Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Love

If you do not know what it means to bear with someone, supporting them and seeking to help them and help carry their burden, even when their issues or problems or weaknesses are personally costly to you and get in the way of what you want, then you do not understand what it is to love someone.

It is not enough to simply withhold your wrath and keep your mouth shut while you seethe inside in frustration, as if the other person cannot sense it!  And love is certainly not tapping your foot waiting for the other person to fix themselves to your liking else you will decide to abandon them.

To love someone doesn't mean that you never get frustrated with how their issues inconvenience or burden you.  It means that you bear with them and even offer to truly help them get to a better place or help you both (relationally) get to a better place.

To love someone also doesn't mean that you enable people by sticking with them so that they can continue in their self-destructive paths without change.  Love means that you sacrifice yourself for the good of the other person.  If you have never truly asked, "How can I really help them?" and done something about it, even when it cost you, you don't really know what love is.  Sometimes it may mean to stop enabling someone.  Many times it means to start being there for someone and stop dumping them for inconveniencing you or "robbing" you of what you want. 

Love, real love, will always cost in the long run.  Love is the opposite of the common consumer mindset toward relationships: if you give me what I want and help me feel the way about myself that I want, I will stay; if you do not give me what I want, I will get it from someone else.  People are not products or services.

Should We Care About What Others Think?

Should we care about what others think?  Most people would agree that being dependent upon the approval of others is a vice.  It belongs to people who are insecure, who are people-pleasers, and those people are not only not very happy people, they are usually not very effective in the world in relationships or in their contribution to others.

The problem is that it is easy to go to the opposite extreme in the wrong way.  Is it a virtue to not care at all about what people think?  Some people react violently against the extreme of being dependent on the favorable opinions of others by becoming hardened.  They adopt an attitude which says, "Screw you.  I don't care what you think. I'm going to do whatever I want."  But this is no virtue.  It is arrogance.  It shows bitterness, not strength.  It is veiled weakness.

Some people admire this because it appears so much stronger than being dependent.  It is the ultimate display of human self-sufficiency.  "If you won't like me, then screw all of you.  I'll live completely for myself and do whatever I want."  But this is a lonely way to live.  And others will just think you are a jerk.  Stubbornly, their disapproval will only give you more reason to cut people off and stick further in your "F U WORLD" ways.

But wait a minute.  Jesus wasn't dependent upon human approval but He wasn't a jerk.  Or, since we tend to think of Jesus as an impossible role model because He was also God, let's look at the apostle Paul.  He wasn't dependent on human approval, either.  Yet, he was also a very humble and loving man.  In his letter to the Galatians, he wrote:

"For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ."

What is the difference between Paul and the arrogant jerk?  The difference lies in the heart behind it.  For Jesus and for Paul, the attitude of independence from human approval was undergirded by a strong sense of divine purpose, a sense of a higher purpose and mission in life than themselves.  Their firm stance in their own identity was grounded in their calling.  They knew who they were and what they had to do and therefore what they wanted and didn't want.

But for the arrogant jerk, their brazen, in-your-face approach to life is often little more than a defense mechanism to either deal with deep wounds or just sieze control to get what they want and avoid wounds altogether.  It is saying, "Instead of caring any more about you, I'm only going to care about me and my little wants.  That is how I can protect myself."  While Jesus and Paul could face adversity and opposition with poise and still get into the trenches with other people, this person's approach is to detach emotionally, turn to themselves, and cut people off at the first sign of adveristy.  Surely, Jesus and Paul also closed off personal access from people who were destructive, something the wounded person does as well, but their external prowess came from internal poise, not pain.  In other words, most people who exhibit this kind of narcissism do so out of deep insecurity.  It only appears externally as strength.

Monday, June 27, 2011

The Revelation of God

When I first believed in Jesus, something amazing happened.  I wasn't aware of it outwardly at the time, but my whole view of God changed in an instant.  Before then, I had some vague, nebulous notions of God.  God was a "force" that created everything and held the universe together.  God was an "it."  God, if He was a judge at all, was really not all that concerned with what goes on in our lives.  He was more concerned with effort -how well we tried to live a good life.  He was more of a teacher who graded our tests, but He was one of those new-agey teachers who don't care so much about grades but more about if we generally try to be good and that we think we are pretty good, too  Things like pornography or living completely for myself really didn't matter to Him.  What mattered was that I generally didn't lie and I had a few other positives on my resume that distinguished me from the majority of people my age.  So, if He was going to grade the class on a curve, I was sure I would pass at least.

The point is that this was all vague, a hazy conglomeration of my own ideas about what I thought God could, would, or should be like.  That all changed when I heard about Jesus and why He really came to die on a cross and rise from the dead.  Suddenly, I saw God.  I knew who God was.  In a real sense, He saw me and I saw Him back.

What did I see, and what do I continue to see when I look at Jesus on the cross and rising from the dead?  I see a God completely different from any other conception of the divine out there.  He is not a God who is part of His creation, and therefore subject to it, like when people worship cows and birds and lizards.  But He is also, more importantly, not a God who sits on a lofty throne, high and distant up in some far removed place called heaven.  He is not a God who sits back, waiting to see if His creatures will do the right things to climb up the ladder, either through their moral goodness or their laborious attempts to figure Him out and crack His heavenly code, and finally reach Him.

He is also not a God who is some kind of impersonal force.  He is not an "it," even if a big-I "It."  He is not a pulsating power-source somewhere outside of space and time, generating positive energy to feed the universe and feed now completely abstracted concepts such as "love."

No, when I look at Jesus Christ, I see God revealed.  Jesus Christ is God's revelation of Himself to the world.  If you miss Jesus, the real Jesus, you miss God completely.  That is what Jesus said in various ways:

"I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father but by me." (John 14:6)
"If you knew Me, you would know my Father also" (John 8:19b)
"No one has ever seen God; the only God [Jesus], who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known." (John 1:18)

But it is not enough to stop here.  We must look at what exactly this means.  First, God is a God who comes down to earth.  The way that God has chosen to reveal Himself in the most fullness is not through some kind of heavenly vision or some kind of strict, ascending moral code and principles.  It is through a man, a God-man, born into this world, born of a woman, born in obscurity, born in humility, and then who lived, spoke to the world, died as a criminal for our sins, and rose from the dead.  He will not have us trying to transcend our humanity by trying to pierce the heavens either with our will or our wit.  He comes down to the dirt.  He walks in our shoes.  And He subjects Himself to death, which all of us will experience in some form.  He is a God who doesn't want us to keep putting our heads in the religious clouds.  He wants us to come back down to earth to see Him.  He wants us to see Him and see His heart.  He comes down to our level and deals with our problem in an utterly earthly way, yet while accomplishing what a mere human could not.  He dies for our sins at the hands of earthly men on an earthly cross in an earthly town on a certain day, hour, minute, and second in time.
Second, Jesus reveals to us that God is not impersonal at all.  Jesus ate food and spoke and lived with real people.  He touched and healed and had compassion on real people with personal stories of their own.  He wept and laughed with them.  He came down and met us where we were.  And He died for us -for the curse of human sin affects all of us corporately and individually.  "All have fallen short of the glory of God," it says in Romans 3:20.

These things are most exemplified to us, today, in the Lord's Supper.  Some call it "communion," others the "eucharist" or "the Lord's Table."  In those simple elements of bread and wine, we have a repeated demonstration of God's revelation to us in simple, earthen, down-to-earth ways.  For what could be simpler than a piece of bread and a small cup of wine or juice?  Yet we still feel the need to hyper-spiritualize it.  We turn it into something it is not -either a purely symbolic remembrance of something else or some kind of special religious magic where the eucharist magically transforms into Jesus' body.  When we do that, we obscure the reality of things.  In the elements, God comes to us as He did in Jesus.  Sure, it is a remembrance of what Jesus did.  No doubt about it.  But the promise of the Gospel is there in those elements.  God is there with us in those elements, not in some type of weird possession-type way, but His presence is there with His promise.  It is as though, in those elements with the spoken Word of the Gospel, He is saying to us, "Here... here I am for you.  Take and eat.  Take and eat and drink these simple things and, in so doing, come back down to earth where I came to meet you, in the body and blood of Jesus, broken and spilled for you.  Here, have Me.  Here I am for you."  God comes down to earth and becomes personal.

It is staggeringly simple.  When we are tempted to forget or obscure or conflate or over-embellish the Gospel, we must only remember the Lord's Supper (that is.. if we haven't screwed that up, too).  In those elements and in that promise, God comes down to earth to us, for us, with promises of forgiveness and deliverance.  He "inhabits" the earthly, just as He did in the incarnation, coming right to us.  We need look no further to know God or what He wants to do with us.  We need not try to lift up the covers to peek into the hidden places of the heavens.  God comes right to us in the tangible, earthen, and personal.  And when we see it, what shall we do?  Hopefully, we shall eat and drink -we shall come as mere men and women and take and enjoy and live and come out of the clouds of religious fraud and pseudo-piety.

But of course, the rebel in us says, "No, I don't want that.  It seems just plain silly.  Besides, the more I understand it the more I see it might mean giving up my throne over my own life.  What a foolish idea that would be.  Why would I want that?"  But the religious fraud in us says, "No, I don't want that.  It would mean that all my attempts to climb my ladder to heaven would be meaningless.  My pride in my own efforts can't handle a God who comes to me so completely and so fully in such a meager way.  Surely, I must do something and insert myself somewhere into the equation, and I must find a way to lift this kind of 'God' back up to heaven to fit with my system."  But isn't that what God says of us?  It is written that to the non-religious this seems to be "foolishness" and to the religious a "stumbling block."  But to those called it means life. (1 Corinthians 1:23)

It is writtein in 2 Corinthians 4:6, "For God, who said, 'Let light shine out of darkness,' has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."  For a long time I've had a very lofty image of what this means.  I pictured a gloriously glowing Jesus with a shining face, high and lifted up.  Certainly, we have glimpses of Jesus in Revelation that are powerful and even frightening.  But I think this misses the point.  The scandal of the Gospel is that God showed His glory in non-glorious, non-heavenly, but rather humble and earthen ways.  To me, what Paul means here has much less to do with some heavenly, glorious image and much more to do with this.  To see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ means to be struck by the Gospel and see God as the God who reveals Himself to us in Jesus, who comes down to earth to us in humble and meager form, and who comes to us personally.  As we see this, as we really see it, we begin to come back down to earth, too.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

The old Adam and the new Adam

The "old Adam" is the religious fraud.  He is more about what he can do.  He is constantly looking for places where he can insert himself into the equation and climb up the rungs, either of carnal pleasure or of religious piety.  He wants to talk about his "decision".  He wants to peer into the mysteries of heaven with his charismatic craziness or overzealous doctrinal precision.  Looking back into the fall of man in Genesis 3, we see that the old Adam is the man who disbelieves.  He is not content to be a mere human who lives in dependency on God, with limitations and the presence of mystery and less-than-total-control of his life and world.  He wants to transcend, to rise up into the clouds.

The "new Adam" is the man of faith.  He comes back down to earth out of the clouds.  He is content to have God be God, who holds his life and all the answers and all the mystery in His capable and good hands, choosing as He wills to reveal what He wills when He wills.  He is content to look at creation with appreciation and love, taking upon himself what God would have him do as a steward of it.

The Gospel is meant to put to death the old Adam and raise up the new.  It is not meant to help us get to the top of the ladder in an easier way, by making a decision for Jesus who did it all.  It is not meant to give us our "best life now."  It is meant to kill the self-governed, self-seeking, glory mongering, take-control-of-my-life religious fraud in all of us, and to raise up the man of faith... the man who is content to see how God has revealed Himself as a baby, born of a virgin, grown into a man, who lived, loved, and then died for our sins, and rose again as the first-fruits of this new creation of a kingdom of faith.

How much of today's "Christianity" supports the old Adam by catering to his view of life as a "ladder?"  What things would you try to change, say in your local church, with the hope of helping bring things back to a clearer grasp of the Gospel and the Gospel-led life?  Where would you start?  I know it sounds all pious to say, "With myself."  That is a given.  But while you work on "getting there," which will never fully happen, the church continues in it's present direction unchanged.  That may be fine.  It may not be.  But that kind of pious answer can just be a great Christian-sounding excuse to not get involved.  So really, getting practical... what would you do and where would you start?

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Death and Resurrection

The typical view of the Christian life is this:  now that we are saved, we need to hear some really practical instruction to move higher and higher and improve in our Christian walk.  The Gospel is really for the unsaved.  Now that we know Jesus and are going to heaven, now it's all about learning how to do things right and do what pleases Him.

There is certainly some truth to this, but I believe it is woefully incomplete.  I think we see this view of the Christian life depicted most in our Sunday morning services.  You show up, you sing a bunch of happy and uplifting songs about Jesus, some of them quite good, and then you get a sermon that tells you what it takes to be a better father or husband or wife or mother or worker or kid or whatever.

The big problem is this.  When we show up on Sunday morning, the old Adam shows up with us.  The old Adam loves to be given life tips to climb the ladder to better and better.  If you go back to Genesis, that is what rebellious man loves to do -find better ways to climb higher and higher and reach the next level.  He doesn't like bad news.  He wants to be happy-fied.  He doesn't want to be told what he can't do.  He wants to be given all positives.  He is a bigger fan of motivational messages than the Gospel.

In fact, he hates the message of the cross.  Why?  Because it kills him.  The truth is that we don't need a little help to get better in our lives.  We need to die.  We need to be crucified and recreated, risen from the dead in newness of life.  Yes, that happened when we first believed.  But it needs to happen all the time even as Christians.  When we show up on Sunday morning, we need the old Adam to die again -maybe not like when we first believed, but he is relentless in trying to claw his way out of the grave.  He needs to die.  No amount of legal instruction will do him any good.  It will only feed his delusional belief that he can employ some principles and master his own life a little bit more.

He needs to hear about the cross.  He needs to be told that there is no ladder to heaven, no ladder to self-improvement.  It is a closed circle around us that proclaims our death -even the death that Jesus died for us.  That kills him.  When he sees that the Son of God died because of what and how he is, he dies.  When he sees that the ultimate end of his efforts it a curse and death, he dies.  But then something happens.  Something new is quickened -a new man, a new creation.  We hear about Jesus rising from the grave, creating a totally new system, a new creation and existence -a totally new way .  Suddenly, the new man in us speaks up.  He speaks a different language, a language of hope and love and gratitude.  He is eager to make our life a song of love to Him who died for us and brought about a new life for us.

How would this change the liturgy of the Sunday morning service?  I'm not sure, honestly.  I just know that when I show up, my old Adam needs to die.

I believe that we need to hear the Gospel all the time.  I believe we need it because it alone is powerful enough to produce both death and new life in us.  It will not do to just simply add a Gospel invitation at the end of the service, though that is good.  If that is all we do, we miss that this is more than Jesus our help-mate.  This is about life and death.  Or more accurately, it is about death and life.

Suffering and the God of Mystery

When we suffer, I don't think the real issue of pointing to the cross is to say, "Hey, look.  You have Jesus.  It isn't really that bad."  I don't think the idea is to minimize our suffering.  Some people try to comfort us by minimizing our suffering simply because they don't know what else to do.  In some sense, though, I guess it is true that if you have Jesus you have everything, and everything pales in comparison to that.  Paul talks about how these "slight and momentary afflictions" are nothing compared to the glory awaiting us.  Very true.  But I think the cross has more to say.

I think a big point in looking to the cross is this:  in the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus we have God truly revealing His face through the darkness and mystery of heaven.  Everything else in this world is mysterious and hidden.  Why did you allow this, God?  Why aren't You doing anything, God?  Does God not care?  We don't really know.  We can speculate, and lots of people like to blather about what God might be doing or they try to encourage by telling us that there is some good purpose for it (and the Bible says that).  But at the end of the day, the question still haunts us..... "WHY?!"

God doesn't say, specifically, and we may never find out in this life.  It is as though all of that mystery in the world is left there on purpose by God so that we will be forced to stop trying to use our bag of tricks to peer into heaven and figure it all out.  I think all of that mystery in the world remains mystery so that we will give up on speculating and look to the One thing that God has revealed in true, tangible form.  God didn't open up a window in the sky.  God didn't give us secret answers to make sense of the chaos in our lives.  Instead, He came down.  He put on flesh and blood and walked among us.  He lived.  He was betrayed.  He died as a criminal, taking our curse for us.  He rose from the grave.

When perplexed by the pain of life, look at the cross.  Be able to say, "I don't know why this is happening.  I don't know what God is up to.  But I know what God did, and I now know who God is."  Jesus reveals God.  In our suffering, we want answers, but that is a dead end.  Let the futility of our search send us back to where God has revealed Himself.

Defenses

In psychology, the term "defense" or "defense mechanism" refers to the various forms of character armor that people put on to deal with painful or distressing emotions.  Not all defense mechanisms or degrees of defense mechanisms are bad, but psychologists recognize that they can and often do become "pathological," meaning that they overtake a person's life and significantly inhibit their function, relationships, and potential.

Some defense mechanisms include: repression, emotional withdrawal, lashing out, projection, the nervous "nice guy," people-pleasing, etc.  Take the example of a man who, as a boy, was constantly criticized and rejected by his parents for not being "good enough."  He grew up into adulthood as compliant, people-pleasing, and self-loathing.  Is that the real him?  No.  Those are his defenses, constructed to avoid dealing with his rage and pain and keep people (and himself) out, as he the real self off to an inner prison.  And look at how well they do him?  They do him in, that's it.
It is understandable why a person would defer to defense mechanisms almost as a knee-jerk reaction to severe trauma.  It hurts!  In a world full of sin, where everyone wants to be their own god to some degree and have their cake and eat it, too, we are going to betray one another.  And even where there is no betrayal there is still death, which comes to all of us.  But the more I see these defense mechanisms at work in my life, the more I am sure of a few things.

First, I am sure that I have a lot of things to work through inside -a lot of grieving and a lot of facing some very painful things.  If the size of the wall I have constructed is an indication of the magnitude of what I have avoided and buried, then it is massive -and I know it is.

Second, I am sure that defense mechanisms show us the human need to cope with life on our own.  Many defense mechanisms are a way to control something or prevent something or avoid something.  Defense mechanisms are easily learned, too.  Some of us grow up in families where nobody connects on a one-to-one feeling level, because feelings are considered taboo.  And we wonder why we grow up neurotic?

Third, I am sure that these walls we construct to protect us invariably become our coffin.  This, to me, is a very Biblical idea.  We were not meant to cope with life apart from God.  We were not meant to try to seize control of life.  We were made to trust God with mystery and live from moment to moment in His care.  We were made to involve Him in our pain, especially in our pain.  Easier said than done, but the mystery of "Does God care?" is answered in the cross.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Christians Have a Culture, Too

There is a Biblical mandate for God's people to be distinct from those who do not know God.  There always has been.  It was that way with Israel, and it is to be that way with Christians (though I would argue in different ways).

Today, this very Biblical concept can, I believe, sometimes become misguided amongst Christians.  There are two things that often happen.  First, we become ethnocentric and elitist.  As a result of that, we start to care only about our tribe.  We don't often care too much about the broader culture or cities and towns we live in -we only care to the degree that the environment impairs or obstructs our Christian ideals and wishes.  We may be involved in lots of charity work and give to the poor and what-not, but at the end of the day that is what it is: a good deed we are supposed to do.  We don't really see them as equals.  Second, we make up lots of rules and implicitly act as though they are what God wants, even if we would never outwardly admit that.  For example, "No real Christian would watch R-rated movies."  Or how about, "Serious Christians don't have television."  Still better, "You listen to secular music?  Eww... I can't believe you don't have a Chris Tomlin shrine like I do!"

The main reason this happens, I think, is because we don't see that we have a culture, too.  There is a layer of abstraction in the middle that becomes invisible to us -our own culture.  We often see ourselves so much in terms of distinction from the broader culture that we are blind to the reality of our own culture.  What's the point?  The point is that culture is a layer of abstraction that we must be aware of in order to think and live justly and lovingly in this world.  Otherwise, we fall prey to the two errors above.  Christian liberty is lost.  And the unbelieving culture around us, honestly, usually just sees a bunch of up-tight, 'got-it-all-together' religious people that they would never go to with their problems and hurts.  We can say, "Oh no... I don't have it all together.  I'm a sinner."  But when they see our attitude, they aren't convinced.  Couldn't it just be the smell of Christ?  It could be, but it could be the smell of filthy rags, too.

Tim Keller, in his book Generous Justice, illustrates what I mean by being "blind to our own culture" with the following:

"When I went to seminary to prepare for the ministry, I met an African-American student, Elward Ellis, who befriended both my future wife, Kathy Kristy, and me.  He gave us gracious but bare-knuckled mentoring about the realities of injustice in American culture: 'You're a racist, you know,' he once said at our kitchen table.  'Oh, you don't mean to be, and you don't want to be, but you are.  You can't really help it.' He said, for example, 'When black people do things in a certain way, you say, "Well, that's your culture." But when white people do things in a certain way, you say, "That's just the right way to do things."  You don't realize that you really have a culture.  You are blind to how many of your beliefs and practices are cultural.'  We began to see how, in so many ways, we made our cultural biases into moral principles and then judged people of other races as being inferior."
In a similar way, I think Christians can fall into this quite easily.  We fall into the trap of becoming blind to our own culture.  We think: it is just the right way, or at least the better way.  Obviously, not everything is cultural -there is still objective right and wrong, but I think, more than we are aware of, much is from our own cultural bias.  Homeschool moms in denim overalls.  Homeschooling.  Anti-television.  The strong tie between Christian belief and certain political party affiliation.  Certain ways of dressing.  Music choice -don't even get me started there.  Honestly, I don't like Christian music.  It isn't because it is Christian.  But sometimes it is because it is too Christian -like it is out of touch with real life, something you might find on a nice card with a Thomas Kincaid picture on it.  But really, I just don't like the way most of the bands I have heard sound, and I think it is overcommercialized.  What can I say?  I'm a punk rocker at heart.  That is my bias.

The point is that if we can no longer distinguish between our biases and the objective morality, with our actions and attitudes, not our words, then we will become, effectively, "racists."  Or maybe, since it doesn't have to do with race, we will be culturalists?  Is that even a word?  I don't know.  You get the idea, I hope.  Maybe jerks is a good one, depending on the situation.

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Crucified with Christ, Part 2

The book I've been reading by Gerhard Forde, describing the essence of Luther's theology, has been really helpful to me.  It has given me new appreciation for the Gospel and, especially, for the resurrection.

I have often wondered what the point of the resurrection is.  I mean, if we look at the cross in terms of "ladder theology," that the whole point is that we have to climb a ladder to God, but since we can't then Jesus swoops in and helps us out by paying God off, I don't see much need for a resurrection.  I have struggled with that, so when Forde pointed it out I was already with him in my mind.  The typical answer given is that the resurrection "validates His sacrifice, proving that it was sufficient payment for God."  Well, ok I guess.  I'm not sure it actually says that explicitly in the Bible anywhere, though.  It sounds sorta like man trying to put some meaning in to make sense of things under an existing framework, which Luther pointed out as flawed.

The issue isn't that Bible doesn't describe Christ's death as a ransom or as a satisfaction in some sense (propitiation) -it is those things.  To acknowledge the liberals, it also gives us the impression that the cross gives us a demonstration and example of love.  The facts about the cross aren't so much in dispute here.  It is the overall framework of understanding that needs to be reexamined.  Forde points out that the cross and resurrection are their own system, their own framework.  It is something completely new, not a way to keep the old system, the ladder to heaven, going.

In the cross, there is something new.  It is not us going up to God.  It is God coming down.  The law now is not a ladder, it is a circle that circumscribes us, imprisoning us.  It does not say, "Climb higher."  It says, "There is no way out."  It haunts us, pointing its bony finger at the imminense and meaninglessness of our death.  It shows that we, all born under Law, are born under a curse, under futility, only ending with futility -snuffed out like a candle.  And when we look at Jesus on the cross, that is what we see.  We see the God-man who came down to us, who was born under Law, who lived under the Law, experiencing "no way out."  That is what the ultimate end of living under the Law brings -obscurity, darkness, condemnation, and death.  He hung on the cross like a criminal -his death was a death... horrible, painful, ending in darkness and futility.

This news brings about a death.  It doesn't say, "Hey... it's ok.  You can't climb the ladder on your own, but you can still get there because of Jesus."  It says, "There is no way out.  Even Jesus did not escape.  To live in this system just means one thing: death.  There is no ladder, just a grave."  And this is exactly what our "old Adam" needs to hear.  There is no way out for you.  It is not about hearing things about the cross which you can decide if you want to believe or not, so that you can use the cross to get to where you just found out you can't get to by yourself.  We cannot remain spectators, deciding what we want to believe about the cross.  It calls the old Adam through the cross. 

And that is what it means to be crucified with Christ.  The "old Adam" is put to death as the cross shouts that there is no way out, only death.  It doesn't say, "try harder."  It says, "you're dead -leave the body here in the grave."  That is what I experienced twelve years ago.  When I saw why Jesus died, my "goodness" was silenced.  The part of me that sought to climb the ladder, like I had been doing my whole life, was put to death.  It killed it.  It killed me.  The cross, in a real sense, isn't a message of hope.  It is a message of death.

But that is why the Gospel does not stop there.  That is why the New Testament talks so much about the resurrection, and it does not talk about it as a mere token of God's validation of the cross.  The resurrection is the birth of something completely new, with Jesus as the first fruits.  It is the entrance of a new creation.  That is good news.  The old has passed away and the new has come -a truth with not only life-changing but world-changing, eschatological significance.

That is why Jesus is the way (John 14:6).  It is not facts about Jesus that are the way.  He is the way.  When the Gospel is preached and spiritually grasped in this way, someone dies, but something new is born.  Of course, the old Adam is a big fan of trying to claw his way back out of the grave, trying to put himself back into the equation and re-initiate the ladder system (for one, with our view of the Christian life!), but his reign is over and his grave is made.  Crucified, dead, and buried.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Where God Meets Man

I'm reading a book by Gerhard Forde called Where God Meets Man. I love it.  It is a little heady, but it deals with Martin Luther's theology on a conceptual level and has talked about things like Law and Gospel and the "hidden God" versus "revealed God" ideas in his thinking. I really appreciate Luther's thought and find it a helpful attitude toward such difficult concepts.

The hidden God and the revealed God

"What this adds up to is that a God who comes down to earth requires us to think differently than does a God who remains in splendid isolation up in heaven. That is why Luther saw that one must make a distinction between God 'hidden' and God 'revealed.' Generally speaking, apart from his concrete action in Christ, God in Luther's view, is 'hidden.' In that way Luther sought to give theological epression to the fact that general concepts and ideas such as almightiness, immutability, and even predestination do not in the first instance reveal God to us so much as they hide him from us. They do not at first comfort or console us so much as they frighten us or even repel us. They set us to wondering and perhaps fearing what such a God might have in store for us. But the point in saying that God is hidden is to lead us to recognize that this is exactly the way God intends it to be. He does not want to be known as he is 'in heaven,' in his mere 'almightiness' or even merely as 'the God of predestination.' He wants to be known as the God in the manger or at his mother's breasts, the God who suffered and died and rose again. His almightiness, his unchangeability, the threat of predestionation -all these things are 'masks' which God wears, so to speak, to drive us to look elsewhere, to look away from heaven and down to earth, to the manger and the cross, to preaching and the sacraments. For the point is that God simply does not want to be known and will not be known on any other level. He hides himself behind a mask which is intended to drive man away in fear to a place where he, as revealed God, wants to be known."

The omnipotent, sovereign God and the problem of evil

"When one is really met by tragedy and sorrow it is small comfort to be confronted with a theoretical discourse on whether or not God is completely in control of things. The real question is whether we have any warrant to affirm life and to believe in the face of evil and tragedy that the good God is in fact in ultimate control, whether we can confess our trust in 'the Father Almight.' The question is really whether anything that happens here is strong enough to enable us to look evil in the face and still say, 'I believe.'... Luther's conviction was that such a thing happened in the cross and resurrection of Christ. There something was accomplished: the will of God was revealed in such a way as to enable us to say, "I believe in God the Father Almighty," which means, "I trust God with the government of the world." Of course this is not a solution to the problem of evil in the sense that it explains where it came from or how it started or how exactly it is related to God's omnipotence. Luther has no better answers to those questions than anyone else: the problem of evil rmains for him a deep mystery. But by making the distinction between God hidden and revealed he points out better how it might actually be handled. Apart from his revelation in Christ, God is hidden. We have, ultimately, no means for penetrating that hiddenness."


Just like how the intended purpose of the law is to do drive us to the Gospel, Luther posits that even the mysterious and hidden things about God, which confront us, terrify us, perplex us, repel us, and often prompt us to use "natural reason" to come up with ways to explain them away, are intended by God to point us to the light He has revealed, in Jesus coming down to earth as a man and living, dying, and rising from the grave for us. There is a proper use for the law, and there is a proper use for the hidden things about God, as well.  Amazing stuff.

Finding the Heart of the Matter

I had the pleasure of talking to some Jehovah's Witness ladies at my door the other day.  No, really.  They were very nice, and nobody threw anything at anyone.  I had to stop the conversation short because a) I saw it was going nowhere, b) I had to get back to work, and c) I guess I have lost a little hope that my conversations will do anything.  There is nothing much I can do about "a" and "b", but "c" is something I need to address with God.  The truth is powerful, and the Spirit can blow wherever He wishes, so my faithlessness isn't good.

Anyway... to the point!  Ok, so if you haven't seen the movie Finding Nemo, you need to disengage your fingertips and rear-end from the keyboard and chair (respectively) and go watch it before reading the rest of this post.  The "supporting actor" for Nemo's dad, Marlin, was a blue fish named Dory.  She had some mental issues, like extreme short-term memory -she couldnt' remember things past a few moments, usually, but her attitude was alwast optimistic and positive, unlike the dour Marlin with his pessimistic, wounded outlook on life. 

Dory had this saying, "Just keep swimming."  It annoyed Marlin to no end.  In the film, her refrain was a positive thing.  But whenever I try to show Jehovah's Witnesses true things that conflict with their beliefs, from their own Bible, I get the same "just keep swimming" attitude.  It is far less cute than Dory's attitude, because in this case it is more along the lines of, "Ignore what he said and throw a challenge back at him."  It gets absolutely nowhere.  I can show them how the Greek in Matthew 28:19 works all day long, how the one "name" belogs to all three, Father, Son, and Spirit, qually.  They will just bypass it.  They will "just keep swimming," as if I said nothing at all.

I could take a stronger approach and say, "Hey, I asked you a question.  Why are you avoiding my question?"  They would probably say, "Well, we know it can't mean that because of these other things."  Then I could say, "Well, the language is pretty clear, so could it simply be that it does mean that but your beliefs are not big enough to contain all that Scripture says without trying to fit it into your neat little box?"  That might get me somewhere with helping them see things from the outside, but only if it gets me to the following point.

The real issue is not their understanding of the Greek in Matthew 28:19.  The heart of the matter is their faith-precommitment to their organization, the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society.  That is what needs to be exposed.  They can say their faith is ultimately in whatever they want, but at the end of the day, the believe what they believe because the Watchtower tells them.  And they believe in the Watchtower because they believe in the Watchtower.  Their own arguments for their own beliefs will always be more persuasive, no matter how weak and no matter how monumental and academically powerful the counter-arguments are, because of their implicit faith in the validity and unprovable God-ordained authority of the Watchtower Society.

This is not to say that I don't have a worldview that is held to by faith.  All of us do -even atheists.  The point is that we will not get anywhere with anyone, such as a Jehovah's Witness, unless that is exposed and addressed.  But of course this begs the question... how is that done?  Can I do it?  This is obviously where the eloquence of the speaker means nothing, which is what I was basically saying before.  The Spirit of God must do this.  He must pierce our blindness.  But I can be an instrument.  To do so, I must rethink my approach to talking to people, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, and deal with the heart of the matter with them.  And to do so, I must also re-adjust my attitude a bit, from one of trying to win an argument to one of hoping they will see and be freed from their cult.  Ministry of pride versus ministry of mercy.

Friday, June 03, 2011

The "New" Bigotry

Someone on facebook just shared a recent news article about a gay softball association who, according to a judge, is allowed to limit the number of straight players on their team.

The link is found here: http://msn.foxsports.com/mlb/story/Gay-team-can-limit-straight-players-060211

Boy, can you imagine what it would be like if the tables were turned?  I understand that gay people can be treated unfairly.  But what if there was a "straight" league?  And what if that league was given legal persmission to limit the number of gay players on the team?  There would be rioting in the streets!  There would be broken glass and stomping high-heels and pumps everywhere!  (If that offends you, and you can't see the humor in that, then you probably don't want to continue reading)

See, this is the culture-shift that has been happening over the past decades.  If you were once a marginalized group, suddenly you have super-rights and people who disagree with you are considered "old fashioned" at best, but "bigots" more than likely.  If you are one of those in a group that was formerly marginalized (or even still marginalized to some degree), it isn't enough for you to say that people disagree with you -now there is something wrong with people who disagree with you, and they deserve to be pointed out and ostracized for not bending over (no pun intended).

Consequently, there is immense pressure on "conservative" people who were once "mainstream" to soften their convictions.  Instead of saying, "That is wrong," it is more politically correct for us to say, "I personally disagree with that, but it is ok if you do it."  Why the double standard?  That is a good question, but apparently the old mainstream owes everyone something for all of that oppression by people who are either now dead or too old to move.  I'm not saying there aren't racists and gay-haters still out there.  Of course there are, and they are wrong -and notice that I can say they are WRONG without anybody flipping out.  What I'm saying is that if you disagree with a pro-gay agenda, for example, you are labeled a gay-hater as a way to silence you, condemn you, get people against you, and pressure you to conform. 

This is the "new" bigotry.  It is dressed up all pretty, with smiles and colorful rainbows, in the name of "tolerance," but underneath it is the same human problem as the old bigotry.  But now these people have an axe to grind, and we had better shut up or get out of the way, or there is going to be hell to pay.

I recently watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy where the two lesbian characters were supposed to get married, but one of the characters had no support from the parents.  The father was iffy, and the mother was way out there.  The way the mother was portrayed was laughable.  There are no doubt people out there like that, but she was portrayed as a fundamentalist Christian bigot, a hostile, hateful, condeming, "you are going to hell" freak, as if that is what all people are like who are "religious" and disagree with gay marriage.  It was a not-so-subtle jab in the ribs toward the religious-right.

Imagine if there was a show that went the opposite way?  Can you imagine a not-so-subtle jab toward the liberal left, pointing out how intolerant and bigoted it can be to demonize people who disagree with gay marriage?  First of all, people would be calling the network asking for the show to be pulled and for a public apology.  Second of all, few people would really get it.  So, what would be the point?  To me, there was nothing incredibly ballsy about Grey's Anatomy doing that.  The tide of the culture, as a whole, is already in that direction. 

It is like an angsty teenage boy deciding that he wants to grow his hair long, wear all black, and listen to loud music.  Gee -way to be "different" among the legions of other teenage boys doing the exact same thing!  But like teenage boys, the point for them is not to be unique from others like them.  It is to be unique from the "old way" of seeing things.  If one boy stands out and rebels against the rebellion, saying, "No, I want to be just like my parents," he isn't praised for being unique.  He is ridiculed as a "dork."  It was never about uniqueness, only rebellion.  It is the same here. 

But this kind of thing isn't just with issues like gay-rights and gay-marriage.  I've found this same attitude prevalent especially with interaction about religious beliefs.  I remember posting some comments on a friend's facebook status message that were "Christian" in nature (my friend is a Christian, as well).  Another person, apparently not a Christian, didn't like what I and others had to say, and let us know.  When I replied, the person didn't reply to me -they addressed him but about me, dismissing me and calling me "closed-minded."  The common spirit of the age says this: "If you are a Christian, the proper response is to say, 'Well I disagree with you, but everyone is entitled to their own beliefs.'"  Meanwhile, there is nothing wrong with a non-Christian saying we are "closed-minded" for having certain convictions they disagree with.  Have you noticed how such an attitude immediately condemns the other person and ends the possibility for honest discussion?

So, if you are a white, heterosexual, Bible-believing Christian with certain convictions and moral values, you had better stock up on Chapstick, because the line of asses to kiss is getting longer and longer.  Heck, if you believe in heterosexual-only marriage and believe in staying committed to one person for a lifetime, you had better do the same.  You fuddy-duddy.

Have you ever noticed how that works?  It is common for people to say, "You shouldn't push your beliefs on people.  All beliefs are valid and all people should be able to believe whatever they want.  It is wrong and arrogant to claim that your beliefs are right."  There is a big problem.  That statment is a belief.  And it is a belief that the individual not only claims is right (while condemning others for doing the same thing) but is expecting others to accept.  If you don't accept it and play along?  You are "intolerant" -a very nasty insult, these days.  Hmm...  Sounds like yet another double-standard.  Oh yeah, cuz it is!  Cool.  I'm glad that is cleared up.

Am I trying to turn the tables, now, and get the same kind of special treatment and sympathy as others?  No.  That is the point.  I don't need special treatment, nor do I want it.  In fact, I might find it insulting because it would be implicitly saying that I'm too infantile to be treated as an equal.  But I guess some people like being catered to like babies.  I can handle it if someone thinks I'm wrong about my beliefs, and if I can't -if I feel the need to whine and cry about it, then that is my problem, isn't it?