Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Who is Jesus?

Who is Jesus? A simple question with a million answers. Pastor Grieg asks us to figure out who exactly we believe Jesus to be. I am looking forward to hearing your answers, for now however, I thought I would share mine. What never stops surprising me, is how often my answer to this question changes. The more I learn about this Jesus, the more I can't put my finger on Him. His identity ebbs and flows. He is consistently bigger than the box I put him in. And however my relationship with Him grows or morphs, I know a few things for sure. I believe Jesus is the lover of my soul. I believe he is kindness, mercy and the raw expression of unconditional love. I believe He is humble yet made of the power that created the universe. I believe he suffered physical and emotional pain while on earth. I believe He chose, over and over again to love even when it hurt. I believe He was in the beginning, and will be in eternity. I believe he is the life that pulsates in all of creation. He is light. He is the truth of how things really are. He is a bridegroom fighting for his marriage to us. He is our savior, rescuing us day by day, moment by moment, from our sin. He is the encourager and life giver. He is our hope and our future. He is consistent and unpredictable at the same time!

I think CS Lewis said it best; "He is not a tame lion, but he is good." (The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe)

I would argue that no matter who you think Jesus is, you can't ignore him. He changed the course of history, and his followers are in many ways shaping our future. I leave you with a quote from Theologian Fredrick Buechner.

"It is impossible to conceive how different things would have turned out if that birth had not happened whenever, wherever, however it did ... for millions of people who have lived since, the birth of Jesus made possible not just a new way of understanding life but a new way of living it. It is a truth that, for twenty centuries, there have been untold numbers of men and women who, in untold numbers of ways, have been so grasped by the child who was born, so caught up in the message he taught and the life he lived, that they have found themselves profoundly changed by their relationship with him." Listening to Your Life [63]

Suggested reading on this subject...
The Jesus I Never Knew- Phillip Yancey
The Boundary Breaking God- Danielle Shroyer

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rob Bell and NT Wright, thoughts for tonights small group...



"Heaven is full of forgiven people. Hell is full of forgiven people. Heaven is full of people God loves, whom Jesus died for. Hell is full of forgiven people God loves, whom Jesus died for. The difference is how we choose to live, which story we choose to live in, which version of reality we trust. Ours or God's."

"When people use the word hell, what do they mean? They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of how God desires things to be. Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter--they are all hell on earth. Jesus' desire for his followers is that they live in such a way that they bring heaven to earth. What's disturbing is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about Hell here and now. As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth."

"The goal of Jesus isn't to get into heaven. The goal is to get heaven here."

"For a Christian, Jesus' teachings aren't to be followed because they are a nice way to live a moral life. They are to be followed because they are the possible insight into how the world really works. They teach us how things are. I don't follow Jesus because I think Christianity is the best religion. I follow Jesus because he leads me into ultimate reality. He teaches me to live in tune with how reality is. When Jesus said, 'No one comes to the Father except through me', he was saying that his way, his words, his life is our connection to how things truly are at the deepest levels of existence. For Jesus then, the point of religion is to help us connect with ultimate reality, God."


Why do bad things happen? Probably the most fundemental question of life. Why? Because we want to know the sense behind something so senseless. Different faiths have lots of different answers to this question.

Here is an article from, a multi-religious online forum, that skillfully sums up this question from the world views  of almost every major religion...

Why Bad Things Happen

How different religions view the reasons for undeserved human suffering.
BY: Ellen Leventry

 For centuries people have been asking, "Why, God, why?" when disaster strikes. And for centuries, religion has been trying to answer the question of how a loving or just God could allow humans to endure such suffering. While Western traditions strive to teach that God's power and goodness are, indeed, compatible with the suffering of innocents, many Eastern faiths view undeserved suffering as a result of a cosmic law of moral cause and effect.

According to the first two Noble Truths of Buddhism all of life is suffering and suffering is caused by attachments to worldly things. This attachment, which can take the form of greed, hatred, and ignorance in this life and past lives, can, unless mitigated, return as more suffering (karma). According to the Dhammapada, "By oneself the evil is done, and it is oneself who suffers: by oneself the evil is not done, and by one's Self one becomes pure." Suffering is not necessarily punishment from a divine being, but rather something that must be transcended by not clinging to material objects or relationships. According to Lama Surya Das, bad things happen to good people "because there are myriad karmic causes conspiring to bring about any particular event, which then becomes cause for other effects to take place."

The question of the unjustified suffering of the innocent is at the heart of Christianity, which holds that a sinless man (Jesus) suffered and died for the sins of humanity. Some Christians see suffering as God's punishment of sinful people or the world as a whole. Others see such suffering as a way a loving God tests the faith and fortitude of survivors. According to St. Paul, Christians should rejoice in suffering because it produces endurance, hope and character (Romans 5:3-5). Still other Christians see innocents' suffering as evidence of the inscrutable will of a God who "works in mysterious ways" toward an ultimate but unknowable good. Some Christians offer no explanation but, like Job, seek to trust in God. In the past, Roman Catholic Christians were taught that they should "offer up" pain, with the idea that through faith, suffering that seems meaningless can be redeemed and transformed. The fourth-century saint Augustine says, "God would not allow any evil to exist unless out of it he could draw a greater good. This is part of the wisdom and goodness of God."

Many Hindus view suffering as punishment for misdeeds committed in this lifetime or past lives. Even a seemingly innocent person who has not eradicated bad karma from past lives through charitable deeds is susceptible to such payback. Individuals' suffering should be placed in the broader context of a cosmic cycle of birth, life, destruction and rebirth. Hindus believe victims will be reincarnated and may be happier in their next life.


The very word "Islam" means "submission." Many Muslims understand that to include suffering--enduring pain or loss is a way of submitting to the will of Allah. Some suffering is Satan's doing or is the work of his cohorts in the spirit world (the "jinn") and is allowed by Allah as a test of humility and faith. Many Muslims believe suffering and adversity strengthen one's faith, as pain often leads to repentance and prayer and good deeds.


Sometimes it is believed that suffering is caused by a weakness in one's devotion to God. Generally, it is believed that God gave humans free will to feel pleasure and pain, and His purpose in allowing deep suffering of the innocent must be good even if mysterious. God suffers along with the sufferer. Many believe that God's sense of justice, and therefore the reasons for human suffering, are unknowable. To some Jews, knowing why God allows suffering is not as important as knowing that God will punish the perpetrators. All Jews place high importance on working to help those in need; the concept of tikkun olam, or repairing the world, will help allay undeserved suffering. Interestingly, suffering is the only issue listed in the Talmud that could lead a person to lose faith in God.

Whatever your opinion is, hold it in your mind for one second. Consider these words..

"Our tendency in the midst of suffering is to turn on God. To get angry and bitter and shake our fist at the sky and say, "God, you don't know what it's like! You don't understand! You have no idea what I'm going through. You don't have a clue how much this hurts." The cross is God's way of taking away all of our accusations, excuses, and arguments. The cross is God taking on flesh and blood and saying, "Me too."
- Rob Bell

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Is it Religion or Relationship?

"Though our feelings come and go, God’s love for us does not.”

-C.S. Lewis

When I first heard this quote, many years ago now, I thought it was strange. I remember thinking, "C S Lewis, you're smart guy, an educated guy, and this sounds a little mushy." This idea about God loving us no matter how we've acted, or if we even love Him back, made me angry. You see I had decided that Christianity, to be real and meaningful, should contend with other religions. By this I mean that it should be rational, manageable, and defendable, have goals and conclusions, etc... For me, Jesus either had to make sense scientifically -by answering big questions-, or have a process to be followed like other religions. If faith was a fight, I wanted a worthy contender.

In Buddhism if you don't follow a certain path than you will never achieve Nirvana, and be trapped in a cycle of death and rebirth. In Hinduism, if you don’t make sacrifices or give right praise to the Gods they could turn on you. Orthodox Judaism still maintains hundreds of laws about purity and morality, essential to knowing God and getting blessed. There's a formula to most of the world’s religions. So what was the formula for following Jesus?

Not surprisingly, there is a lot of Christian literature that tries to put formulas to Jesus. You have probably read some of them, maybe even studied them in a small group. Books with title such as:

"Seven Steps to a Strong Marriage"
"Three Ways to Know God"

Lots of sermon series try and use formulas as well...
"Five Ways to Connect to God!! Week 1: Have you tried the Internet?"

I think these formulas can help people's marriages and help them connect to God... But I don't think they're very biblical. In the Old Testament they tell storys and poetry to teach lessons. And the New Testament isn't much help either, it's full of parables and letters... Heck! What am I supposed to do with the Revelation???

"12 Marks of the Beast for Your Prayer Life! Buy Now before the Apocalypse!"

No! The bible is freaking useless when it comes to formulas for life! In the book of Job, Job asks God "Why me God? Why do bad things happen to good people?" And God says things like, "Where were you when I created the earth? Who came up with the blueprints and measurements? How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone, while the morning stars sang in chorus and all the angels shouted praise? And who took charge of the ocean when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb?" (Job 38: 4-9)

God doesn't answer Jobs question; in fact, he throws in a bunch of NEW questions!

People ask Jesus, "What is the kingdom of Heaven like?" And he responds with,” It’s a treasure that someone stumbles upon in a field." "Jesus, what is faith like?" "Well... it’s kind of like a mustard seed."

What was a I supposed to do with this? When you actually sit down and read the bible it seems like most of it is grey area, rather than black and white answers. And the worst support for Jesus as a powerful Messiah, ready to show the world the power and mightiness of God? The Cross. What are we supposed to do with a God that let people gossip about him, run him out of town, arrest him, kill him?.... And not only let them do all that, but forgive them for it! Love them even!!

Show me a beliefe system that lets that happen. Where's the formula for this kind of God? How do I begin to follow a being such as this one? Jesus says, love me and others like I love you and all that stuff will work itself out.

... love?

In the Song of Solomon, the God character is described as a Bride-groom romancing his Bride (us as the Church). Is the Bible telling us we are married to God? Later on in the Bible, God asks the prophet Hosea to marry a prostitute as a symbol of God's love for his wandering people. So we cheat on God?

It seems to me the Bible is making a clear argument for a REATIONSHIP with God. And it's messy, and we cheat, and there's bitterness and we're unsure how to love this God the "right way." This sure sounds like love to me.

Christian Author Donald Miller puts it this way, "Believing in God is as much like falling in love as it is making a decision. Love is both something that happens to you and something you decide upon."

God has loved us, loves us now, and will forever love us. And the best part? There is nothing we could EVER do to make him love us less. There is no formula that can hold our God. His mercy is BIGGER than how good we can be. His love outmatches our best praise. The Bible says Jehovah extends farther than the galaxies and yet is closer to us than our very breath.

You see, followers of Jesus understand (as other religions do) that God is powerful and beyond our understanding. But Jesus followers also understand that humanity gets strength, meaning, and purpose from relationships. Pastor/Author/Speaker Rob Bell has said that some religions are very powerful, but not very personal. And sometimes, the Christian religion waters down Jesus until he is purely a close friend you should hang out with (aka: have you accepted Jesus into your heart?), and so the message is personal but not very powerful.
But God invites us into something that is both personal and powerful. Its love that "always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres" (1 Corinthians 13).
So now may you live in full knowledge that the way of Jesus is bigger than formulas. May you build a meaningful relationship with your creator, one that is personal and powerful. And may you invite others into the kingdom of God!

<><  Leigh

Derek Webb ("Wedding Dress")
Donald Miller ("Searching for God Knows What")
Rob Bell (Mars Hill Bible Church, Grand Rapids, MI)
CS Lewis

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Why are there so many religions? And, can they all be right?

Last night was my favorite discussion so far. You all really thought deeply about why people follow so many different beliefs, and in turn, why you subscribe to your own. Not only did you look at why individuals choose certain religions, but why whole cultures create the settings that foster new religions and spiritual movements.

But can all religions be right? The consensus seemed to be "no." There are too many religions, for instance Scientology, everyone agreed were either evil, or flat out crazy! However, one similarity was clear; all religions are searching after God and there is truth in that search. "There is a need for God in the heart of man," said Donald Miller. We all have faith in something we can't prove (that includes Athiests). And if the argument became between religious people and atheists, we would probably link arms and stand side with our friends of other faiths.

If not everyone can be right, at least we can find comfort in our united struggle for Truth. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once said, "Wonder rather than doubt is the root of all knowledge." Spiritual people look at the world and are utterly amazed by what they see. This wonder and appreciation for mystery opens us up to a realm of possibility that includes love for a God bigger than our minds can grasp.

One thing is for sure, wether you take this literally or metaphorically,"Jesus is the way, the truth and the life."

grace and peace,

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Purpose of Life Pt. 2

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small doesn't serve the world. There's nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We are born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us, it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
-Marianne Williamson

"No, life cannot be understood flat on a page. It has to be lived; a person has to get out of his head, has to fall in love, has to memorize poems, has to jump off bridges into rivers, has to stand in an empty desert and whisper sonnets under his breath... We get one story, you and I, and one story alone.God has established the elements, the setting and the climax and resolution. It would be a crime not to venture out, wouldn't it?"
-Donald Miller,"Through Painted Deserts" (Comming to Rocketown April 27th)

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment.”


“Everyone has his own specific vocation or mission in life; everyone must carry out a concrete assignment that demands fulfillment. Therein he cannot be replaced, nor can his life be repeated, thus, everyone's task is unique as his specific opportunity.”
-Viktor Frankl  (Holocaust survivor)

Tuesday, April 13, 2010


This past week we watched episode #2: The Purpose of Life (pt.1). Greg took the cast snorkeling, and back on the boat they began to discuss what they would do if someone gave them 10 million dollars with no strings attached. Their answers were very honest. Some talked about taking care of their families, traveling, buying expensive cars and homes, writing novels, giving to charity, etc... We also asked this question in small groups. I was really proud that all of you took the time to look at your priorities and answer honestly as well.

The second discussion in the video included the story of King Solomon. Solomon wrote the book of Ecclesiastes. Ecclesiastes is under a section of the bible called the "wisdom books." God gave Solomon the gift of wisdom, a gift that he would never loose no matter what circumstances he found himself in. We all know that sometimes good sense goes right out the window when we're with our friends, or at a party, etc... But God gave Solomon wisdom he couldn’t ignore. So, Solomon decided to use his brilliance to figure out what makes life fulfilling. For an entire year, Solomon drank as much as he wanted, bought thousands of slaves, lived in huge palaces, married hundreds of women, had 700 concubines (prostitutes), amassed a huge fortune, etc... Everything he did was excessive. He says in the bible that he denied himself NOTHING. And at the end of all this, Solomon says "it was like chasing after the wind"; which is a saying that means it wasn't fulfilling, it left him empty, it didn't ultimately make him happy.

In my group we talked about the implications of Solomon’s experiment. A lot time we go to church and the pastor gives all kinds of moral commands for things we shouldn't do or try; ways that we shouldn’t live our lives. A lot of times we think, "Dude, you live in a bubble. you've never tried that, had do you know its so bad? and how dare you tell me NOT to do that." But Solomon, he got the credibility. He LITERALLY did every sinful thing you could possibly do, hoping it would satisfy him, and it didn’t.

In the bible Jesus says that he came to give us the life that is truly life. Or, as some translations put it: life to the fullest. Zane talked about this. But sometimes we look at all the things we're commanded not to do, and suddenly seems like Jesus is this really uptight drill sergeant, shouting down commands at us. But the bible paints the opposite picture. God says, 'sure, you can go off and do whatever you like, but don't expect it to make you happy." You see readers: the life Jesus invites us into is completely counter intuitive. he says if you die to yourself, only then will you truly live. It sounds backwards right? And he calls this way of living "the life that is truly life, "life to the fullest." Apparently, when we live in tune with how God created us, we will be richly blessed and wholly fulfilled.

I believe the next step is trust. I have to trust that going against my cravings will give me a lasting satisfaction. Pastor Rob Bell puts it this way, "Lust promises what it CANT deliver." God always delivers, he never fails.
As you reflect on what you purpose in life is, be encouraged that the backwards way of the gospels is how we have been created to live. And when we step into that way of life, God will give us the life that is TRULY life!!!

Grace and Peace,

Thursday, March 25, 2010

"Is There A High Power?"

Week One:

Last night we watched our first episode of Gospel Journey Maui!

The first question for the series was, "Is There a Higher Power?" It was a basic question for the cast, and everyone had answers that were very similar to one another, and also very different from one another. Priscilla, A-Rae, Zane and Pastor Grieg all professed a belief that Jesus is intimately connected to creation and that He is their personal savior. Jasser said he believed that Allah created everything and is a compassionate and merciful God. Emma said she believed there is energy in the world we can tap into, and Jonathan said he believed there is a higher power but no one will ever be able to figure out what it is and that evolution is the engine of creation.

Some of the questions we talked about in small group were: what are the 'big' questions of life? Why do they cause so much fear and controversy? And, do you ever doubt that God exists?

It seemed like most everyone agreed in some kind of higher power. The big questions that most groups talked about were: why are we here? What is the purpose of life? Why do bad things happen to good people? What happens after we die? And why is it so hard to know God?; All really good questions.

There was some frustration that Pastor Grieg wasn't giving the cast any answers, and I have to say I'm not sure that is what he should be doing, at least not yet. Right now it is important to let everyone express their views before he comes in and corrects them with the Christian worldview. In any event, you guys really took the time to reflect on these questions critically, and put into words your fundamental beliefs about life, God, and your own place in all of it; perhaps for the first time.
There was also some discussion about creationism, intelligent design and evolution. This is very interesting topic, especially for those of you who will learn about evolution in science classes and in college classes some day. I would encourage you to watch Ben Stein’s movie “EXPELLED: No Intelligence Allowed.” Or, Google some Christian authors who address the subject within its historical and political context. Believe me, it is always a good idea to know why you believe what you do about this topic, because otherwise people who are passionate about this will bite your head off for not knowing!

Other good references for some of these questions include:

The Reason for God - Timothy Keller
The Problem of Pain - CS Lewis
Mere Christianity - CS Lewis
Surprised by Hope – NT Wright
Evil and the Justice of God – NT Wright
God in Search of Man - Abraham Joshua Heschel
The Bible!!!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

GJM Intro Night

Hey Y'all!

So last night was our first Wednesday-night-small group, and it was awesome!!! Brandon talked us through some announcements, gave us an intro to GJM, we watched some promo videos, I talked about religion, and then we split into small groups. In small groups we got to have some good conversations. I'm excited to see where this series takes us, spiritually and relationally.

One thing I think will be tough for us, especially where it concerns Christianity, is separating religion from spirituality. Buddhism operates under the premise the self awareness is more important than following rules and obeying traditions. Sometimes in the church we get caught up with "religion," and all of a sudden rules become more important than grace. Our Associate Pastor, Alex Shanks, said something really profound to my high school youth group once; He said, "Sometimes, people confuse God with religion, and end up turning away from them both." The point he was making, is that God is not religion.

Christian author Timothy Keller has said that religion tells us: ' I obey, therefore I am accepted,' but the gospel says, "I am accepted therefore I obey.' So the gospel, the kind of life Jesus came to teach us about, is RADICALLY different to what religion tries to do. That is why in Galatians Paul says it is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1). What religion has tried to do, is create an atmosphere or a community of believers and beliefs, that will hopefully help us live our lives to the fullest. If religion ever stops doing that, then we need to change something, take it farther.

I believe that we can be those kinds of people. The kind of people who take Jesus' message of freedom and show it to the world in new and compelling ways. My prayer for this series, is that we will begin to reclaim what it means to be Christian. Surely will never get it right 100% of the time, but if we stop depending on our abilities, God will step in and empower us to be more and more in tune with His kingdom.

Grace and Peace,

ps. If you have any lingering questions from last night about GJM, religion, or how two goofy people like Brandon and I ever got the authority to teach kids, ask em' here!!!

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

To question, or not to question?

Hey students,

Tomorrow is Gospel Journey Maui! Woop woop! Time to "shred the gnar," as Zane would say. Even though we won't be watching the first episode until next week, we are still introducing some important info you should know about the cast of GJM. This blog is a resource to supplement our discussions, so take full advantage of it if you have any questions, concerns, or thoughts post them here every week!

During GJM we're going to be confronting some big, no, HUGE questions; questions people have wrestled with since time began, and will be still struggling with in the distant future. Maybe you will start this series and realize your not so sure about your own faith, is that alright? Are we allowed to question God? To doubt? In my opinion, yes!!! In fact, the Jewish tradition (our foundation) insists that to have a healthy relationship with God, we MUST wrestle w/our questions and doubts! In Genesis, Jacob (liar and brother of the hairy Esau) is preparing for the arrival of his vengeful brother, when suddenly, he's jumped by a "stranger" who wrestles him, injuring his hip. Even though jacob is injured, and no doubt frightened, he refuses to let the stranger go until it bless him. The stranger responds with a very strange question; he asks, 'what is your name?' (Genesis32:29)

Why does the stranger ask this? I mean later in the story we find out this mid-night wrestler is God (or an angel...). Wouldn't God know this is Jacob? Well the answer to these questions can be found earlier in the story. If you remember, one of the first times we meet Jacob (in chapter 27), he is pretending to be his brother Esau, to fool his blind father into giving him the blessing reserved for an elder son. When Issac, his father, asks Jacob who he is, Jacob says "I am Esau, your first born."
He lies.
He pretends to be somebody else! Jacob, up to this point in the story, has never acknowledged himself. So when the stranger asks Jacob "Who are you?", he's really saying to Jacob, do you know who you are? When are you gonna stop pretending to be your brother? When are you gonna take responsibility for yourself? Don't you know it's ok to be you?'

When we take time to wrestle with God and demand some answers, some wsidom, some blessings... God will listen, he will challenge us, and if we hold on long enough, we will learn about ourselves in the process.

In Jacob's case God doesn't even wait to be wrestled, HE goes after Jacob! After praying about this series over the past month, the staff here feels like GJM might not be us going after God, but God comming after us. Will you show up? Will you be open to new questions? Worldviews? Fears?

Will you be open to having faith inspite of unanswered questions?

Grace and Peace,
Leigh & Brandon