Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Interesting Twist

The other day I commented about a situation in which a lesbian server at a restaraunt claimed she was not tipped because she is gay, even posting to Facebook a copy of the receipt with a message scrawled on it about not approving of her "lifestyle".  She opened up a paypal account and collected a few thousand dollars in donations all over the world.  My comments can be found here.

Well, here is an interesting development that you have to check out. The family recognized their receipt on the news and spoke up, claiming that they did tip her and never wrote those things on the receipt.  Their proof?  They have a customer copy of the receipt, with the same date/time-stamp, showing an $18 tip, and they supplied a copy of their credit card statement which shows a charge in the total amount shown on their customer copy, not the copy Morales, the gay server, posted to Facebook.  Who is telling the truth?  Hmm....

Here's the video.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Christ's Death and Resurrection

For many years as a Christian, I was not entirely sure what the significance of the resurrection was.  I knew Jesus died on the cross for my sins, but what exactly was the deal with the resurrection?  Somehow it was linked to hope, but I did not know how.  Though it was not a focus of study for me, I found the answers I got from looking around and asking other Christians to be generally the same and generally lacking.

The most common answers I got ranged from Jesus rising from the dead to "beat death" to the resurrection being a sort of proof that Jesus' bloody "payment" was accepted by God: "the check has been cleared", so to speak.  There are elements of truth to these answers, for there there are many facets to be found, but it was not until I read the work of the late Lutheran theologian Gerhard Forde that I began to really understand what the resurrection was for, and why it was necessary in conjunction with His death on the cross.

The short answer is that Jesus rose from the dead to bring in the new creation.  He is the beginning of something new for us.  His death was the end of the old... the old way, the old age that finds every one of us condemned and guilty of failing to live up to our humanity, the old system that corporately and individually finds itself comfortably at home in unbelief and defiance against God's good and sovereign care.  And His resurrection was the birth of the new age, the new creation, which all who belong to Him will inherit with Him.  He is the "first fruits" of this new creation.  So in sum, what makes His resurrection so important?  His resurrection means that there is a new beginning for mankind.  The end is no longer the end.  There is something new, a new and living hope which is as real and tangible and definite as His resurrected body.

So, now back to the cross.  What I'm realizing is that one must go with the other.  If our understanding of the cross leaves us with a weak or almost unnecessary resurrection, we are missing something essential.  And likewise, if our understanding of the resurrection leaves us with a weak or almost unnecessary death on the cross, then we have drifted far from the truth.  Thus, we have a question here.  If Christ's resurrection meant the beginning of something new for us, the beginning of a new age and new creation which we can be a part of, then why did Jesus have to die?  Or more importantly, why did Jesus have to die in the way that He did?

After all, it is obvious that one must first be dead in order to resurrected from the dead, but there are many ways the Messiah could have died.  He could have died as an infant.  He could have died in an accident.  He could have died from a disease or from old age.  Those are indeed all aspects of this fallen world which identify with all of humanity.  So why a cross?

Considering that there are voluminous works on this subject from many great minds over the centuries, I'm not going to even attempt to claim that I have illuminated the answer to that question.  But I do have some thoughts based on Scripture and what I have read.

The death of Christ on the cross assumes the curse for us by entering the place of the condemned man in our stead, ahead of us.  That is true.  It says as much: "cursed is the man who hangs on a tree."  But there is more.  It is by the death of the Messiah in this manner that the Jews of the time, in particular, and all men corporately are exposed for what they are.  We are exposed for all of our indifference, faithlessness, spiritual pride, treachery, and wickedness.  Jesus died as "weak" at the hands of the "strong," outcast and condemned as a criminal.  There the irony stands in blinding brilliance:  the innocent, righteous Son of God, the Savior of mankind who came bringing the Kingdom of God to earth, is hated and condemned and rejected, but it is his condemnation by our own hands that stands as the greatest and starkest condemnation of us all.  For the Gift of God, the Savior of the World, to be betrayed and killed as a criminal in the world's eyes shows just how screwed up and self-deceived and lost and warped we really are.  By the Son of Man allowing us to judge and condemn Him, He stood outside of the world's system as the ultimate indictment against it.

And yet it is by this very death and what followed that we are saved, purely as a gift, by no contribution of our own whatsoever.  This dark and dismal indictment turned to news of joy and deliverance as breath entered His lungs early that Sunday morning.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

One of the Stupidest Things I've Seen in a While

An article on the Today News website entitled Waitress denied tip for 'gay lifestyle' gets flood of support tells the tale of how a waitress's bad day was turned to good.  Rather than receiving a tip, waitress Danya Morales received a note on her ticket that reads, "I'm sorry but I cannot tip because I do not agree with your lifestyle & how you live your life."  Morales was understandably offended by this, posted about it on Facebook, and eventually set up a Paypal account, in which she has received over $1000 in donations, which she plans to donate to certain charities.

My first thought on this is... "My God, I hope the guy who wrote that note is not a Christian."  That is exactly the kind of stupidity that makes Christ and His Gospel look foolish.  It plays right into the belief that Christians are self-righteous, backwards bigots.  When I think about tipping someone, I think about how the service was.  Period.  How did the person know they are gay?  Did she announce it or something?  If so, so what.  She is fulfilling her role as a server.  For the love of God, tip her based on that.  Should we go around asking personal questions of waitresses and cashiers?  "Hey, tell me... have you ever lied?  Have you ever cheated on your wife?"  "Where do you go to church?"  "Sorry, I can't tip you because I don't agree with how you live your life."  Stupid.

God uses all people -and we are all sinners in our own ways- to bring his common grace to all the rest of us.  What a privilege it is to live in a country where you can go out to a restaurant and enjoy a meal that someone else prepares and someone else brings to you.  What a gift.  And God uses whom He wills to fill the roles necessary for such a thing to happen.  "Oh no... they are GAY!?  We can't have any sinners doing that.  That will just be providing them with a job and a livelihood by which they will continue their gayness.  I might as well rent her and her lesbian lover a room at a hotel and pay for the toys!"  By this absurd logic, who could escape its condemnation?  After all, who really knows if the next waiter I tip is going to use that money to buy groceries for his dying mother or to go out to a strip club?

But more thoughts came, don't you worry.  Here's what I don't really get.  I don't ask anybody to agree with my lifestyle.  I would be hurt if someone wrote a note like that to me, for sure, perhaps because I'm a Christian.  I'd be pissed.  And I might write about it on Facebook.  But I'd get over it.  Why?  Because I don't need others to approve of my lifestyle.  In fact, I already know many people probably won't, so why cry about it?  I just hope I don't lose my job, get beat up, or thrown in jail for it. I guess my expectations are low.  I wouldn't be setting up a Paypal account to rally people for my cause and take donations.  And this is what I don't get about the Gay movement -why does it seem that things have gone from freedom from oppression and abuse, which I whole-heartedly agree with, to the demand that others agree with and support your lifestyle?  Why is there such a hyper-sensitive demand for preferential treatment?  It's like with all the focus on tolerance in our culture, people are more sensitive and more dramatic.  It is ridiculous. 

You're gay.  Great.  Welcome to the messed up mass of humanity.  Yes, I think homosexuality is morally wrong for various reasons, but I also think it is morally wrong to discriminate against you and oppress you because of it.  And I'm entitled to believe that way, and I really don't have a problem working with you, having you serve me food, or even being your friend.  But nobody gets to sit there and demand that somehow your lifestyle is special and require that everybody think it is ok.  If that is what anyone thinks, they need to get over themselves.

Besides, if this kind of thing happened toward a waitress because they were Christian, do you think it would make the news?  Nope.  Because Christians are "bad", so its like we deserve it, right?

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Happy

Happiness is a great thing.  Who doesn't want to be happy?  There is something obvious and universal about this.  If someone wants to be unhappy, if someone seeks out suffering intentionally, depending on the circumstances we would think there is something seriously wrong with them.

Is there such a thing as wanting to be happy too much?  Yes, I think so.  I believe in America, which with all of its poverty and violence is still more affluent and safe than most other places in the world (and that is an understatement), happiness has become something of a golden calf.  Happiness becomes the goal of life... the measure of the worth of a life, the final evaluator of your decisions, the benchmark of success... and therefore anything which disrupts that happiness, such as evil and suffering, has no value and only serves to destroy your life.

And that is what many of us implicitly think.  Evil and suffering are not life.  They take away from life.  And thus, when evil and suffering hit home, and they will with even the best of us, we crumble.  We lose heart.  We lose faith.  We feel cheated and wronged.  We feel that life has lost its meaning.  We cannot see that the suffering has an ordained place in shaping our life, our story, our touch on the lives of others, even if it is not the way we want or had planned.  Happiness must be found, and this person or situation or event has screwed it all up!

If this is all you have, if there is nothing beyond this, then this is really your only shot to enjoy yourself, so you had better take it.

If happiness in this life is all you have, why give that up?  Why be a hero?  You might lose your one chance to be happy, after all.

Even though we know that type of thing is cowardly and selfish and we instinctively know that sacrifice for the good of another is of far better virtue, people still use happiness as the baseline for even their most life-altering decisions.  Take the high divorce rate, for example.  While I would certainly agree that there are many cases where people are better off being separate from their spouse due to things like infidelity and persistent abuse, how many marriages and families are offered up to die on the altar of our personal happiness?

Here is the crux of the matter.  Happiness is a good thing.  But when your life goal is happiness, when the only thing that makes your life a "good" life is your own personal happiness at any given moment, then you will find yourself unable to cope with real life.  Things like right and wrong start to slip back into the gray.  Sacrificing yourself for the good of others becomes the stuff of romantic fairy tales.  Finding meaning and truth, and for that matter finding God, in the midst of suffering becomes a very distant and unrealistic and arcane sentiment. 

And in the midst of all of this you may find what your character is really made of. When evil and suffering hit and your life begins to unravel, suddenly you may catch a glimpse of the fact that a large part of why you did any of the good you did was not for the goodness of itself, not really for others, and not for God.  You did the good you did largely with the expectation of controlling and keeping life the way you want it, revealed by the fact that you feel cheated by God and the universe because you thought there was some kind of unspoken deal:  I'll be good and you will keep me happy and make my life go according to my wishes.

The cruelest trick of all is that the pursuit of happiness is a lost cause.  Jesus taught us that real happiness is never found in itself.  It always comes as a byproduct of the pursuit of something else.  Pursue happiness -you never find it.  Pursue righteousness and the kingdom of God -you get happiness, blessedness, joy thrown in... not because you leverage God into giving you the kind of life you want but because you discover happiness in righteousness for itself and in God for Himself in spite of the circumstances around you.

If you "just wanna be happy," you will find that you go through life whining, because life will seldom go according to plan.

If you truly "just wanna love God and love others," you will discover that a kind of happiness follows you, a happiness and contentment that can live quite easily alongside sorrow and pain.

Saturday, November 02, 2013

Preach the Gospel to Ourselves?

Preach the Gospel to ourselves.  That is what we are told to do.  It is heralded today in many Reformed and evangelical circles as one of the main spiritual disciplines we must learn and practice every day.  I used to be all for it.  But then I realized something... that controlling, I-can-do-it, flesh side of me loves this idea  It wants to believe it can do it all -or maybe not all but at least something to help itself.  But "it" is me.  It is I.  I want to believe that I can contribute and that I can be, and should be, able to control my own spiritual progress.  And more than anything else, I love to turn anything, including the gospel, into a means to "fix" myself and make me be how I want myself to be.

Read this from a TGC article...

"The call to preach to ourselves law and gospel is really a call to the discipline of meditation where we saturate our minds and hearts with Scripture, strategically applying the Word of God to our own lives with an aim at growing in faith and godliness."

A few years ago, I would have said, "Awesome, yes, I agree!"  Today, do you know what I see?  I see, "I can control it."  I see this, ironically, man-centered, flesh-driven idea that I can control my sanctification, and I can control how I change by the right application of law and the gospel.

Do you know what I think is a better spiritual discipline?  The discipline of shutting up.  We need to learn how to shut the @#$% up and give up on this idea that we can "apply" things in the right way and train our own flesh to behave itself.  This I believe is what Luther would call a "theology of glory."

If by "preaching the Gospel to ourselves" we do mean disavowing the spiritual pietist within and shutting up and listening, then I agree.  However, even if one agrees with that it usually isn't what happens in practice.  It much too easily turns into, "How can I say these things to myself and 'apply' them in such a way as to produce these results?"  That is what makes me think the idea is largely fool-headed to begin with.  Why on earth would me listening to me preach to myself be a good thing?  I'm not exactly a neutral party in the matter, even if I convince myself otherwise.  My problem is that I listen and trust myself too much!

Aside from potentially catering to our flesh -our old Adam who lives within a perpetual theology of glory, the side of us that wants to believe it can and ought to contribute and be in charge of something, the part of ourselves that foolishly refuses to believe its own powerlessness- this practice I believe minimizes the essential nature of the gospel being something outside of us.

The Gospel comes from outside of us.  It comes from a foreign voice, an objective voice -not our own voice in our own heads.  It comes from outside of us and says, "tetelestai... te absolvo".  It comes to us from outside in the objective Word, spoken from within God's community, the Church, and it comes to us in the things given to the Church to convey the gospel to us in tangible terms, such as the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper.  I believe we need that.  I believe there is no substitute for it.  And if we live in a cave on a desert island where there is nobody to preach the Gospel to ourselves, then we had at least better assume a posture of listening and allowing God to effect our souls as we read God's Word.

I don't know about you, but I'm not going to even try to preach anything to myself.  Or actually, I take that back.  I know I'm going to try to.  I know I'm going to try to take control and think I can do something.  I know I will, and it will always lead me down the same screwed up road.  I am incorrigible.  But what I hope I will learn to do, instead, is shut up and become a child again, willing to listen and be taught, willing to hear the objective voice that comes from outside of me, and placing myself within the context of being able to hear that objective, external Word and receive it, feeding on it, in its tangible forms.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Everyone Has Their Own Story

There is a particular person that is in my life without my choice.  Though I never have to deal with this person directly, they are always a part of my life in some way, and I really wish they weren't.  They took a great deal from me, and their presence haunts me in ways.  It bothers me to see them receive accolades and praise and attention, both from people I love and from the greater population of humanity.  To me, they are no hero.  Not all, but many of their present hardships are the result of their own choices, choices which also hurt me deeply and changed my life.

The words of Tim Keller came to mind the other day (paraphrase): "Receive whatever [or whoever] God sends into your life, whether you understand it or not."

When I read those words, I felt myself sink into a kind of reluctant humility.  "Yes, Lord."  But that is not the end of the story.  That is not all there is to it.

See, I have my own story.  It is not their story.  It is mine.  It is filled with all the good and the bad of my life.  It is filled with all the struggles but also all the endurance and overcoming.  My struggles are not as obvious and plain as this person's, but they are real.  They are just as real.  And they can be my victories, as well.  My battles are not published for others to see, but they are indeed battles, to be daily won or lost.  They can be my occasions to celebrate, and for those out there who actually care, they can be the occasion for others to celebrate with me.  Everybody has something they are battling.  Everybody has their own story.  May my pain not distract me in unhealthy ways towards anyone else' story so that I forget my own.