“I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” – Dime Store Review

U2. When all is said and done they will probably end up being the most successful rock band of all time, if they have not already achieved that status.

One of their songs from the Joshua Tree album will undoubtedly go down as one of their greatest hits. Many of us know it by heart, yet many may not be aware of the controversy behind it that sent a significant segment of U2’s fan base into an uproar back in the 80’s. When Bono sang in the last verse that he believed in Jesus, but ended the line with “but I still haven’t found what I’m looking for,” it soured many Christians who were fans. It felt like a betrayal.

I too was perplexed by the statement in the song back in high school in the 90s when I was first introduced to their music. I lived in a culture where Jesus was the answer to everything. If you said He wasn’t, you were either an atheist or apostatizing.

What we evangelical Christians in the south failed to consider though was that Bono lived in a different world. He also knew his Bible as good or better than most of us.

“Not one of these people, even though their lives of faith were exemplary, got their hands on what was promised. God had a better plan for us: that their faith and our faith would come together to make one completed whole, their lives of faith not complete apart from ours.” – Hebrews 11:39-40 (MSG)

So that’s what Bono ultimately was getting at. That much is obvious in retrospect. Bono has faith that God will bring about a better world and that we can all play a part in bringing heaven to earth.

What about the individual lyrics though? U2 has always loved combining the sensual with the spiritual. In the lyrics of his songs (especially in the 90s) he would weave in and out of passion and sexuality, God and spirituality and back again. It was yet another reason for fundamentalist Christians to say he was a fallen soul, but all of us in the less religious crowd found it intriguing.

Speaking in tongues comes out of the Charismatic / Pentecostal traditions as well as the first century church. Before they got famous, Bono and several of his band mates were part of a group affiliated with Watchman Nee that, from what I am aware of, embraced the Charismatic movement that was crossing all sorts of denominational and cultural barriers at that time. It’s reasonable then to suspect that Bono is not speaking metaphorically here. That early Christian group had a profound effect on him and his band mates. The Edge nearly left the band over conflicted convictions.

The last verse in the song is the most obvious and has already been explained above.

What’s amazing is to look at the trajectory of what Bono describes here and what U2 eventually went on to accomplish, not so much musically but philanthropically.

The resistable, yet compelling question many may ask now is, did U2 ever find what they were looking for?

I would say the answer is clearly no, but I hope they keep looking for the rest of their days on earth because people of faith like myself are still looking too and their music helps remind us we aren’t alone in the faith journey.


“Reason For God” by Tim Keller  – Dime Store Review 

Well it took forever for me to get around to it, but I finally read Tim Keller’s Opus and New York Times best seller, “Reason for God.”

There’s really no excuse for this delay since Tim Keller is hands down my favorite apologist and pastor (now former pastor).

A little background

 I was introduced to Keller by a PCUSA minister in 2009 while struggling to find someone, anyone who identified with my views of grace. From the very first moment I heard Keller speak on youtube, I felt, like many others, a deep resonance and admiration, not just for what he said, but the gracious way in which he speaks.

I proceeded to listen to countless of his sermons online and was shocked at this new way to see and read the Bible. (I grew up Pentecostal so perhaps you can imagine)

Fast forward to last week when I finally broke down and bought his book. The reason I delayed was because I find listening to him much more pleasant than reading him. There was an answer for this though. Audible had his book available with him narrating it.

In summary, it was wonderful . I had already heard most of what was in the book from his sermons, but to have it all systematically and carefully laid out was helpful. There were also bits and pieces I had not heard and was pleasantly surprised that he tackled some of the most difficult questions like theory of mind in psychology. (One I have pondered about as a psychology major).

I can’t say enough good things about this book. It is accessible, yet intellectually deep and profound. Keller has, more than any other single minister or writer, shaped my thoughts and worldview, even surpassing C.S. Lewis.

I don’t have near the strength of faith intellectually in the Bible that Keller has, but as he is fond of saying, it isn’t the strength of your faith that saves you, it is the object of your faith. 

Keller gave me the freedom to continually explore my faith intellectually and critically in ways I had never done before.

If you’re a nonbeliever, Keller gives compelling reasons to believe. If you’re a believer Keller gives you permission to doubt, explore your own doubts and take them seriously. Both concepts are scary depending on which side you’re on, but they are rewarding as well, and at the end of the day the only way to truly live. 

 “What is the Bible?” by Rob Bell – Dime Store Review

Well I finished Bell’s new book and I enjoyed it. I found it to be more of a summarizing of his various teachings over the years, but still good. I think Bell is way ahead of his time and is trying to reach a modern world while much of the church world, typically is still stuck in the past. I made the mistake of posting a positive review of the book on a facebook discussion group and the reaction was more harsh than I expected. I figured the Bell animosity had died down. I was wrong. He would probably fair better as a Samaritan or a tax collector. Ha!

My only complaint is the same complaint I have had with Bell for a long time. While he does teach people how to read the Bible in a 21st century way (which is desperately needed in the church world), I have long found his writings to lean ever so slightly to a works based viewpoint.

Just one example, in the book he flippantly blew off the idea of predestination by saying, even if you knew you were predestined to salvation, what good would it do you? Reformed people who base their salvation on faith alone and grace alone would say predestination is hugely significant in the confidence of their assurance because they realize it is nothing in them, not even their own mental, cognitive decision making process that saves them.

Bell does this type of broad brushing caricaturing at several points throughout this book. He regularly makes snide remarks about traditional Christians and ends up throwing them under the bus to some degree in order to try to appeal to and be relevant to the unchurched, secular crowd he is trying to reach.

In doing so he loses sight in my opinion of the deepest insights to grace and the Gospel that traditional Christianity gives us.

This is why I am a much bigger fan of Tim Keller than Rob Bell. Keller is a moderate / traditionalist who to me is more gracious to everyone in the audience. While I don’t agree with everything Keller says and don’t hold the Bible to the same high standards Keller does, His concept of grace is far deeper and more developed than Bell’s is.

Having listened to both of them for some years now, what is ironic is that in Bell’s effort to try to be more loving and inclusive, he ends up downplaying the Gospel and by it, downplaying grace.

There is no doubt that he is very knowledgeable and has significantly, at least potentially opened up the discussion among Christians about things most within the walls of the church either don’t want to talk about, don’t know how to talk about or don’t know to talk about. At the end of the day though, while intellectually I am accepting of a large degree of what Bell says, on a heart / intuitive level, I always sense something fundamental is missing. Maybe it is my own subconscious bias, but as much as I love messages on love (which is what Bell’s greatest focus is), they are incomplete and ironically not as loving when they are only messages about love. If I don’t see myself as a sinner, unworthy and incapable of a relationship with a perfectly just, righteous and holy as well as loving God, I won’t truly appreciate the love, grace and acceptance of God He gives me and end up reducing Jesus and the cross to only symbolism, not a real work done and a real life lived on my behalf. (The core of Christian doctrine)

That aside, there is a wealth of information that he gives a broad exploration of from his personal vantage point that the church world would be wise to delve into. In this modern world that we live in that is rapidly changing, the intellectual landscape in the west is teaching people to think more critically and be more critical of everything than people have ever been in the past (unless the view aligns with your beliefs), and so it is simply not enough anymore to forego the creation of avenues within the church where Christians can tackle these issues and learn to incorporate a larger body of knowledge into their worldview and engage in a broader discussion across multiple disciplines without feeling like they must choose between Christianity and the inclusion of secular / academic knowledge. Bell’s book is a great introduction to this type of critical analysis of the Bible and while I don’t think Christians should just buy into Bell’s viewpoints on everything, they shouldn’t dismiss him out of hand either. Bell is inviting us all into a larger conversation and we should graciously accept the invitation. 

So, aside from my critique above, I enjoyed the book and reccomend Christians, particularly those who struggle with the kinds of questions Bell poses all read what he has to say. 

Desert Dreams

​A quiet mystery as far as eyes can see,

The ancient and unknown bathed beneath a starry sea, 

Escape in the alone, oh love come be with me, though out here all is barren, together we will never be.

Imagination, here the heart runs wild, here abandoned and forbidden things find their reconcile

Naked and unclothed, the ground beneath our feet, with a heart that follows closely in the wave of every beat

Freedom, release from all you’ve left behind, in desert dreams, feelings become reality and love comes alive

The Tyranny of Believing you must Feel Useful

This evening I inadvertently found myself watching one of the latest superhero movies. After watching it I noticed my mind shift toward an anxious state. I had just watched the superheroes save the world and the predictable analysis of my own value and worth was once again, as it tends to do, taking the lead seat at the table of my attention.

“What am I doing for God?”

 What am I doing to save the world?”

The larger and more disturbing question behind those questions asks, when we get to the end of our life, will we really be able to look back and see that it mattered, that we made a difference?

The older I get, the more terrifying this underlying question can be at times. I learned early on that placing my supreme value in what I accomplish is paramount to fulfilling God’s will in this life.

The contrast to this and the original reason I named this blog, the diary of an imperfect Christian is that my life is a woeful reflection in comparison to the lives of others who have had amazing accomplishments.

In all my searching though I’ve never found that satisfaction or sense of fulfillment like I am truly making a difference in the world. Any accomplishments I have had are quickly dwarfed when I compare them with the accomplishments of others.

Another unfortunate consequence of living life like this is that it makes you prone to neglect of the common, ordinary, everyday things. The quest for meaning and fulfillment is what matters chiefly and nothing can be allowed to get in the way of that, except something inevitably does…disillusionment. Disillusionment left unattended to can lead to despair and hopelessness.

People will try to comfort you if you voice these kinds of thoughts by saying your life matters and pointing to various qualities in your life, but the inevitable vacuum is always there. Deep down, you know the dragon you are fighting is really just a windmill.

So what is the answer? Tonight I was once again reminded of the answer and decided I would sit up and write it down to hopefully serve as a reminder to it because I can so easily forget. I was reminded of it this evening when I happened upon a story once more that I read years ago.

Here’s the story…

In one of the many stages of his amazingly apparently unstable and yet profoundly focused life, Brennan was serving as the chaplain to the last hospital left in this nation to attend to men and women suffering and dying with Hansen’s disease, leprosy.  The hospital was in Louisiana.  One day as he arrived to make his rounds, the nurses asked him to hurry to one of the patients, a Mexican-American woman in her late 30’s named Yolanda, who was dying that day.  It’s worth hearing Brennan’s own description of what happened when he reached Yolanda’s bedside:

“… I went up to Yolanda’s room on the second floor and sat on the edge of the bed. Yolanda is a woman thirty-seven years old. Five years ago, before the leprosy began to ravage, she must have been one of the most stunningly beautiful creatures God ever made.  . . . But that was then.

Now her nose is pressed into her face. Her mouth is severely contorted. Both ears are distended. She has no fingers on either hand, just two little stumps.

Two years earlier, her husband divorced her because of the social stigma attached to leprosy, and he had forbidden their two sons, boys fourteen and sixteen, from ever visiting their mother.  . . . As a result, Yolanda was dying an abandoned, forsaken woman.
I… prayed with her. . . .  The room was filled with a brilliant light. It had been raining when I came in; I didn’t even look up, but said, “Thanks, Abba, for the sunshine. I bet that’ll cheer her up.”

As I turned to look back at Yolanda – and if I live to be three hundred years old I’ll never be able to find the words to describe what I saw – her face was like a sunburst over the mountains, like one thousand sunbeams streaming out of her face literally so brilliant I had to shield my eyes.

I said, ‘Yolanda, you appear to be very happy.’
With her slight Mexican-American accent she said, ‘Oh, Father, I am so happy.’
I then asked her, ‘Will you tell me why you’re so happy?’

She said, ‘Yes, the Abba of Jesus just told me that He would take me home today.’
I vividly remember the hot tears that began rolling down my cheeks. After a lengthy pause, I asked just what the Abba of Jesus said.

Yolanda said:
‘Come now, My love. My lovely one, come. For you, the winter has passed, the snows are over and gone, the flowers appear in the land, the season of joyful songs has come.The cooing of the turtledove is heard in our land.Come now, My love. My Yolanda, come.Let Me see your face. And let Me hear your voice, for your voice is sweet and your face is beautiful. Come now, My love, My lovely one, come.’

Six hours later her little leprous body was swept up into the furious love of her Abba. Later that same day, I learned from the staff that Yolanda was illiterate. She had never read the Bible, or any book for that matter, in her entire life. I surely had never repeated those words to her in any of my visits. I was, as they say, a man undone” (The Furious Longing of God, by Brennan Manning, David C. Cook Publishers, 2009).

I have read this story many times, but I tend to quickly forget to ask the question, where did Yolanda get her meaning and purpose?

It wasn’t in her beauty, career or identity as a wife or mother. Those had been painfully stripped away from her and she was left not only with nothing to contribute, but needing others to take care of her.

Could Yolanda’s salvation be the same as mine? I believe so. I believe It is exactly the same, except Yolanda was able to easily and joyfully receive it, where as the majority of the rest of us walk in the wilderness often most of our lives, laser focused on our performance, family and cultural and social currency. What was her salvation and how does it reveal the source of my own salvation?

Yolanda experienced a deeper realization of God’s love for her and that realization was her salvation. In the midst of her helplessness she found love, joy and peace; not from anything she did or accomplished, but the unconditional, transcendent love of God for her that finds its way to each one of us who open our hearts to it, believe it and receive it.

Remembering mysteriousness 

Without question, my most memorable and cherished times within my Christian faith were the times when I was young and I embraced without question, a sense of mystery. 

Eventually I grew up and learned to question, to doubt, to be skeptical, often for very good reasons. Somewhere along the way though, mystery got left behind. 

We now have comprehensive world views that explain more and more of how the world we see around us functions. With this knowledge, mystery seems to have lost its capital. Our faith in our own abilities to explain the world has left little to no room or value for the unexplainable. 

One of the themes I see in the New Testament that Paul speaks of is the mystery of God’s plans and workings. I could sense the wonder in the words while reading them this evening. In one place he says God revealed the mystery of what He was doing in Jesus so that He might share it. In another place he comes to the edge of his ability to understand and exclaims how vast and unsearchable the ways and plans of God are. 

While reflecting on this idea of mysteriousness this evening, I realized within myself that in my search for answers and explanations like so many of us search for, I have felt increasingly empty. I felt empty because I incrementally traded a God beyond my capacity to understand for one that I was came to believe I could define and understand.

The most fundamental quality of interacting with mystery is faith and trust. Though I am not dismissing knowledge in the least, I have spent years embracing intellectual approaches in my faith believing they are the steps necessary for a fuller faith in God. In actuality however,  I’ve been wrong and been operating from a fall premise. The first step is to lay that to the side and approach by faith and trust, remembering above all that God is above all, beyond understanding, beyond explanatory paradigms. 

Help me Lord to remember. Help me always remember that you Lord are mysterious. 

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! tHow unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34  “For who has known the mind of the Lord,

or who has been his counselor?”

35  “Or who has given a gift to him

that he might be repaid?”

36 For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. ~ Romans 11:33-36

The Grace in Wonder (embracing how little we understand)

Do you ever cease to be amazed at the advances of technology that have transformed our world?

The collective engineering and coordination that has to take place to design and build a skyscraper or a naval vessel or coordinate a major event like the super bowl is difficult to get one’s head around.

When I was a kid, I remembered reading about the SR-71 spy plane. One thing bothered me though. One of the books I had read on Air Force planes said it leaked fuel profusely. It was so bad that they had to refuel it via a tanker immediately after every take off.

I distinctly remember being troubled by this. How could they design a plane that flew so fast and cost so much money and yet have such an egregious flaw in design?

Well as it turns out, it wasn’t a flaw in the design after all. I found out years later that it was built that way on purpose because the titanium would stretch under heat. To compensate, they left gaps where fuel would leak out while it was on the runway, but as soon as it accelerated to operating speed, the frame would stretch and the leaks would seal.

As a kid, I just assumed the designers had overlooked the potential for this undesirable outcome. I assumed this because at that time, I didn’t have the necessary knowledge to understand the immense complexity and engineering genius that made the SR-71 unique.

I was a 12 year old kid fascinated with a plane because it looked cool and went fast (I’m still that way too), but had no idea what all went into to actually making the plane fulfill its purposes for creation and design.

We are all like that though aren’t we? We all tend to look at life, things or people and, if we aren’t careful, become critical because we think we have all the necessary facts in order to form an accurate conclusion.

Kids do this to their parents, parents do it to their bosses, church members do it their pastors, students do it to their teachers, citizens do it to their elected officials, countries do it to other countries, and we all do it to the God who created the universe in one way or another.

Had I been lucky enough to have met one of the designers of the SR-71 back then, I hope I would have respectfully asked why the plane leaked and not just popped off some ugly remark about how stupid they were for designing a plane that ended up leaking. That way I could have learned something from someone who clearly had significantly more knowledge about the subject matter than I did and also spared my ego when I found out later just how little I really knew.

Not only that, but it is far more satisfying and rewarding to live in the continual wonder and amazement of the beauty, intricacies and complexity of life, people and things — particularly when it comes to jets that go Mach 3+. 😉