So…..What's the Point?

Musings from a Fellow Struggler

Archive for the tag “religion”

Free…! Really?

If we think we are free, we are mistaken. There is no such thing if by freedom we mean an independent autonomy from any natural conditions for life and/or independent autonomy from the intentions and plans of other kinds of things that might wish us, or force us, to do something we don’t want to.

An example of a natural condition is our birth. From the beginning our ‘freedom’ is already constrained by physical existence (our bodies), inherited genetic predispositions, gender and race, intrinsic athletic or intellectual abilities, or lack thereof, and the limitations placed on us by the natural world like gravity.

Added to these natural constraints are seemingly endless numbers of interfering people who always seem to be in our way (think traffic jams, competition for jobs), institutions demanding we conduct our personal affairs a certain way (like banks, government agencies), rules of law (traffic, criminal, civil), familial boundaries and demands, and even entities (supernatural) that exist to destroy whatever is left of our humanity. Interestingly, should we decide to resist some of these boundaries in the name of exercising freedom, the penalty is even more restraint by physical incarceration or increased spiritual bondage.

Thinking there is such a thing as autonomous human freedom is not only a mistake, it is a lie. Indeed, the lie is that we are entitled and expected  to do what we want, when we want, how we want, and with whomever we want. And its consequences are dire.

For instance, witness the frenzied pursuit of self-help gurus, the obsessive concern over children’s self-esteem, the desire for self-awareness, self-actualization, self-discovery, embracing self-aggrandizement as acceptable behavior and the millions of people taking terabytes of selfies. These are symptoms of our society being consumed by the soul-eating disease of narcissism that strangles its victims by the increasingly restrictive, exceedingly narrow, tiny, depressing confines of ‘me’ism.

The truth is this: there are only two masters’ and you and I are not one of them. Hence, the only freedom we have by God’s grace is to choose which master we serve. To think otherwise reveals the bondage to the lie under which we suffer and the enormous hubris that compels us to believe such thinking is somehow reasonable, even normal.

So, what’s the point of all this? We are already bound to a diabolical master (i.e. the Enemy or Adversary) all the while thinking we are independent and free. That is our perpetual and permanent condition from birth. The second birth, should we choose that path, places us under the dominion of the second Master who sets us free from the first but then, free only to serve Him. But serving Him is a true freedom; the former only an illusion. And this true freedom is paradoxical. While we tend to think freedom has to do with the absence of constraints, real freedom is to be in bondage to Christ and, at the same time, to others by becoming servants, or according to what ‘servant’ means, becoming slaves. The kingdom of heaven is in every way imaginable the opposite of the kingdom of hell. Serving the diabolical master seems like true freedom but is only an ever-increasing bondage while serving Jesus is an ever-increasing freedom by being bound to Him and to others in service and sacrifice.

However, although these ideas are well known amongst Christians, many still seem to think that God is there to serve them, all very carefully couched in spiritual sounding platitudes and Bible texts. So, even while the Christian knows about the perils of “me-ism”, it is nevertheless perpetuated and constitutes a highly successful strategy of the Enemy leading to self-destruction and dehumanizing God’s image-bearers while, at the same time, making God merely an extension of the self. And Christians and the churches they attend are self-destructing everywhere by misappropriating true freedom in Christ exemplified by sacrificial service into self-serving “me-isms”

The reality and extent of our freedom is determined by which master we serve. One seeks our destruction while the Other seeks to restore us to the dignity and purpose for which we were created. If you are not a child of God under the reign of His Son you are hopelessly bound to your meager self, the Enemy of your soul, and to sin. If you are His child, then you are bound to the Master as a slave while at the same time bound to serve others. This slavery is freedom, freedom from “me”ism, from spiritual forces that seek both your temporal and eternal destruction, from the domination of sin. It is the freedom to actually exist as you were meant to exist as an image-bearer of God.

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Easter 2018- A Meditation

We have no choice about being born and no choice about dying. In-between these existential bookends our ‘life’s story’ emerges exhibiting meaning and purpose, a horrifying emptiness, a pathetic exercise in futility or some combination of these. How this story ends really depends on the world-view used to define and interpret the mystery of existence.

Secular social scientists, government authorities and, most of all, corporations see us through the lenses of naturalistic evolution concluding that our ‘life stories’ are random instances of blind, materialistic, accidental and purely ‘natural’ evolutionary processes ending in death. While alive we take our proper place in their grand scheme as consumers driven by consumerism, a commodity amongst commodities supporting a top down economic juggernaut that benefits the 1% by sacrificing the 99%. In other words, whatever ultimate meaning and value we have is extrinsic, not intrinsic; it comes from the outside, not something we possess in and of ourselves, it is imposed upon us.

But, let’s suppose there is a purpose ‘built in” to existence, that gives our own life’s story a context, that we are not just accidents of nature, but all have intrinsic value and that death is not an inevitable end to our story. And let’s suppose that this purpose, this design, can be discovered. If any of this is true, then it would explain why we seem driven to live as if there is a ‘higher order’ to seemingly random events, that we resist and resent being monetized and dare to think that life has such a beautiful and transcendent value that it should continue beyond death. So, if we at least entertain the possibility that life and death are not just natural phenomena but, at least to some degree, include supernatural elements it would give us a clue why despite a predominate naturalistic/materialistic evolutionary world view we still feel compelled to find intrinsic personal meaning when there shouldn’t be any to find.

And so, the two-major competing world-views come to light. On the one hand, we have secular culture and its commitment to naturalism and, on the other, supernaturalism which it turns out, does not reject the natural world but embraces it as part of a larger whole.  The world-view of naturalism reduces us to material beings and nothing else, whereas supernaturalism affirms we are more than the sum of our material ‘parts’, that while we are natural beings in the natural world we are, at the same time, much more and thereby expanded into our true and proper existential condition.

From the supernatural side there are many versions that seek our attention. The most profound and life affirming belief system (and, most importantly, true) is Christianity. Christians believe all human beings are “image bearers” of God because God created them so. To be sure, this image has been severely distorted by sin, but nevertheless remains present in everyone. For this reason alone, all of us have intrinsic value because God thinks we are valuable, so much so that all of history, whether secular or sacred, is a display of God setting things right again after sin entered creation. From the creation of the earth to the creation of the new heavens and earth, from the garden of Eden to the eternal Eden wherein God dwells with His people forever, this meta narrative illuminates not only our individual lives, but the life and purpose of creation itself.

Today is Resurrection Sunday, 2018. The resurrection of Jesus from the dead shows in a most dramatic way the intrinsic value of life, that what is natural (like death) is “swallowed up” by life, that the ultimate meaning and purpose of our existence is found within the love that God has for us and His creation, that life is precious in and of itself, and, therefore, continues on forever.

But we all must choose between competing stories that seek to define us. Are we the products of blind, evolutionary forces and thus nothing more than consumers defined by an economic world-view or are we something else altogether? The life, death and resurrection of Jesus show us that we are worth something because God loves us. If we choose His story, we choose life. If not, the only story left is that there is no point to anything we do, no significance to who we are, and so we “eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die”. How pathetic is that?

So, here’s the point. All who end up thinking the supernaturalism embodied in His story is a religious fairy-tale and instead wholeheartedly commit to evolutionary naturalism as more ‘rational’ will discover that natural death is not the end after all, that their soul, which naturalism says doesn’t (and can’t) exist, will endure only to take on eternal death, forever separated from the Living God, the Source of all Life. Now, this is truly pathetic.

 

Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right Thing…Really? (Part 2)

The part that disturbed me most about Ezekiel’s description of a disintegrated leadership was neglecting and/or abandoning the sheep. It’s not that the wealth part isn’t deplorable; it’s that the failure to feed, heal and serve the sheep is so clearly antithetical to what a true shepherd does and what God called the leaders to do. It was so bad that Yahweh basically fired all the existing leadership and took matters into His own hands. This act inaugurates a plan and a prophecy that begins with David and ends with the eternal reign of the Good Shepherd. But, now that the Good Shepherd has come, why are churches and some leaders so much like Ezekiel’s description?

Well, for one thing, if church leaders as ‘under shepherds’ aren’t following the example or the will of the Good Shepherd, then it’s really no wonder all of this is happening. They are wandering about as lost as the flock they are supposed to be leading. In the name of so-called contemporary necessity ( our society is different than it used to be), churches and church leaders feel compelled to be relevant (we have to respond to these changes) and develop their strategies accordingly. What ends up happening is the church is transformed by the world rather than the other way around.

For example, at least in the churches I’m most familiar with, pastoral work seems based on what I call the “doctor’s office ministry model”. There was a time when if we were sick a doctor would come and visit us at our home. That gradually changed until now we, short of a medical emergency, must make our way to the doctor’s office if, of course, we are able to get an appointment.

Many pastors’ have adopted this method and expect the sheep to come to them if they have a problem. So, we call the church office, talk to a secretary who checks the schedule of the pastor (or an underling) and then makes an appointment. It has to be this way I’ve been told because church leaders are, at least some of them, so busy taking care of multi-site, multi-campus, multi-staff, multi-media mega churches there isn’t time for very much personalized attention. What’s really pathetic is even pastors’ of small churches sometimes never venture out to check on the sheep and see where they actually live, work and play.

Then there’s the ‘supermarket ministry model’. This is a church that creates nearly every conceivable program a person might want or need with the philosophy that ‘if we offer it, they will come’. So, like the ‘doctor’s office’ model, the flock is expected to take the initiative and pick and choose (go shopping so to speak) whichever program they need. And, like a supermarket catering to a wide range of customers, making sure enough ‘brands’ are available for all the different ‘tastes’ is a priority for church leaders. Of course, administrating this kind of approach is time and resource consuming which often insulates church leaders even more from their people.

Another example I call the ‘county fair ministry model’. This one is all about entertainment and offering as many different kinds as possible. The objective is that since even Christian’s need entertainment and since the world is not a good source for the sheep, the church must provide an alternative. So, all kinds of time and resources are used to make the flock feel like they aren’t missing out on the fun by making sure they have something to do, somewhere to go and something to see when at church. Entertainment is the operative word and everything from the worship to the preaching is geared towards this goal. I daresay it’s almost as if the entertainment industries have set the standards for meaningful ministry in Christ’s church.

Now, I don’t think these approaches are inherently wrong; misguided, maybe but not wrong in the sinful sense, unless they become like the descriptions of failed leadership we read about in Ezekiel 34. I do think, however, to be most effective, and insure against the Ezekiel 34 indictments church leaders, and pastors especially, need to model themselves after the Good Shepherd. This probably seems painfully obvious but needs emphasizing given the many temptations leaders face to conform to the world (either by lifestyle or teaching) rather than to the image of Jesus.

In another post coming soon we shall see that following the example of Jesus is much more arduous and self-sacrificing then we might think, not to mention carrying enormous responsibilities with eternal consequences. Most assuredly, being a shepherd of our Lord’s flock, great or small, is a calling, not a profession and those making it a profession are dangerous and to be avoided.

 

Are Your Church Leaders Doing the Right Thing…Really? (Part 1)

Because once a pastor always a pastor, I’m disturbed (probably in more ways than one!) at the condition many churches and their leaders are in these days. Scandal after scandal, heretical doctrine, illicit lifestyles, self-aggrandizement, mind-boggling wealth at the expense of the mostly non-wealthy, associating numbers with success; and these are just the preachers, not to mention their spouses, their kids, board members, finance directors, musicians etc. I’m also disturbed by the effect all of this has on our Christian witness to the world-at-large. But, this is nothing new; similar leadership degradation happened to Israel and Ezekiel 34 (please read before continuing) describes what Israel’s shepherds did that brought them under God’s judgment and how the problem was solved.

You’ll notice the very first indictment is they used material and monetary resources reserved for the flock, and from the flock, to insure their own personal security and plenty; they became exceedingly fat while the sheep became skinny. Making this number one suggests it is particularly irritating to God (putting it mildly). Next, because of this inordinate self-preoccupation they lost track of the sheep and didn’t bother to go after those who either wandered away (the Hebrew word suggests ‘scared off’) or seek after those who became lost altogether (literally ‘perishing’). Furthermore, they failed to take care of the weak (malnourished), provide healing to the sick and bind up the broken (alludes to treating wounds caused by wolves). Finally, they ruled the remaining sheep (the ones not scared off or not yet dead from neglect) with force and cruelty.

Now, we fast forward to 2012. We can see the ‘personal gain’ part by the luxurious and over-the-top lifestyle’s of many ‘leaders’ prominent on certain television programs. The neglect part is evidenced by malnourished sheep (read Bible and theological ignorance) further exacerbated by inept, weak and sometimes even false teachings delivered from the pulpit (or music stand, or stool, overhead projector, movie screens etc.) Failure to make sure the sheep are safe from harm follows the misguided thinking that success is measured by the number of sheep in the flock; too many sheep overwhelms the leader’s ability (or desire) to take care of them all.

The ‘force and cruelty’ is a bit more subtle and is very often disguised by ecclesiastical authority (the minister/laity distinction or the so-called ‘Moses’ model of ministry are examples) and tricking the sheep into thinking they exist for the sake of the shepherd instead of the other way around. Using the force of guilt to manipulate a flock into supporting dubious, self-serving programs is one quite effective example. This works by appealing to loyalty for the shepherd (“I’m your loyal pastor so help me out here”), or by using the Bible to coerce some kind of behavior, usually about giving money (“…give to this ministry and God will give back to you even more”). The sheep feel bad if they don’t respond as directed or, much worse, might even feel they’re letting God down and this is just plain cruel.

If any of the above is happening to you or the flock you’re part of at least consider confronting the leadership or find a safe haven somewhere else. Blind loyalty to a person, persons or denomination just because of some ‘past’ good old days or long-standing history isn’t going to cut it because we are in the last days and the kind of ecclesiastical disintegration we are witnessing is a precursor, and contributor, to the great apostasy I think is already beginning (2 Thess. 2:1-3).

Living on the Edge

When we think of someone ‘living on the edge’ we usually mean a thrill seeker who takes risks most of us would not. For the more reserved among us, we might think these people foolhardy while secretly envying and admiring their daredevil antics. Others see them as role models and then try to duplicate or exceed whatever stunts that made them famous.  Ah, yes…fame. That’s a powerful motivation for ‘living on the edge’; to go somewhere, or do something, that no one else has and then, at the very least, be featured on YouTube or Facebook.

But what if living on the edge was not that extraordinary, even if it encompassed the universe itself, but was merely an entry point into something far greater, beyond imagining even, and when once entered, never ended but only grew larger?  What if creation itself, the seen and the unseen, is just a kingdom’s furthest outpost bearing the symbol of ownership by a King whose ways are beyond finding out?

 

Job 26:14(for the best result, read vv1-13)

 14    Indeed these are the mere edges of His ways,

And how small a whisper we hear of Him!

But the thunder of His power who can understand?”

 

This is where Christians live, on the edges of His ways and since the edges of God’s ways are beyond imagining, what must the inner circles be like? Well, we’ve been invited to explore this land by its King, even become its citizens. But, what if this land is wild and untamed, even dangerous and requires that we ‘change our ways’ to adapt even more than we already have? What if once deeper in this realm, we can’t turn back or the King requires even more from us? Fearing this vast Unknown many ignore the invitation and chose to remain amongst familiar surroundings and serve a rather domesticated God, a God who is no threat to them. They have Him safely and securely tucked away where He can be called upon when needed but otherwise doesn’t interfere with their affairs; unless, of course, He wants to bless them, which suits them fine.

And Indeed He does for without His blessing we would all, saints and sinners alike, be reduced to ashes. But according to some prominent preachers blessing us is all He wants to do, to enlarge us, prosper us, and insure our happiness. These preachers are a bit like Job’s comforters who waxed eloquent about God’s nature, His will and His ways but didn’t really know what they were talking about; these preachers, much like Job’s comforters, personify the theologically challenged and are, in fact, dangerous.

In Job 26 Job gives a litany of God’s great power and His ways in creation as a rebuke to his comforters declaring that in the end whatever we know of God is only the tiniest part of something bigger than we can grasp. We should, then, speak with humility, not pride or arrogance, for we know only the edges of His ways. Even His word to us is only a slight whisper, or a faint echo, and if a whisper is beyond our capacity to fully comprehend, what, then, of His thunder? The few times Israel heard God’s voice like thunder it struck so much fear in their hearts that they recoiled from His presence and sought the protection of Moses.

So, what’s the point?  If we are going to speak about God we must speak with a great deal of humility and we must, as much as is possible, know Whom we’re talking about. The first requires a strong sense of our finitude and the second an ever-expanding theological acumen.  Neither of these will happen apart from first acknowledging that He of Whom we speak is beyond finding out yet desires we know Him and, second, daring to leave the edges of His ways to pursue Him as the deer does the water brook “in a dry and thirsty land” going ever further in and farther up and never looking back. For us, then, the real risk is not living on the edge like our daredevil friends, but living in the depths of God (‘exploring the land’ mentioned earlier) where our hubris is diminished so He can fill us with Himself Who is all wisdom, knowledge, glory and power. Living like this may never get us into Facebook or Youtube but our names will be listed in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

 

 

The Power of A Suggestion

I’ve noticed, and maybe you as well, the many medical and psychological explanations offered through the media (which makes me suspicious already) about why we behave certain ways.  What I find interesting, and a bit frightening, are claims that much of our behavior (soon to be all if the trend continues) is governed by factors out of our control, like genetics, or brain ‘wiring’, for example. Although these theories are presented with only very small research support, premature you might say, they are nevertheless offered as important discoveries. And I have to point out that while I’m sure the ones doing this research think they are really on to something, all this is not really new; the Gnostics held similar views and without knowledge of genetics at that; but I digress.

Note carefully what is happening: the mere suggestion we might not be responsible for our aberrant behaviors is enough to both excuse them as ‘not our fault’ and indulge in them because we are preconditioned to act this way so we may as well not put up a fuss.

The point is that these kinds of suggestions provide an alternative to the idea of personal sin and, because, so they say, we are driven along by conditions (like genetics or brain wiring) beyond our control, an alternative form of forgiveness is provided as well. What these ‘movements’ are doing along with their suggestions is offering substitutions. So, instead of being morally responsible for our aberrant behavior (sin) we are merely ‘sick in the head’ and require medical or psychological help (or in extreme cases, be institutionalized) while also excused from any guilt for these behaviors (forgiveness) because we were born this way.

So, there are movements afoot that seek to absolve human beings from any sense of guilt and preserve their self-esteem against such supposedly harsh points of view like Christianity with all its talk about an offended righteous God, the universal sinful nature of humanity, judgment against sin, heaven and hell and the like. At this point it seems there is still enough resistance to these ideas that their influence is minimal (it seems much more widespread and influential in Europe). But, not for long; advocates of these ‘suggestions’ are relentless and I think driven by behind-the-scenes forces they can scarcely imagine. In fact, such ‘suggestions’ are perfect to the task of keeping people in darkness and Wormwood would be pleased (a lead character in C.S. Lewis’, The Screwtape Letters).

So, what should we do? I propose we at the very least suggest otherwise against all these suggestions with the truth of the Gospel. With the help and power of the Spirit, it is the most powerful ‘suggestion’ of all.  We should also be alert to these ‘scientific discoveries’ and know others will follow. Such watchfulness will insure that the enemies at our gates will not gain a foothold. Finally, we should never allow ourselves to be intimidated by any alternative views that contradict what we know to be the truth. This will insure we remain free because knowing the Truth (read Jesus) always frees the mind and heart from bondage.

I Changed the Name

Well, “dr wm’s space” seemed so…..bland, or something, I don’t know. Anyway, it’s changed to the new one. The question posed in this title better reflects my attitude about being a blog contributor. I mean, there seems to be a lot of blah, blah, blah going on so this title compels me to cut to the chase. However, there may be blogs that require a more lengthy discussion but I will try to make it all  “clear and distinct” (borrowing from Descartes, re: his  “clear and distinct idea” concept) as possible. Uh oh, could be some blah, blah, blah right there. Sorry.  This will take some practice.

By the way, I clicked “like” on my own post “The Most Cruel Reductionism”. I tell you it was an accident, I didn’t mean to do it. I’m still trying to figure out how this wordpress thing works and couldn’t find a way to delete my mistake. Anyway, I got a reply that I must be vain to do such a thing as “like” my own post. Good grief, IT WAS AN ACCIDENT!

On the Death of Self-A Meditation

 

 

 

Death and life; they are so close sometimes, almost in the same breath, especially a last, dying breath. So, consider this: “…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” The believing and the confessing (remember confessing something means saying something and speaking requires breath) unto salvation happens while the conditions of sin and death are still present. Thus, all my utterances to the point of this singular confession were mere death gasps, breathings of an already dead man just as my beliefs were about a world doomed to destruction. But with this confession and this belief I advance, as do you, from death to life, from flesh to spirit, from weakness to power, from darkness to light compelled by this confession that Jesus is Lord and believing that God raised Him from the dead. This is the sum and substance of Easter for Christians, the very core of the Christian faith.

It’s wrong, then, to think God wants anyone dead; He is, after all, the God of the living and the very Source of life itself. The sinner, who is already dead in sin, He wants to make alive again. He wants Christians to die but only to the self, to the ‘me that is me’, the self-centered and selfish me so that the new man, the ‘me born after the image of God’s Son’ might emerge. This is not, then, to be considered some morbid exercise and it is not to suffer any kind of real loss nor is it a meritorious act to gain God’s favor. Rather, it is a joyful necessity because the old man and the new man cannot co-exist; one must yield to the other-there is no other way. The farmer knows this; unless the seed he plants in the spring dies, changes, leaves behind its original form, it cannot become the awaited harvest.

We are all “dead men (and women) walking” but for us who confess and believe, physical death merely allows us to keep right on walking eternally with He who makes all things new. Therefore, death is really all about life, a paradox to be sure, but only one of many in the economy of God.

The Most Cruel Reductionism

Reductionists say that human experience, including what we think of as being part of the soul or ‘metaphysical’, are actually just molecules and atoms running willy-nilly in our bodies. So, they explain an emotion like love as merely certain chemical reactions in the brain and those experiences we might think of as supernatural, like God, prayer, beatific vision, divine healing etc.; are just peculiar manifestations of molecules and atoms moving about willy-nilly in the world outside our bodies. Such is the nature of this kind of reductionism, to take the complexity of human existence and reduce it to material substances interacting according to the ‘laws of science’; in other words, all things supernatural are just natural, all things metaphysical are just physical.

If this sort of reductionism is correct, we human beings are merely aggregates of molecules and atoms and the idea that we have intrinsic value given by a Creator is a groundless, even delusional, belief. Since we are at bottom merely physical, natural things among other things, our value can only be derived from them, whatever they might be. In our culture, people are increasingly viewed as things among things buying things. We have been monetized and given the title ‘consumer’ and our value are determined by how much potential profit we generate for the producers of goods and services. When human life is reduced to a profit or loss motif, it becomes merely a commodity, another thing among things in a universe of things. If this all sounds a bit far out, consider that you are a target for advertizing with the singular goal of separating you from your money. All the hoopla recently about Google’s privacy policies and advertizing is a good case in point.

Reductionism is becoming the predominate world-view and it is, at least to me, cruel because re-defining a person created in the image of God into a thing makes them no different from a washing machine or any other such appliance. Consequently there exists no moral obligation to treat a person any different from appliances which can, and does, open the door to horrible and cruel abuse. And the most glaring instance of this cruelty is reflected in the opinion of two Australian ethicists about abortion, after- birth abortion specifically, who question at what point we should ascribe personhood to a fetus or a new-born. Obviously, the question itself presumes that the fetus/new-born is not a person and therefore, only a thing. The monetary part becomes a factor if the fetus/new-born has some sort of birth defect, costly to both parents and society. Here is a quote from the article:

 The moral status of an infant is equivalent to that of a fetus in

the sense that both lack those properties that justify the attribution

of a right to life to an individual.

Both a fetus and a newborn certainly are human beings and

potential persons, but neither is a ‘person’ in the sense of

‘subject of a moral right to life’. We take ‘person’ to mean an

individual who is capable of attributing to her own existence

some (at least) basic value such that being deprived of this

existence represents a loss to her.

“Potential Persons” in the “After-Birth Abortion” Article

Ethicists in Australia Call for “After-Birth Abortions” | LifeNews.com

The upshot is this: a fetus/new-born is not by their definition a ‘person’ so any protections usually given to ‘persons’ is no longer required. The human-being/potential person is language that glosses over the idea that a fetus/new-born is actually an object, a thing, and can be killed/disposed of without fear of repercussion, especially.

Because of this increasingly accepted devaluing of human life (even for the elderly now) It is not enough to just preach about the value of human life from conception to the grave. We must also actively take care of and protect those we call brothers and sisters in Christ. And this circle extends to the homeless, the sick and the poor who have always been the target audience of Christianity from the very beginning.

In other words, if we truly believe that we, and all human beings (from conception to grave), are created in the image of God and therefore, in spite of sin, still possess intrinsic value, then we need to resist all reductionist policies. This means, at the very least, loving one another as Jesus loved us and realizing that devaluing others by actions, conversations, or attitudes, devalues us at the same time. Overcoming this devaluing cruelty with kindness and love along with active and determined resistance is the moral high ground we occupy as sons and daughters of God.

Uncomfortable, Comforting Comfort

More and more churches have gotten into the business of making people comfortable (like day spas for example) by removing circumstances, environments, or ideas that are upsetting while at the same time surrounding their congregations with agreeable things that make them feel good. This seems especially true about the sermons being presented. The messages are comfortable as if that were their purpose and function, to make everyone feel contented.

There is a unique and eternal Comfort available to people that has nothing to do with creaturely comfort but rather with the countless discomforts of sin; it is the comfort of the forgiveness of Jesus and His gift of the Spirit. This kind of comfort is only experienced alongside the conviction of sin because His message is not to make people feel good, but to bring them to God. If you have been convicted of sin and repented you know how uncomfortable the whole process can be.

So, being uncomfortable is necessary part of any faithful presentation of the Gospel and reluctance to welcome the conviction of the Holy Spirit suggests we have bought into the idea that feeling uncomfortable about the things of God is contrary to the Gospel. After all, some ‘seeker friendly’ types say, “it’s good news and God loves us so be happy, all is well”. The difference between conviction and condemnation is confused in their minds so anything that challenges lifestyles by the standards of the Gospel is watered down or avoided altogether. Apparently it is better to have a church of anesthetized people than it is to have one filled with people who realize their sin, repent and then live under the power and life of the Spirit.

Therefore, trying to remove discomfort from our churches and our lives is dangerous because God’s love (which is always emphasized it seems) is inextricably tied to His judgments (which isn’t talked about much); i.e. He judges because He loves. Otherwise, the meaning of “For God so loved the world that he gave….” is lost. There was and is sacrifice and judgment connected with the Father’s love displayed by His Son which is why truly loving God and others can be excruciatingly uncomfortable at times.

But I hasten to add that along with this uncomfortable comfort is the comfort of peace and freedom that comes from knowing the truth. What is interesting is that we must all pass through the uncomfortable comfort before reaching the comforting comfort. For example, Jesus said that He must suffer and die before the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) could come and that it was necessary for this to happen. In fact, John 14-16 is filled with the discomforting and comforting Comfort interplay (speaking, of course, about the Holy Spirit). In this life, we can’t have one without the other.

You’re Approved!

“Approved”.  I always get a little thrill (accompanied by relief) when this comes up on the little screen after swiping a debit card. Maybe it’s because I’ve been denied before, much to my embarrassment, like at Costco after having a huge basket of stuff ran through the checker and a long line of people behind me impatiently waiting their turn. Usually this kind of approval only requires that you have enough money in the bank to cover the charge and that your arithmetic is correct; you don’t need anyone else’s involvement with your affairs.

On the other hand, gaining approval for a mortgage or car loan is more rigorous than swiping a debit card. Only after being scrutinized, your finances laid bare and your past weighed in the balance are you handed the keys to your new house, car or both. You passed though the gauntlet of intense personal exposure victorious.

Then there’s the approval of your friends, co-workers and casual acquaintances. Like most of us you seek some kind of approval from others as a way to reinforce your sense of self-worth. After much hard work and sacrifice, you secure a good reputation, the opinion of others about you is positive and important people respect, maybe even admire you. Hopefully, a similar but more significant approval meets you when you go through the front door at home, either by a wife and children or an adoring dog.

Now, let’s consider the measures by which these examples of approval are gauged. To a large degree, the first two have to do with prevailing monetary customs and expectations which in turn are decided by certain social, political and financial entities that in turn are made up of people like you. To the extent you succeed in meeting their ‘measurements’ (which include at the very least income, work history and credit history) you can expect a positive result. You are, in essence, allowing yourself to be judged in order to be ‘approved’ for whatever it is you want from these entities.

The third kind of approval is sometimes decided by a different set of measurements, what we might call personality, or character, traits. However, this all depends on what kind of approval you seek; you can gain the approval of others either by the things you have or by the kind of person you are; you decide what the measurement will be unlike the other two that are imposed from the ‘outside’.

But, there is a fourth kind of approval that all of us should be most concerned with that has nothing to do with other people or groups of people but only with God. One example of this approval is found in Hebrew 11:2 where “men of old” gained God’s approval by their faith in Him. What is interesting is that, for the most part, these “men of old” were everyday people made extraordinary only by their faith. Their now famous exploits are instances of God’s power in and through them, not some intrinsic nobility or genius they possessed. In fact, you might find pictures of them of in our Post Offices had they lived today.

Here, the measurement of approval has nothing to do with your circumstances (good or bad) or other people (important or otherwise) but only God and this puts you and the rest of humanity all on the same footing. Nothing we have or nothing we have done (or not done) makes one whit of difference in gaining God’s approval. All that matters is this: that we are found trusting and believing Him in all aspects of our lives and even death itself.

I mention death because the word that is translated “approval” in Heb.11:2 is from the Greek root word martyreo. Our English word “martyr” is derived from this term which we know refers to someone whose life is taken, either voluntarily or by force because of their “testimony” (another meaning of the word martyreo) about some set of religious convictions. In the case of Christian martyrs, they were put to do death because of what they believed (their faith in the One True God and His Son, Jesus Christ) and their proclamation of that faith (the testimony that salvation comes only from God through Jesus Christ).  So, it is said of those that have died in the faith that God “…is not ashamed to be called their God…” (Heb. 11:16). And, in a truly remarkable passage from Revelation we read of the great power of our Christian testimony; the “accuser of the brethren has been thrown down…and they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even when faced with death.” (Rev. 12:10-11)

What is marvelous about all this is that our testimony about God and our faith in God is in fact an approval of God which is reciprocated to us by God. Put another way, if we believe in God, believe His Word and testify to this faith we have, then God testifies approvingly of us. Jesus Himself suggested the same principle in the negative when He said “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this sinful and adulterous generation, the Son of Man will also be ashamed of when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:38 NASB) So, the question for us is this: are we more concerned with the approval of others than God’s approval? And since the approval of which we speak is reciprocal, the second question is do we approve, really approve, of God in our lives as evidenced by our testimony?

Much more could be said but this blog already seems too long. How long are blogs supposed to be anyway?

Egypt or Exodus: How Memory Defines Us

As a species we are time and space bound creatures. Our bodies move us through space and provide contact with the external world while our minds provide the means of understanding the external world and give us an inner sense of self-awareness.

Now, this much seems fairly obvious but it raises an interesting question concerning the issue of self-identity: what is the ‘I’ in ‘I am feeling happy now’ or ‘I had an episode of indigestion yesterday’ or ‘I’m looking forward to my vacation in two months’?  To complicate things further, how can we say we are the same person today as we were yesterday or thirty years ago when many of the identifying features of our existence have undergone physical, emotional and mental changes?

Although the details differ, most people who study this sort of thing agree that memory is one key component to the experience of self-identity. The memories I have are obviously mine and therefore provide a sense of centered experience through time. In other words, I’m quite sure I’m me today because I distinctly remember being me a few seconds ago, minutes ago, hours ago, days ago etc and having had certain experiences during those seconds, hours, days and years. The fact is our past continuously grows larger behind us while our future grows smaller the closer we come to the end of life’s journey.  Memories are drawn from this ever-increasing pool of events and are vital to the kinds of expectations and potential we have in this present moment.

These issues of self-identity and memory are especially important for Christians because we have undergone the most radical change possible for a human being; we have been born again. This created second pool of memories that are sacred and identify us as “in the world but not of the world” and uniquely and forever as sons and daughter of God. And, as we progress along this new, sacred time-line of past, present and future, the way we think is radically changed; we just don’t see things the way we used to, our values and judgments are changing, our friends are new.  Even though we now have memories of two different worlds at the same time it is the sacred memories around which our sense of self-identity is grounded.

The importance of memory and remembering to our spiritual lives is paradigmatically illustrated by the history of Israel. The rehearsing of history was integral toIsrael’s ongoing relationship with, and worship of, Yahweh. That is, the relationship was defined by historical events, the revelations, the covenants and the actions of Yahweh on behalf of His people.  The recitation of these events was a reminder to Israel of God’s dealings with them, His promises to them, His faithfulness to them and His power and protection on their behalf.  It was also a reminder of His judgments of sin, idolatry, andIsrael’s unfaithfulness.  All of this  gave Israel a sense of meaning, purpose, and destiny; it defined their reason for being.

So, in like manner for all of us of the New Testament, sacred memories of the Gospel history, the history of the church from its inception, our personal salvation history, the history of our local church community all provide a framework for our sacred experience now, this day, and this moment. They define who and what we have become through God’s grace.  Remembering has the effect of reorienting us when the path is no longer clear. This is especially true when things aren’t going particularly well for us. The bottom line for us is this: are we remembering the attractions of our Egypt or the miracles of our past and continuing Exodus? Who we are and where we are going is in the answer.

Faith and Magic

 

I’m assuming everyone that’s reading this wants to please God and knows that without faith it is impossible to do that . (Heb. 11:6)   All of us, then, must learn as much as we can about faith so we can please Him.  This, of course, is a huge topic and the space of this article is far too short to discuss all the nuances of what faith means.  But what we can do is consider one thing that faith is not: faith is not magic.

Now, on the face of it, this claim that ‘faith is not magic’ seems obvious, almost not worth mentioning.  But in fact a rather large number of Christians in many different traditions treat faith more like a magical spell than the key to understanding the true nature of all creation, our purpose in it and discerning what pleases God.  I’ve known some who conduct their affairs as though God’s Word holds magical power over objects, people or circumstances and frequently quote “ask whatever you will in my Name…” as an example.  The condition is “if you have faith…” and, assuming you have it, ask away and ‘poof’ whatever your heart desires comes to pass, so they say.  Of course, if it doesn’t, that means you have no faith, or at least not enough of it, and must try harder to get more.  It is as if the promise is greater than the Promise-Maker, and He is bound, or obligated, by the “ask whatever you will in my Name” as though He is a genie in a bottle.  And that’s the whole appeal of magic: it is something we control.

Confusing faith with magic is due in part to the common error of thinking faith is a possession, like a car or a home or that it is something that can be weighed, like a pot roast at the market.  Not only does this mistake of quantifying faith make it like a magical charm to be used as needed ( it is ours, after all) but it also creates a great deal of anxiety about whether we ‘have enough’ faith, how to decide when enough is enough and whether our faith is ‘bigger’ than someone else’s.  I think this is why Jesus used the example of a mustard seed to encourage us all by suggesting that ‘size’ (read quantity) doesn’t matter as much as using what we have.

Another way turning faith into some kind of perverted magic is making it a matter of propositions rather than a way of living.  By this I mean reducing faith to a list of  “I believe such and such”, then going merrily along life’s way and never allowing the ‘such and such’ to actually change the way we live and think in our day-to-day affairs.  Consequently, we can be quite orthodox in our faith and be very clear on our doctrine and then think that, since we have the formula’s right, God should respond favorably to our requests.  Again, this is like magic; just learn the right formulas, say them in the right order and God will, or must, act.

Given this propensity to turn faith into magic at least one important thing about faith can be learned: spiritual faith, the faith that really counts, is always submissive to God and is concerned only with pleasing Him.  Anything else, including faith so-called, is an attempt to manipulate God and reflects the ages old tactic of bringing God down to size so He can be tamed and then used for our own ends.

So much more needs to be said, but we can at least take this with us: the moment we want nothing else than to do His will and please Him, then we can, and should, ask for whatever it is in His Name and it will be done.  Then, not only will our faith in God be pleasing to Him but will take on the character of something so wonderful it might seem almost ‘magical’!

 

The Temptation to Regret

 

 In his Chronicles of Narnia, C.S. Lewis has Aslan, the Great Lion, say that “it is not given to man to know what might have been…” in order to discourage any speculation by one of the children about choices made.  It refers to the great ‘what if’ questions like “what if I had done this and not that”, “gone here and not there”, or “what if I had taken another path than the one I’m on”, and so on.

In real life, it seems most of the time these “what if” questions come up when we experience deep regret for inappropriate or harmful decisions made and, in some cases, have a profound and lingering sense of guilt for having made them.  In milder forms, regret can get us to fantasizing about “what might have been”; in extreme examples, regret causes such despair that people exist in alternative realities of “might have beens”.  For Christians, this extreme kind of regret comes when it is believed the consequence of bad choices (whether made in ignorance or rebellion) has resulted in missing God’s best and perfect will for their lives.  They despair of ever getting back on track and think, even if they could, so much time has passed that is too late to enjoy whatever it was God had planned.

It must be admitted that our choices make a difference in what happens in life. After all, it is nearly impossible to make sense of moral responsibility and accountability without ascribing some power to the choices we make.  On the other hand, it must be the case that, if God truly knows everything past, present and future, our choices, bad (or good) as they might be, must have already been anticipated by God and ‘taken into account’. Therefore, our choices alone cannot be the sole reason we are here, in this place at this time.

Now, let’s suppose it is true that decisions made or not made have brought us to this place and let’s further suppose that, given hindsight analysis, we can imagine a much better “what might have been” scenario. This kind of thinking implies that God’s will can be marked out somewhere on a scale of ‘good, better, best’.  If this is so, then God’s will must be adjustable and with each adjustment made according to what we are deciding to do we find ourselves either closer or further away from His ‘best’.  It is unlikely, however, that God’s intentions are so fluid and easily diverted nor is it likely His will is a matter of degree. It seems to me that God’s will, whatever it might be in its details, is always the best.

All this leads us to why we might consider extreme regret a temptation.   If we think that God is sovereign over all creation, then regretting our decisions flies in the face of God’s will; we simply have no room for complaint because God has put us where we are, in spite of ourselves. On the other hand, if we think our freedom to make ill-advised or disastrous decisions can trump God’s sovereignty, then our whole focus is on our limitations and failures and not His grace and power. So, extreme regret is a temptation to either rebellion or self-aggrandizement with the ’what might have been’s of life” only chimeras and occasions for self-pity. Instead of thankfulness and hope, we experience a kind of spiritual malaise of hopelessness, which is nothing more than self-centered pride and most likely the very reason for all the choices we now regret. In other words, being disappointed that God has not provided a more suitable place in life for us (He is, after all sovereign and could have had He wanted to) or disappointment at our own failures (I missed God’s best because of ignorance or rebellion) seem to be focused entirely on our selves rather than God.

But, of even more serious consequence is that regret distracts us from the only thing we have in which do to anything and that is today, the present in which we live.  Being preoccupied with “what might have been” hides the ‘what is now the case” from our attention.  It is a favored tactic of the Enemy because it is so effective, especially to those who fervently desire God’s best and to those entangled in self-centeredness.  Being filled with regret paralyzes us from doing anything now.  We can either be afraid of making yet more regrettable decisions or so preoccupied with past decisions that the moment in which we live simply passes us by, both being the occasion for yet more regret.  Paul’s advice is most helpful here: “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.  Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing you be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.”

Whatever Happened to Repentance?

The first message Jesus preached was: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” The operative word here, of course, is repent. Repentance means to turn around, change one’s mind and go in the opposite direction one is heading, in this case from sin to God. It’s clear you would have to know what the right direction is in order to turn around which, at the very least, demands a proper understanding of sin.

We’ve been told by postmodern gurus ranging from psychologists to atheists that the notion of sin is really just a social construct based on ever shifting opinions of right and wrong. And our culture has bought into this so there really isn’t a compelling reason to change directions because (with the exception of God) there really is no other direction to choose.  However, if sin turns out to not be a social construct but a violation of absolute truths revealed to us by a Perfect, Holy and Righteous Being to whom we owe our very existence and the penalty for such violations is eternal death then changing directions is of utmost importance.

Now, I have been to churches (the ‘seeker friendly’ type) where invitations to become followers of Jesus are given without even the mention of repentance. In fact, every attempt is made to remove negativity from the messages and emphasize all the positive aspects of being a Christian. This fits nicely into our cultural milieu of ‘make me feel good’ and instant self-gratification (the natural result of ‘there is no such thing as sin’) which is the very worldly attitude the church should denounce. In the absence of such censure, the “godly sorrow” (2 Cor. 7:10-11) that true repentance generates is out-of-place. I mean just imagine scores of people crying, weeping, feeling horrible about their lives, prostrating before God and asking His forgiveness (like the ministries of say Billy Sunday) during a church service; this just wouldn’t be compatible with a ‘feel good’ atmosphere. It would no doubt compel many seekers to seek the first door out of the sanctuary.

Anyway, the argument goes that society has changed and people see the world differently than they did centuries ago. Therefore, we must change along with it to remain ‘relevant’. I counter this fallacious thinking by invoking the one constant that remains no matter what a culture is like: all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Therefore, “Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand” is as relevant today as it was during the time of Jesus and, just as in the times of Jesus, some will be offended at the message while others will embrace it along with its Messenger. Only the right message will bring about the right result and the Church is responsible, not for its content, but only for its accurate and complete proclamation including repentance.

On a final note, repentance is enjoined upon Christians and must continue long after initial conversion.  Read the letters to the churches found in the first three chapters of John’s Revelation. With the exception of one, the final word of Jesus to His churches was “repent…”. What this tells me is that repentance is part of any genuine Christian experience. This means that the preaching of repentance in our churches should be an ongoing practice which, in turn, requires reminding us all that sin must be taken seriously, very seriously. More on this later.

 

Trench Warfare

Trench warfare, militant church. spiritual warfare, spiritual weapons, armor of God, fighting the good fight.  These and other terms depict  Christ’s Church as anything but passive or nicey nice.

There was a time in her history that the Christian church acted militarily to subdue its perceived enemies and acted on the assumption of God’s blessing for conquering His enemies. This came about from the sometimes unfortunate alliance of church and state where political and power agendas could be easily disguised as spiritual. And, given the power of the state with its standing armies the church could accomplish its ends without appearing sullied. Thus, so-called Christian imperialism was born and remains a source of contention, embarrassment, and cause for timidity for many churches and Christians to this day. However, the point here is simple- that in spite of past misconduct, the Church as the Body of Christ has always been called to battle, to fight the good fight, to die for the faith if necessary. By so doing it continues what Jesus started, a ministry of trench warfare, a messy foray into the depths of humanities propensity for both blatantly obvious and subtly enlightened evil. So, every local church, at least in my opinion, has a trench it is supposed to be fighting in for the cause of Christ and the advancement of the kingdom.

Now, I cannot say what specific trenches might be for specific churches. Each church is unique, its members placed by the Holy Spirit in that Body and no other which itself is cause for wonderment. The people in a church (I mean, of course, a Christ centered, Bible based congregation) might think they are there by choice or accident and the leadership might think they are there because of their ingenious programs.  But, the fact is, they are Christ’s people, saved by His blood, given gifts and placed there by the always mysterious machinations of His Spirit.

And I must emphasize it is trench warfare, it is a place where sin and evil is met head-on so to speak. We must think of ourselves as warriors, as aggressors against the Enemy and learn that behind every physical manifestation of evil and sin there are spiritual powers that cannot be overcome by anything other than spiritual weaponry.

So, the church and its leaders must set out to discover that trench they are to fight in, prepare themselves for battle, and then go on the offensive in the Name of Jesus.  Not any easy task, any of it really. Scary in fact because such adventures are usually into unknown territory but herein lies the secret of success. Any successful offensive is only brought about by the Lord Himself. What He asks of us is that we yield to Him so that we become His hands, feet, eyes, ears and mouth. He does the ministry, not us.  That is, if we lose sight that it is His ministry, His power, His cause, His Spirit by which we fight, I seriously doubt any of us will every engage in trench warfare. We will always have a shortcoming, a flaw, a secret sin, a less than dedicated heart that stand in the way of our full effectiveness; it might even the reason we don’t get involved in the first place. Or maybe we think ourselves to powerless, too old, to uneducated, to ill trained, to busy, to something to ever get involved in something like trench warfare. The fact is, however, that like it or not every one of us is in a fight; the difference between us is whether we simply find a hiding place in the trenches or whether we take up arms and fight back.

I have also noticed that given all the resistance to Christianity we might become apologetic for our beliefs rather than overwhelmingly confident we hold the truth about the ways things have been, the way things are, and the way things will be. I refer you to an earlier blog “Truth…What Truth?” for a discussion about this. The point is when you and I take a stand, it is a stand against something and for something.  Standing for the truth identifies who we are, standing against all untruth reveals the power that is ours through Him.

The upshot is that success or defeat in the trenches depends on whether we are led and empowered by His Spirit or whether we are pursuing our own agendas and empowered only by the flesh. Our lives will be a witness to which one of these options we choose.

WoW!

 

Job 21:14–15(ESV)

14    They say to God, ‘Depart from us!

We do not desire the knowledge of your ways.

15    What is the Almighty, that we should serve him?

And what profit do we get if we pray to him?’

 

In other words, don’t hang around with us God, we are happy with our ignorance and your Presence is a distraction. You may not even be that almighty after all and therefore unworthy of our service and besides, service without profit is not something we are interested in anyway. This is Job’s description of the wicked who, in spite of their wickedness, seem to get along just fine ( vv 1-13).

When I read this today I just went ‘wow’ because it is a description of the nature and depth of human pride and is in every way the same that led to Lucifer’s fall. It infected our parents in Eden and has been passed to all generations since. Hence, Romans 1 is an absolutely accurate description of humanities rejection of God’s knowledge and the consequences of that rejection; it forms the conclusion to this passage. Anyone in their right mind, angelic or human, understands that rebellious humanity has lost its mind and fallen into utter insanity.

Note the idea of ‘profit’ in these verses. The implication here is that God is seen not in the light of His utter majesty and transcendence (the Almighty) but as another way to get what we want; prayer is reduced to a “what’s in it for me” exercise. What’s more, serving God is viewed the same; i.e. if I serve God what will the benefits be?

Now, I’m certainly not saying that being a Christian is without benefits, quite the contrary. But these benefits cannot be our motivation for Christian service or for prayer because the whole impetus behind them is giving and sacrifice, not getting and accumulating. I have witnessed preachers frame the gospel message solely in terms of its benefits and little else. And this sort of message appeals to those in a materialistic culture like ours. The fact is that only by losing one’s life can it be gained, the last will be first, and the greatest are the servants of all.

A day of reckoning is coming (vv 27-34) when evil and evil men will be judged. This is both a hope and a warning; a hope insofar as we know that righteousness and goodness will prevail over all injustice and a warning insofar as we know God is neither blind nor deaf to what goes on in His creation.

 

 

 

 

 

Why Go to Church?

Why go to Church? This question is posed primarily to non-church goers but might be helpful to those who attend church but sometimes wonder why. And the answers I suggest by no means exhaust all possible ones; in fact, you can add your own reasons in the response box if you’d like.

At any rate, there is an important distinction that must be made in order to answer this question properly and it has to do with the word ‘church’ itself.  Now, many secular people associate this word with a place, an address where certain kinds of people, Christians (whatever that might mean), meet to engage in mysterious religious ceremonies directed towards an equally mysterious being, God, who may or may not truly exist. They notice that there are many of these addresses representing many, and sometimes conflicting beliefs about how these religious ceremonies should be performed and equally conflicting ideas about who and what God is, if He exists, and what He expects from us. There are Baptist, Methodist (Free and United) Congregational, Catholic, Orthodox, Mormon, Evangelical, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed (Dutch and otherwise), Non-denominational (i.e. none of the above) churches and even further subcategories of these. To outsiders this is all very confusing and often leads to a rejection of ‘church’ as being anything useful or meaningful and certainly not something worth the time.

Martin Luther said the church, any church (for now anyway, important differences will be pointed out later), is a ‘hospital for sick souls’. The fact is, and this is a tenant of Christianity, that every human being is a ‘sick soul’ that needs hospitalization, intensive care even. But, herein lays the rub, namely admitting you are sick. Getting to this point entails at the very least diverting attention away from the many criticisms of church and focusing on your own personal foibles, inconsistencies, and, yes, that unpopular thing called personal sin.  The main difference between you, the non-church goer and those who do go is they are seeking healing from their admitted sickness while you deny yours. The most important reason for going to church, then, is to begin recovering from that sickness unto death, namely the sin that you share with the rest of humanity.

So, when you go to church, be prepared to meet people just like yourself. You’ll find some trying to hide their sickness from others, a few debating whether their sickness is as bad as someone else’s, the always present hypocrites who deny they are sick but there to help others get over their ailments, and those who know they are sick and give themselves over to the mercy of the Great Physician, Jesus Christ.

But, you might think that it’s possible to have fellowship with God, to get this sickness healed without the burden of church life. We are taught to be independent, self-reliant and masters of our own destiny and, you say, even Christianity has its hermits and monks. But, even so, monks have their monasteries and hermits are never totally isolated from human contact; those pesky pilgrims often disturb their contemplation. Just consider the fact that hermits and monks separated themselves from culture-at-large, not just certain parts of it. So, unless you are prepared for nearly total isolation from society and all its benefits, trying to be an “individually owned and operated” Christian is a delusion. The point is that living a Christian life and receiving continual healing from your sickness cannot be accomplished in isolation; you need a relationship with Jesus Christ and you need relationships with His people. And this leads us to the second meaning of the word ‘church’.

Think of the church on the corner as the little ‘c’ church. It is a building where individual people gather to be ‘together’ if only for a short time to worship God, receive the medicine of God’s loving grace, encourage one another, and get instruction from His Word. But there is another church, the big “C” church of which the local church is only a part. It is magnificent in its breadth, beautiful beyond knowing and more powerful than any human institution or endeavor; it is the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ established unshakeable in His love and not even the gates of Hell can prevail against it.

Unlike the physical building or physical relationships between individuals in a local church, the Church is spiritual and each Christian is knit together with all the others into a seamless whole empowered by and guided by the Holy Spirit. Being part of the big “C” church is being part of something bigger than the universe itself, a timeless and limitless existence that is the true and final destiny of those human beings whose sickness has been finally and completely eliminated by Jesus. However, the same characteristics of the big “C” church are also true of the little “c” church, a fact often lost to its members who forget they are so much more than meets the physical eye (more on this in another article).

Therefore, walking through the doors of church on Sunday morning is not just entering a sanctuary built of mortar, brick and stone, but a Sanctuary of living stones (all those sick people, you included) being continually built up into the House, the Temple, where God dwells and receiving from His hand all that is necessary for life in this world and the world to come. If you don’t go to church, if you don’t admit your sickness, if you don’t experience the healing of Jesus you are missing out on the biggest building project the universe has ever seen, or will ever see. But, perhaps more important, you will miss what your life really is for, namely worshipping and serving the Saviour, and will never escape the tiny, restricted, suffocating, sickly, and self-centered existence that sin has bound you to. Go to church and breathe into yourself the life God has provided for you. But be sure and choose the right church to attend; more on this in the next article “Choosing the Right Church”.

Truth… What Truth?

Jesus said He was the way the truth and the life.

Jesus said we shall know the truth and the truth will set us free.

Jesus said that the Comforter will guide us into all truth.

There is a raging debate going on these days whether there is any such thing as objective truth and, if there is, how could we know it given our epistemological, cultural and finite subjectivity.  Ironically, the claim that there is no such thing as objective truth, or truth for all people at all times under all circumstances seems to be an objective truth.  Sure sounds like one to me.

In the face of such an absurd contradiction, I’m not sure the issue is really about truth itself but the kind of response that truth requires of us. For example,  if x is true, then going against x, denying x or ignoring x seems to be irrational and foolish. So, I think most of us can agree that holding your head under water without breathing leads to death by drowning and that this is a true statement. The appropriate response is to avoid holding your head under water for long periods. But, people don’t like being told what to do even when it is in their best interest. There is an inherent rebellion in each of us and by saying there is no such thing as absolute truth and then we can pick and choose what is ‘true’ as its suits us. Your truth is different from mine, neither is ultimately right or wrong so lets just go merrily along our way.

But, you see this just isn’t going to work. When little bands of ‘truthers’ ( we have our truth, you have yours) rub against each other, conflict is inevitable. They either have to ignore each other or try to overcome the obvious fallacious thinking that ‘they’ (the other groups) have. But, the premise that there is no such thing as objective truth disallows any kind of debate but, interestingly, debates do occur right along as though there was such a thing after all. It is what I call a ontic contradiction; that is, the very structure of human existence via the Creator requires absolute truth so saying it doesn’t exist or cannot be known is to lapse into absurdity. So, even though some would say there is no truth, they live, act, and think as if there is truth after all. And the contradiction becomes even more apparent when the claim there is no absolute truth is treated as if it were, well… true.

I think at the center of all this weirdness is ‘lawlessness’, a resistance to the demands of God upon human beings. It is all very clever; take away truth and moral and epistemological relativism become the norm. However, we know this truth: that for all people at all times under all circumstances there is no such thing as moral relativism but there is such a thing as absolute truth. Simply put, moral and/or epistemological relativism exists only in the absence of absolute truth; it cannot stand on its own. Hence, to justify all sorts of what we know are sinful activities, the world (kosmos) just denies the absolute truth that they are indeed sinful and all is well. And Paul said a time would come when lawlessness would be the norm, not the exception. This is why I think the lines presented at the beginning of this blog are so important. Christians believe in absolute truth; they have to if they believe Jesus is Lord and Saviour. Christians also know that the litmus test for whether truth is truth is freedom, freedom from all sorts of bondage’s. Christians also know that in matters of perplexity, of which there are many these days, the promise is that the truth will be revealed to us, that we will be guided into it and not left floundering about.

Now, it is important I emphasize the ‘we’ part of this. The ‘we’ to whom I am referring is the Body of Christ, the Church, not ‘a’ body of Christ, not ‘a’ particular church and especially not a particular person. And the ‘we’ part is also important because, whether we like it or not, this prevailing lawlessness affects us, all of us, no matter what geo-temporal fellowship we might belong to.  In fact, the more we defend truth against all that is false, the more likely we will feel unpleasant consequences. But we will hear the argument from many voices that our faith, our truth is just for us and that other faiths and other truths are equally valid, that Christianity is just one of many religious expressions pointing to some kind of ultimacy. And this alone is perhaps why understanding the litmus test of truth is so important, that ultimately it sets people free when no other freedom is possible. The absolute truth is that Christianity alone is capable of undoing the greatest bondage of all, namely sin and death.  We know this because “whom the Son sets free is free indeed” and ‘we’ Christians walk in that freedom because we know the truth and it has set us free.  But more on all this later. Stay tuned.

Thoughts on Peter’s First Letter, cont’d- Chapter 1, verse 2

We discovered from earlier blogs that the people to whom Peter writes are enduring persecution for their faith and living as “foreigners” in a hostile society. This is especially helpful for us because I see a time coming when we Christians will see increasing hostility towards our faith and our Lord.

A theme that emerges in chapter 1 is salvation (vv 5, 9, 10), what it is, how we got it and what it means. Peter teaches his readers about what God has done for them and, by so doing, show how special, privileged and powerful they really are.  This is a ‘push-back’ against the tide of persecution, not by retaliation but through a proper attitude, faith and, most importantly, witness.

An exceedingly important part of the Christian faith is Trinitarianism or the belief that God’s essence, while remaining singular, is also a plurality; i.e. One God, Three Persons. We learn from this verse (and many others throughout the New Testament) that very early on Christians believed in the triunity of God and, by necessity, they believed and preached that Jesus Christ was God. It was only later after the passing of the apostles and during the great Christological debates that the Triunity of God and the divinity of Jesus became controversial.

For Peter, each person of the Trinity plays a distinct role in salvation. So, God the Father elects, God the Son’s blood is shed for the elect, and God the Spirit sanctifies the elect. Taking these in turn, divine election (ἐκλεκτοῖς) is a “choosing out from” humanity-at-large a people who will be His possession, an inheritance and given a special relationship with Him as sons and daughters. We learn from other New Testament passages that this election occurred before the world was even created. The word is related to ekklesia which is translated ‘church’ or “called out ones” expressing the idea that Christians are called out of society at large and, while part of that society, exist separate from it as holy ones or ‘saints’. Of course, this fits together with Peter’s concern that the “exiles” to whom he is writing live as saints within the surrounding hostile society.

It is important to note that it is God the Father who does the choosing; i.e. there is nothing we can do to sway the choice one way or another because it is compelled by His mercy and grace, neither of which we deserve. But, in response to those who might see this as unfair, that those not chosen never had a chance in the first place and therefore human free will is a false notion (predestination is sometimes thought to prove this), note the words “according to the foreknowledge of God”.  Given God’s omniscience and eternal point of view He can quite easily know who will and who will not embrace His love and forgiveness in Christ. Just because Jesus died for the sins of all doesn’t mean all will accept Him. Those that do are the elect, those that don’t, the damned.

Now, it is often the case that when the Trinity along with divine election, foreknowledge and predestination are discussed, eyes start to roll, brains freeze up and television becomes an attractive alternative. The truth is we simply won’t ever ‘get it’ about these matters because the very nature of our existence is finite; we don’t have the capacity to see it all clearly, no matter how hard we try. It’s like trying to pour the entire ocean into a single glass; it simply escapes containment. We become horribly misguided if we ever think understanding a glass filled with part of the ocean means we understand the whole ocean. So it is with God but this doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try;  we only need advance with humility and admit that not everything has to be fully understood to be fully believed.

But I digress. The point here is that Peter’s audience is part of the elect, the chosen of God.  They are the recipients of His love. They are the called ones set apart for Him alone and no man, no city, no magistrate, no government can separate them from Him. And no one of any rank or any authority or any power can enter into this relationship except they be called. They are elevated above princes, principalities or powers whether human or demonic; they are the holy ones of God. This is the push back, that knowing their election is secure they can advance into their world as light advances before darkness and though they might appear weak and endure derision from others, they are in fact more powerful than can be imagined even to the point that death itself cannot overcome them. They can, therefore, be calm and confident before their accusers knowing their weakness is occasion for God’s power to strengthen them against the tide and make their message all the more real to those who have ears to hear.

And this is as true for us today as it was for them. We need not apologize for, nor hide our faith for we are sons and daughters of God the Almighty. We are His elect, and need not cower before, nor fear anyone who resists us, nor ever doubt that what we believe is anything but eternal truth.

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