Friday, December 30, 2011

C'mon People

I have heard two people in the last two days say being here now on this earth in this body is better than the alternative. But, isn't it actually better to be with the Lord than in this body? I suggest we have no hope whatsoever if we think being on this earth here now in this body is better than the alternative.

For some people, today (here now in this body) is at bad as it gets. For others today (here now in this body) is as good as it gets. I suppose if one does believe here now in this body is as good as it gets the alternative to waking up tomorrow here in their body actually is worse.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Utterly Applicable

I wonder if our spiritual vocabulary, “Christianese,” distances ourselves and others from the utterly relevant power of God- the gospel. 

When we say, “Jesus died for my sins,” what do we mean?

I heard Pastor Bryan Clark answer this is a simple and relevant way: “God gave Himself so that we might know Him.” “So thatwe might know Him” could not be more significant, personal and applicable. God’s purposes are the antithesis of trivial and remote- they are all-encompassing and ever-near. His intention is to swallow up our whole lives.

What Jesus did on the cross is individually pertinent and universally relevant. As Pastor Clark says, “this is not religious theory.” Francis Schaeffer said the actual cross of Christ was something in time and space that you could have rubbed your hand on a got a splinter on. If Christianity is merely another religious hypothesis it’s ineffectual, but it is the effectual power of God- the manifestation of the glory and wisdom of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

The utterly relevant purposes of why the Christ took on the cross is this: that people could be in a new type of relationship with their Creator- one consisting of love, purpose, new identity and new creation, salvation, satisfaction, blessedness, fulfillment- not for anything less than those colossal reasons.

God was not made man so we could talk as if we have a Liberator and Redeemer, but so that we could have an actual Liberator and Redeemer. God was not made man so we could be “comforted by our faith,” but so that we could be made children of the one living God in whom “we live and move and have our being.” (Acts 17:28) Colossians 1:15-17 says of the Christ, it was "by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on the earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities- all things have been created through Him and for Him." 

N.T. Wright calls the gospel "the controlling narrative of history." God's love is the reason people can laugh, He is the reason we can walk and talk and live, He is the reason we can read and write, He is the reason the leaves change, He is the reason there are mountains, He is the reason we have purpose and worth, He is the reason we have families, He is the reason we have money and time and talents.

God was made man not be main subject of one world religion, but to extend a universal invitation to those who seek Him and to meet their needs in the most private, universal, basic, complex, pertinent and real ways. Nothing human is alien to God- there is nothing private or universal beyond His healing reach.

The supernatural power and continual perpetuation of the universe is from God and it is integral and inseparable from our being, our breathing, our waking, our working and our moving. God is the Sustainer. What God did, is doing right now, and will do effects everyone in the world all the time whether they realize it or not. It’s been said, “If He’s not Lord of all He’s not Lord at all.”

If God does not make a difference to the most relevant and basic needs we have what does He do? Are spirituality and religion a mere coping mechanism in this life? Are spirituality and religion only a thing that gives us solace, peace and strength in this life? Were religions and spirituality invented by humans to give us (fabricated) purpose, identity, and comfort? 

The big question at hand here is, "What was the first cause?" Did we invent God or did God invent us? If God is the "un-caused cause" all matter and life, including the cosmos and every human has gained their needs and very existence from God. If that is the case, how can anything not have "spiritual" consequence? If God is the Creator, everything points to, and gives testimony of, God.

Are spirituality and religion a side dish to reality? Does God comprise only one compartment of our lives- the “religious part?” There is only one compartment to every human being’s life and it is spirituality. “If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:44) Humans are incurably spiritual beings whether we realize it or not. We cannot "section off" the blanket of God- He is the all-encompassing presence and actuality.

God was made man and took on humanity’s sin and death to make a difference in the most ludicrously applicable ways. Because we are partakers in the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4) God cultivates unique and specific views in His people on: how we talk, how we work, what we believe about hardships, how we think of ourselves and others and how we treat them, what we think about and how we think about it, including humans, money, talents, resources, relationships, and time.

What Jesus did on the cross and at the empty tomb gets at the most basic, practical and mundane things of our life…all of our being and all of our “doing.” 

I find that my understanding of the gospel needs to be corrected and expanded often…to a more encompassing, more consequential, more robust, more relatable, more powerful, and more applicable one. 

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Jesus Creates Purity- He Does Not Require It

In The Jesus Creed, Scot McKnight wrote, "Jesus' table story: clean or unclean, you can eat with me, and I will make you clean. Instead of his table requiring purity, his table creates purity."

We always go to Jesus in need. We never go to Him without a need for Him. Our sin is what qualifies us for Jesus. If we had no sin we have no need for Jesus. Our rebellion and wickedness are prerequisites to our blamelessness and purity. It is our violation of His sacred love that allows us to come into His sacred love and be covered in it. The things that keep us from going to God- our sins and anti-God propensities- are the very things that should draw us to Him. Jesus did not come into the world to condemn it, but save it and those in it. We condemn ourselves- it is not God who condemns us- it is God who rescues us.  

When we come into the light it shows our rats- the ones we hide. If we are unwilling to have our sins and stuff in the light we slip into darkness. The light humbles us, it shows us our true selves and our need for a Savior. God stands ready to forgive our sins on the basis of what Jesus has done. (Pastor Bryan Clark)

About 2,000 years ago God was made human to heal the hurt and fix the broken- He did not come to people who were spiritually well and thriving. Even today, He comes to fix the broken, not to console people who are spiritually well without Him. He comes to people who need Him- to otherwise hopeless people. 

When we first go to Jesus we go to Him incomplete, lacking knowledge, homeless, destitute, perishable, frustrated, imperfect, sinners, not entirely together, angry, not certain, penitent, desperate, and not confident. He then creates a purity that we did not have prior to our going to Him- He makes us belong, complete, children, family, heirs, knowledgeable, imperishable, at peace, saints, forgiven and confident. 

How many times do we think of this exactly backwards- that God requires purity rather than creates it? Don’t we still have the tendency to want to go to Him complete in ourselves, intelligent in our own right, maybe only partly needy, with good works as our justification and worth, boastful in what we have done for Him, self-important, as near as perfect as we can be, calmed down my our merit, not so desperate, all together and confident? 

We are made whole when we go to Him incomplete. We are made a saint when we go to Him as sinner. We are made a child when we go to Him an orphan. We are made a family member that belongs when we go to Him homeless. We are made heirs when we go to Him with no heritage. We are declared righteous when we go to Him penitent. We are washed because we let Him wash us.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Who Are the True “Free Thinkers?”

"I thought you don't like being told how to think," someone once told me when I started making going to church a priority and attempting to align my life with the Bible’s teaching. 

As a person with a creative and imaginative lean, living in a world of ideas and philosophies in an ever changing world, I prided myself on my non-conformity to any particular set way of thinking laid forth by anyone one group. I wanted the freedom to believe whatever I wanted about any given thing at any give time. I wanted to be self-referential. Therefore, this new assessment of was upsetting. At the time, I believed that I was first and foremost an individualistic free thinker- not bound to any restraints by formulated set of beliefs, dogmas and especially not religious tenants- because in my eyes, at the time, they were un-fun and restricting- the antithesis of life-giving and liberating. Yet, I was finding that the world I had been living in and for was empty, heartbreaking and never enough. As the saying goes, a person "can have too much of the world in them to enjoy the Lord, and too much of the Lord in them to enjoy the world." (I think that is true of most believers to an extent.)  

If I listen to the first music album I recorded I hear myself boasting about “freedom of thought,” but what I didn’t realize at the time was that my “non-conformity” really was “conformity” in the truest sense of the word. My perceived freedom was really a limitation, because the beliefs I lived out of lead to the same dead end roads. Plus, listening to only myself often lead to stupid decisions that harmed and hurt me and others. 

I heard my belief system (which I think all of us buy into to an extent) described well years later by Pastor Scott Vermillion: “The philosophies of this age say, food equals pleasure, information equals power, entertainment equals rest, wealth equals security, stuff equals purpose, and sex equals love.” When a person believes those a person becomes the subject of them. By “subject” to them I mean “enslaved.” The believing person becomes un-free, or bound to those particular, specific beliefs. The “philosophies of this age” mentioned and anything stemming from them provides a false sense of freedom. 

True freedom is not being bound to and limited by self-centered, self-invented, community-derived, culture-driven, culture-invented value systems.  A Divinely-designed value system is the only one which gives liberty- which naturally reveals deceptive and hollow beliefs and value systems. 

Back then, ironically, my criticisms of those being told how to think (not “free-thinkers”) were suited for me. I am slowly finding that true liberty to be the most expressive and the most unique individual is in my Creator- consigned functionality and purpose and identity. 

The process of abandoning deceptive thinking is like rehabilitation. It must take a lifetime to unlearn (and continually fend-off) things we first learned and believed. 

A Quick Case Study 

Last year I was talking to a friend and co-worker who said she perceived my devotion to God as something oppressive and restraining. She thought that if she believed what I did she would not get to do what she wanted to. At the same time, I observed her strenuously striving and stressing to keep up her body and her image. I observed that her entire life revolved around her bodybuilding: her working out, sleeping, where she goes, when she goes, her eating and her thinking. All of her waking hours were orientated around her eating schedule and training schedule. She perceived my God as restrictive and I perceived her "god" as restrictive. This was an interesting conversation. She was a self-proclaimed “free thinker” and “non-conformist” so I could relate to her. 

Her and I agreed that “obligatory religion” was a worthless sham. Unfortunately, that was the only context she could put “God-people” in. I tried to explain that among my favorite things in life are to read and study the Bible and think about it and God,  pray, to know, enjoy, trust, thank, praise and converse with God. I tried to explain this could not be further from the “obligatory religion.” 

My First School

I preface this next part with the fact that my parents raised me in a Bible-believing church and home, which instilled theology, truthfulness and principles. I did not "take to" those beliefs very well, but no doubt I was paying attention to them even when I wasn't paying attention.

As a teenager and in my early 20s, the God of Christianity (whom I misunderstood) was no rival, in my mind, for the “gods” of secularism, such as money, popularity, reputation, sex, power, pleasure and enjoyment. But, I am slowly coming to see, by God’s grace, the God of Christianity as incomparable and unparalleled by anything else. (This understanding is not coming from something I am figuring out on my own, but the unveiling of such truths by God- and aided by life’s circumstances that left me (sometimes still leave me) miserable and hopeless. In fact, I feel like this belief system chose me rather than me choosing it. I think if it was up to me I wouldn’t have chosen to be a Christian, because it meant my life does not revolve around me, but God and others. The indwelling Spirit of God is lethal to self-centeredness.) 

I first learned what was funny and what to laugh at from the small town high school culture I was in, my friends, Jackass, South Park and Chris Rock. I learned what romance and “love” were from the culture I was in too and by listening to Bryan Adams, Guns 'N Roses, Mariah Carey, R. Kelly, Boyz II Men and other songs on the FM radio. I was a “free-thinker.” 

Probably like a typical pre-teen and teen we try to emulate those we look up to to an extent. I remember one upperclassman I looked up to so much I got my hair cut like his, tried to walk like him, tried to chew a pen like him, tried to use the same language as him, I made important to me what was important to him. I was his disciple. I was a "free thinker."I think there are many self-proclaimed "free thinkers" who are simply emulating someone who they think is a non-conformist, which is ironic. 

Probably like many pre-teens and teens I was a slave to my appearance- it was an idol. The brand of jeans, the fit of jeans, the brand of shirt, the fit of the shirt, the brand of shoes were all more important to me than God. People's perception of me, their approval and acceptance based on these superficial things far exceeded my are of God's approval and acceptance. 

Paul wrote the Romans (6:16): "Don't you know that  when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one you obey- whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness?" I am applying Paul's idea- not exact exegesis- to my idea; whatever we offer ourselves to, we become service-oriented towards that thing, which means we observe it and comply with it.

I learned what to desire in a woman from TV, my friends, music videos and magazines.  I learned what passion was from Tupac. I learned what creativity was from Eminem, Notorious B.I.G, and Dr. Dre. I learned what movies were to be liked from the box office ticket sales.  I learned what was worth something- what had value- from all of them. Through them I learned what gave me, and people in general, significance. I was a “free-thinker.” 

Here are a few other things I learned from my first school: what to believe about death, life (it’s mine), God (He’s OK, even cool to an extent, but not really), my purpose (it’s mine), serving myself- at the expense of others- was top priority, how to treat others and how to think of them, anger and apathy are justified, integrity and morality take a backseat to money and pleasure-seeking (hedonism), materials make you significant, people’s approval is very important, success in the world’s eyes means a lot. I was a “free thinker.” 

Mingled in with all the things my communities and cultures preached were deep philosophical quotes I adopted as gospel by Gandhi, Einstein, Malcolm X, Frost, Tennyson, Solomon, (a watered down version of) Jesus, and other great thinkers.

Those systems and people couldn’t have advocated a more specific morality and belief system could’ve they? Far be it from mainstream media and culture to impose specific morals and belief systems, right? They did and always do. Under every advertisement is a core value. Behind the lyrics in every song are things that assumed to be true. Behind every statement is a not so subtle hypothesis. In each belief, testimonial and declaration is a not-so-restrained presupposition.

One of my early objections to Christianity as someone who prided themselves on their individuality was, “I don’t like being told how to think.” An oversight in my critique was that I was being told how to think…by media (that was not God-loving), specifically MTV. I adopted the perspectives, outlooks and truth claims they advocated.  I put worth and value on what they put worth and value on. I tried to find my sense of identity and significance where they said I can have identify and significance. I tried to emulate them. Low and behold, I was not "a free thinker.” I had dictators. Not dictators at the pulpit, in a robe, in a God, in a book, but on MTV, in the movies, in the culture and community, and on the radio.

No matter what we believe and how we think about everything, we have adopted ideas from somewhere, be it a, “educational” sphere, “religious” sphere, our opinions, “academic” sphere, “secular” sphere, or any other sphere.

I look back at my driving beliefs and behaviors during that period of time it is obvious that I was trying to conform. My religion was secularism and I had numerous “gods.” Naturally, this lead me (and still leads me) to heartbreak, frustration, regret, hurtful cycles of behavior, bad thinking, disillusionment, disappointment and a sense of purposelessness. 

We are Ideology-Adopters 

We are, by our nature, ideology-adopters, meaning we are looking for something and/or someone to believe in- to find happiness in, to find purpose and meaning in, to find satisfactory and believable explanations and answers in, and to find fulfillment in.  

I have learned that the only "free thinkers" and “non-conformists” are those who have abandoned, are abandoning, and will abandon godless human-devised, godless culture-imposed philosophies and godless belief systems and adopt the truth. The only “free thinkers” are those liberated from doctrines founded on deception. 

Those who claim to be free thinkers and are without God, are merely adopting a hodge-podge of self-suiting and self-satisfying philosophies (dogmas, doctrines, propositional truths) from resources that conform to their own opinions and ideas. In a sense, they become their own “gods,” because their own opinions and ideas reign. 

When people say, “I’m a free thinker,” and mean by it what I used to mean by it, they have committed a huge oversight. That statement is based on a set of beliefs, namely, “according to my beliefs that I am articulating right now, I am stating that I do not conform to any belief system.” That statement itself shows they do conform to whatever belief they specify.

We Cannot Escape Adherence

In one sense of the word “religious,” Agnostics and Atheists are just as “religious” as Muslims, Jews and Christians.  “Religious,” meaning conforming to a pattern of beliefs based on assertions and assumptions that cannot be empirically proven, and are thus dependent upon the unknown/unseen, thus faith.  (See, The Undeniable Existence of the Unknown makes Faith an Unavoidable Ingredient for All, posted in August 2011.)

There is not a belief or philosophy detached from, and that cannot ultimately be linked, to beliefs that depend on faith (the unseen and improvable). There is not a human worldview that does not include perspectives on the “biggies,” such as the purpose of life, the origin of life and death. Whether we realize it or not, we are always adhering to foundational truth assumptions. (Similarly, we are always “worshipping” something and/or someone whether or not we know it. Whatever we value is our “god.”) 

I have heard someone say they hate “organized religion.” This is a funny statement. I asked them, “Do you like chaotic beliefs?” Many of us do not realize that both the non-religious and irreligious have “organized” and structured beliefs which dictate our worldviews.  

Self-imposed and self-invented beliefs give the appearance of freedom, but are the most confining because they depend on personal subjective opinions and definitions. For instance, I used to be OK with driving drunk, but I wouldn’t to drugs. In our own minds, we can justify doing one wrong thing, but not another. "I would do this, but I wouldn't do that." This is a self-made religion. My self-made religion was (still is) endlessly contradictory and irrational.  

Many profess to come under no tenants, no precepts, and no dogmas, however claiming to come under no dogmas, tenants and precepts, is itself, a dogma, tenant and precept. A person can become enslaved to their supposed “non-conformity,” which ironically, is conformity. (That was me.) 

In Conclusion 

Oswald Chambers said, “God nowhere tells us to give up things for the sake of giving them up. He tells us to give them up for the sake of the only thing worth having, i.e. life with Himself.” Pastor Bryan Clark said, "God's commands are not burdens they are blessings."

God tells us to abstain from particular things to keep us from harm because He loves us and wants the best for us, which is to love Him, abide in Him and He in us, commune and communicate with Him, to know Him and be in a right relationship with Him.  

Some perceive belief in one God and one way to Him to be limiting. But, Jesus in John 8:31-34, says He is the only way to unconstrainment: “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?” Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever.  So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” 

Ironically, a Christian’s following God is based on liberation. My surrender to God is not enforced by any governing body or organized religion. I would be the last person to do something for the obligatory sake of doing it just to conform. Christ followers, sometimes happily and sometimes reluctantly, abandon self-reign for the sake of “doing the things we were created for by God,” because we know, in the end, this is the only way that gives true life in the present, and will give true life in the end. (We move painfully slow from “Don’t tell me how to live,” to “Tell me how to live so I know how,” only by the gracious intervention of God.) 

Only if we believe we are accidental beings do we have grounds for thinking we can create and/or find/discover our own purpose. Here came the hard part for me, as a highly individualized free spirit, how did “being told” my purpose and function give me freedom? (Not only “told my purpose and function,” but to learn it was dependent on the ones God consigned.) 

If Christ is the reality- the center of everything-the source of matter and life- the deepest absoluteness and concreteness- the religions and belief systems that don’t trust in Him as Messiah must deny the ultimate reality. (This does not mean there aren’t “truths” in other religions- many religions have similar “universal” and general truths, but the particulars of Christianity (and all other religions) are unique and exclusive.) If we are detached from Reality, which is Christ, we are captive- not free. 

In a culture that promotes Autonomous Individualism we push back against an authority over our person-hood and life. Yet, “self-government” and “self-rule” is bondage to arbitrary self-imposed, culture-learned and community-imposed regulations. No one is free from the burdens of morality and obligations, because they "create" them for themselves, or the culture creates them. Autonomy (Autonomous Individualism) has the appearance of freedom, but it is the epitome of bondage, because it is totally dependent on the philosophies of this age the value systems of the world. 

Let's celebrate independence from the world's definitions of (and bondage to) freedom, liberty, significance, worth, value, meaning, origins, hope, relaxation, security, pleasure, riches, status, fun, joy, contentment and purpose and delight in Him who invented all of them. Let’s celebrate our freedom (our exemption) from sin and death- and revel in the freedom which Christ has set us free for- to live for Him who died and rose again on our behalf that we might have liberty and pleasures forever.The Inventor of life knows what "living" consists of.

True liberty is this:  I am captive to no one and nothing, except the one who sets me free. We are not set free to sin, but from sin, to live for freedom. We are slaves to God and our Master is gracious, loving and life-giving. Our Master is not a deceiver. The ever-recycled philosophies in the world that don't acknowledge God are cruel and terrible Masters. We become slaves again when we use our freedom to live for anything or anyone but God. We've been released by the One who paid our ransom- so, now we are free to serve the only One who offers true and lasting freedom.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

God Flips us Over

I had a sweet fellowship time with God the other day when I was laying on my back staring at the ceiling seemingly glued to the spot where I was laying in the middle of an exercise routine- captivated to be physically and mentally still and cast my hope and trust in Him, vent to Him, receive His love, thank Him, worship Him, confess to Him, ask for His help in the resentments and dark parts of my heart, pray for others and be painfully honest about life's hardships and myself.

In ancient times, citizens of the King’s bowed face down before the King to show Him respect. The King, if he wanted, could take his sword and kill the bowing citizen. The citizen was at the mercy of the sovereign choice of the King. The citizen knew this and as a token of their submission to the King did so to honor and revere the King’s rights, power, sovereignty and office.

After I got up from this time I thought about how such a physical and spiritual posture, i.e. “flipped over, face up,” and knowing God as a tender listener and whisperer- a God of peace and quietude, is possible. Who am I to think I have a relationship with God that is more like a father-son or husband-bride relationship than a Creator-creature or angry God-pitiful sinner one?

The fact that God wants to fellowship with me is something I really don't grasp. (He does not need to fellowship with me, but He delights to give Himself and have His People give themselves to Him.) The principle of the Israel's tabernacle is that of the indwelling Spirit-  God creating and establishing a way to fellowship and relate with His people.

The term "born of God" (John 1:13) is more than interesting. We have God's eternal, imperishable seed in us. We are more than creatures of flesh and blood born of two human parents, but we have been born...of God- we are partakers of His nature and have His DNA, to to speak. God's Spirit dwells in us. We are the temple, where intimacy with God can be achieved in our bodies. It is Christ who bore our sins in His body and it is our bodies in which God comes into. 

YHWH is “I AM,” He is who He is; full of unnerving splendor, unsettling majesty, and disturbing Holiness- He upholds truth, pleasure, worth and love, therefore detests wickedness and holds sin and idolatry in contempt- vengeance belongs to Him. How could I ever approach a Holy, righteous and other-than God with any level of reassurance?

Scot McKnight explains in Jesus Creed that in Hosea, God speaks of His relationship with His people in an explicitly intimate way...more unveiling of the type of YHWH's love and passion for His people, and it is like that of a (faithful and tirelessly committed) husband for an (unfaithful, vow-breaking) wife. Maybe, it is a more full unveiling of God's love of which Christ was the full and complete disclosure of.

I could not (in wisdom) lay face up face to face with "I AM" if the slain Messiah wasn't jealous for me, thus came to bear my sins, cleanse me and ascend as Mediator and Heavenly Advocate who sacrificially offered Himself as a sacrifice for my sins.

Here an excerpt from Scot McKnight's Jesus Creed on Hosea: "God is so heartsick over his people's unfaithfulness to him that he pleads with Israel to come back to Him. YHWH, the spurned Lover of Israel...Speaking about his unfaithful wife he announces: "I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her. There I will give her back her vineyards, and make the Valley of Anchor a door of hope. There she will sing as in the day so her youth, as in the day she came out of Egypt." (Hosea 2:14-15) 

Seeing God as our Jealous Lover who wants our affections for Himself is definitely not a predominant facet of how to think of God...maybe it should be. When "tried," we see what God's love is made of- unconditional commitment and faithfulness. Lewis Smedes puts it, "Yahweh is the sort who sticks with what he is stuck with." We are God's bride and He is our husband who lavishes His love on us who prostitute ourselves to other God's. McKnight writes, "Abba is...embarrassingly faithful in his love for us." I love that.

I wonder how often I "mis-think" and misspeak of God's love and my sin with theological terminology that sterilizes what they really are. God's love for me is a sacred commitment of love He is faithful and gracious to keep and my sin is any action that violates His love (McKnight). When I "break God's laws and forsake His commandments," am I not first and foremost violating His sacred Love? 

The reason we can be face to face with God in the quietude of our souls, be at peace with Him, have communion and fellowship with Him is because of the Prince of Peace, the eternal begotten Son, reconciled us, brought us near- and even "in," to the God of unnerving splendor. Harmony and oneness with God for those who were separated is possible because peace has been made by the blood of the Lamb- the Christ- who is the fruition and of God's faithful love and promise-keeping throughout time- that their would come a time when He would remember our sins no more and would put a new heart in us. “In Christ,” adoption, Sonship, union, marriage, blamelessness, and friendship with the living God are ours. We are pleasing and accepting- and even the aroma of Christ to Him.

“In Christ,” we have been brought to a unique supernatural position- partakers in the divine nature and intercessors who know God’s business. We can lay face up because Christ flips us over, so to speak- He purified us. We can lay face up face to face with God because our indwelling Spirit communes and has community with God. 

God still is who He is, but we know Him also as loving Father and tender listener and quiet whisperer. He is still high and lofty and disturbingly Holy, but in addition to that He has brought us to Himself, called us children, rescued us, and made us part of His family. He is so much to us. He is all we need.  


Friday, November 25, 2011

Help Us See the Glory

No one in heaven will say of earth, "my time on earth was not as sacred as I thought," rather, I think, they would be astonished at how sacred it was. 

Our sitting, our talking, our laughing, our eating, our storytelling, our conversations, our questions, our answers, our games, our recreations, our hobbies, our relaxation, our athletics are sacred.

When we see us see the glory.
When we see the us see the glory.
When we are at our us see the glory.
When we are face to face with us see the glory.
When we converse with us see the glory.
When we breath, live, walk and us see the glory.

When we are us see the glory.
When our nose is to the us see the glory.
When we help us see the glory.
When others help us see the glory.
When we feel us see the glory.
When we feel us see the glory.
When we look in the us see the glory.

When we look on us see your love for us.

Help us see the glory on this earth that has been stained Holy by the lifeblood of the Christ.

We have no glory if You are not, but You are- and You have told humans they have great worth. You have made dust your heirs. You store your precious treasures in human bodies. You bring the low high. Too often we miss out- we go about life as if the glory of God is not always surrounding us, we forget what is is sacred, and we seek a different type of glory- one that denies the Lord of Glory, and desires a fabricated and counterfeit form of glory. We mistreat and misuse what is sacred. Forgive our eyes to Your glory around us.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Those Known as Trash were His Chosen Kin

"Those known as trash were His chosen kin." -Timothy Brindle in his song The Humility of Christ

That's music to my ears.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Since You Did...Do

Since you saved me, save me.
Since you rescued me, rescue me.
Since you brought peace, bring peace. 
Since you love me, love me.

Why must I beg for what I have?
Long for what I have?
Plead for what you've already given?
Seek for what is here?

Since you've conquered my demons, conquer them. 
Since you've promised to be with me let me know you are.
Since you've given life, give life.

Since you have not left us dishonored us- but gloried in us by becoming one of us- lift us up. Make us hear joy and gladness. Make us embrace, not abandon, the brokenness so we can know You heal. 

Why do I feel as if what is mine is not mine? Faith, hope, power, glory, acceptance and love are mine. 

Why do I feel as if what is not mine is mine? Darkness, hopelessness, despondency and dejection are not mine.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Hope for the Perpetrated…and Mr. Sandusky

Last week I found myself standing next to a co-worker watching the news of the Penn State scandal make its way to the public. My co-worker was infuriated, disgusted and would have probably killed Mr. Sandusky if he was there. I share with him those same instincts, because such a perverted thing as sodomizing a young boy brings confusion, fury and disbelief. Yet, doesn't the severity of our judgement of another person show we believe we are superior to them- that we have warrented no such judgement? If we saw ourselves "in the same boat," as a fellow transgressor, we would, in humility be less likely to come down so hard. It seems like justifying our hate only highlights our lack of wisdom and understanding of God. 

Shouldn't sadness, longing (for a place free of hurt and pain), mourning of the reality of sin,  hoping for healing and change, fury…at the present evil and corrupt age, and prayer the right responses?

Our instinctive reaction to Mr. Sandusky, our fellow human, easily lends us to dehumanize him. We can call him a “monster” and “animal,” but perhaps your own problem with (or addiction to) shopping and eating could have just as easily been another, more despicable, problem or addiction. We don’t like to hear these things…it is easier to stand back, and look down on Mr. Sandusky and call for his head instead of looking at ourselves in the mirror, plus it makes us feel good about ourselves because we (mis)percieve we are inherently better than him.

In Wounded Healer Henri Nouwen wrote, “For a compassionate man nothing human is alien: no joy and no sorrow, no way of living and no way of dying.” What Nouwen says, I think, is crucial to empathizing with the “worst” of our fellow humans, which organically flows from abiding in Christ. Doesn’t Nouwen’s thought challenge our instinctive reaction to Mr. Sandusky? 

Is Mr. Sandusky beyond repair? Perhaps, to an extent, he is beyond repair in the sense that he may not able to function in society without causing harm, so he must be taken out of it to protect others. However, counter-intuitively, Mr. Sandusky is not excluded from the membership of God’s restored community, or God’s forgiveness, on the basis of what he may have done, but on the basis of what he might not do: repent and turn to God. In God’s Kingdom, the worst penitent sinners are forgiven, but those who don’t repent stay in their sins. Mr. Sandusky, like you and me, is either included or excluded from God’s Kingdom by his faith in, or rebellion against, the crucified and risen Messiah- the great Purifier. God’s scandalous grace is an outrage to the self-righteous.

"Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will not take into account," (Romans 4:8) assumes are are sinners and that it is God, not people, who either takes our sins into account, or pardons them.

Jesus offers hope for the perpetrated…and perpetrators…the afflicted... and violators. We have all been violators, transgressors, exploiters, and abusers, and will be called to complete accountabilitiy for what we have done (and left undone) and thought- and our judgments of Mr. Sandusky. What will be your defense?  

There is a difference between saying, “what he did was wrong,” and judging him, which means putting ourselves above him and making ourselves out to be his judge and allowing hatred and hostility for him be fostered within us. 

If the Truine God can’t heal and accept Mr. Sandusky He cannot heal and accept me. I, like Mr. Sandusky utterly depend on Christ's reconciliation.

1 Thessalonians 5:15 reiterates what Jesus emphasized in the gospels; “See that no one repays evil of evil, but always seek after that which is good for one another and for all people.” This is not to condone evil, as some may misunderstand, but seek and want the best for people- even our enemies.

Mr. Sandusky’s acts are seemingly in an unforgivable category of evil- inflicting deeds- unthinkably grotesque choices that will have a ripple effect on hundreds of people throughout generations. Plus, the horrific wounds he inflicted on those he took advantage of. Surely our condemnation of Mr. Sandusky is justified, right? Wait a second...doesn’t God justify His acceptance of sinners by their faith in the Christ who bore the sins of sinners? Doesn't God make the unclean pure? Didn't Jesus come to heal the sick? Wasn't Jesus numbered with transgressors and didn't He die the death of a criminal for transgressors and criminals?

I don’t know if Mr. Sandusky has struggled against his attraction to young boys, or if he has totally given himself over to the slavery of that sin happily. I hope he has struggled with it, in the same way you and I, hopefully, daily battle our sinful tendencies. I hope he has begged God for forgiveness. 

I am not afflicted with a same sex attraction to young boys. But, I am afflicted in specific ways which warrant my condemnation- my separation from God- too. I have come to believe some of us inherit (this does not justify wrong choices) more heinous sin tendencies than others. A woman or man afflicted with great pride and arrogance, in our culture, may become a well-liked CEO. A man or woman afflicted with an obsession about their body may become a successful and attractive model, actor or actress. Doesn’t it flip our natural thinking on its head to think of Mr. Sandusky the one afflicted? 

Doesn’t is also to flip our natural thinking on its head to think of “loving” Mr. Sandusky? C.S. Lewis wrote, "loving others” is not trying to make ourselves feel love for someone, it means “wishing them the best and hoping for their cure.” We are supposed to hope for Mr. Sandusky's cure, not condemn him- God is His only judge...and our only judge.

It is in instances like this that the perspective that Christ cultivates in His followers is not of this world, and that the ways of this world, thank goodness, are not His ways.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Bleak Confines of Materialism

“…in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, one I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers in the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and in thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches.” (The Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28) 

A problem arises in the human mind when bad things happen to good people. God must have 1) had it out for Paul because Paul was bad 2) was indifferent to his hardships and suffering, or 3) Paul’s hardships and sufferings are not to be the overwhelming subject matter of this life.  

Earlier in the same letter to the Corinthians church Paul wrote, “For light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) Paul, also wrote to the Philippines (in 4:11), “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” It seems many people of all religions and philosophies have claimed they have achieved that trick of the trade, but it is a different thing for the object of a person’s faith, in the end, to outweigh life’s circumstances and grim end.

Because of the growing affection towards the object of Paul’s faith, i.e. God, he was more and more and content with less and less earthly possessions and security. This point of view cannot be explained by human standards…human standards which define blessings according to things that are visible. And, "Turning away from the worship of the living God is turning toward that which has no life in itself. Worship that which is transient, and it can only give you death." (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope)

Christians find contentment, peace and wealth in God and spiritual realities: “Blessed be the God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain and inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:3-5)

To the Christian these are the things that determine if someone is “blessed” or not: 

If a person knows God’s mercy and grace- If a person has believe Jesus is Lord and the crucified and risen Messiah- If a person’s sins will not be taken into account- If they have access to God- If a person knows Christ bore their sins- If a person has been reconciled to God and presented holy and blameless before Him- If a person celebrates the once and for all forgiveness and assurance of no condemnation in Christ- If a person belongs to Christ’s Body, the church- If a person is God’s representative and ambassador- If a person is counted by God as an heir of the promise given to Abraham by God to sum up God’s people in the Messiah- If a person is an heir to God’s promises, covenants and blessings- If a person realizes the treasures of wisdom and knowledge of God’s mystery are found in Christ- If a person can approach God with full access and full confidence knowing peace has been made by Christ- If a person is in indwelt by the promised indwelling Holy Spirit- a seal and a pledge of our inheritance- a marker of God’s people.

Someone I know who cannot walk, has no feeling in her legs and lives in an electric chair said, “I would rather have my disease and know the Lord than not have my disease and not know Him.” This defies human explanation- her attitude is the product of an other- worldly value system. She has what matters most- the unseen blessings listed above. From a visible only worldview this woman has been dealt an awful hand and is certainly not would one would consider “blessed.” On the other hand, Christians believe there is a basis for saying a person is “blessed” for deeper reasons than health, wealth, looks, nationality, popularity, power, status and visible happiness.

A person may say, “The blessed are those who give and who have great character and wisdom, not necessarily the physically rich and healthy.” Yet, a statement is contradictory if that person also denies an invisible, spiritual realm. A person cannot have not have both- “no spiritual realm” and “blessings apart from what is tangible.” 

Should we consider ourselves either “blessed” or “unfortunate” strictly according to our temporal safety, prosperity, status, comfort, satisfaction, fulfillment and health? 
According to the prevailing thought in the world Paul’s above-mentioned afflictions would confirm that he is not “blessed” by God, meaning, not looked on with favor by God, not given safety and satisfaction by God, not given prosperity and comfort from God. Paul challenged that prevailing thought.  Despite his severe and continuous adversities Paul thought he was blesses beyond measure because of His relationship with and to Israel’s Messiah and His Lord and Savior…a richness and status that surpasses those things that are temporary. The Bible is clear that the lens God has us look at everything through is a vast departure from the lens we naturally see everything through. 

Is being crucified and beheaded a bad thing? 

I would contest that these (crucified and beheaded) have been the ends of the some of the most blessed individuals on the planet, the prophets and the apostles, martyrs and believers throughout history and even today. “Blessed,” because they were knew so well the sweetness of their Savior that they offered their allegiance to Him despite their consequential earthy end. Looking strictly through human eyes does this make sense… that a person would lose everything in the world to gain their death (and ensuing life)? (Not that being crucified or martyred is a blessing in itself, but it may be an end to the “blessed.”) 

If I die in a car accident today it does not prove God does not care about me or that He is distant from me or humanity, it proves sin has wreaked havoc on every nook and cranny of creation and humanity and that sin has brought death. The cruelness of reality does not act to disprove or bring into question the truthfulness of Christianity; it acts to verify its statements. 

In the grand scheme of eternity, it will make little difference if I live 30 years or 80 years. Peering on “blessings” and “tragedies” with our natural, unchanged eyes, we are inclined to believe I would not be “blessed” if I died at 30. But, if I did or if the rest of my life is terrible, I am still “blessed” because I am loved by God. 

The Bible gives us deeper perspectives on what ought to lead us to say a person is “blessed,” or “unfortunate.” Without a transcendent perspective we focus on life as we see it and know it, which is, at times cruel, unfair and unpredictable. As we result of this worldview we confine our definitions of “blessings” and “tragedies” to the physical, temporal world, which is, according to the Bible in bondage to the corruptive effects of sin, is chaotic and is passing away- not to be lived for or solely focused on. It is through earthly eyes we are bound, and through redeemed eyes we are liberated. 

Being shackled to a materialistic worldview can only lead to disappointment, because everything in it escapes our grasp yet we long for something both permanent and satisfying. If we are bound to the physical world our greatest hope, whatever it is can only be stripped from because of its fleeting nature. 

Our worldview is pigeon-holed when we look at things from the physical-only standpoint- for instance, what do we say when think when a three year old dies of cancer and a prosperous cheat who gains millions by taking advantage of weaker people? Only Christianity can deal with and provide satisfactory answers to the injustices and atrocities in humanity and creation.  The Christian worldview is the only one that is consistent with this idea: the discouraged woman who is paralyzed and poor is just as blessed as young, joyful, good-looking, healthy millionaire. 

Looking past our vision and miniscule understanding of “blessings” and “tragedies” don’t we see that things aren’t always as they appear?

"Transience acts as a God-given signpost pointing not from the material world to a non-material world but from the world as it is to the world as it is meant one day to be- pointing in other words, from the present to the future that God has in store...without transience we might the more easily be led into idolatry, treating the creature as though it was the creator- which, goodness knows, is all too easy as it is." (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope)

How does one who believes there is not more to reality than what we see answer these questions, but with hopeless answers?

What hope do you have when it feels like you have no hope?
What hope do you have in mourning?
What hope do you have when you don't trust people?
What hope do you have when people don't trust you?
What hope do you have when someone you love hurts you?
What hope do you have when someone abuses your trust and wrongs you?
What hope do you have when your heart is broken?
What hope do you have when you are slandered?
What hope do you have when you are hated?

What is your hope when someone stabs you in the back? When you are betrayed? When you are belittled? When you are discriminated against? When many are against you?

What is your hope as you grown more unattractive? What hope do you have if someone robes you of all your possessions? What hope do you have if you have no money and no car and no couch and no house?
What hope do you have when you are abused? What hope do you have when you abuse?

When you are misused? What hope do you have when you misuse?
What hope do you have in tragedy?
What hope do you have in humanity?
What hope to you have in this world?
What hope do you have in yourself?

What hope do you have in your loneliness?
What hope do you have in death?
What hope do you have in your desperate moments?
What hope do you have in injustice?
What hope do you have in the face of hatred and appalling acts?
What hope do you have in the difficulty of life?
What hope do you have in natural disasters?
What hopes do you have in your life?

What hope do you have? Are you without hope? Are you with hope?

Friday, November 4, 2011

What Is This Life For?!?!

I was exhausted on a gloomy, windy Thursday late afternoon and still had three more 1 hour appointments to come. I found isolation in a dark quiet room next to a window and just stared out the window trying to let the rapid happenings of the day soak in a little. This day I had a couple people confide in me about their painful and seemingly unworkable life situations- they are desperate for help…so am I. I didn’t want to finish my day, so why should I? Why would I? What is the reason and what is the purpose behind why I do what I do? Is there more to me, and to you, than what can be accounted for biologically? Or, is chemistry my destiny?

In The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis, describes his answer to the question, "Why do you not believe in God?" when he was an atheist: "Look at the universe we live in. By far the greatest part of it consists of empty space, completely dark and unimaginably cold. The bodies which move in this space are so few and so small in comparison with the space itself...The creatures cause pain by being born, and live by inflicting pain, and in pain they mostly die. In the most complex of all the creatures, Man, yet another quality appears, which we call reason, whereby he is enabled to foresee his own pain which henceforth is preceded with acute mental suffering, and to foresee his own death while keenly desiring permanence..Their history is largely a record of crime, war, disease, and terror, with just sufficient happiness interposed to give them, while it lasts, an agonized apprehension of losing it, and, when it is lost, the poignant misery of remembering... All stories will come to nothing: all life will turn out in the end to have been a transitory and senseless contortion upon the idiotic face of infinite matter."

Lewis describes humanity and creation on a macro scale, but isn't that a macrocosm of what we experience on a personal level too?

I feel like a hamster on a wheel many days…buy groceries, do laundry, make lunch, do dishes, get gas, mow, rake, fix this, fix that, call them, tighten the screws, call that repairman, have my oil changed, eat, pick up the house, go to this event, sleep, get up, shave, shower, put my clothes on, drink my coffee, go to work, walk that same route, see those same people and repeat. Will my life story and your life story come to nothing? Are our lives, as Lewis puts it, more than senseless contortions on the face of idiotic and infinite matter? Don't we know we were made for more...than the mundane, yet unpredictable routines of life and the perpetual possibility of premature death?

Where does this get me? Where am I going? The “progress” to wherever I am headed (my goals, my end) is excruciatingly slow. What am I really accomplishing? Many times things don’t seem to progress with time, but regress. Don’t we all feel this way at times? Isn’t this both personal and universal? Isn't the discrepancy between what is envisioned and what can be attained great? Doesn't our reach exceed our grasp?

This particular Thursday I thought life’s circumstances are largely unpredictable and life is not always what we thought it would be- it often doesn’t turn out like we plan. When the people I spoke to today envisioned their lives 5 to 20 years ago they didn’t daydream about what they are facing today. I got the impression that their lives are ripe with disappointment and disillusionment. If we're honest, can't we relate? Aren't there toils of today that we are subject to that we wish we were not?

Perhaps we look to the future for consolation in our present toil. For instance, we may say things like this: “when that debt is paid off…when I get that car…when I look that way…when that person is out of my life...when that new person is in my life...when I have that thing (name your possession)…when I have those letters behind my name...when I gain that person's respect...when I am more popular and well-liked...when I have those clothes…when I have that job…when that party comes…when I graduate...when I go to that church…when we take that vacation…when we have kids…when our son moves out of the house…when we have kettle-cooked BBQ chips…when we move into that house (this is me big-time)…when we have that money saved…when the weekend roles around…when that game comes around…when that movie comes out…when that album comes out…when I get a good night’s sleep…when I retire…when we have that TV…when we are past this or that…when I am at that point.”  

A major thing some of us look to give us ultimate meaning and fulfillment are relationships and friendships. We soon find out being in a close relationship reveals to us how we really are; nearly incurably selfish- revealing many undesirable characteristics. (Don’t hear me wrong I love being married and I love my wife.)

Don't hopes not met (disappointments) sometimes lead us to even look and try harder, and often in the same places? I recently spoke to a man who just got out of a messy divorce and he is very angry about his life as a whole, yet he is anxious to get back on the dating scene. I think it would be safe to say, going by things he told me about himself, his ex-wife and what he is looking for in a woman that he will be disappointed once again. There is only one place we can put our hope and not be disappointment. Whoever hopes in Christ will not be, in the end, let down.

Doesn't an acute and honest awareness of the trickery of reality bring more pain and disappointment, not less? Aren’t our ideas of fulfillment impaired? Don’t we know by now our TV’s fall of our walls and break, our cars break down, our plane might crash, that money may never be saved because of some huge unforeseen expense, we might never look that way, our son may never move out of the house, the house might burn down, that catastrophic thing might happen to me, they might discontinue my favorite chips, the game only lasts 3 hours, relationships are hard work, the album might be terrible, we might have the flu on the weekend?

The standard philosophies of- stuff= purpose, sex= love, entertainment= rest, square footage= status, health and exercise= a long happy life, information= power- are trusted in, but turn out to be empty promises. There are reasons why stuff, entertainment, sex and information evoke power, security and reliance...because they appear to. Yet, their transitory nature reveals their true character to us.  

We are too willing to believe things that are not true, because we want them to be true. Are we not easily fooled? Easily conned? Easily enticed? Easily carried away? Easily deceived? Easily seduced? And over and over? Do we not believe our own false advertising? We do, and if we say we do not I think there lies the problem. I, for one, have learned to find a fairly deep consolation from buying, opening and eating kettle-cooked BBQ chips while watching my favorite game on TV. Don't hear me wrong chips and games are (great) gifts from God, but they are not God.

Even if some things work out like we planned and are a great time, aren’t we too easily satisfied? Am I really going to be completely satisfied by a car, a person, a child, money, a house, a TV, a vacation, a job, chips, an experience, a material possession? Aren’t our longings deeper than that? All those things are temporary; they can all be taken from us in a second. If my greatest hopes and consolations can vanish in the blink of an eye isn’t life is cruel and meaningless? Shouldn't that make us (re) consider what we are putting are hope in?

With all those good things to look forward to the only thing that is guaranteed is more toil. New strands of toil will emerge and much of the same ones that we have wrestled with as long as we can remember will be manifested in the same old ways and also new ways. The more they change the more they stay the same.

Looking out the window this Thursday afternoon I thought, “What if this is all there is?” “What if there is nothing more than what I can see?” “What is the meaning of this life?” What am I living for?” “What am I hoping to attain from this toil?” “What is my ultimate hope?” “What drives me?” “What makes me venture to say life is not worthless, but purposeful?”“Why am I motivated?” “What is this life for?!?!”

I cannot imagine going through life not believing what I do: that the Creator made me on purpose for a purpose, that He loves me, that He hears me, thinks about me, cares about me and wants to help me, that He knows me, that He is jealous for me, that He has a place for me, that I am His and He is mine, that my life is His to give, that it is the highest honor to live for Him, that we were created to enjoy Him and know Him, that my sins were laid on Him who was crucified and rose from the dead, that He has plans and a future for me, and that our “light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” (2 Corinthians 4:17) 

If not stirred, motivated, moved, irritated and goaded by this other-worldly engine, the Holy Spirit, I don’t know what I would do. I don’t know how I would justify my life to myself (I still struggle with that) and how I would answer all those cutting questions above with a satisfactory response. I suppose, if one has not been shown the hope that transcends (and aims to heal) this earth they would know any different. Living under the potent and peaceful influence of the everlasting Holy Spirit must be like having the finest wine compared to fleeting worldly satisfactions which are like cheap wine. Being brought into God’s imperishable Kingdom must be like staying at the finest resort compared to the cheap run-down dirty motel which is like the transitory pleasures this world provides. Sure, the earth has many great vices which can satisfy immensely, we need to stop pretending they don’t, but they don’t yield the depth, or ends, that some of us our living and dying for.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

We’ve Been Given Eyes to See...Our Plight

Our poor condition and our fatal disease are otherwise not known to us without God giving us understanding and knowledge. We know not the name and implications of our disease from observation and intimacy with it, even though we encounter the symptoms of it constantly. We do not come to accurately diagnose our disease, and subsequent desperate situation, from surveillance, study and examination. Some great thinkers have failed to pinpoint our syndrome, and then naturally fail to prescribe the correct cure. If we cannot accurately identify our disease how can we recommend the proper remedy? A doctor has no shot at correctly treating a patient if they think his heart failure is a broken arm. Our disease is sin and it's consequence is separation from God, and the remedy is Jesus of Nazareth, God incarnate, the Hebrew Messiah who was crucified, died, buried and resurrected. 

The obvious condition of broken and hurting humanity has been misdiagnosed in many ways. Apart from God’s “drawing back of the curtain” we only see the symptoms, and therefore that is all we know to treat. Everyone can gaze on the world and see its sorrow and plight and know something's not right. But, not all of know why it’s not right and know what can be done to repair it. Without the Messiah we are drowning in quandary and only coping by using temporary therapies, distractions and treatments. 

John Wesley said, “Know your disease, know your cure.” It is the knowledge of our disease and our trust in the cure that saves us from the corruption and temporariness in the world and nothing else.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Leaning on His Shoulder Wordless and Motionless

One of the times that I feel most valued, trusted, needed and loved is when my wife lays her head on my shoulder and wraps her arms around my arm. I think it also displays her realization of how much I love her. My wife could endeavor to love me by exerting herself by showering me with gifts and words, yet gifts and words don’t mean much if I don’t have her deepest trust, confidence, affections and love, which are, I perceive, put on view by her head on my shoulder.

I imagine that there is no more powerful and lively demonstration of casting our hope, affections, love and confidence in God in the equivalent of laying our head on God’s shoulder, so to speak, by resting and trustingly leaning on Him silent and still. This is guaranteed heartfelt adoration prompted only by the Spirit of God in us who exercises the tendencies of such peace and contentment. This laying our head on God’s shoulder cannot be done in pride or out of selfish ambition- because at that time we are not "doing anything for Him." The act of resting wordlessly and motionless on God depends on sincerity and true confidence.

Our love for God is evident, among other times of labor and striving, when we are silent and still esteeming Him in our hearts, thus communicating we have no reservations with Him, that we belong to Him, that we rely on Him, that we realize how much He loves us, that we believe He is good and that He alone is God. I think our heart is softened and fed in such instances, as well as motivated and comforted and soothed.

Amidst our important endeavors to live the gospel, are we clinging to Him- resting on His shoulder, so to speak, by displaying our love and trust for Him wordlessly and motionless?

*Note- the idea of leaning idle on the shoulder of an invisible Holy God who is terrible is splender, who is judge and who is an avenger might seem incongruent, but the analogy is drawn from the language of the bridegroom (Christ) and the bride (the church) and the husband (Christ) and the wife (the church), which evokes intimacy and tenderness. (Isaiah 54:5, Revelation 21:2, 9, 17, Matthew 7:11)

Monday, October 24, 2011

Running from Jesus while Walking with Him

Don’t the things that should turn us towards people turn us away from them? 

The things that turned Jesus to people ought to turn us to people. For me, many times this is not the case. I think I forget where I was God rescued me. Where did God find me? He pursued me when I was hostile towards Him, when I was seeking the self-righteousness and the approval of men over Him. I have absolutely no business being a recipient of God's love and grace and neither do you.

As I write this I can think of a few people who I am refusing to love, but one would never know it by merely watching me interact with them. When Jesus exposed the Pharisees in Matthew 23:28 He said to them, ", outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness." In verse 23 Jesus said to the Pharisees, "For you tithe mind and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but there are the things you should have done without neglecting the others." 

I have to include myself to those Jesus was addressing. I too, neglect the "weightier provisions" of justice, mercy and faithfulness, but abide by petty self-imposed guidelines. Jesus peers on the heart and mind and exposes what it in there and it crushes our spiritual egos.

My external interactions with some people I have a hard time loving are normal but inwardly, I have a hard heart towards them because: they rub me the wrong way, and because they have wronged me, because they want something from me (my time) and I am unwilling to give it to them, because I dislike their personality and disposition, because they treat their happiness, money, politics, family, cars, and their bank accounts as their gods. Thank God He doesn’t and didn’t refuse His love to me on account of my personality, disposition and sins. Who am I to withhold what I have been given?

Is the gospel more than God giving Himself in order to love and rescue sinners? And is living a life of worthy of this gospel more than giving up ourselves in order to love God and love others? It sounds so simple and easy to do, but it is so complicated and is weighty

Can we not relate to a drug dealer, a prostitute, a squanderer, a rapist, a lair, a murderer, a slanderer, a blasphemer, a self-righteous person? We can relate because we are all of those. We have the same heart issues- the only difference is that we may not have carried out our sinful thoughts to their full extent.

Was I not responsible for the murder of Jesus? Do I not take advantage of God and squander what He has given me? Do I not take advantage of the freedom I have in Christ and presume on grace? Do I not trade God in for a price? Do I not take it upon myself to greedily obtain and serve myself at the expense of disregarding God and others? Do I not give myself away (prostitute myself) to my wrong affections, and to money? Do I not seek highs and comforts from made things instead of the Maker? Do I not compromise my relationship with God for the pursuit of things? Am I not a lawbreaker? Do I not covet? Do I not envy? Am I not jealous? Do I not cuss in my mind and with my mouth when things don’t go my way? Do I not blame God and slander God in my mind when things don’t go my way? 

I do all of those, and I am in the darkness if I think I am better on my right than a murderer, a lair, a blasphemer, a squanderer, rapist or prostitute. If we can’t say and believe, “Of sinners, I am the chief,” like the apostle Paul are we in the light and truth? If, when we read Psalm 51, and it doesn’t cut us to the quick what do we believe about ourselves and about God? 

I am and you are no more deserving of God’s grace, love and forgiveness than anyone else on the planet- I am less deserving because I am all too familiar with the wayward movements in my heart and my anti-God propensities. 

If we are not frustratingly acquainted with the ever-present and inescapable fact that “my sin is ever before me,” we will lose compassion for those entrenched in observable sin. A remedy for our judgment of others is the realization that God knows all my thoughts, my mind, my heart, my intentions, and all my actions. If that is not alarming to you, you are either much more mature than me or are not being honest. 

If I realize the magnitude and “would be” consequences of my sins I will be more loving.  Our own sin nature is the thing that helps us relate to who we might perceive as people “worse than me.” Our painful frankness with God and ourselves about out falleness and need for forgiveness is the thing that helps us reach out to others and love others. Getting painfully acquainted with our shortcomings, inadequacies and sin tendencies leads us tell the “undeserving and unrighteous” about their remedy because we realize "we are them."

It is God’s love that makes us beautiful- not ourselves. So too, it is our love for others, not our judgments, that allows them to know and see God’s love for them through us. God did not assign us to judge- only He ultimately judges people. (This does not mean He did not assign us to discern right from wrong and try to help others from actions that are harmful to them.) 

Think of the people I’ve turned away from whom I feel a hard judgmental heart for- this is un-Christian- this is the Pharisaism Jesus despised. Contrarily, a broken, grateful, contrite and penitent heart pleases God.

It was God who gave Himself up to pardon us, purify us, and to make us His own when we were guilty and unclean. We too ought to give ourselves up to love others, not to pardon and purify them ourselves, but lead to the One who can.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Challenging Post-Modern Thinking

I had a conversation with a man today who found it interesting that I was in a Bible study. He was most fascinated with the how people could come together (10 of them) and discuss the Bible, which has “so many meanings, depending on how you interpret it." This is a post-modern view of biblical interpretation which pays little attention to the author's intents but pays much attention to the individual interpretation of a text. How did it ever come to be thought the intentions of an author should be subservient to the varying interpretations of partial and unstudied individuals? 

The post-modern thinker believes the meaning of the text is not what the writer meant and the most pertinent meaning is the reader's/hearer's interpretation. When the text is taken our of context if it can mean anything we want it to. Is this principle applied to other ancient writings, poetry and art? The post-modern thinker answers, "No," to the question, "Is the key meaning of the text of John 3:16 what the author actually meant?"

I suggest personal understanding and experience/seasoning, although obviously essential to understanding a text, should come secondary to studying and seeking to understand the author's intent and the following demonstrates why.

Here's one example that shows the flaws of the post-modern approach to the Bible: 

If you write a letter to two friends, one an elderly lady in China, the other a 20 year old male in California and say, "I've been wearing t-shirts for the last 3 months." Well, "t-shirts" means two different things to an elderly lady in China and a 20 year old male in California. Should the elderly women assume her interpretation is correct and should the male assume his interpretation is correct? They would rightly think, "I do know what my friend writing me means by "t-shirt" and it is not what I think it is. My friend must mean by "t-shirt" what he means by "t-shirt." If one thinks such a statement, their interpretation of "t-shirt" is subservient to the real meaning of "t-shirt" that the author intended.

So too, it is with the scriptures- to get to the meaning, instead of referring strictly to our own interpretations we have to look at the original context of the author. I wonder if it even makes sense that we think an ancient, although "living" and "applicable," text written thousands of years ago in circumstances far different than ours- should be entirely interpreted from "where we stand." We ought to "get in" the writer's mind, i.e. as close as we can get to in our minds to specific time period, exact location, unique circumstances and situations to the person and the culture. With all these considerations will be better understand what Peter wrote and what Jesus was referring to. Context is key.

To understand the scriptures we have to try to advance past our presuppositions, our bias, our time period, our culture, what we want the scriptures to say, and past our wrong thinking- post-modernists don't make an effort to advance past these things, but depend on them for their understanding. If one person's understanding is the ultimate key to the meaning of the text, then original context, historical background, location, circumstances and situations, person and culture must be disregarded. Can it be called wise to depend on such bias and limited understanding?

Dr. Craig Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary suggests five phases of Biblical interpretation: 1. Preunderstanding, which happens upon first encounter with the text 2. New understanding- which happens upon more interaction wi the text 3. Refined Understanding- which happens with detailed textual study 4. Good approximation- which comes from numerous readings and study 5. As good as it gets. He admits "we may never recover full 100% interpretation of text, but we can get close." Close enough to say that someone who interprets Paul's travels as attempts to gain power for the Roman empire are not biblically accurate. Dr. Blomberg says, "The more we advance past our presuppositions, the closer we get the original meaning." 

Here's another example that shows the flaws of the post-modern approach to the Bible:

Imagine a mother of 3 children. One of her children lives in the North Pole, one lives in Jamaica and the last in Nebraska. She says to each of them, “It has been freezing here." “Freezing” to the child in the North Pole might mean -40 degrees, it might mean 70 degrees to the child in Jamaica and it might mean 40 degrees to the child in Nebraska. Can it be possible for the differing interpretations of each child to be correct? The answers to that question is obvious…I hope. 

It happens that when the mother said it was “freezing" that she meant it was 32 degrees. Therefore, each of the three children were wrong in their interpretations. 

The actual meaning of what the mother said depended on what she meant- not on the (mis)interpretations of her children. So it is with the Bible- the meaning of the scriptures depends on what the author intended- not how the interpreter interprets it (or misinterprets it). This is not uniquely Christian, this is simple logic. 

If there is no overriding meaning a scripture and I interpret Jesus words, “Love God and love others,” as “hate God and kill others,” no one can say my interpretation is wrong. One must be forced to say, by consequence of their belief, “Well, if that is your interpretation that is your interpretation.” A post-modern thinker, if "sticking to their guns," and being consistent with their assertions cannot say (without contradicting themselves) Hitler was wrong for what he did, because he was simply enacting on his beliefs and his interpretations, which "vary" from person to person...according to the post-modern thinker. A post-modern thinker has no wiggle room to say, "our preconceived notions can be wrong." Only one who says there are moral absolutes can say "Hitler was wrong," while maintaining consistency with their stated beliefs.

The truth is, by its nature, objective- meaning, it refutes as false those views opposed to it. The truth does not take into account opinions. 

The post-modern thinker does not evade "authority," or gain "free thinking" by ignoring transcendent truths (which can contradict personal interpretations) from the scriptures, they come under a different "authority," one confining and not trustworthy, namely, their own incomplete and bias understanding.  

There are many more specific truth claims that pertain to personal morality and ethics of the post-modern thinker that are easily challenged and refuted by demonstrating the logical and final conclusions of their owns assertions- which leaves people saying, "well, I didn't mean that," and "no, that's not true." The (mis)interpretation of "Love God and love others" is an example of this. The post-modern thinker want their ideas, but not the consequences of their ideas.  

Ironically, the post modern thinker claims they are free from the bondage of "organized" religion. However, like every belief system the post modern one abides by formulated ("organized," not chaotic), doctrinal, objective propositions too. The post modern thinker affirm things are true and others are untrue (even while denying truth exists). Like a Christian, a post modern thinker depends on assertions and truth claims- they have tenets and codes of belief too. Yet a post modern thinker may claim, "no one tells them how to think- they are free from the dictatorship of organized religion." This is simply not true. This is again a case of the the post modern thinker wanting exemption from their own code of beliefs. The post modern thinker wants to insist something is true without the implications of the fact they propose. 

There is no reasonable way to approach the ancient manuscripts that I know of other than the way the Christian does. Not only is it the most logical way, but it goes far deeper too:

1. The indwelling Holy Spirit testifies to the meaning of the scriptures, and the meaning of the scriptures testify to desires of the indwelling Spirit.

2. Other believers actions affirm the truth of the scriptures and demonstrate their meaning, and meaning of the scriptures affirms believers and attest to their meaning.

3. Reality (the physical and supernatural "worlds") testifies to the truthfulness and the meanings of the scriptures and the scriptures testify to reality and the meanings of the scriptures. 

All of these are attested to the point of irrefutability for those who have been born of the Word of God (1 Peter 1:23) and no doubt this brings unity (for the most part) to the understanding of the scriptures among such believers.