Beginning with God 3

Beginning with God 3

Worship.jpgIt all begins with God — what we think about God shapes what we think about ourselves and those around us and our world. It begins with God.

James Bryan Smith, in The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love With the God Jesus Knows (The Apprentice Series) , helps us think about this.

God is trustworthy.

“The God Jesus reveals would never do anything to harm us. He has no malice or evil intentions. He is completely good. … I can trust God” (56).

But many of us have a false narrative: he tells the story of folks growing up under God-teaching about repenting before it is too late as a constant approach to how God relates to humans and this world. That God is not worthy of trust.

Have you experienced the God-Can’t-be-Trusted Narrative? What shapes that narrative? How did it arise? What does it look like?

Smith proposes an alternative narrative. One word sums up the God-narrative of Jesus: Abba, the Aramaic word for “Father.” “The intimate word conveys not a casual sort of familiarity but the deepest, most trustful reverence” (58, quoting CFD Moule).

God as Father according to Jesus defines fatherhood. We need to spend time ridding ourselves of unworthy notions of fatherhood that we attribute to God. In other words, instead of imposing our notion of “father” (male, etc) onto God, we need to impose what Jesus says about God onto what “Father” means and what “fatherhood” means.

The Lord’s Prayer can be used to reshape what we think about God as Father. Here it is and you can ask yourself this question:

What does the Lord’s Prayer tell me about God as Father?

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come,
your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.

This kind of God-Father is trustworthy. How can this narrative help us?
The chp is followed by a discipline of writing down your blessings in life.

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Angry God Narrative: My thoughts

How has the Angry-God-Narrative shaped your life? What have you done to reshape the Angry-God-Narrative?

I have been blessed by not having a life shaped by the Angry God Narrative. I know that story is out there and I’ve seen people’s lives seriously damaged by it, but it has not been my primary picture of God.

I know what it’s like to have an angry authority figure in my life. Until I was 21, my mom struggled with undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder. When she was ill — and she was very often ill — she was unpredictably controlling and angry. At times I thought I had the best mom in the world because she would let us do pretty much whatever crossed our minds. We were intelligent, creative children and lots of things crossed our minds. We were kids running wild, footloose and fancy free! Then her mood would change, nothing would be OK, and the judgmental God she was raised with would surface.

It was very difficult, very painful, and very scary.

Thankfully, our loving God always put people in my life who knew him for what he really was. My dad. Teachers, both at school and at church. Extended family. Family friends. Some were people who knew there was hurt in our family but didn’t know what to do. Others were people who got really involved and helped me sort through some of that difficulty, pain, and fear. Some just listened to me cry. All of them either modeled Jesus or very directly encouraged me to seek him. Sometimes both.

My heart hurts for people who have only had the Angry God Narrative. I remember being very young and going to sleep, crying to God. I didn’t understand. I was hurt. Sometimes I was very angry with God and yet he was still the “person” I turned to.

Somehow, I knew he cared. I knew he loved. I didn’t understand him but I understood that. Maybe because of Aslan in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Maybe because of Mrs. Whosit, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which in A Wrinkle in Time. Definitely because of my dad, Jim Woodroof, Mona Lee Garner, Craig Jones, and Mike Cope.

How would you know you were forgiven if an angry God was the only God you knew? How could you believe in his love and grace? How much do we damage people when we focus more on judgment and rules than on mercy? Feeling that you will never be good enough is a terrible way to exist.

Exd 33:19 The LORD replied, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will call out my name, `the LORD,’ to you. I will show kindness to anyone I choose, and I will show mercy to anyone I choose.”

The One Who Showed Mercy is an original woodcutting by Christopher Koelle. You can learn more about it by visiting the artist’s site.

Postscript added Wednesday, July 29:

My mom’s unwavering commitment to God is one of the best examples of faithfulness I’ve had in my life. The difficulties that were caused by her illness were real and tragic, but the mercy that God has shown our family can’t be put into words. Twenty years ago I could not have imagined that we would be who we are today. We have all had to grieve what was lost during those years, but my parents’ commitment to God and to each other provided an example of faithfulness and forgiveness that few people ever see. I love my mom and look forward to spending eternity together with her. My dad is one of the finest and most intelligent Christian men I have ever known. I wear the name Underwood with both humility and great pride.

Beginning with God 2

Just a reminder: These posts are simply reposts of articles written by Scot McKnight and originally published on his blog, Jesus Creed. You can find a link to his VERY prolific blog over on the left. And a side note: I’ve not read the book he’s discussing, so my discussion comes solely from the questions and the bit of content in McKnight’s summaries.

I long for your comments, whether you agree or disagree or just want to mull things over a bit. If you’ve been lurking, it’s time to come out and be heard.

This is the day that the Lord has made! I will rejoice and be glad in it!

Just thought I’d throw that in for good measure. 🙂

Beginning with God 2

Worship.jpgLong ago an English writer announced that our God was too small — and he then listed the ways that Christians generally have bad ideas about God.

James Bryan Smith, in The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love With the God Jesus Knows (The Apprentice Series) is arguing something like this when he suggests we take a deeper look at our “false narratives” that are shaping our lives.

God is good.

Smith tells a story when his faith in God as good was shaken, and it had to do with their daughter who, 8 months in the womb, was discovered with a rare disease that would claim her life 2 years later. A pastor met with Smith and asked this question: “Who sinned… you or your wife?” [Groans deleted.]

Smith proposes that what shapes that kind of question is a narrative of “the angry God.” “God is an angry judge. If you do well, you will be blessed; if you sin, you will be punished” (40).

How has the Angry-God-Narrative shaped your life? What have you done to reshape the Angry-God-Narrative?

Smith thinks this is the most prevalent narrative about God among Christians today. It is a constant “tit for a tat” God.

Jesus’ narrative, Smith proposes, is a different one. God is good; the question is not “who sinned?” as in John 9:2-3 (“who sinned, Rabbi, … that this man was born blind”) but how can God be glorified. Jesus heals the man to show the grace of God at work. Jesus abolished the idea that we get what we deserve. The tit-for-a-tat God is a means of control — of our world and our life. It is a controlling narrative, however, that doesn’t work.

Someday we will see justice and someday we will understand justice. (He interacts here with Augustine.)

We can also take delight and comfort in that Jesus, too, experienced suffering. He believes for us when we struggle.

God is good. All the time.

How is the God-is-Good Narrative re-shaping your world?

After each chp Smith has a section on spiritual formation: this one is on silence and listening to creation itself.

Beginning with God 1: My answers

While I’m reposting the McKnight articles, I want to take the time to talk/write/think through his questions. Please join me in the discussion; I hope it can help us all reach “the higher plane” that we’ve sung about so many times at church.

But first our question: What helps folks change the most in spiritual formation? One more: What do you think is the least helpful idea or practice or suggestion in helping folks change?
The only way I can answer this is to frame it as “What helps me change the most in spiritual formation? What has been the least helpful idea or practice or suggestion in helping me change?”

It’s easier to say what isn’t helpful than what is. What isn’t helpful is guilt or shame-inducing motivators. What isn’t helpful is legalism: presenting things as “you must do this or you will fail as a Christian” leads only to feeling overwhelmed. How many times have my girlfriends and I said, I don’t have time to think about one more thing!? And that’s just the thinking — not even the doing!

The times I have been authentically changed are not the times when I have been overwhelmed by things to do, but when I have been overwhelmed by God’s love. It’s a combination of knowing that God loves me and accepts me exactly the way I am, but also has a better vision of who I am. Success in this world doesn’t motivate me. Yes, I have standards and there are things that I want to have in order, but the things that really matter to me — my family, my friends, my integrity — those things matter because of their eternal nature.

And yes, I do believe that our relationships will carry over into the world that is to come. I believe they will be different, but I believe that they will be. I also believe that our basic nature — our “who we are” will travel with us too. I believe that King David is still writing songs and pouring out his heart to the Lord. I believe that Jeremiah may still be watching our world and weeping over the brokenness that he sees. I believe that Hosea is still whispering, Come back to me when he sees God’s beloved stray.

The times I grow spiritually are the times that God allows me to see myself clearly — my strengths, my weaknesses, my talents, my loves, my fears, my failures — and tells me that he loves me anyway. From there, I can take those different parts of myself and give them to him. Use my strength, talents, and loves, and let him handle the weaknesses, fears, and failures.

What about you? What has helped you most? What has been least helpful?

A New Favorite

Over the last year, Scot McKnight has become one of my favorite writer / thinkers. His book Blue Parakeet has made my list of “must reads” for Christian thought, and his blog keeps my blog reader filled with things to think about.

Over the next few days I’m going to be reposting a series of writings he is sharing based on the book The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love With the God Jesus Knows by James Bryan Smith. I haven’t read the book yet, but Scot’s posts about it have voiced things that have been on my mind. I hope you enjoy them and are challenged by them as much as I have been.

Beginning with God 1

Worship.jpgA wonderful German scholar once said, “The first and the final thought of Jesus was thought about God.” (I translate.) That theologian, Adolf Schlatter, gets it exactly right: what you think of God matters most.

So I want to begin a new series and we’ll use James Bryan Smith, The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love With the God Jesus Knows (The Apprentice Series), as our launching pad to think more about God, to think more about what we think about God, and to bring our view of God into line more with what Jesus taught us about God. I predict this book, and the two more in the series, will become deeply influential books in evangelical churches that want to deepen spiritual formation.

James Bryan Smith’s focus in this book is on transformation and change. Building on Richard Foster and Dallas Willard, he sees transformation taking place in these ways:

But first our question: What helps folks change the most in spiritual formation? One more: What do you think is the least helpful idea or practice or suggestion in helping folks change?

Most of us want to change, whether it is changing some bad habit to changing a deeply-ingrained character defect, and Smith’s focus is that for change to occur we have to learn that change does not result from willpower. The “will” has “no power.”

We enter now into a major feature of this book, and I hope the one that will generate great conversations: the power of false narratives in our lives and the power of good narratives that can effect change. The false narrative is that effort and willpower leads to change. Jesus’ narrative is that change occurs through indirection, a word that is important but not the best of words to communicate. Essentially he is speaking of the power of a new narrative that can change us. Here are the elements:

1. Changing the stories in our minds;
2. Engaging in new practices;
3. Reflection and engagement with others on the same path;
4. Shaped by the Holy Spirit.

Here are the narratives at work in our minds that shape us, and these narratives (or stories) are both running and sometimes ruining our lives:

1. Family narratives
2. Cultural narratives
3. Religious narratives
4. Jesus narratives.

Smith also has short interludes about spiritual disciplines and I will not be focusing on those, though I will mention each: at the end of this chp he speaks of the importance of sleep. The number one enemy of spiritual formation and change is exhaustion, so he argues. He’s right. Everywhere I go pastors tell me folks are tired and busy and too booked to do anything more.

Necessary Change


Do you remember a time in your life when you knew that something had to change? Maybe you saw a need to add something to your routine or maybe it was time to let something go. It could also be that you realized that you had already changed and the action was just an expression of what had already taken place.

That’s part of this Truth quest I’ve been on lately. At the end of June, I attended the Christian Scholars’ Conference, held on the campus of David Lipscomb University in Nashville, TN. The whole experience was wonderful. I traveled there and back with Stephanie and Sheila and the conversation was rich. The theme of the conference — The Power of Narrative — was ideal for an English major, fiction-loving librarian. The program included former Poet Laureate Billy Collins, writer/minister Barbara Brown Taylor, Holocaust scholar Hubert Locke, and author Marilynne Robinson. Adding this to the time spent with other colleagues and friends made the conference one of the highlights of my summer.

Was it hearing Ms. Taylor discuss the power of fiction to save a life? Was it the humor and beauty of Billy Collins’ poetry? Maybe it was the multiple talents used to praise God in Tokens radio show, or perhaps it was the panel discussion on women’s experiences in the church of Christ. Something about those few days showed me that I had already changed and that it needed to be honored in my daily life.

I was reminded of the sacredness of each part of our lives. I realized that I need to be intentional about pursuing a deeper relationship with God and with creating beauty that reflects Him in my life. I don’t want to be swept up into the daily flow of life and become overwhelmed. I do not want to be so focused on my culture — even contemporary Christian culture — that I do not honor the person God has created me to be.

So what’s the plan that will keep this from simply being a grand statement and not a daily truth?

  • Early morning: I’ve resisted this for a long time, but now I’m getting up between 5:00 and 5:30 for a time of focused reading and prayer. Each day, I read a bit of the Henri Nouwen book and some from Psalms and Proverbs. Each week, I read a chapter from Celebration of Discipline and focus on that discipline during that week
  • Sunday morning: In addition to our family’s usual Sunday routine, I’ve been attending an 8:00 service at another congregation that is more intentional about praise and worship. It has been a real blessing.
  • Small daily changes: Changes in my home to make it a more restful place, adding certain authors to my reading routine, and finding ways to bring beauty into our world.

It really isn’t anything big, is it? It’s not a new career or field of study, but it’s there and it adds depth and meaning and life. It’s amazing how it happens. When you decide what’s really important, other decisions also become much easier.

Did I say EVERYTHING?


I did, didn’t I? I said that everything was sacred.

Well. Well, well, well.

Isn’t it just like God to test that right off the bat? Just when I was about to wax eloquently about the symbolism I see in children’s books and in fictionalized events of good vs. evil, I was met a much more practical test of my theory.

My sons’ bedroom.

I often tell people that housekeeping is not my spiritual gift. Maintaining a decent home is an ongoing challenge for me. This weekend my boys were invited to spend some time with my sister and I decided to take advantage of the time to clean their bedroom. We need to take out the carpet and repaint and this seemed like a good time to get the prep work done.

I will spare you the gory details, but this is going to be a bigger job than I thought it would be. Their bedroom is next to the bathroom. Seems that there was a water leak a while back. It’s not attractive.

So my challenge today is to find the sacred element of cleaning up a room that’s making me angry every time I walk into it. How can I breathe God into this situation? And what can I do from now on to keep it from becoming such an ungodly mess?

  1. I can work in small amounts of time. 45 minutes in and 15 minutes out. This will not only give me time to calm down, it will also allow me to breathe fresh air.
  2. Praying instead of stewing. I don’t remember where I first heard that concept, but it’s a great one. When faced with mundane tasks that you find irritating, try praying for the person you’re doing it for instead of stewing about the never ending nature of the task.
  3. I can add discipline in the physical realm into my desire to be spiritually disciplined. Part of my renewed quest for Truth has been a time of focused prayer and meditation each morning. In addition to this, I need to add some routine physical tasks for my boys to help them learn to care for things. It’s a life skill they need.

So . . .here I go to sally forth into the next 45 minute block of time. A time of prayer and discipline and sacred quest for Truth.

Yeah. That sounds so much better than doing housework.

Lately


I love words and do not take them lightly. I am well-read and have a fairly extensive vocabulary. I love mulling over concepts and possibilities, looking at things from a variety of angles, and discussing options and “what ifs” and “maybes.” When I say, “I’m not sure how to say this,” it’s a pretty big deal.

I’m not sure how to say this.

I can say that I’m on a thought journey with a renewed desire to seek Truth. I can say that I was recently reminded of our false separation between sacred and secular and that everything is sacred. I can say that I’ve been very aware that my thoughts and views on some very accepted beliefs are not in sync with those around me, and I can say that that makes me wonder if my view of God and redemption and forgiveness is also very different from theirs.

If this makes me sound depressed or angst-ridden, I want to assure you that I am not. The fresh realization of the sacredness of each part of life also causes me to see beauty in everything. A simple story reminds me of God’s love. A tale of good-versus-evil that some would ban brings tears to my eyes as I see pictures of Jesus’ sacrifice for me laced throughout the story.

Even a child’s tale can bring me to tears because of the beauty of love, hope, forgiveness, joy, and new beginnings.

I hope that I can find words to express the details. When I do, I will share them here with you.