking Dead. A six episode first season of a well budgeted, high quality written TV show. The season ends with a great dialoge between the main character, Rick and a disgruntled scientist.

"You're lying when you say there's no hope. All we want is a choice. A chance. We need to try for as long as we can." -Rick

What drives Rick is this idea that somewhere, there is refuge from danger. Somewhere there is a safe life for him, his wife, and his son. So he chooses to fight. He chooses to keep going. Is his hope unrealistic? Naive? Immature? Or is his optimism the last best thing to hold on to?

So what does all this have to do with Billy Graham? You probably have already put it together: Hope.

People closest to Billy Graham describe him as a pessimist. His natural outlook on life is that things are probably going to get worse. In order to lead, he has to purposefully and intentionally communicate hope and optimism. Marshall Shelley, who wrote The Leadership Secrets of Billy Graham, describes him this way in this powerful quote,

"Optimism is not living in a fantasy world where nothing tragic ever happens; vital optimism is a confidence that tragedy isn't the last word, that the best is yet to be. Optimism is being able to acknowledge brutal realities and to the point an even greater reality - that our experiences are not in vain, our responses are not futile, and our efforts are going to be worthwhile. 
Christian leaders like Billy Graham most often link this optimism and hope to an abiding trust that history is going somewhere and that God, who specializes in redeeming flawed situations, is powerfully directing it. But hope is the basic psychology and biology. 
Sometimes, brining hope to a dispirited group is the most important thing a leader can do." 
Sure. I admit. It's no zombie apocalypse out there.

But it isn't great either.

In a lot of ways, things are very terrible for a lot of people. But sometimes the greatest thing we can bring to the world is hope. Hope that we can help change things. Hope that Jesus can still bring healing grace. Hope that tragedy does not have the last word.

And we intentionally bring hope with us.

Who would of thought the two had anything in common?

(Sorry I dont blog much anymore. I love doing it, but finding time is harder with a daughter and a full time job. I'm sure you understand. And thank you everyone for your constant encouragement. More to come soon.)

And how can we bring hope to hurting people?
Anyone love zombie films as much as me?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

I'm sorry. I don't speak Christianese.

Apologies for this not coming out on Tuesday, but I have been enjoying life with my wife and newborn daughter Reagan. So I had more fun holding Reagan than thinking about writing this weekend. So to make up for my absence, here is a picture of her on our drive home from the hospital. 

Now, onto the blog.

Observation and Confession time.

We all have preferences. Mine?

Coffee? Two creams, one sugar.
Hamburgers? All the way.
Style of preaching? Conversational.
Leadership? Relational and influential.

As weird as this sounds, I don't like using jargon. Especially Christian jargon.

"Praise the Lord.
Amen, brother.
God is faithful like that.
Blessed and highly favored.
Saved. Sanctified. And filled with the Holy Ghost.
Bless their heart."

First, there came a point in my life when I realized that everybody doesn't talk this way. But our pastors and preachers have used these phrases from the pulpit for years. And people in the crowd know what they mean, or at least pretend they do.

When I figured out that non-Christians, and Christians who don't go to these types of churches, don't use or even understand these phrases, I made it a point to use terms everyone knows, with the intention to be understood by more people.

Obviously, I'm not the only one who feels this way. You probably feel the same, or at least know people who do. Pointing this out isn't all that significant. I know.

What I want to confess is that now, since it's been so long since I switched, I get agitated when I hear it. Annoyed even. And I've watched friends of mine even make fun of people who speak this 'Christianese'.

So I've come some sort of full circle.

I used jargon.
I noticed the problems with jargon.
I quit speaking jargon.
I get annoyed with people who use jargon.
I was annoyed at myself for getting annoyed at people using jargon.
And now I get annoyed when other people get annoyed for people using jargon.

And I don't really know what to think. Does this even matter? I think so because it negatively affects our attitudes towards other Christians. Do I have a solution? Besides getting over it? Nope. What do you think?

But again, I don't want a secret code that only certain people understand. I don't want people to need a translator to know that I'm giving them advice.

Does it bother you? Do you think it's a big deal?

Sunday, November 21, 2010

God the 'Father'? Why Pick a Name With So Much Baggage?

It's weird to think of God as Father. Couldn't He have picked a better metaphor to describe himself? Granted, I was fortunate to have a great father. He took us to Braves games, provided for us on a military budget, and always showed interest in our sports endeavors.

But I know too many people who had bad fathers. Fathers that never cared for their kids. Fathers that never returned calls at Christmas. Fathers who chased younger women. Fathers who found their identity and worth in work, and choosing to neglect their family.

For too many, the title 'father' carries baggage. Bad memories. And hurt.

In the Old Testament, no one ever called God by the name of 'Father'. Ever.

God was called holy.
God was called a warrior.
God was called a rock.
God was called master.

But God was never called Father.

So when the disciples asked, "How should we pray?" you have to understand how unheard of it was for him to begin, "Our FATHER, who is in heaven..."

I'm sure the disciples thought, "Did he just say that?! Father?"

But Jesus invited us to do something intimate. Special. Inviting. Personal.

He called us to join the family of God. To call God, Father.

I began to better understand this when I read this powerful quote by George MacDonald,
"In my own childhood and boyhood my father was the refuge from all the ills of life, even sharp pain itself. Therefore I say to son or daughter who has no pleasure in the name Father, you must interpret the word by all that you have missed in life. All that human tenderness can give or desire in the nearness and readiness of love, all and infinitely more must be true of the perfect Father - of the maker of fatherhood."
This week I will become a father to my daughter, Reagan Arcadia. When she is born, I am told that my entire outlook on life will change. Which, I'm sure is true. But most importantly, my perspective on who my heavenly father is will change. How He cares. How He wants the best.

If you had a bad father, how do you feel about calling God your Father?

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Danger of Bumper Sticker Ideology

So I'm reading this book about a guy who dressed up in a bumper sticker suit. After he convinced his wife to let him out of the house with the goofy thing, he headed to Time Square, New York.

His goal? To open up discussion with anybody willing. He asked questions about God, the Church, and their favorite bumper sticker on his suit.

His intent? To facilitate meaningful conversation.

It's not that I think bumper stickers are wrong. Not at all.

Although they do affect the resale of your car. You want bumper stickers? Cover to your heart's content.

But what bumper sticker guy and I are saying is that the ideology of a bumper sticker cheapens communication. This mindset robs us of the art of conversation.

Bumper sticker ideology offer one way communication. I know that I don't want to be the type that only has something to proclaim or to communicate, and doesn't have the time or ability to facilitate honest conversation.

Bumper sticker ideology only offer simple answers. Life is complex. Big questions often have complex answers. I feel cheated when a complex question is answered with a cliche just short enough to fit on the back of my car. Tough questions deserve thought out explanations. Tough questions deserve to be explored.

Bumper sticker ideology devalues opposing opinions. When we use one way communication methods, we communicate a lack of care or interest in rebuttals. We communicate that we don't care about other people's opinions. Sometimes that's not what we are trying to do. Other times, if we're honest, that's exactly how we feel: you're opinion is unimportant in this conversation. It communicates that 'I am right and you are wrong.' And we show that we are unwilling to learn from other people.

I'll admit. It's harder to facilitate conversation over this one way communication.

It takes relationship (relationships can be messy).

It takes longer (credibility has to be established).

It takes more research (tough questions deserve researched answers).

In short, let me ask you this,

"Has a bumper sticker answer ever changed your mind on a tough issue? Or just supported what you believed?" 

Book written by bumper sticker guy.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Subconscious Imitation

I recently read this fascinating story about mentorship and imitation. It is by Dr. Paul Brand, a man who gave up a prestigious medical career to serve lepers in India.

"Curtains screened my group of ten interns and medical students from the rest of the forty-bed ward. Those of us inside the curtains were giving full attention to our young colleague as he made his diagnosis. He was half-kneeling, in the posture I had taught him, with his warm hand slipped under the sheet and resting on the patient's bare abdomen. While his fingers probed gently for telltale signs of distress, he continued a line of questioning that shoed he was weighing the possibility of appendicitis against an ovarian infection. 
Suddenly, something caught my eye - a slight twitch of movement on the intern's face. Was it the eyebrow arching upward? A vague memory stirred in my mind, but one I could not fully recall. His questions were leading into a delicate area, especially for demure Hindu society. Had the woman ever been exposed to a venereal infection? The intern's facial muscles contracted into an expression combining sympathy, inquisitiveness, and disarming warmth as he looked straight in the patient's face and asked the questions. His very countenance coaxed the woman to relax, put aside the awkwardness, and tell us the truth. 
At that moment my memory snapped into place. Of course! The left eyebrow cocked up with the right one trailing down, the wry, enticing smile, the head tilted to one side, the twinkling eyes - these were unmistakably the features of my old chief surgen in London, Professor Robin Pilcher. I sucked in my breath sharply and exclaimed. The students looked up, startled by my reaction. I could not help it; it seemed as if the intern had studied Professor Pilcher's face for an acting audition and was now drawing from  his repertoire to impress me. 
Answering their questioning looks, I explained myself, "That is the face of my old chief! What a coincidence - you have exactly the same expression, yet you've never been to England and Pilcher certainly has never visited India." 
At frist the students stared at me in confused silence. Finally, two or three of them grinned. "We don't know any Professor Pilcher," one said. "But Dr. Brand, that was your expression he was wearing." 
Later that evening, alone in my office, I thought back to my days under Pilcher. I had thought I was learning from him techniques of surgery and diagnostic procedures. But he had also imprinted his instincts, his expression, his very smile so that they,too, would be passed down from generation to generation in an unbroken human chain. It was a kindly smile, perfect for cutting through the fog of embarrassment to encourage a patient's honesty. What textbook or computer program could have charted out the facial expression needed at that exact moment within the curtain? 
Now I, Plicher's student, had become a link in the chain, a carrier of his wisdom to students some nine thousand miles away. The Indian doctor, young and brown-skinned, speaking in Tamil, somehow he had conveyed the likeness of my old chief so accurately."*

This story amazes me at how subconsciously powerful mentoring can be. In this case, in the field of bedside manners for the interest of the patient. But the same is true in how we teach, how we conduct meetings, how we sell products, and most importantly, how we strive to be like Christ. As Paul once wisely said,

"Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ." (1 Corinthians 11:1)

*This story is the opening illustration of In His Image, by Dr. Paul Brand and Philip Yancey.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Light at the End of the Prayer Tunnel

I'm not the first to admit that I don't understand prayer. And I won't be the last.

To be honest, life since college has been tough for me. I am one of the many Americans to graduate higher education and get hurt by the job market. Even though I graduated over three years ago, I have not had a full time job that has paid more than $8 an hour. Embarrassing, huh? Even if you don't think so, it's definitely nothing to be excited about.

As an undergrad with a degree in Ministry, I've searched for a long time to find a job.

I feel like I've done it all.

Online searches.
Followed every lead I could find.
Asked mentors for advice.

But more than anything, I prayed.

All the time.

I asked God a lot of questions.

"Why have you given me these gifts and nowhere to use them?"

"Why have you given me a passion and a vision with nowhere to implement them?"

And no answer.

I can't say how many times I said, "I should just give up."

And too many times, I was so close to a hire, but the opportunity crumbled before me.

So last year, in September, I had the idea to implement my desire to teach on a blog. That idea eventually became this site. So I wrote.

And wrote.

And wrote.

Until I found my niche.

Until I found my ministry.

Granted, this doesn't pay anything. But I have received three free books. And typically, books don't pay the bills.

I even wrote a post for people in my situation, exploring the idea of failure, and how to persevere.

But you, my readers, became my focus.

Fast forward to today.

This morning I spoke at the Cleveland Worship Center as the new Student Minister/Associate Pastor.

As I breathe a sigh of relief, I can now put to rest worries of raising a daughter. She will be born in less than a month. And I now have a way to provide for her.

Honestly, it seems unreal. Like a dream I am soon going to wake from. Like a prank about to spring on me.

But as far as I know, I have to be at the office at 8am tomorrow. You better believe I will be there, with french pressed coffee flowing through my veins.

If you are wondering, I will still be faithful to you, my readers. I will continue to write to the best of my ability. You're too good to pass up.

But as it comes to prayer, I often wonder about God's timing. Why did He wait so long?

1. Was He teaching me about patience?

2. Was He protecting me from more bad experiences?

3. Did He want me to arrive at the Cleveland Worship Center in this stage of my life?

4. Did He want me to wait till I hit the end of my rope?

I could list a thousand more reasons, and not be closer to knowing WHY.

I don't understand why God works the way He does.
I don't know.
I don't know why you're prayers are still unanswered.

But I do believe that God is good. Not always safe. Not always fun. But good.

And tomorrow, for the first time in a long time, I will know that I have a purpose, a place to implement my gifts, students to minister to, and an income to provide for my family.

And I couldn't be more excited.