Subject: I have a few questions #3

[The email below is part of a conversation between me and my friend Jenny. If you’re just joining in, it will probably make more sense if you go back to the beginning and read them in order (they are all linked together). Click HERE to read Jenny’s first email.]

To: Jenny
From: Andy
CC: Sarah
Subject: Re: I have a few questions
Date: Sun, Mar 9, 2008 at 11:08 PM

Andy,

Please do not ever worry about how long it takes you to respond to my emails! I do not want you to feel any pressure about getting back to me asap. I never know when I am going to get back to the computer and if I do, many times I am called away before I even get to type in my password.

I appreciate you dealing with me because I do feel like I am going in circles sometimes! I feel like I get things figured out and then something else brings me right back to the beginning. I will resist the urge to ask you more questions tonight.

As for getting together, I would LOVE to. I do have a friend that I would like to invite along in addition to Sarah~I don’t know if you have met Becky. I used to teach with her and she and Sarah are friends as well. She was also in our group when Sarah, myself and others read The Purpose Driven Life. I think we have a lot of the same questions. Becky and I are also reading the book of Matthew together. Neither of us have read much of the bible and so we decided to dive in together. Have I convinced you yet that she would be a good candidate to include in our discussion?

I also decided to get back to reading Letters from a Skeptic. I started it a long time ago, and never finished it, but I am pretty sure it deals with a lot of the questions I am having.

Thanks again for all your thoughts and your time. I will look at my calendar and throw out some dates for a possible gathering. I would have my people call your people, but I am afraid that my peoples’ inexperience with numbers, the calendar and reading for that matter would just confuse things.

Take care,
Jenny

[Click HERE to read my response to this email.]

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Subject: Re: I have a few questions #2

[The email below is from a conversation between me and my friend Jenny. If you’re just joining in, it might make more sense if you go back to the beginning and read them in order (they are all linked together). Click HERE to read Jenny’s first email.]

To: Jenny
From: Andy
Subject: Re: I have a few questions
Date: Sun, Mar 9, 2008 at 10:01 PM

Jenny,

Sorry I haven’t been able to respond to your last email yet and I don’t have the energy to do it tonight because I’m thinking an early bedtime is in order. I will offer a few quick general comments though.

As a general rule, big God questions (like the ones you’re asking) only flow out of really honest faith. If people didn’t have faith they wouldn’t have much reason to ask questions (or at least not to care about the questions and the implications of their “answers”). I think a lot of people assume that having questions and doubts means they don’t have faith, and I can understand this assumption, but I don’t think anything could be further from the truth. I used to talk about this with my dad a lot, and I remember a conversation with him on the phone while I was in college when he said “doubt is not the opposite of faith, but doubt is part of faith. Disbelief is the opposite of faith.” I’ve thought about this a lot over the years, and it’s continued to make more sense as I’ve come to understand what it means to “have” faith and come to some deeper realizations of what faith actually is. If you spend a few minutes just thinking about what faith is, you’ll eventually realize that faith cannot possibly exist without doubts – they’re mutually exclusive to each other. Having faith is believing in something that we can’t see, touch, hear or experience in any other ways that fit our earthly/human understandings. Soren Kierkegaard, a Danish philosopher and theologian from the 19th century explained faith as “a person blind-folded walking down a pier on a foggy night, not knowing where the pier ends, but taking the next step.” The imagery of this definition has been helpful to me as I’ve continually attempted to deepen my own personal faith. I bring my biggest questions to God, not because I doubt God’s existence, strength, power, love or plans, but because I believe those things about God and I trust that God is the only one who can handle those questions. Simply having questions about God proves to me that I believe in God, and the act of asking God those questions shows me that I trust that God can respond to my questions. Where faith enters into the situation and gets tricky on a day-by-day, minute-by-minute level is when we have to live without knowing the answers (or in our misunderstandings of how God has been trying to respond to our questions). Another helpful quote for me about all this is from C.S. Lewis, who, when he wasn’t writing about lions, witches and wardrobes, once wrote the statement “I believe in the presence of God as surely as I believe in the presence of the sun. Not merely because I can see it, but because by its light all things can be clearly seen.”

Sorry for not responding to any of the specific questions in your last email, but I hope some of these more general thoughts are helpful. I’ll try to keep up with your questions and would actually love to get together to talk (maybe with Sarah and anyone else who’s interested) about any or all of this in person sometime, but for now email works just fine. I just can’t make any promises that I’ll always be able to respond right away. This is fun for me, so never feel like you’re inconveniencing me with your emails.

And by the way, I didn’t talk to any of the girls at Panera (most of them seemed to be going out to eat with their boyfriends…boo!).

Have a good week.

Andy

P.S. If you’re looking for something to do with 18 minutes of your life, my sermon from Journey last Sunday (on servanthood and Jesus washing his disciples’ feet) is online, click here to listen to it.

[Click HERE to read Jenny’s response to this email.]

Subject: I have a few questions #2

[The email below is from a conversation between me and my friend Jenny. If you’re just joining in, it might make more sense if you go back to the beginning and read them in order (they are all linked together). Click HERE to read Jenny’s first email.]

To: Andy
From: Jenny
CC: Sarah
Subject: Re: I have a few questions
Date: Fri, Mar 7, 2008 at 10:13 PM

Andy,

I printed off your responses (not answers) and have been reading them over and writing all over the edges. Not sure that my email will very easy to understand–bits and pieces here and there and a lot more questions. I will do my best to make sense. You wrote at a level I could understand and gave me some great things to think about. I don’t know that I am able to summarize yet, but maybe in some parts. I will try and tell you what I think at this point and maybe you could point out other things I need to consider or where I might be just plain wrong. It was comforting to hear that my questions are ones that many faithful people struggle with. Although I know it is good to question, sometimes it makes me wonder how strong my faith is when I seem to know so little!

You said —God’s kingdom is already here.
As in he is with us, engaged in our lives, but we are blind to some of the ways he is touching our lives? And when you say God is active in this world right now, does that mean he doesn’t just sit back and watch–he is stepping in.

John 1:1
I have heard before that the Word is Jesus. How did people come to that conclusion?

Matthew 22:1-14
Was that saying that the first people God invited–Noah’s time–didn’t deserve to come and so he flooded the earth. Then he invited all people, good and bad, but the man not wearing wedding clothes–was he not believing that Jesus is the son of God, or repentant for his sinful ways?
All are invited but few are chosen—does that mean God choose us or is it that we need to choose him?

Heaven/hell
I did look in the back of my bible and saw that hell was mentioned several times. Does it say that if we do not choose to believe we will go to hell? What you wrote seems to make sense to me or does not really raise many more question. I like your metaphor at the end likening God’s desire to return home to our parents’. I feel like when trying to understand God’s position, I often try to look at it from a parent/child point of view.
However, the only question I have from this part is what about those wonderful people who were raised in a Jewish (or any other) home. It is much less difficult for me to accept Jesus as our savior.

Why was I so lucky to be born into a Christian home? A place where I am not at risk of being killed for my beliefs? Chance and luck? Will God go easy on those who did not have an easy of a decision as I did/do?

Okay, the prayer and how I view God.
When I read The Purpose Driven Life it seemed to be saying that God planned out every detail of my life, he knew I would be emailing you right now. That is a little tough for me to swallow. I believe in free will and it does make sense that free will and God having a firm plan does not jive. I think that God made us, and has the intent for us to have a good life and maybe even a rough outline-or what he thinks is unique about us that will guide our path a little differently than our neighbors’. However, as you said, we live in a fallen world, bad things happen. I do not (or do not want to) believe that God plans bad things. I don’t want to believe that God makes children sick or has a father die to test someone. I like to think that our fallen world is responsible for the tragedy and that although God will not reach down and stop it from happening it to us, he will help us cope and maybe even find something good that comes from it (although it may be small in comparison to what we have lost). What about Job? I have not read the book, but isn’t it supposed to be about God testing him? Or is that taken the wrong way-was the fallen world throwing all that his way and his faith got him through it all?

A side thought to God does not reach in and stop bad things from happening–why should I not be fearful when I am flying? That whole thing about–it is not your time to die–does he sometimes take us when our purpose is fulfilled if our fallen world has not brought us to our death? I guess really it seems to me that he does not take us back to him–it just happens–our bodies fail, and accident, violence. I am not making sense any more. I will stop here.

I copied Sarah on this email. I talked to her while I was typing and I had come to her with my questions first and she encouraged me to ask you about them. I am assuming that you wouldn’t mind my looping her in!

Thanks again for taking the time to read and respond! I feel like a kid in a candy store being able to tap into all your knowledge!

Jenny

ps-did you actually talk to any of those girls at Panera?

[Click HERE to read my response to this email.]

Subject: Re: I have a few questions #1 (part 2)

[The email below is from a conversation between me and my friend Jenny. If you’re just joining in, it might make more sense if you go back to the beginning and read them in order. Click HERE to read Jenny’s first email.]

From: Andy
To: Jenny
Subject: Re: I have a few questions
Date: Fri, Mar 7, 2008 at 12:22 AM

Hi Jenny,

Here goes round 2…

2. There is no hell.–However, I have found several passages in the bible that mention hell. They told me that many people think we are going to heaven or hell, but God never said we would go to hell.

There are some people (Christians included) who don’t believe in an actual hell. I’m not completely sure how it’s possible to believe in God, Jesus and the Bible, yet still come to the conclusion that hell doesn’t exist. In my opinion, I think it’s actually less that people don’t believe in hell and more that they don’t want to believe that hell exists. Again, I’m not sure I completely understand all this, but I think it would go something like this…if hell exists then not everyone goes to heaven, and if not everyone goes to heaven then there’s a chance that I might not go to heaven, and the thought that it’s possible for me to not go to heaven doesn’t make me feel good, and my not feeling good about that reflects poorly on God (who started this whole process in the first place), since God created everything (presumably including hell, or at least the devil).

Another related issue with all of this is whether or not the devil exists. Some people only believe in the existence of evil, but don’t think it’s necessary that an actual source of that evil exists in the world, since we do enough evil on our own, and the existence of the devil might only give us an excuse for doing things we shouldn’t do in the first place…”the devil made me do it!” Hell (and the devil/satan) are mentioned in the Bible several times, but they are not always given clear descriptions or names. You could do a google search for “where is hell mentioned in the bible” and find all sorts of websites devoted to setting people straight, but it’s probably worth noting that anyone who takes the time to create a website making a claim about the realness of hell is probably also a more fundamental/legalistic Christian…not that this is the worst thing you can be, but it’s far from where I’m at in my understanding of faith, God and the Bible. I just don’t see the point in beating someone over the head by using fear tactics to scare them about the possibility of going to hell. (Fear and manipulation are certainly not part of what I would consider helpful ministry, and using them to convince anyone into faith doesn’t actually result in authentic faith anyway).

In the end, it’s my strong belief that if God created all things (including me, you and your neighbor) and God loves all things (including not just me, you and your neighbor, but even the people and things we don’t think are very lovable), then God wants nothing more than to restore all things to Godself and have them enjoy eternity in paradise (with God). Although metaphors always fail in the end, it would be like the way your parents probably get excited when you and your sisters come home to visit (especially since you’ve had kids); and how, at least in some ways, they wish you never had to leave.

3. This is from a podcast I listened to with Chuck Swindoll–not from the JWs. In his closing prayer he prayed ~nothing occurs in our lives that has not been wonderfully planned by you, our father. Really?

How you think about this sort of prayer depends on how you understand the term or idea “God’s plan.” It depends on your understanding or image of God. Is God a puppet master in the sky who controls our every move? Is God a script writer who already wrote out what we’ll do and say and is watching from a tall chair to make sure we play our roles correctly (otherwise he’ll yell out “cut”). Or is God a clock maker who set everything up (created the heavens and the earth and all of us) and is now on a smoke break…so if things go wrong, it’s just touch luck, we have to figure out how to fix it ourselves (so I guess it would be like a clock without a warranty). There are other understandings of God that people can have, but they are mostly variations of these. It’d be interesting to spend some time thinking about what your understanding of God is, and then try to figure out why/how you developed this understanding. I’d be happy to help you sort through that if it’s something you wanted to explore further.

In trying to figure out why bad things happen to good people, I have tried to reason that although God has a plan for our lives, he has also given us all free will.

Rethink this statement and the questions involved with the new understanding of your image of God. I think you’ll find that the idea of God having a firm and set plan for your life goes against the idea of having free will (you can’t have both, at least not simultaneously). I hope that makes sense.

That free will is what is to blame for the awful things that happen in people’s lives but God will help us through it. He will help make lemonade out of lemons. Does he really throw bad things at us to test us? See what we will do? I think of Amanda and Mike who I do not know, except through what Sarah shares, but did God really make Grace sick to make them stronger or for some other purpose? I really struggle with this one. I also feel like I am going to have kids asking me this soon, and I don’t think I can answer it.

I took a class last semester called “God, Evil and Suffering” and we discussed questions and situations like these all the time. Not to add to your list of questions, but here are a few others that will possibly add new layers of complexity and nuance to what you’re already asking, which in a weird way might actually help you separate some of your confusion into smaller parts and eventually help you build up a clearer understanding that is beneficial to God. Rather than just asking if God “throws bad things at us to test us,” you might also ask “does God plan bad things?” or “does God allow bad things to happen?” Another series of complicated questions revolves around the idea that God is all-powerful (omnipotent) and/or all-knowing (omniscient). If God has all power, then in some way or another, God must be responsible for everything that happens (including bad things). If God knows everything, then God knows about bad things before they happen, and using God’s power, you’d think God would be able to do something to keep those bad things from happening.

I don’t want to spend much time speculating on the magnitude of God’s power and knowledge, but if we are to believe that God is the source of all things (including life, love, justice and the ability to restore things to be like new), then it can be assumed that God’s power and knowledge are perfect (whatever that means). I happen to believe that God puts a great deal of trust in humans and I get this from Genesis 1 when, after creating humans, God tells the humans to rule over all the living things on the earth (plants, animals, etc.). This shows trust. Then, in Genesis 2:19-20, God enlists the man to help name the animals. Think about that, God brought all the created animals to Adam and whatever name he said is what that animal was to be called. God shares the responsibilities and power involved in ruling over the created world with us; that’s a pretty big deal, and it implies something about who is really to blame when bad things happen (hint: it’s not all God’s fault). The most blame we might be able to put on God in most situations of bad things happening is wondering why God was dumb enough to trust us with so much control in the first place…since God must have known that we’re pretty good at messing things up (we’re not perfect), since God created us.

So why didn’t God just create us perfect? I’m not sure, but I guess I don’t see the point in God creating a whole bunch of other gods (perfect beings). Are we just part of God’s big experiment to see what will happen when a bunch of people are forced to live together and share the earth? (This sounds like we’re either an ant farm that God looks at, or in our contemporary context, God would be a bit like the casting director for The Real World).

As for a specific situation like Grace’s health and how it’s affecting great people like Mike and Amanda [her parents]…the best I can say is that we are living in a fallen world where bad things are a part of our reality. How we experience life in this world varies depending on our unique situation. We want to call the goods things “blessings” and the bad things “unfortunate realities,” but to be honest, it probably involves some luck and chance. Otherwise how could we possibly explain how Grace has to have several surgeries as a little girl while the children of “bad people” have perfect health? It just doesn’t seem fair. Some people will want to say that bad things happen to people who don’t pray enough, but then how do you explain bad things that happen to people who seem to be constantly praying? It still doesn’t seem to be fair. The older I get, and the more of the world I have seen, I am starting to come to the conclusion that things in this world really are not fair and there isn’t much rhyme or reason to why things are the way they are. I think specifically of Haiti and I can’t think of a single good reason for why the incredible people I’ve met there are living in their difficult reality while me and my friends are all living with more than we’d ever need. So I guess I struggle with this one about as much as you, and even after taking a full class on questions like these, the best I can say in response is what my professor said near the end of the semester, “God is as good as God can be given the current situation of the world.” I think this was actually a quote from a guy named St. Anselm who lived over 1000 years ago, so obviously, although the specifics have changed, the world’s imperfect situation and the confusion it creates about God is not a new thing.

I hope at least some of this has been helpful. It’s been a fun exercise for me to try relating some of the things I’ve studied into understandable responses to real questions. I don’t assume that this has cleared everything up for you, but I hope you’ll take comfort in knowing that these are questions that faithful people have been asking for thousands of years and unless some of them figured it all out and decided to keep it a secret, no one has “the” answer. Your understanding about them today is different than it will be a year from now, and throughout your life it will probably continue changing and evolving depending on your experiences. I don’t ask this just so I can feel good about how well I explained things, but if possible, would you mind writing some of your thoughts and reactions in response to all this so that I can learn what explanations were helpful and which need more clarification? Also, I think it would help you solidify your current understanding of these complex issues to try writing them out (perhaps explain them the way you would to your kids, since one of the motivations you mentioned in asking these questions was being able to respond to their questions).

Have a good weekend.

Andy

[Click HERE to read Jenny’s response to this email.]

Subject: Re: I have a few questions #1

[The email below is part of a series of emails between me and my friend Jenny about some of the biggest questions people have ever asked about God, faith and the Bible. Click HERE if you haven’t read Jenny’s first email and then come back and read my response.]

From: Andy
To: Jenny
Subject: Re: I have a few questions
Date: Thu, Mar 6, 2008 at 7:19 PM

Jenny,

Great questions, all of them. I’m so glad you sent them to me. I’m filling time at a Panera right now before meeting some of my family for dinner, but I’ll try giving an initial response and hopefully will find/make time soon to get to anything I miss. For starters, I’d like to just say that the questions you ask are incredibly complex and theological…which means, not everyone will agree about the responses to the issues you’ve raised. If you picked five pastors from anywhere in the world and asked them these questions you’d get at least 3 or 4 (if not 5) different responses. You’ll notice that I haven’t used the word “answer” yet, and that’s intentional. One of the things I’ve learned from nearly two years of seminary (yes, this is my last semester) is that there is really no such thing as answers when it comes to “God questions,” but the best we can do is give a response based on how we understand things (keeping the important things in mind; “important things” = the Bible, Jesus, God, the Holy Spirit, history and human experience…with our limited understanding of each of these things). I realize this is a very long introductory paragraph to an email that I’ve already said isn’t even going to “answer” any of your questions, but consider it a disclaimer that, at best, I’m only responding with my best understandings of these things in hopes that they might help you make better sense of things. Fair enough?

By the way, I know very little about the Jehovah’s Witnesses, except that all their churches are called “Kingdom Hall” and they dress nice and knock on people’s doors. Anything more I would claim to know about them would be purely speculation. Alright then, here goes…

1. They say that when we die, we return to our beginning-the dust until God comes again and makes his heavenly kingdom on earth. That his original plan was for us to live harmoniously here and in the end he will return the earth to his original intention for it. Only Jesus, God and the apostles are in heaven–we will not go. He as promised us an earthly paradise.

The creation story in Genesis tells us that we (humans) were created by God out of dust (Gen. 2:7) and that one day our earthly bodies will be no more; that we will die. Or, as we read in the next chapter of Genesis, “from dust you are [made], and to dust you will return” (Gen. 3:19). So yes, they’re right in a biblical sense on the first part, but the second part of that question is something all together different. I’ll treat the second part in two separate sections, 1) God’s plan to return the earth to his original intention for it, and 2) only Jesus, God and the apostles get to go to heaven (that we’re not invited to the main party, but to some “lesser” fiesta in the sky).

In response to part 1), I agree. God does have a plan for this world, and it’s not simply to destroy it like he did with the flood, but reading throughout the Bible we read images of, as the book of Revelation calls it “a new heaven and a new earth.” As Jesus taught the disciples to pray in the Lord’s prayer (found in both Matthew 6 and Luke 11), we are to pray for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will to be done “on earth as it is in heaven,” which to me means that God does not just have a paradise planned for us in heaven, but also here on earth. The problem of course, is that our earthly eyes are not capable of seeing God’s kingdom here in this world, although it is already here. God is active in this world right now, but as sinful people we are pretty sucky at figuring this out. Many theologians have explained this as a…get ready for a big word…paradox of God’s kingdom…saying that it is here now, but not yet. This points out the confusion involved and how it’s not something for us to fully understand in this life, but just because we don’t see God’s kingdom here on earth doesn’t mean it’s not here (kinda like how we know the sun is still in the sky even when there are clouds getting in the way of us seeing it. We would never be stupid enough to say the sun disappeared, but that’s because we have the experience of seeing the sun’s light and feelings it’s warmth. Might we also realize that we have experienced God’s presence, power, love and protection at different times in our life, but in much more confusing ways?).

As for part 2), I think it’s crap. I don’t think God would throw a VIP only heavenly party. That just doesn’t make sense to me. Without getting too confusing, the Trinity (God, Jesus, Holy Spirit) has always existed as the three-in-one, so God has never been “alone” in heaven. Even during the creation story he wasn’t acting solo. Read John 1:1 and you read that “in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This might sound like weird poetry, but if you understand that “the Word” is Jesus, then all of a sudden you realize that it’s saying that Jesus has existed with/as God from the very beginning, even though we often think Jesus “started” when he was born as a baby in a manger (that was just the earthly/human beginning of Jesus Christ). Sorry if this is getting confusing. As for the “who gets to go to heaven” discussion, I’d strongly suggest you read the story Jesus tells about the wedding banquet in Matthew 22:1-14 and make sure you read it with the understanding that the wedding dinner Jesus is talking about is a metaphor for heaven. If it’s confusing to you, I wrote a paper about it for a class on the Gospel of Matthew last year and I’d be happy to send it to you (although it might not be very exciting for you because I think it was something like 12 pages long).

Oh no, I just realized how much I wrote and I only covered your first question. It’s almost time for me to get over to TGI Friday’s for my sister’s birthday dinner, so I’m going to send what I’ve written so far and try to write more about the other stuff later. (Plus I’m getting super distracted because attractive girls keep walking into Panera and I’m sitting right next to the door…haha). If you read this and it’s not working for you, let me know so I don’t send you even more thoughts like this that are just as unhelpful.

Have a good night.

Andy

P.S. Haven’t you heard? The Hills is coming back starting March 24!

[Click HERE to read part 2 of my response.]

Subject: I have a few questions #1

[I got the following email about six weeks ago from my friend Jenny (early 30s, married, three children). Note: I’ve changed the names of any people I know who are mentioned because their questions and situations represent all of us. Aside from Jenny and her family going to the church where I work and the fact that we have a close mutual friend, we also share a interest in several of the same reality TV shows (mostly on MTV, VH1 and Bravo). Like many stay at home parents, Jenny doesn’t usually have a lot of contact with other adults during the day, so when a group of Jehovah’s Witnesses rang her doorbell a few months ago and seemed interested in talking, she invited them in. They had a nice conversation and they’ve been coming back every other week since. Jenny is not interested in becoming a Jehovah’s Witness (and they’re aware of this), but the talks she has had with her new friends have led her to some great questions about God, the Bible and her faith, and that is why she wrote me an email and why we have been writing back and forth ever since. Over the next few days I will be posting portions of our emails in the order that they were sent/received. (By the way, she gave me permission to do this.) I have intentionally left some of the quirks and side comments in the emails to make them feel a bit more real/human, but the writer in me couldn’t help but clean up some of the spelling and grammar. I have no idea if people will find this interesting or helpful, but my hope is that it will be both. Besides, how often do you get to read other people’s mail? As always, feel free to comment.]

From: Jenny
To: Andy
Subject: I have a few questions
Date: Thu, Mar 6, 2008 at 3:42 PM

Andy,

Okay–I have a question for you–a couple maybe. Sarah said she filled you in on my new friends who are Jehovah’s Witnesses. So, a few things have come up that I am unsure about. I don’t know how much you know about their religion (probably more than me) but, I guess they are VERY or only bible based-which is what intrigued me about visiting with them. Learning more about what is written in the bible is something I have been meaning to do for a long time-they are giving me a reason to do that. However, I am having a hard time finding things in the bible. So I will ask you! If you don’t mind!

1. They say that when we die, we return to our beginning-the dust until God comes again and makes his heavenly kingdom on earth. That his original plan was for us to live harmoniously here and in the end he will return the earth to his original intention for it. Only Jesus, God and the apostles are in heaven–we will not go. He as promised us an earthly paradise.

2. There is no hell.–However, I have found several passages in the bible that mention hell. They told me that many people think we are going to heaven or hell, but God never said we would go to hell.

3. This is from a podcast I listened to with Chuck Swindoll–not from the JWs. In his closing prayer he prayed ~nothing occurs in our lives that has not been wonderfully planned by you, our father. Really?

In trying to figure out why bad things happen to good people, I have tried to reason that although God has a plan for our lives, he has also given us all free will. That free will is what is to blame for the awful things that happen in people’s lives but God will help us through it. He will help make lemonade out of lemons. Does he really throw bad things at us to test us? See what we will do? I think of Amanda and Mike who I do not know, except through what Sarah shares, but did God really make Grace [their little daughter] sick to make them stronger or for some other purpose? I really struggle with this one. I also feel like I am going to have kids asking me this soon, and I don’t think I can answer it.

Okay, I know you have a life and are not just sitting at the computer waiting to answer the help line. Don’t feel bad about not answering all or any of my questions. I just thought I would throw it out there since Sarah said you might be open to it! So really, no pressure!

Hope all is well with you. Sarah said that Journey has been awesome! And, I may be way off, but is this your last semester of school?

Are you having withdrawals from The Hills? I have been watching the Gauntlet 3 to try and fill the void!

Take care,
Jenny

[Click HERE to read my response to this email.]

Michael Jackson in a Bible Study

Not even concerts with New Kids on the Block, Backstreet Boys or NSYNC – each at the height of their fame – could lead to the kind of crazy/irrational behavior by young women that Michael Jackson inspired during his prime (crying, fainting, screaming his name when there’s no chance he’ll hear them). I’m not sure what female fans of Elvis and The Beatles were like, but I think it’s safe to say that there will never be another entertainer – man or woman, of any race – who will generate the kind of mass excitement and hysteria that Michael Jackson created on a regular basis during the 1980s. Here’s an example of MJ at the height of his fame in the video for “Man in the Mirror” from his 1988 film Moonwalker.

Last Friday I finished a two-week intensive course at seminary called “Genesis to Revelation.” It was the only class I took during J-term, and since it was only two weeks long and we had a lot of material to cover (the entire Bible), we met for three hours every afternoon; during which my energetic professor led me and 80 other students on a fly-by tour of the biblical story (focusing on the narratives and giving special attention to the major themes of each book). It was a great course, but I felt like I was cheating because I learned more about the Bible during those two weeks than during any two year span previously. If there was something similar to steroid allegations in the seminary education world – like in professional sports – my classmates and I would have all been accused of using some form of substance, call it a BGH (biblical growth hormone), because the increase in our biblical knowledge was much higher/faster than normal.

I’ll be honest, I don’t read my Bible as often as I like to say I do – and often times when I do read it, the words on the pages seem lifeless, boring and confusing – but this class brought the words to life, the stories were exciting, and it was all explained in a way that I could understand. I found myself taking notes on the pages of books that I had to look up in the table of contents because I had no idea where they were in the Bible (books like Habakkuk, Haggai and Obadiah).

To accomplish the course objective of “exploring approaches to teach a Bible overview in engaging ways,” the final project was to write a session on a book of the Bible that could be used within an overview Bible study. I chose to write my study for young adults on the book of James*, and as an introduction to my study I decided to use the video for Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror”. This may be surprising to some people, so here’s how I explained this choice,

“The book of James is an introspective book that challenges readers to take a closer look at themselves and do evaluative thinking around questions like “How am I doing?” in regards to living out their faith. Taking questions like this seriously can be difficult and often raises feelings of personal inadequacy and self-consciousness, so the introduction to this study is somewhat humorous to help ease people into the book and theme of James, and to provide everyone in the group with a similar foundation (since it is not safe to assume that everyone is familiar with the book of James). Since this study is being created for young adults, it seems natural to turn to the world of pop-culture to provide the introduction. It would make the most sense to have a video that is both funny and serious as an introduction, so the best choice is probably a serious video that is from the 1980s (since videos from the 80s are always good for a laugh). For reasons that should become clearer when looking at James 1:23-24, start the study by watching Michael Jackson’s video for the song “Man in the Mirror” from his 1988 movie Moonwalker.”

I’ll save you the time of looking up those verses and include them for you here,

Those who hear God’s teaching and do nothing are like people who look at themselves in a mirror. They see their faces and then go away and quickly forget what they looked like.

James 1:23-24 (NCV)

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*The book of James is perhaps especially controversial for Lutherans–including the granddaddy of all Lutherans, Martin Luther–because it is understood by some people to teach an understanding of faith and justification (or salvation) that are defined by what you believe and what you do to show/prove your beliefs. Luther referred to this as “works-righteousness” and he strongly disagreed with it because he believed that we are saved by “grace alone” through “faith alone.”