Wednesday, November 14, 2007

the gods aren't angry

Tonight I went with my friend Paul to see Rob Bell speak on the topic of "the gods aren't angry." If you aren't sure what that is, well, a lot of people paid a lot of money to see a pastor speak for almost two hours straight. That's it in a nutshell.

Was it worth it? Absolutely. The night started with dinner at a Korean Barbeque restaurant down the road. It was excellent and very unique. They gave us all kinds of things as part of our meal that Paul had never seen before, and I had only had once at a tofu house. The meat was tender and delicious, and the whole experience was a blast.

Afterwards we stood outside the Wiltern Theater for a few minutes to soak in the sounds, smells and energy of the city. I love being in the city. There is an energy that you simply don't get in the suburbs. People are everywhere, teeming about (i love the word teeming) and it just feels alive.

Inside there was a pretty well stocked bar available, something I can't remember seeing the last time I heard a pastor speak :-)

We sat down and there was a screen with instructions on how to put a text message up. This is the participative interactive element of the postmodern generation at play. There were lots of messages going by, including one that asked if Paul and Joel from HDC were in the house! Naturally, we sent a reply via text message.

At about 8:15 Rob Bell came out, and started right into his message. Rob began by discussing the sacrifice rituals of ancient cultures, talking about the system of gods that had developed and how it was up to the people to appease the gods with very little idea of if anything was working. The problem with this system is that there is an ever escalating sense of sacrifice, up to and including human sacrifice of children.

Into this context steps Abraham. He obeys God and leaves the land and customs of his father behind. Now when God tells Abraham to go up to the top of Mount Moriah and sacrifice Isaac, it all makes sense. This was not unusual in the cultural context in which Abraham lived. Although he would not have wanted to sacrifice Isaac, it was very natural for a god to demand such a sacrifice.

And then God changed everything. When Abraham reached the point of sacrifice, God declared "STOP" and changed the system. Instead of man providing sacrifices to gods, God provided a ram for Abraham to sacrifice. God is different than all the pretenders that Abraham knew of before. God was real, He wanted a relationship, and He provided for His people rather than demanding of them.

Rob then proceeded to follow the system of sacrifice up to the time of Christ, and talked about how the system was so very profitable to the saduccees. Those forces, who were aligned with the Roman empire, had a vested interest in keeping the system as it was.

Jesus stepped in and declared that he was greater than this mammoth system of sacrifice. It was time to change the game again. A bloody, violent system, enforced by blood and violence to those who would resist, was overcome by a peaceful Jesus Christ. Jesus didn't use force, he didn't attack with an army, He used love. Jesus turned the entire system of sacrifice on its head by placing the burden on God, not man.

Rob then talked about how the point of the sacrifices was never for God. God didn't need cattle, he owned the cattle on a thousand hills. The sacrifices were to provide tangible evidence of what we did. It gave man a way to appease the guilt in their soul by doing something tangible.

And that's part of the problem we have today. It's as if we can't really believe that Jesus paid it all. We still feel like we have to somehow tangibly pay for what God paid for.

Rob related a story of a woman who was receiving visions of Jesus. A priest came to her to "set her straight" on the matter. He told her that the next time she saw Jesus, to ask him what the priest had confessed during his last confession. She saw another vision and when the priest came to visit her, he asked him what the answer to her question was. She told him that Jesus' exact words were "I don't remember."

We cling to things long after God has forgotten them. We have a natural predisposition to guilt that we allow to overwhelm us, when Jesus has forgiven us and moved on if we ask him to.

Rob then related personal stories of friends of his who were wracked by guilt. Of people that he had counseled who were still trying to appease angry gods rather than accepting the free gift of Christ.

Without specifically using the phrase, Rob laid bare the joy of a life indwelled with the freedom of Christ. Christ didn't come to create a new system of rules, He came to free us from the burdens of the world, from the guilt that comes from our sin.

Freedom in Christ isn't about sinning and calling it good, it's about being free from trying to appease gods, and being free to accept the love of Christ and live for Him.

Rob shared a personal story of how busy he was, and how overwhelmed he was with everything. A friend of him took him to lunch and said "Rob, you don't have to live like this." Rob protested and told him why he did. His friend kept repeating "You don't have to live like this" over and over again. Rob relayed how he finally realized that his friend was right. His friend loved him enough to fight for him. Rob was allowing the pressures of ministry and life to overwhelm him, and trying to work his way out of it rather than letting Jesus run the show.

Rob closed with a simple statement, the gist of which is that the gods aren't angry, God is the God of Love.

God is the God of Love. Our God isn't interested in terrifying me into giving him anything. God is interested in loving me, and knowing that I love Him in return.

Paul and I had a great conversation on the way home, with topics ranging from Genesis 1-11 to the anti-Christ, and just about everything in between. Truly, the whole night was worth it just for the conversations with Paul. If this tour makes its way to your town, it's definitely worth checking out.

Some people have a hard time with the idea that a pastor would be speaking in a concert hall and charging admission. I think this is a cultural thing. The people that were there were for the most part young, I would guess between the ages of 20 and 30. Nobody seemed upset to have to pay, they were happy to get the chance to see Rob Bell in person and hear a powerful message delivered.

On the whole, I am really glad I went. I hope that this sort of thing comes to town again.



Porthos said...

This sounds like a really cool message and one I'd like to hear. But one thing about what you said caught my ear. (eye? mind?)

"Christ didn't come to create a new system of rules, He came to free us from the burdens of the world, from the guilt that comes from our sin."

Did he just talk about being free from the *guilt* that comes from sin? Or did he talk about the need for salvation from sin itself?

I would think that if he left out the central problem with humanity as being sinful creatures in need of a savior, he kinda skimmed over the main point of the gospel.

renewingmind said...

Great question. The entire context was appeasing the gods. Thus, it wasn't so much about forgiveness of sin as it was how people have strived to keep the gods happy and how God turned that on its head, first with Abraham and then again with Jesus.

Now, he did not leave out the gospel. Specifically he talked about how the sacrifices did NOTHING to forgive sin. That they were worthless in that respect, and that only the sacrifice of Jesus actually accomplished anything.


Anonymous said...

I'm in Victorville and I love Rob Bell. His message of Justice and Mercy is so right on.
It's not about building buildings to accomidate the "seeker".
Programs do not work.
Jesus works.
Jesus is the System...I wish so many churches would understand that.

Porthos said...

I get what you're saying, Joel, and that's all good. But to me, it still sounds like it comes up a bit short.

If it was:
"Sacrifices didn't forgive sin. Only Jesus' sacrifice can do that. So, don't feel guilty or feel the need to give sacrifices. The end."

I feel the last step of "You have sin and need to be forgiven of it and the only way is Jesus' sacrifice" is pretty key.

After my first comment and your response, I (coincidentally? ;-) came across this post from a guy who went and saw Bell in SF.

He seemed to have some concerns as well.

From your experience, what would you say a non-Christian would take away from Bell's message?

Porthos said...

Okay, "concerns" wasn't the right word. More like, "thoughts" or "impressions". But I can't edit my comment, so I'll have to stick with amending. :-)

renewingmind said...

That guy did a great summary as well. I see his point, but I don't think it's entirely fair. The entire message is predicated on the idea that mankind has understood from the very beginning that they are at odds with "the gods" and have been seeking solutions. He didn't specifically call this out as sin, but to me it was clear.

He clearly contrasted the uniqueness and completeness of Jesus as that solution. Of course, what do I know, I loved Velvet Elvis and didn't find it troubling at all :-)


Porthos said...

Little known fact. When I was in high school, I used to love this band called "_ton Bundle" out of Wheaton. Especially their song "Velvet Elvis".

I found out last year that it was Rob Bell's band.