Monday, October 31, 2011

Some thoughts on repentance

Entering God’s kingdom requires a constant turning back to God. We tend to drift from God and turn towards evil. Unless we turn away from the paths of evil we will become evil, we will become corrupt.

Repentance simply means I acknowledge that I have started walking in the wrong direction, headed down the wrong path. Repent means to change my thinking and acknowledge I am going the wrong way. If I never acknowledge I am going the wrong way, when I am headed in the wrong direction, I will never get where I want to go. If I never acknowledge I am headed down the wrong path of evil, I will never get to the destination of heaven.

Failure to repent and change directions when I am doing wrong and expecting to enter God’s kingdom is as stupid as refusing to turn around when I know I am going the wrong way on the highway. It is like the conversation Yogi Berra had with a friend on the way to an event. His friend said, “Yogi, we are going the wrong direction.” Berra replied, “Yeah but we are making good time.”

It makes no sense to make good time if we are hell bound. Repentance is admitting our mistake and heading in the right direction.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Feelings Don't Match Virtue

I'm continuing to work through a list of paradoxes I have been collecting and observing. Right now my list is at 20. I am sharing these, not necessarily in any order but as I feel moved to write about them. Here is paradox # 14:

Usually when we possess a virtue we don’t feel like we have it and when we feel we have a virtue we don’t possess it.

Our feelings can betray reality. They can especially betray reality when it comes to assessing our actions. When we possess a virtue we usually do not feel like we have it. For example, courage or bravery is moving forward and taking action in the face of fear. So when we act with courage we actually feel scared or afraid. Even after an act of courage, we may not even recognize that we were brave but need other people to tell us.

In high school I felt a desire to become a writer and so I took seriously essays and other opportunities to write. In my junior year, there was an essay on a test. After completing the essay, I thought, “That stunk.” Time passed and when the teacher was giving back the essays, he said he wanted to read a couple of papers that were well answered. He began reading an essay and I thought to myself, “That’s pretty good.” I found myself admiring the writing. It wasn’t until he was well into the essay that I realized it was mine.

We often don’t know or recognize good things in our selves. Virtues come over time and so we need others to help us see growth in ourselves. Or we need it to sneak up on us like it did with my essay.

Socrates says in The Apology that when told he was the wisest man alive, he didn't believe it. Only over time did he discover he was the wisest man not because he knew so much but because he recognized he knew so little. Not even he could see virtue in himself until someone pointed it out to him.

On the flipside, when we feel we have a virtue, often we don’t. My three older sons feel real brave when they are playing super heroes in the house (I am fairly confident of their feelings because I know I felt brave playing super heroes as a kid). My sons may feel brave, but they are not. I am not putting down their play. I think it is incredibly important and healthy that they act out the part of heroes. However, they are not being brave. They aren’t pushing past fear to do what is right. They are fighting invisible bad guys, who don't offer much resistence.

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis uses the example of humility to make this point. If you feel humble or notice you are being humble, you cease to be humble. Humility is not thinking too little about yourself, it is not thinking about yourself at all. I’d argue that is true of all virtues. You don’t think you have it when you have it. When you think you have it, you usually don't.

What are some other examples of possessing a virtue, but not realizing you have it?

Sunday, October 23, 2011


The other day, I tweeted that Bill Hybels was one of my heroes. As was getting ready for work today, I started thinking about who I would call a hero.

Here are a list of some of my heroes.

Bill Hybels - I'll start with him since I already mentioned him. I admire Bill for starting a movement in the Church in this country and world wide to reach out to the lost. So many successful Church leaders have been inspired by Bill Hybels to build local Churches to reach the lost and make an impact for God: Steve Furtick, Craig Groeschel, Perry Noble, and Andy Stanley.

When North Point celebrated its 15 year anniversary last year, Andy introduced Hybels as someone who had taken bullets and large amounts of criticism from other Churches so that Willow Creek could be accessible to outsiders.

I admire Bill Hybels passion, his dedication and unwavering belief that the local Church is the hope of the world.

Andy Stanley - Anyone who knows me is not surprised to see Andy on this list. Andy Stanley is the most gifted communicator in our culture coupled with an amazing ability to lead the organizational Church. I'm constantly amazed at his wisdom and insight in his message. I admire him for his wisdom and commitment to the local Church.

Thomas Flynn - This is my grandfather. He was a great man of faith and possessed a genuine goodness. He spent his career in banking, eventually he became a vice president at PSFS. At his funeral so many people came up and talked about his kindness as a boss, that he was the best boss they had ever had. He was smart and genuinely loved people.

He died when I was 18 and still a kid. I look forward to the day in eternity when I can speak to him as two brothers in Christ.

Ignatius Loyola - He was a tough, determined, disciplined soldier who used those attributes in his service to Christ. I admire his total devotion to Jesus and focus on Jesus.

Thomas More - He was a man who used his incredible intelligence and wisdom in the service of his king. However, he sacrificed his life and allowed the king to take his life rather than betray God and the primacy of the papacy.

As I look at this list, I notice these men are all smart and accomplished men. They are men of courage and wisdom, traits I admire. This exercise has also been much more difficult than I expected. I haven't done any of these men justice and need to give this some more thought.

Who are your heroes? What do you think makes someone a hero?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Loved Unconditionally Yet Expected To Bear Fruit

God saves us while we were sinners and helpless and yet he expects us to bear fruit.
We can do nothing to earn our salvation. It is a free gift of God through Jesus Christ. Here’s what the book of Romans 5:6-8 says, “For Christ, while we were still helpless, yet died at the appointed time for the ungodly. Indeed, only with difficulty does one die for a just person, though perhaps for a good person one might even find courage to die. But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”

When we were of no value to God and could do nothing for God, he sent his Son to die for us on the cross. This is the core claim of Christianity. We don’t earn our way into a right relationship with God and we don’t find eternal life by stockpiling a bunch of good deeds. As Andy Stanly says, “Good people don’t go to heaven, forgiven people do.”

You and I don’t have to try and earn a right standing with God, we simply have to receive the gift of his Son. Despite all our wandering from God and sinful ways, we can enjoy eternal bliss not because of what we have done, but because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection. This is absolutely vital to understand if we are to understand the nature of reality. It is an amazing claim of Christianity, but is not the whole Gospel.

The Gospels tell us Jesus died for us and we are to produce fruit. God expects a return on his investment. In writing those words and in using that analogy of God seeing us as an investment, that seems to crass and maybe it is. So maybe it is better to stick with the fruit analogy. Here’s what Jesus says in John 15:5-6. He says, “I am the vine, you are the branches. Whoever remains in me and I in him will bear much fruit, because without me you can do nothing. Anyone who does not remain in me will be thrown out like a branch and wither; people will gather them and throw them into a fire and they will be burned.” Jesus says if we don’t stay connected to him and produce fruit than we will be thrown in a fire and burned. Now as a Catholic I surmise that could mean the fires of hell or the purifying fires of purgatory. In either case, Jesus is pretty clear that his Father (who he references earlier in John) expects us to bear fruit.

What kind of fruit?

From the rest of John 15, I would say an ability to keep God’s commands, specifically a growing ability to really love the people around us. God expects a return of love as he loved us. The growing ability to love does not come from our own efforts, but from Jesus living inside of us. It is no longer us, but Christ living in us.

God loves us when we are helpless and cannot give anything back to him and then expects us to love people who can do nothing for us in return.
Which half of this paradox do you believe more easily: God’s unconditional love or the expectation to bear fruit?

Monday, October 17, 2011

More Paradoxes

I have creatively titled this blog more paradoxes. So in case you are unsure what this blog is about, it is about more paradoxes because last week I published on this blog a list of 5 paradoxes.

Here are a few more.

  1. Leaders must be ahead of their followers but also understand their struggles.


    If I look to you as a leader, especially a spiritual leader, I expect you to be ahead of me. I expect you have been down the road of spiritual growth and that you can lead me somewhere you have been. If you are a leader you cannot lead people down a path you have never been. I don't think you have to necessarily be miles and miles down the road, but you need to at least be a little further ahead. This gives leaders authority.


    I see myself as a spiritual leader (which sounds somewhat arrogant for some reason and yet I work at a church and I believe Jesus wants all his followers to be spiritual leaders, not just the professionals). My job is to bring people along a spiritual path, which means I need to continue to grow and allow God to change me. To lead others, I must enter new experiences that aren't comfortable but open me to God's grace. On the other hand, I am no good as a leader if I don't understand the struggles people are having with God and growing in faith. If I don't know where people are, how can I direct them to where they need to go? Besides, people don't connect with leaders who aren't human. If a leader never shares his struggles, then people come to believe that spiritual growth is something way high and above them, something they can never achieve.


    So leaders need to on one hand communicate and show how they have moved down a road of growth and yet communicate their own struggles; they need to acknowledge that growth can be difficult.


  2. Leaders must understand principles of life, yet know they navigate the unknown.


    Life is full of principles that work on us all the time, like gravity. There is reality and a way life works. Leaders need wisdom to know how life works. Leaders who lack wisdom and knowledge of how life works will make unnecessary and dumb mistakes and may lead their organization to destruction. So good leaders need to know how life works and yield to the principles of life. However, the job of leadership is to set direction and clarity in the midst of uncertainty. If everyone knew what to do, leaders wouldn't be necessary. The best of leaders move into the unknown while it is still unknown. I read recently that Colin Powell said that he could make decisions with 30 percent of the information and any more than 80 percent was too much.


  3. Life is full of predictable principles and mystery.

    Looking on this one, this is similar to above. I also apply it to a relationship with God. God has revealed himself and let us know certain truths about himself and yet he is mystery, we will never come to the end of God, but constantly learning more about him.

  4. Leaders must preserve the core and stimulate progress


    This concept is taken from Jim Collins. A leader's job is to preserve the core values, principles and the core business in an organization. There needs to be some conservatism in every organization otherwise organizations lose their identity. So often organizations don't know who they are and so they stray from their core business. We see this in the Church. The Church has forgotten that its core business is not running schools or hospitals or even providing charitable outreach to the poor. The Church's core business is producing and making followers of Jesus Christ. The loss of this mission has been deadly for the Church and our culture. Without leaders, organizations will go after everything and anything. As the saying goes, "You have to stand for something or you are going to fall for anything." This happens with individuals and organizations.


    However, leaders must also stimulate progress and growth otherwise an organization will stagnate. The key of progress is that it flows from an organization's identity – its core values and core business. Apple is an excellent example of this. Apple started as a computer company with a vision of bringing the personal computer into more and more homes so more and more people could be creative and express themselves. As Apple as moved into the cell phone business and music business, they have kept that core identity as part of what they do. They have kept their integrity with who they are. Leaders make sure that progress and new initiatives are consistent with the identity of an organization.


  5. In order to have peace, we must be willing to fight and enter conflict.

    Recently, I took a personality test that revealed my core motive is peace. Essentially, I like to just be left alone. So this is a difficult lesson for me to learn. I don't like to fight and can't stand conflict. However, peace must be fought for once in a while. Peace doesn't naturally occur in our fallen world. One day the lion will lie down with the lamb and peace will be the natural order, but that's not where we are in the story. People do wrong sometimes willfully and sometimes ignorantly. If we want true peace at times we will have to confront others and enter into conflict. This is why Jesus said, "I didn't come to bring peace but the sword." He knew that confronting people with the truth wouldn't bring peace in the short term, but in the end peace that is fought for is the only peace worth having.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Paradoxes and the disfigurement of truth

One frustration I have with writing is when I sit down to say something and just doesn't come out the way I want it. In the back of my mind, the idea seems so clear and yet when I express it through the written word, I miss the mark. Another frustration flows happens when another writer says exactly what I was trying to say. On one level as I read their words I say, "Yes, that is exactly what I think." On another level I think, "Why couldn't I say it that way. And I wanted to say it first."

Recently, I had that experience with this concept of paradoxes. The idea and importance of paradoxes has been rolling around in my head the last few months, but I haven't been able to express it well. This week I read something that perfectly says what I was trying to say. Richard Foster writes in the Freedom of Simplicity, "Paradoxes, of course, are only apparent contradictions, not real ones. Their truth is often discovered by maintaining a tension between two opposite lines of teaching. Although both teachings may contain elements of truth, the instant we emphasize one to the exclusion of the other, the truth becomes distorted and disfigured." That's it! That's exactly what I was trying to say in a recent post about the devil offering half-truths to tempt us.

The good news is that even though Richard Foster said it before me and better is that it can continue to be a launching off point for our discussion on paradoxes. The ancient rabbi's called this "midrash." Referencing what other rabbis had said about the law. The joy of discovering people who have said what you wanted to say is that you can reflect on their word and take their ideas to the next level. It's about carrying on a conversation for the written word. As long as we don't feel the need to be completely and totally original (which is a phantom anyway) it is a great joy

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

A List of Paradoxes

Here are the list of paradoxes that have been rattling around in my head. Right now I have a list of 19. Here are the first 5.

1. He who exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.

This is taken from the Gospels, especially in the Gospel of Luke, but can be found throughout Scripture in various sayings. Jesus is the ultimate example. Philippians tells us that he humbled himself to accept death on the cross, now at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow and profess that he is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Whenever we humble ourselves, God will exalt and lift us up.

2. To live you must die to your self. To find your life, you must lose it.

Also found over and over again in the Gospels and repeated by Jesus. We have to die to the false self we have created, so that the true person created by God comes to life.

3. It is in giving that we receive. Give and it will be given unto you, pressed down, shaken and without measure

When we give away, we open ourselves up to receive God’s blessing.

4. If failure is not an option, then neither is success
I found this quote by Seth Godin. I had heard it as “You have to fail before you succeed.”

People who ultimately find success do not mind failing on their way to success. They can take failures and set backs and recognize them as part of the process of becoming successful.

5. We have a desire for significance and a desire to be completely unnecessary.

On one hand we desire for our lives to matter. On the other hand we need to know that we are not needed so we can get away from other people from time to time.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Knowing Paradoxes Keep Us From Harm

F. Scott Fitzgerald said, "The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function." Paradoxes are two seemingly opposed ideas that are nonetheless true. Understanding paradoxes and that truth is often found in paradoxes is absolutely vital to navigating through life correctly. We will fail to find the fullness and richness of truth if we don't acknowledge that truth is often found in two opposed ideas. Many mistakes and even evils are committed in failing to understand the richness of truth that comes in paradoxes.

For example, if you look at how the devil tempts Eve in the Garden of Eden, you will see that nothing he says is really untrue. He tells Eve that if she eats the forbidden fruit she will not die and he is correct, she doesn't die right away. The death is spiritual and not physical. He tells her that God knows that when she eats the fruit she will have knowledge of good and evil. This is in fact what happens. She comes to know evil in a way God had intended to protect her from. This is the way evil and temptation works. It gives us half-truths. When we come to see truth often comes in paradoxes, we are better equipped to fight against evil.

When the devil tempts Jesus, he does the same thing. The devil says, "If you are the son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread." The devil says you are hungry, so use your power to meet your needs. Jesus says, "Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God." Jesus says yes we have physical needs, but we have spiritual needs as well. Then the devil switches tactics. He tempts Jesus to throw himself off the parapet of the Temple of Jerusalem so that people will see his miraculous power. The devil then quotes Psalm 91 that God promises to give his angels guard over him lest he dash his foot against a stone. Jesus retorts that it is also written that we are not to put the Lord our God to the test.

Evil or people with evil intentions or even marketers and people trying to get us to buy stuff (but I repeat myself) will try and narrow us in on specific needs or half-truths. Becoming more familiar with the paradoxical nature of truth and that it is often two seemingly opposed ideas can help protect us from falling for the schemes and temptations of the devil. It is part of the renewing of our mind that Paul talks about in Romans 12:1.