Spiritual Snacks Will Never Fill You Up

I love snacks. I could snack all day. Chips, donuts, cokes, string cheese…I could probably make a list longer than all the types of shrimp Forrest and Bubba came up with. They are my weakness. What I have found over my years of snacking is that they never leave you full. Snacks are like throwing gasoline on a fire. It makes a big flame but it doesn’t last. If you want a fire that lasts you have to have a fuel that is jam packed with lasting fuel. Wood burns so well because of the years of growth it has taken to build it into what it is.

Some Christians live from one spiritual snack to the next. They snack on quick prayers, weekly worship, a verse here and there, and maybe something on the radio or a Christian CD that keeps them encouraged. Moving rapidly from one snack to the next there is never a sense of being full. There is never a lasting feeling of satiation. Deeply rooted spiritual experience and relationship with God is forfeited for a much shallower yet much flashier brand of Christian faith that is high carb, high fat, low protein and low fiber. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (Matthew 5:6). When you think about your faith, is there ever a time you can say you feel “filled”? Jesus promised it. If we don’t then maybe we aren’t actually hungering and thirsting after righteousness. Maybe we have been hungering and thirsting for something that has the appearance of spiritual nutrients but in the end is no more than spiritual junk food.

Jesus explained the differences between these types of Christians through his parable of the seed. The sower sows seed and it falls on different types of soil. Spiritual snackers are like the seed that falls in the rocky places (Matthew 13:5). It springs up quickly but because it has no root so its quick growth is rapidly depleted. But the seed that falls on good soil had the lasting nutrients it needed to grow tall but also deep as its roots had a favorable environment to grow in a lasting way.

So put down your spiritual snacks and Christian crutches and begin a healthier diet that may not be as flashy and maybe doesn’t taste as sugary but it will see you through the tough times and draw you in closer to the heart of God.

Velvet Elvis and Rob Bell’s View of Spirituality

I am about halfway through Bell’s book Velvet Elvis. Most of what I have read is pretty good. It is pretty surfacy with just enough meat to keep me hanging in their. I can see how people say he is creative, profound, and all the rest. However, I just finished Movement Three – “True” and found a few things that I thought were pretty disturbing. Bell talks about some friends of his who asked him to perform their wedding. “They said they didn’t want any Jesus or God or Bible or religion to be talked about. But they did want me to make it really spiritual. The bride said it in her own great way, ‘Rob, do that thing you do. Make it really profound and deep and spiritual.'” (V.E. p.76). To his credit Bell begins asking them questions that led them to the conclusion that “something holds this all together.” (speaking of both the beauty of nature and also their marriage). They conclude that they “would call this glue, this force, ‘God'”. (p.77).

I understand the importance of starting where people are at and leading them to a deeper understanding and appreciation for who God is. That is VERY biblical. Most people do have some sense of spirituality, areas that make ready footholds for the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Here is how Bell sums that up for this couple, “My friends already intuitively believe certain things about the universe and the way it works. All I was doing was asking questions about things they already knew to be true. I didn’t have to convince them of anything. Now I could go on about the ceremony and the party afterward and the way it ended up being one of the most sacred things I have ever been a part of…” (p.77). If someone came to you and said they wanted a spiritual experience apart from God, Jesus, the Bible or even religion would you think there was something they may still need to be convinced of? Bell is probably reacting to generations of people who shoved “the truth” down people’s throats with little concern for speaking the truth in love.

Bell uses that illustration to launch into a discussion on spiritual experience. He goes back to the Old Testament and the Hebrew view of the glory of God. God owns the world and so God’s glory is made known through the world and the created things. Bell concludes, therefore, that “God is present everywhere in [creation].”(p.77). Because God is everywhere, truth is also available everywhere and to everyone because they too are part of God’s creation. He concludes that, “To be a Christian is to claim truth wherever you find it.” (p.81).

At the end of the chapter he comes back to the couple and the wedding, “I believe God made it unspoiled by speaking it into existence. And Jesus is the life force that makes it possible. So in the deepest sense we can comprehend, my friends are resonating with Jesus, whether they acknowledge it or not…Jesus was up on the cliff with us that day. It is not that God is over here and real life is over there. If it is real, then it’s showing us God.” (p.92). Let’s look at that statement. We would all agree that everything God made was good. He said so himself in Genesis. But not everything that is real is showing us God. Bell uses the term life force, a new age term that I am sure he borrows because he sees truth in it as it applies to Christ. He says that in the middle of the Godless, Jesusless, Bibleless, religiousless ceremony his friends were “resonating with God.” He would say that is so because God made the nature that surrounds them and is present in it. However, just because God is present does not mean he resonates with everything going on everywhere and all the time. By Bell’s logic, I can reject God and Jesus and yearn for something purely spiritual apart from God and it is still holy because I was made in God’s image and God is present no matter where I go.

Just because all things are “real life” and just because God is everywhere does not mean all things resonate with God. Rebellion certainly does not resonate with God. Sin certainly does not resonate with God. Self-centered spirituality certainly does not resonate with God. All three of those are real things. I hope Bell had a chance to engage those friends in further conversation and deepen their understand of “the force” that was present at their wedding.

This is by no means an all out assault against Bell. I am just seeing more and more that you do have to pick and choose as you work through his material. Some of it is excellent and other parts are highly questionable. I am sure many of you feel the same way about this blog! And before any of you Rob Bell blogites out there go on the offense, remember what Bell himself said, divergent (that would make a good name for a Christian religious movement now wouldn’t it?) views are just part of the theological dialogue that continues on long after we are gone.

The Disease of Convenience

I have often thought of Type II Diabetes as the “Disease of Convenience.” That is more to keep myself from eating the things that will take me that route than it is entirely true. When I am in a rush I tend to eat and drink things that are not the best for me. That is fine from time to time but to make that a steady diet leaves me sluggish, malnourished and always hungry. I am not diabetic and hope that I never will be. Its effects can be pretty devastating to the body.

I think there are some pretty significant spiritual parallels to the “disease of convenience” concept. Spiritually speaking the effects are the same – sluggish, malnourished, and always hungry to be filled but never consuming that which satisfies. If not held in check it can lead to an untimely demise. The source can also be the same. We can get in such a hurry that we leave out the important things. When we do that our lives will have a void that we can try to fill with the empty calories of a “quick fix.” We may pursue a new hobby, sport or television show. But without God we will never find satisfaction and true spiritual health.

God is the solution. The problem is God’s fix is not as convenient as the “alternatives.” That may be why so many people avoid God and try everything else first. Look at Moses. It took him waiting over 40 years of herding sheep before finding his purpose through God. You cannot be in a hurry with God. You cannot expect him to operate according to your timetable. 2 Peter 3:9 says, ” The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” God’s pace is not always our pace. We are used to instant this and microwavable that. If you don’t like the show you are watching try one of the other 500 options. Not so with God. God does not operate out of a convenience mentality. He doesn’t pad and insulate our lives from all problems and inconveniences. Instead he actually brings our lives directly into contact with many of them. Why? Because he knows that convenience kills. What good is a pot that has not passed through the fire? What value is gold that is full of impurities? What good are our lives if make convenience the gold standard of making decisions? I am glad Jesus didn’t take the easy route. I am glad he didn’t ask himself, “which of these options would be most convenient?”

F.R.O.G. – Fully Rely on God (Acts 9)

In Acts 9 we find the Commission/Conversion of Saul of Tarsus. On his way to Damascus, the light flashes, the voice booms, and Saul falls to the ground. He asks, “Who are you, Lord?” Jesus answers, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting…now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” As Saul got to his feet he realized he was blind. Notice the difference in Saul between 9:1-2 (confident and able) and 9:8-9 (blind, led by the hand, and totally dependent). We often have to be completely humbled and helpless before we are ready to fully rely on God. Even though Saul does not yet realize it he is relying for direction and healing on the very one he persecutes. [I think it is interesting to note that Jesus asks Saul, “why do you persecute me?” when Saul had never met Jesus or harmed him. To harm the church is to harm Christ. If more people treated the church and their brothers and sisters that way we would have far fewer problems in the church].

In Damascus Jesus speaks to another man, a disciple named Ananias. He is told to go and restore the sight of this well known persecutor of the church, Saul of Tarsus. Ananias’ response is understandably hesitant. But Jesus reassures him, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.” (9:15-16). Ananias found himself in a position of comfort and security. He could have stayed home and avoided Saul and potential persecution but that would not have involved relying on God. The next verse, “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it.” He relied on God even if it meant he had to risk something, even if it meant he had to stick his neck out or potentially “take one for the team.”

The problem today is we don’t define “fully relying on God” the same way they did. We like the last three words but often leave out the first. We might rely on God when it comes to our prayer life but not when it comes to out business ethics. We might rely on God when it comes to our entertainment choices but not when it comes to our sexuality. We might rely on God when it comes to studying our Bibles but not when it comes to putting into practice what we have read. We might rely on God when it comes to our job but not when it comes to our retirement. Hands on when I am sick but hands off when I am well. What does it take to fully rely on God? It takes risking it all. It takes giving up on your own ability and trusting his. It takes removing all obstacles or barriers that keep God out of different areas of our life and letting him mold and shape everything. We don’t have to understand it all first. Saul certainly didn’t understand the fullness of who this voice was and yet he had to trust him. Ananias trusted God because he did know who Christ was and he trusted the call.

Reliance requires trust. Before you can fully rely on God you have to fully trust him. If you don’t trust God be careful or else you may find yourself blind, humbled and your life torn apart. If that happens to you don’t think it a bad thing, like Saul it might just be the best thing that ever happens to you. What is keeping you from fully relying on God?