12.29.2010

Your Last Marble - 12.28.10 0800


There's a story about John (the one who wrote the gospel) that has been tattooed to my brain since the first time I heard it years ago.

When he was too old to get around by himself, people would sort of carry him around. As they passed by others he would keep saying one thing over and over. Placing his hands gently on people's heads he would say, "Love one another."

Can you picture it? An endless, repetitive motion punctuated by and endless, repetitive phrase? When I hear the story I wonder if he could say anything else.  I wonder if he mumbled it inaudibly and people just dismissed it as the ramblings of an old man. I wonder if he recognized anyone. This was the self proclaimed beloved disciple, the only one rumored to live into old age and escape martyrdom. Being so close to Jesus, possibly his closest friend, has to have had an effect.

Mostly this story makes me think hard about what I might be mumbling when Father Time has worked his magic on me. What is going to be my catch-all phrase when I only have the strength to say, and maybe even remember, just one sentence. I've heard about people visiting the more mature generations of their families and talking about how their grandparent didn't seem to be all there, or how they kept reliving a single moment of their past. Was this how it was for John?

Imagine being so ingrained with Christ's message that when you had but one marble left rolling around upstairs, the one memory you latched onto until your passing was the message of love.

I hope that'll be me.

I hope that as time passes and God refines me more and more into the image of Christ, that his message of love just saturates me. I hope that the final image I leave my friends and family with is as obviously stamped by Jesus as John's was.

 II Corinthians 12:6-10

12.27.2010

Suck It Up - 12.25.10 0800

Every time I read Pail's epistles and try and get a feel for who the guy was, I almost always reach the same conclusion; I don't much care for him.

I'm sure he's a nice enough guy and everything, but I don't think I could spend much time with him. He always strikes me as having a bit of a pretentious, know-it-all attitude that's hard to be around. I could be flat out wrong of course. After all, I'm basing this off of some 13 letters he wrote to struggling churches, some while he was in jail, so I'm sure that'll color it up a bit. I'm just saying that, at this point, we probably wouldn't be BFF's.

But there is a passage of scripture that he wrote that makes him the most relate-able person in scripture to me.

Have you ever hit a point in your Christian walk where you thought, if I could just get a handle on this one vice I think I could really make this Christian thing work. Most of us have at least one thing that we've realized is holding us back from being totally devoted to God. Paul never said what his was. All he tells us is that he asked God three separate times to get rid of it and each time God said no. This must have been quite the struggle for Paul. He's used to being a Jew, someone who could attain perfection by upholding every jot of the Law. Now he's a Christian, trying to be an example for other Christians, and he's got this one thing that he just can't overcome.

The thorn in his side.

And God says no.

But God, won't you give us whatever we ask for? If we're faithful enough, won't you eventually answer our prayers, remove our struggles, maybe even make our lives a little easier to follow you? why would God tell Paul - the professional Christian - no to a request that would surely make him a better leader and a better example to follow?


Because his grace is sufficient.

What does that even mean?

I think it means that God saw Paul trying to be perfect, and thus missing the point. He was trying to get the point when he wasn't doing anything wrong, where there were no more obstacles to overcome or vices to deal with. And what does God say?

Suck it up.

You will have your vices. Your struggles. Your obstacles. This is life. And there is on thing to remember through it all.

My grace is sufficient.

We are gonna make mistakes. The hard part is to remember not to let it wear us down or make us feel de-valued. God's love is unconditional, he's made that clear.

Thank you Paul for trying so hard and for asking the tough questions. We may not ever be best friends, but I'm looking forward to meeting such an inspiring example of God's grace.

II Corinthians 12:6-10

12.25.2010

The Greater Sacrifice? - 12.21.10 1730

(I wrote this for my friend's site when he was doing a Christmas Special, inviting other authors to write about Christmas)


No one has greater love than this – that one lays down his life for his friends.”
–Jesus the Christ, Gospel of John

How blasphemous would it be to disagree with his statement here? 

Kind of a rhetorical question, I mean you don’t need to answer it, but I did want to say that I wasn’t sure I was completely behind him on this one. 

And what I mean is that I’m not sure that’s the greater love. 

Now, there’s no arguing that it’s love, even great love, but the greatest love? It may be for some, but it’s not for me. For me, it’s not that he died for me (though my appreciation for that knows no bounds). The greatest love is that he lived for me.
There are many I would die for. My friends, family, wife and even strangers. I could die for all of them. For some reason that is easier for me to do than live for them. I’m not sure I would give up my job for them, for example. If my brother needed a job and the opportunity to just switch with him, me unemployed and him to have a job – maybe my job – is a hard thing to swallow.

Would you do that? 

Hard to remember that Christ did.

“…but emptied himself by taking on the form of a slave, by looking like other men, and by sharing in human nature.”   -Paul, Epistle to the Philippians

My wife brought something up the other day that really got me thinking and we talked more about it later. When we think of the sacrifice of Christ, it’s his death and resurrection that come to mind. The Cross. Calvary. Beatings. A host of images really. But with “sacrifice” there is definitely something that doesn’t usually come to mind.

Swaddling clothes. A manger. Arms. Hunger. Dependence. Actual physical form. 

Christ’s sacrifice doesn’t just include his death on the Cross to free us from sin’s slavery and its wages, it also includes the life he lived. 

His sacrifice also includes being born in the first place. 

God humbled himself. He took on the form of a servant and served his created beings. He gave up all the omni’s of knowing all, seeing all, doing all and became limited. Which one of us would do that? Would you give up your freedoms so that someone else could have them? That would be tough for me to do. But I would die for you. I would jump in front of the bullet for a stranger, friend, family or foe. But I would have a hard time living for you.

That is why the greatest love that Christ showed me was that he came down at all. For me, it would take a greater love to live for someone else than to die for them. 

He died for me. I thank him as often as I remember to for that. But lately I’ve been trying to remember to thank him also for deciding to be born in a manger, because that too is sacrifice. That too is love. That, for me, is the greater love.

Emmanuel. And I love him more for it.

11.30.2010

Not everyone is Jonah - 11.30.10 1115


"What is God's will for my life?"

Have you ever asked this? Of yourself? Maybe heard someone else struggle with the question? At some point I'm sure we all ask it. Makes sense. I mean, you want to make the best contribution possible, and we're conditioned to think that life has two roads, the one that will be in God's favor and the one that will not. Sometimes we carry it a bit further. We remember God "orchestrating" stories in the bible, hear verses like "I have plans for you" in Jeremiah, and see God calling specific people for specific things and we think, what's my calling? What's my story? Where does God want me to be?

What's God's will for my life?

Well, let me ask this. What if he doesn't care?

What if he doesn't care what you do in your life so much as how you do it? When trying to decide on a life career in ministry, or politics, or anything, what if it doesn't matter which you choose?

What if, and this might sound strange at first but think about it, the answer to "what's God's will for my life" is much simpler than we make it out to be. It could be a simple three word sentence.

"To be Christlike."

He might not have specific plans for you. No doubt he did for many people in history like Jonah or Jeremiah, but:

what if they were called so that you wouldn't have to be?

What if God asked them to play certain parts in the grand plan to help bring the Christ event and further his kingdom so that you would not have to bear the burden of a specific task, or life. What if your only calling is to live free, to be Christlike.

Can God work through you as a doctor? Lawyer? Minister? Janitor? Yes. Can you find opportunities to be more like Christ in your decisions, in all those places, and maybe even bring others into a relationship with Christ? Yes.

What if the entire time you are wrangling your hands about choices in life, beseeching God, pleading "what do you want me to do with my life," and the whole time he is looking down at you asking, "what do you want to do with your life?"

It could be that he is simply waiting for you to make a decision so that he can begin filling your life with moments that will mold you into a more Christlike image.

What is God's will for my life?

I believe he's already told us.

11.16.2010

Which God Weighs More - 11.16.10 0720


My mind battles with two images of God, the one I'm used to and the one I'm learning about.

In the one corner I have Static God. SG is transcendent, sitting on his throne above. He watches, observes, and makes calls based on what's going on down here. Every once in a while he will quickly step down and correct human history, putting it on a different path in accordance with the plan, but for the most part supervises what he has laid out. He has attributes like "righteousness" and "truth," and they radiate from him, sending vibes out that call us to be better, do better, much like a magnet pulls passively on passing-by iron filings. The distant judge. Setting the standards, we do what we can to live by them and please him with our actions. While I know that my salvation has nothing to do with my works in the direct sense, I can't help but picture him looking at me from afar, notebook of life in hand with a cocked eyebrow as he tallies my deeds for Day Omega. He loves me and draws me to his throne, pulling me to come closer, see clearer, and know that he is good.

But in the opposite corner I have Dynamic God. DG does not sit on a throne and is not passively supervising. He is on earth, in our lives, constantly nudging, correcting, and guiding history toward a goal. He also has attributes like "righteousness," but they are not static descriptions of his nature, they are active descriptions of his deeds. Rolling up his sleeves, he thrusts his arms into history to partner with us in making things righteous, working with us daily in accomplishing the overall plan. He is never at rest, but instead looks for, and sometimes makes, opportunities to correct and build the body of Christ into a more accurate image of Jesus. He is not a general calling the shots for his army, but a commander who leads his people into battle. The imminent mentor. Setting the standards, he holds our hand and shows us ways to reach them, often doing for us what we cannot in order to make them happen. Up to his neck in the swamp of our lives, he does not stop until all is a crop ready for harvest.

Both are in the ring, the arena of my mind, struggling for dominance. The Static God I've been taught versus the Dynamic God I'm discovering for myself. I see it in my prayer life and in my actions, the oscillating frequency of my bible readings and divine conversations. I don't wish to have Static God a part of my life because I don't believe that is the true God.

The more I read scripture and study Hebrew thought, the more I see nothing but the Dynamic God of activity. His just, righteous, and faithful attributes are reworking humanity and recreating creation in a way that is polar opposite to the magnetic throne that tugs and pulls from a central location in heaven. He is not only righteous, but works to make things righteous. He is not only merciful, but works with us to makes us merciful too.

We are created in his image. Humanity is also active and never at rest.

But am I emulating his activity, as a child of God?

Or am I eating from the tree of my own plan, as a son of Adam?



That tree tastes nasty.

9.23.2010

Self-Imposed Slavery - 9.23.10 0820


In the days of the Old Testament and in the lives of those without Christ, life was governed by rules, rituals and regulations. There were foods you could not eat or touch. There were drinks you could not have, and holy days that had to be observed. People were unclean and untouchable, ostracized from society. Those were the days of the Law. And we are fighting not to return to them.

One of the innumerable benefits of the death and resurrection of our Lord is that we were set free from that life. Not only from the slavery the Law had put us under, but from the slavery of earning other people's respect and admiration by following the Law. The Pharisees were lifted above other people for their continued observance of both the written and the oral Law. In turn, Pharisees would look down on those who had not the will nor the means to follow it themselves. Knowledge became power, and abstinence from certain foods and drinks became righteousness. Christ set us free from that! And yet there are groups and churches that would have us return to that life of burden.

Paul consistently wrote church after church warning them of submitting themselves back to a life lived by a law. We are to live by the Spirit instead. To the Corinthians he warned against the eating of certain foods, but by telling them to be discerning of the situation rather than placing on themselves a law of abstinence from food offered to idols. To the Galatians, he warned about slipping back into the practice of circumcision to attain God's favor and righteousness, admonishing instead the circumcision of the heart by the Spirit, and following God with inner motivations as opposed to outter laws placed by other people on you. To the Colossians, his words were much less specific and much more encompassing, telling them not to let any person judge them simply by what they eat, drink, or observe - "things that are destined to perish with use."

There is a time and place for human rules and laws. If you struggle with alcohol abuse and have a hard time with self-control, abstain! Don't tempt yourself with a drink saying you'll have "just one" when you know a fifth or sixth will follow. But don't look down on others because they don't have the same problem and don't impose your abstinence on them, dressing it as if it is a mandate from God for everyone. At the same time, the rest of us shouldn't drink around those we know have a problem. Help your brother or sister by not drinking around them, encouraging them in their battle against an addiction.

In the same way, if deep down you do not feel right about killing animals for food, abstain! There are plenty of meat-free diets that can keep you healthy, but if someone else does not have the same conviction don't impose your abstinence on them. And for the other side, don't balk or scoff at people who are moved with such compassion for the rest of God's creation. Love is driving them to such abstinence and it should be respected by not eating meat around them and enjoying the meal they prepare for you.

The list can go on (smoking, Christmas and Easter and Halloween observance, Sunday as the holiest day of the week, etc.), but the point is the same for each. There is freedom in Christ from man-made laws to attain more righteousness. That freedom is not to be abused and the Spirit is to be discerned in any given situation. Nothing is evil in and of itself, but brothers and sisters should be respected for their convictions. There is a law, but it is the law of love. For God, for others. Above that, there is no greater law.

Remember that Christ died to set us free from man-made laws that make you "holy." He made you into a new creation that is already holy through your faith in him. God will direct you on what you should abstain from and where self-control may be more appropriate, because they can be two separate things. I cannot find or recall one passage in the New Testament that says abstinence on food, alcohol, or days in the year is mandated for all believers, but there are copious passages saying self-control (possibly, moderation?), discernment and respect are to be practiced. In fact, self-control is named as one of the obvious fruits of the Spirit. Can the same be said for abstinence from food or drink? No, and in fact Paul specifically condemns such actions, saying they have the "appearance of wisdom," but are lacking in value in restraining indulgence. If you lead a ministry and require followers of Christ to follow such things to be more "holy," then I can unhesitatingly say you are wrong. Your heart may be in the right place, but do not force a calling you might have on others. Allow God to govern the flock, and allow him to use you to encourage it.

9.21.2010

What makes it real for you? - 9.19.10 0930

What if this was a true story:

Sleeping alone in my house, three men in masks broke into my apartment and dragged me naked from my bed. Roughly, they gagged me and pushed me into their car and drove. Not seeing past my blindfold and disoriented from the abuse, I struggled to think of what I might have done to warrant this hatred from these men. The car stopped and I was tossed into an abandoned warehouse of some type where they tied me to a chair and began to describe in detail how I would slowly die over the next month, the things they would do to me to prolong the pain, and how my family would follow close in my footsteps. Nothing would satisfy their anger except the death of me and my loved ones.

The next morning, after a sleepless night of kicks, punches, and wordless nightmares they suddenly stopped. With barely a word they tossed me a ragged shirt, some pants, led me to a car, and drove me home. They then pushed me out of the car and told me to get out of here, just saying I don't have to worry anymore because they had gotten the man they were really after. Then they drove off with merciless smiles, obviously relishing what would be done to their hapless victim.

See, my friend Jeremy had quickly learned what had happened to me almost as soon as I was taken, and he knew why. For reasons I still don't understand, they had been after him and his family the whole time. Understanding what they would do to me, he made the gut wrenching decision he had known would one day have to be made. He knew there was but one thing, one target for their anger, that would save the life of me and my family. And he did it. He sent his 3 year old boy to the men, to die instead of me.




I began the story by saying what if this was true. I'm finishing it now by saying it is.

If this had happened in the details I described, I would be living my life completely different with respect to Jeremy. I would be at his house immediately, on my knees, thanking him for giving up his young man to save me and my family. I would be crying with him as he struggled to tell me how hard the decision had been for him, but how he knew it was only by this self-less act that so many others he loved would be rescued. I would never leave his side, day or night, acting the part of a slave to his every need or request, knowing that his action I would never be able to duplicate in my own life. I would wake up and go to sleep everyday thanking him to his face for the ransom he paid to save me. Knowing it to be useless, some days I might angrily tell him it wasn't worth it, that he should have let us all die instead of giving his son to those horrible men to do unspeakable things to him. And every time, he would remind me that one had to die for the good of the many, that it had been horrible that the decision had to have been his, but that because of his love for me and mine, it was a decision that had to have been made.

Why is it so hard to live that life now?

Why do I have such difficulty in living for God the way I would assuredly be living for Jeremy in this situation? The event was 2000 years ago, but the results are the same. Some of the means are different, but the end product is not. I was a captive and God did what needed to be done, at great cost to himself, to free me. Not only that, he did it for those people that wanted absolutely nothing to do with him! Who does that? What kind of person does that?

A person of love.

A God of love.

Lord, help me to be a man after your own heart.

9.13.2010

Decisions Define - 9.13.10 0840


Decisions define.

Your decisions will define who you are and who you will become.

The person you are today was completely determined by the decisions you've made up until now. It explains why two people with the same background and opportunities might rise to completely different places in life. A person who is constantly taking handouts or always choosing to reason out/excuse a fault will grow to look completely different than one who fights to rise above handouts or takes ownership of their mistakes. Or one who, above all circumstances, chooses to show loyalty to friends, family, or a job will look different than one who doesn't.

Your decision making is one of the prime molds that will determine who you will be in 20 years. If you want to be seen as a loyal person, a "successful" person, or a faithful person, than those decisions in situations that would exhibit those characteristics must be made now. Every time you react a certain way to a certain circumstance, you have either moved one step forward or one step back to where you want to be. It's the people who aren't firm on who they want to be that wake up one morning wondering how they got to where they are in life. Why am I successful with no friends? Why can't I help but lie to keep myself safe or my reputation intact? If someone doesn't have a destination in mind but they wander through life anyway, then they will inevitably find themselves where they don't want to be. Because to attain any sort of honorable characteristic takes self-discipline, hard work, and dedication. Do you want to be honorable? then find the most honorable person you know and ask them about their life. Do you want to be godly? Then read about or talk to those who are seen as such to learn about how they react to things.

If your decisions are going to determine you, then the most important thing to look at is your decision making paradigm, your faith and where you put it.

Have you seen the lives of those who put their faith in money? Where do they end up?

Have you seen those who put their faith in themselves above all else? How do their lives look?

What about those who put their faith entirely in what others can do for them?

Do you know someone who puts their faith in God?

Where you put your faith will determine the decisions you make and the person you will become.

But it gets harder and habits get more entrenched as time goes on. The longer a person commits to one direction in life, the more difficult it is to turn course. So, the sooner you figure out your faith and goals, the easier life will be to you in hitting them.

Where are you putting your faith?

9.05.2010

Christ in Harry Potter - 7.29.10 1720


"It was, he thought, the difference between being dragged into the arena to face a battle to the death and walking into the arena with your head held high." -Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

There is a page and a half in this book that caused me to elevate the entire series as one of the best ever written. It has such remarkable implications on the sacrifice of Christ that I can almost picture the Garden of Gethsemane and Jesus' struggling prayer of anguish. There are, of course, massive differences between the two and I'm positive J.K. Rowling did not have Christ in mind with this scene, but if Jesus ever - at any time - felt like he was being pressured, forced, or manipulated into the cross, this is the scene that would have played out.

I could literally break this scene into three or four separate blogs, but I will keep it short by singling out some things.

Harry is struggling with the concept that it is because of the prophecy that he must try and kill Voldemort, almost that he is fated and being pushed into the arena. Dumbledore, agitated, stresses that Harry going to battle has nothing to do with the prophecy, that yes, Harry must fight, but not because of the prophecy. It's because Harry himself has it in his nature and attitude to not stop until Voldemort is destroyed. And one of the things that not only drives him to this ambition but also protects him from being overtaken is Love.

He cannot become a dark follower because his love keeps him from doing it. He must carry the battle to it's natural conclusion because love drives him to stop at nothing. Indeed, Harry's unstoppable desire to crush this evil stems from a power that Harry has and Voldemort doesn't...Love.

This is Christ.

The thing that caused Jesus to say, "Not my will, but yours be done," is love. Love for us, love for God, love to see evil vanquished.

The nature of Christ led him to battle, to see the victory won at any cost. And when he desired the "cup to pass" from him, it was his love that saw him through.

It was not because God foreordained it to be. It was because love would have it no other way.

Christ went to the cross willingly, head held high in victory, to give his life as a ransom for many.

Thank him everyday for it.

Laymen Elite - 9.5.10 0935

I was thinking about the importance of the laymen in a church.

There are, of course, some great advantages to having dedicated personnel and leaders of a church who can devote a lot of their time to studying the word and breaking things down into digestible pieces for the rest of us on a Sunday. But there are also some disadvantages to being that person. They begin to lose touch with what the rest of us deal with.

I read a story, don't remember where from (I think a text book from college) that sort of illustrates the point. The author of the book had just finished preaching and as he stood by the door with people streaming by to say thanks, one person stopped in front of him. "When are you going to preach about something that matters?" he asked. Apparently, he was a CEO, or something, of a business that was going to take over or drive out of business another owner who attends the same congregation. He was having a hard time trying to balance his business ethics and personal ethics.

Can a preacher identify with a struggle like that? Or can he just make the best assessment he can from an objective perspective?

Step in, the layman.

Have you ever noticed yourself sometimes being more moved by the meditation before communion, often given by the volunteer in the congregation? Have you ever noticed the more practical use of personal life stories given by the layman who is sharing a personal, everyday struggle he conquered rather than the funny story or cookie-cutter illustration of a sermon? Suddenly what's being said feels less like a presentation on a passage of scripture and more like an identifiable, personal, relate-able life story that inspires.

The founding fathers of America originally had Congress set up with the "Lower House" (House of Representatives) being directly elected by the people and having shorter terms, and the "Upper House" (Senate) being elected by the House of Reps and having longer terms. The purpose was to have the Lower House being closer to the people and what they wanted, what was affecting their daily lives, but keeping the Upper House more stable and mature and not wavering with the constant changing of public opinion.

Having a church without heavy use of laymen I think would be like having a Congress of only the Senate. More mature and stable from being removed from everyday life, but also less able to read the needs of the everyday people.

A laymen will also at times probably be led better by the Holy Spirit. A volunteer who speaks rarely depends more on the Holy Spirit for guidance, I think, than the professional who might accidentally depend more on their knowledge of the bible and words for the sermon. He's more likely to look at how God is moving currently in their life than to try and extrapolate how God should be moving in your life from the scriptures. With the way we have churches organized today, I believe that without some kind of balance between the pastor and a group of laymen, the church is probably a little handicapped and not touching their congregants as much as they could... or should.

"My power is made perfect in weakness."

The lack of heavy schooling and training in biblical languages may actually help more than hinder God's willingness to speak and use a vessel. We don't want to cut ourselves off from a potentially powerful source of insight simply because the "qualifications" of a "speaker" are not there. That blue collar worker may be just the person God wants to explore some profound truth or insight with the local church. One might even expect it, since history shows God purposely looking for the "unlikelees" to partner with in his plans.

7.29.2010

Ringing Moments - Importance of Role


"And now," said the wizard, turning back to Frodo, "the decision lies with you. But I will always help you." -Gandalf, The Fellowship of the Ring

There's a scene similar to that of Galadriel's, involving Gandalf that also caught my attention while I was reading. Frodo had just offered Gandalf the ring to take and Gandalf seems to almost reel back in horror at the thought. He refuses along similar lines of Galadriel, but with subtle differences that I think bear witnessing. He shows no temptation whatsoever for one, and he makes special mention to help Frodo with the burden for another. There's some back story that will help to show why this is so important that I think we can learn from as followers of Christ.

Gandalf, centuries earlier, had been sent to earth with a very specific purpose: to find those and gather those willing to resist the Evil One. He was not allowed to use force to do so, only guidance and counsel. Gandalf was one of five beings to be sent and, as the story finishes, we find out he was the only one to fulfill this charge. The others either became corrupt, lost interest, or refocused on other things. Enter...this scene.

Gandalf seemingly has the option to reach his goal by using the Ring to either strengthen the wills of those around him or make up for the weakness of those around him. By his reaction, he seems to have thought about it and reached his conclusion, making his decision to resist an easier one to make when it finally came. Use of the Ring did not fit in with his charge or his manner. A role was given to him with limitations and a purpose. He was one of five to see it to it's end untainted. Followers of Christ have it no different.

We have a role, a calling, a purpose with set limitations and a goal. It's not uncommon for us to find shortcuts we can take by skirting around our set limitations, or focusing on the ends more than the means. The man who struggles with alcohol and has decided to abstain is invited by a non-believer to go grab a beer with him to talk. So much easier to just grab that one beer than to order water or suggest a different environment and admitting your weakness. Our calling to be a light to the world can be made such a higher priority than we make it. And if the decision is made now to do that, our future forks in the road will be made so much clearer.

"But I will always help you."

After the resistance was made, he continues to play the role he was sent for. Seeing the big picture, he knows this was not going to be the only block in the path, but one of many.

I wonder how often we have our victories and then stop fighting, mistaking the battle for the war.

7.21.2010

Night then Day - 5.02.10 0820

I'm reading Boman and Genesis 1 this morning and it got me thinking about how we view day and night versus how the ancient Hebrews might have.

For us, the future lies before us, the past behind. Our day starts with the rising sun and when we get out of bed, ready to start a new day - the one that lies in front of us ready to be explored. Day and night designate time periods only, further broken up by hours, minutes and seconds. We're used to looking at it objectively, from the outside, something to be observed and recorded.

The day gradually wanes into night, activity winds down, and once the day has been sufficiently explored we rest, ready to take on a brand new day tomorrow. We focus on what opportunities God might bring us in the day to come, always orienting our sights forward at the "freshness of the new" and "yet to be" that God might bring.

We may take the time to reflect on what God brought that day and thank him for it, hoping that tomorrow we might better recognize his activity in our lives. We might be blind to what the future holds, but it doesn't keep us from peering anyway, maybe even squinting to see a bit more clearly, anticipating the events that might unfold.

A different, but not opposing or a negating, view would be the Hebrew. Their perspective of a day was a bit more subjective, not something to be observed from the outside but something to experience from the inside. Days started with the evening. How peculiar. Their view of light and darkness started with the concept that they represented good and evil, known as a qualitative perspective. Light & Dark, not the sun & moon, is what separated day and night and it is significant to me that in creation God began by seeing light (goodness) as being good and so separating it from darkness (evil) before creating the sun and moon. Light was a gift from God designating his mercy and love, and the sun and moon were given the authority to govern that light during the day and night.

Just as out of chaos and void God brought order to creation, each day starts with darkness and God brings the light from it; he brings salvation from destruction, good from evil, mercy and warmth from cold and darkness. This, combined with Hebrew's time orientation as seeing the past before them laid out in detail with the future behind them and unknown, makes me wonder if they tended to focus not on what God might do for them in the future, but what God has already done for them in the past.

Each day may have been a reminder that he has already brought the day from the night for you, already given you mercy and compassion. The Old Testament seems to focus more on what God had done for the people (deliverance from Egypt, deliverance from exile, etc.) than on what he might do for them (although it certainly does that too).

There also seems to be a focus on using the past events as the primary way to seeing his activity in the future or as showing what God's character is. With this in mind, it is not hard to see why they had unwavering expectations of deliverance from misfortunes. During Egyptian slavery, foreign occupation, exile, etc. there was always the understanding that if they were faithful God would save and deliver, reaching the climax in the Christ event, because that is what the past has shown God to do.

Every time the prophets or Moses or a biblical character pleads with God, they almost always brought past actions into play, reminding him and themselves that that was God's nature, even at times referring to the sun/moon as signs of his goodness and mercy. This is also why depravity of light was seen as an apocalyptic tragedy, because it was a sign of God removing his favor.

I wonder if we would have an easier time recognizing what God does for us in the present if we started each day not focusing on what he might do, but on what he has already done. We might start the day feeling blessed instead of hoping to be blessed.

And I wonder how differently we might live our lives because of it.

7.20.2010

Ringing Moments - Limbo of Victory

"Frodo, neither the Voice nor the Eye: free to choose, and with one remaining instant to do so. He took the Ring off his finger." -Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

The struggle. Daily, even minute by minute at times. So accurately described in so many places, and yet no easier to deal with each time.

We are neither the Voice nor the Eye, the Holy Spirit nor the Spirit of Evil. We are the agent in the middle, free to choose and at times with only an instant to do so.

"But i see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind..."

Freed from the bondage of sin, and yet not yet given our new bodies, we find ourselves in limbo, struggling to listen to the Voice of God and constantly aware of being under the ever watchful Eye of the Accuser. This classic struggle of good versus evil is masterfully rendered by Tolkien with Frodo fighting to take off the Ring before he is found and over taken by the Enemy.

"Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me..."

But we have a hope. We know our sins no longer condemn us, for there is no condemnation in Christ Jesus. We know that there is an ever present second chance for the prodigal children, that our mistake of not taking the Ring off in time is never the final word. Paul's parallel to this scene in Romans 7:15-25 ends with this ringing declaration of victory, "Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!" Thanks be to God indeed, that our struggle is not in vain and that we have more than the Voice to help, but also the strength of God and the freedom of Christ to see us persevere until the end.

Active God Perspective - 6.16.10 1055

Genesis 1:2b has recently become a very fascinating verse to me of the Hebrew perspective of God. Using parallelism, it says something truly interesting about God and how they viewed him, especially in comparison of "darkness." Boman says that the Hebrews saw inactivity basically as evil or non-existence and that they saw a positiveness to the dynamic activity of God in the world. He says they didn't really have a word for non-movement, such as "standing" or "sitting" or "resting," but that there was always something dynamic suggested in the word, like "standing up" or "sitting down" or "resting from." If he's right, then Gen 1:2b is really interesting.

Darkness was over the face of the "deep"
Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the "water"

The changes in the parallelism is a Hebrew way of refining or further defining the idea of what they're trying to say, or further contrasting the two subjects to better see their qualities. The writer did not say that the "Spirit of God was over the face of the deep" because, I believe, the writer could not, based on his dynamic worldview. To suggest that God was inactively above the abyss/deep would say that God was almost doing something evil by (a) not being active and (b) just watching chaotic, destructive waters (which is what the abyss/deep is always seen as in Hebrew writings/poetry). Instead, to clarify God's character, he adds an active word (hovering/nurturing - in the same way a hen hovers/nurtures her offspring under her wing) and changes the "evil/abyss" in calm, life supporting "water," almost as if to say that God was actively involved in taming the destructive chaos and his presence tames it into something useful.

What a powerful image and what a deep commitment to God's character. It makes me wonder about how I describe God's character and what I might be missing/adding when I do.

7.19.2010

Fruits are Natural - 8.12.09 1400


Reading Galatians today was interesting. Paul spent so much time stressing to them that living by the Law made no sense to the Christ follower because that was what Christ rescued you from. Living by a ridged set of standards that didn't flex was what screwed us up in the first place. But in the same book he went from saying don't live by a pre-made right/wrong list to here's your new right/wrong list, the Christian standard.

What?

That was confusing.

Wouldn't the Christian standard be the same thing as another Law? That was something Stephen said when I brought it up to him. I thought it was an excellent way to phrase it because that is how it is viewed. It took me some time to figure out what Paul was trying to say, but I think good discussion with my wife and Stephen helped flesh it out. I think he was talking about motivation.

When talking about the Law in the first half of the epistle, the image was why are you living like that? Is that going to cause your acceptance before God? What is Christ for then? Doing something because you feel you have to shouldn't be the reason. The last part of Galatians spelled out a believer's lifestyle in a different way. They were called "fruits," i.e. what do you do. What deeds naturally come from you as a believer.

The motivation now becomes letting the Spirit in you act and do what's right, not forcing yourself to do the right thing. That is what shows the nature you have. And Paul says those fruits are obvious! Meaning you know what they are, you don't need to be taught to do good, have joy, use self-control, etc. And just as obvious are the bad fruits! Doing good is natural now because you are a new creation! The sinful nature is dead, live as a slave to Christ. And when you don't do good it's not because you have regained your sinful nature (I don't think anyway...more research required), but because you didn't listen to your new nature born of Christ. Working out your salvation, as Paul says, I think just means getting used to being a new creation.

And one of my favorite illustrations of all time is just as useful for this as for so many things. The circle with the dot in the middle. God is the dot. The circle is the line you don't want to cross. You should always be trying to get closer to the dot, not the line.

If your focus is on the line (how far can I go before i piss God off or before I'm not doing what's right), then you are either living by the Law ("I'm in the circle here and out of the circle here") or you're not living in the Spirit or you haven't accepted the gift, because you're trying to earn it by eying the line and staying inside. Instead, keep your eye on the dot/God/Christ and realize that:

when you accept the gift, the line is erased.

You can't cross back over unless you tell God that you just don't want any part of this line-less world of his and would rather live in a world where you can be better than someone else and be rewarded right now for playing the game of life right with your "good deeds." Because that is life without a relationship with God. Trying to impress others and getting your value from them rather than him. The fruits of those "good deeds" are also obvious.

Perfectly Imperfect Paradox - 8.12.09 1345


The Christian life became so much easier when the nature of salvation became real to me. And it was simple. I was trying to be perfect. I would stress when I failed and would rejoice when I felt I was on track. Instead of letting God take control, I would try to do what's right or figure out the right path without God, to show him I was trying to be the best Christian ever! But being a follower of Christ means not stressing about every action. Just live! God grows the seed. God causes maturity. All you've got to do it respond to his guidance and let him work! Mistakes come and go, but you're still loved and accepted so learn and move on. Pray and read your bible because it keeps your focus right and lets God talk to your heart. That is living by the Spirit. Not going through life with your version of the 10 Commandments to help every decision. God (speaker of the 10 commandments) already lives in you, so let him conform you like he promised and stop trying to do his job.

Ringing Moments - Galadriel's Test


"I passes the test," she said. "I will diminish, and go into the West, and remain Galadriel."
-Galadriel, The Fellowship of the Ring

Galadriel's testing has always struck me as a stroke of moral genius on the part of Tolkien. To me, it is one of the priceless gem moments in the story of the Lord of the Rings, because it is an example of choosing what's right over what's wanted.

Anyone who has read the trilogy at one point or another wonders, why Frodo? Wouldn't Gandalf, Galadriel, or some other powerful being stand a better chance of success? And Tolkien masterfully answers the question, no. They are too powerful. And what's more, they know it. There is a humbling factor involved when you face your heart's desire and realize that, despite the want and need, you have to let the opportunity pass for the good of those around you.

Galadriel is a powerful character who refuses Frodo's offer of caring for the Ring because, while she would use it at first for everyone's good, it would eventually corrupt her and through her do much evil, much more than it could do through Frodo. In light of this wisdom and foresight, she chooses the way of righteousness over the way of power, and she is rewarded. Though at the time of the decision she didn't know it, she was granted access to the Undying Lands again from which she had been exiled from, the land that her kind desires to return to deep in their hearts.

This adds another variable to the scene. The very nature of her people yearns to return to those lands. As an exile, that craving had to forever go unfulfilled and, for her, it had almost been replaced by the desire for the Ring of Power. What a wonderful reward. By denying the temptation of the Ring, an even deeper and more fulfilling desire was granted to her.

How often do I go after the desires of my heart when, by simple (or not so simple) denial, I might be granted something more? How often are decisions and opportunities denied me because God, knowing my heart, knows that it is a temptation I would not pass. When we're not getting what we want or the road is not leading us in the direction we thought, at some point we have to trust in God that he is looking after us and those around us. There are times when we simply don't possess the wisdom and foresight of Galadriel and we simply don't get the opportunity to reject the Ring of Power, because we wouldn't have.

If this is a disturbing thought, that God might not be allowing us to make our own decisions in every aspect of our lives, there is something to be recognized. God's ultimate goal is for the world and mankind, not just you. What we need to do is make sure we're taking advantage of the moments, the countless moments, to further that goal because one way or another it will be accomplished...with or without you.

7.17.2010

Heavenly Rewards - 8.12.09 1305


I was looking up all the references the New Testament makes on "rewards" and "treasures" based on a discussion Stephen and I had this morning, which was based off a concept Brennan had said in his book. Are you given rewards in heaven based on your good deeds on earth? Will some have mansions and others have shacks, some big, bejeweled crowns and others small piddly ones?

It just struck me as odd that the whole point seemed to be you can't earn salvation you just accept it because no one is better than someone else, but in heaven there would be a sort of caste system of who got more honor than someone else. And what would the nature of the rewards be? Treasures, gold, honor, more of God's attention and love than someone else? I don't think anyone really believes that you'll have a nicer dwelling or more spending money, but when Christ talks about building and storing treasures in heaven, what is he getting at?

I'm not thinking it has anything to do with levels of salvation for sure! What, more salvation than that guy or being more accepted than that guy? That's salvation based on deeds & works. And it doesn't make sense, to be "more accepted." So, what do the scriptures mean talking about treasures and rewards?

As far as I can tell from each verse talking about believers and rewards, it's talking about one of two things. The obvious one would be treasure singular, i.e. the ultimate treasure of salvation. And not by earning it, but by living the life of gratitude for the gift of salvation you received. Like the fruits thing, knowing what side someone is on by their fruits. Or receiving the treasure, as in you're supposed to sell everything to buy the land the treasure is buried in - complete devotion and commitment. Also, as in when you live as you should, you're showing the treasure you already have.

The other times the message isn't building/storing treasures like every feeding the poor good act gives you one more shilling in your heavenly pile, but the focus of the passages is more why are you feeding the poor? Where is the motivation coming from? Where is the treasure of your heart? The focus is on, are you trying to please God or man.

I don't think "pleasing God" is the same as "earning rewards." Where it says "treasures" it's talking about the source of motivation. Pleasing God with your life is expected of you. It is how you show gratitude for your salvation. And it's not something forced. When you receive the Holy Spirit, you let the Spirit move you (live by the Spirit). If you understood what the cost was and what the sacrifice was to allow the gift to be possible, you naturally show devotion to God through your acts. In other words, you might say that your fruits show the type of tree that you are.

All this seems to mean that heaven is a community of equals. No, not equal with God, but equal with each other. Mother Teresa won't get all the front row seats to the angelic choirs in heaven, and I'm positive she wasn't motivated by that thought either. She was acting in gratitude, trying to show God how much she appreciated the sacrifice. By our standards, she should be rewarded, because we're used to a rewards based system of living. But is that how God sees it? Based on the New Testament writings, I'm not sure he does. I think he'll be more pleased with someone who shows gratitude like that, but there's also a sense of that's what you're suppose to be doing. Mother Teresa did what she was expected to do.

Am I?

Faith - 4.30.09 0955 (Part 3)


What really amazes me about the word faith is how much it encompasses! It's not just trust or belief, which are two different things that become one in the word "faith." It also brings in "loyalty." And this is the shade that more often than not becomes dominant when it's used of God (i.e. his faithfulness). The Hebrews 11 definition isn't exhaustive because, if you apply that definition to God, it doesn't make sense (does he hope for something he can't see?) and it doesn't really tie in the loyalty factor as strongly as when the word is used in the bible to describe faithfulness to something. So "faith" not only seems to blend in concepts of trust and belief in something, but also a commitment to what you trust and believe in. Loyalty.

What still bothers me though is that when it's used of God, there has to be some kind of trust or belief tied into it, otherwise they would just say God's loyalty, right? What belief or trust is God loyal to? Himself? He's committed to trusting himself? To believing in himself? I'm still fleshing it out, but either all three concepts of "faith" are still tied together in "faithfulness," or it could be that faith and faithfulness just overlap in the area of commitment/loyalty; that when you speak of "faithfulness" you are just bringing in the concept of loyalty/commitment and pushing aside the trust/belief, making loyalty, commitment, and faithfulness complete synonyms, 100% interchangeable.

Faith - 4.30.09 0955 (Part 2)


Faith does not come from us. It doesn't originate from us. It's not initiated by us. The bible seems to make this clear. Does this mean we can't have faith without God flipping a switch in us? Kind of, but not really.

See, if God had no part in our faith then we could boast in ourselves and our faith in God. We could say, "I believed in God without any help at all!" This isn't biblical. But I also don't believe this means that God directly causes some to have faith and some not to have faith. What would be the point of Paul's argument in Romans that no one has an excuse not to have faith in God when, in fact, they do have an excuse. God never gave them the faith to have! Simply doesn't make sense, and I think this is because we've misunderstood something about faith.

Faith is always the second step from something else.

Faith is always the response to something or the reaction to something. Faith isn't initiated because "initiation" or "starting out" or "the first step" isn't what faith is. It's not even a part of faith! Saying you've initiated faith in God is as nonsensical as saying the color green tastes like wood. But if it's a response, a reaction to something, then things become clearer once you figure out what it's a response to, a reaction to.

God's revelation.

Revelation can be initiated, and in fact is when it comes to God revealing himself. Now no man can have an excuse, because God has revealed himself to all, either through nature, the Law, Christ, etc. Your response to that revelation is the all determining factor. That is why God can hold everyone accountable, because we're all responsible for the way we respond to God's revelation. This is why we can't brag about our faith in God, because without God's revelation, we wouldn't be able to have the appropriate, faithful response! God doesn't choose your response for you. He determined whether or not you had the option to respond. And everyone before, during, and after the Christ event had the option, has the option, will have the option.

People before the Christ event had proper/effective/real faithful responses. If you read Hebrews 11, the hall of fame for the faithful, you will see that every one of them is a response. And some of them are even said to have been justified or made righteous by their response! So this concept of justification by faith is not new to the Christ event.

What, then, did Jesus bring that wasn't there before? Forgiveness? Nope. people could be forgiven before Christ. Righteousness for the believers? Nope. That happened before. Justification, Holy Spirit, recognition of God's supremacy, mercy or love? Nope nope nope, all there before the Christ event. People were able to be justified, people got the Holy Spirit, and people fully recognized God's attributes. What new thing did Christ bring?

Salvation.

Eternal Life.

Being able to spend infinity with God.

Before Christ, righteousness or justification or forgiveness didn't mean salvation or fully restored relationship with God, allowing eternal life. These were brand new concepts that Christ brought!