Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Messy and Complex Reality of Love

Please feel free to use this Prezi to help understanding.

It’s spring, and love is in the air. At least it’s supposed to be. But here in Southern California, the heat waves followed by wind storms are more likely to aggravate people than to cheer them up. In fact, the general cheer and benevolence during Christmas seems much more love-saturated than the season when school is weighing heavy upon minds and people are looking for new jobs. Even St. Valentine’s Day passed several months ago, and ‘Ring by spring’ didn’t actualize for many of my friends. For those following the liturgical calendar, it is the second week of Easter with today commemorating Saints Philip and James, but the majority of the world couldn’t care less that Philip showed love to countless people by proclaiming the love of God incarnate, dying, and living evermore—first to the Ethiopian official and then across the ancient world. Nor do they care that James was the first martyr, beheaded for his love of Jesus.

Tonight I teach the junior high of my church about love. But they’ve been taught be hundreds of thousands of television commercials, movies, magazines, tweets, Instagram photos, Facebook posts, UpWorthy videos, vines, novels, friends, moms, weddings, store aisles, coffee mugs, jean pockets, tattoos, billboards, demons, and sinful hearts that love… is romance, and romance feels like helium in my stomach and a swelling sponge for my heart. And it is my job to begin to undo everything they’ve ever been taught and likely will be taught about love. Pray for me.

For the world around us, love is easy. And if it’s not easy, then it’s not love. It’s something that happens to you, not something you have to strive toward… in fact, if you’re working toward it, then you aren’t loving, you’re pretending. Hypocrite.

Information on love abounds. Thankfully, there is a small subversive strand that attempts to open the floodgates and let forth the messy and complex reality of love. The romantic comedy is dead, being female doesn’t automatically mean you get eligible bachelor #1, God is love, but love is not God, and every medium I criticized above has the occasional rebel within. And of course there are the teachers and leaders who have been telling us for years that love isn’t simple, and it isn’t simply about romance: D.A. Carson, The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God  and C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves… along with much of either of their writings. Gerald Bray’s recent theology book God is Love, John Piper, Francis Chan, and plenty of others who attempt to expose the reality of love in all its glories. The problem is that the many who love God and communicate his love are a small battalion in comparison to the world superpower they inhabit. They are like rebels that do not need to be silenced because the whole culture has been deafened anyway.

Well to Those Who Can Hear

To you who can hear, and not simply listen, I want to help you see the immensity of love. It is not simply a river flowing from source to destination. It is like an ocean, wild and unpredictable. Vast and deep as it curious.

God is love. (I Jn.4.8)

But God in his Triune being gives and receives a deserved love. The Father loves the Son because the Son deserves love. The Spirit loves the Son because the Son deserves love. The Son loves the Father because the Father deserves love. The Spirit loves the Father because the Father deserves love. The Father loves the Spirit because the Spirit deserves love. The Son loves the Spirit because the Spirit deserves love. Each person of the Trinity is wholly, and beautiful perfect and worthy of infinite glory and love. But… the way the Son loves the Father is different than the way the Spirit loves the Father, and the way the Father loves the Spirit is different than the way the Son loves the Spirit, etc. The essence of their love (ie. That it is love) remains unchanged, but the way it plays out is intimately nuanced. The Father did not love the Spirit by raising him from the dead, and the Son did not love the Father by sending him among the disciples.

So love can be love even if it does not look the same when it changes recipient.

But God does not only love himself… in fact, he is much too unpredictable, unfathomable, and wonderful for that. God crosses the essential divide and loves something that is entirely different, entirely other than himself. (Consider our post on Creator & Creature to realize the ‘insanity’ of this.)

God loves with Charity (often in Christian circles αγαπη) all creation. All of it. He gives charity love to all, realized in (1) creation, (2) provision, (3) sustaining power, and (4+) anything I forgot at the moment. In God’s charity love toward ALL, he pursues the ultimate good of the object in the context of all objects. Get it? You and I are not the only individuals at play in the world and time. Nor is an animal the only thing at play. Like a beautiful tapestry, God is weaving together the ultimate good for his ultimate glory which may result in the displacement/disprivilege of certain things (ie. We don’t always get what we want). All creation includes Angels—both elect and fallen, animals, living nature, unliving nature, and unliving unnature… and humans.

Does God love the fallen angels? Yes. They continue to exist, right? He continues to provide life and breath and being? This fits into God’s charity love. Hatred, if you remember, is still a form of love

God loves animals. “Not a single sparrow drops to the earth without his permission.” Ninevah had “many cattle as well.” Noah was saved with the animals on the ark. There are commandments about animals in Leviticus. And in fact, God’s love toward animals is slightly fuller/greater than his love towards nature and unnature. Elm and Willow tree seeds were not commanded to pass in the ark.

But God does love living nature (plants, trees, grass, flowers). “He clothes the lilies of the field” in great splendor! “Creation groans” for redemption. He set man in the garden to tend it. He takes delight in the works of his hands.

And God loves unliving nature (rocks, dirt, cliffs and caverns). He established the foundations of the earth (I’d reference it, but there’d be too many verses… and though it’s usually stated incidentally: God is in charge, it has inferential value). It is he who calls forth planets to stand (Is.48). Things are a ‘pleasant aroma’ to him (anthropomorphic language, sure, but do you mean to tell me that he created the scent of roses indifferently?).

And God loves unliving unnature. Songs are created by man… therefore one step removed from the ‘natural’ process. It does not ‘live’ in the ordinary sense, nor is it made directly by God. But we make a joyful noise in worship, and it is pleasant to him. And what of the benevolent widow who gave out of poverty? It was for the Temple Tax. Jesus praised her faith, but her faith found concrete expression in physical presentation.

God loves vastly.

But what of Humans?

God created humans in the image of God, crowning them with glory and honor. He has placed a particular favor (over and above his charity-creational-provisional-sustaining-love) upon humankind.

“Are you not much more valuable?” he asks with reference to the sparrow and the grass.

But of Humans there are two kinds: sheep and goats: redeemed and unredeemed. Upon the unredeemed his wrath and hate still rests even while “he causes rain to fall…on the ungodly.” But upon the redeemed, he has loved with a redemptive love. What is love? To lay down his life for his friend. To serve them. What is love? “While we were still sinners Christ died for us.” God loves his bride with a redemptive, and dare I say erotic love—one that is pictured in the love of a groom for a bride. In Hosea’s reconciliation with the whore. In Solomon’s love for the Shunnamite. And not just this, but as a Father loves a child. Pictured in the redemption from Egypt in the Exodus. In the parable of the prodigal father. Of course, the pictures abound: priesthood, kingdom, building edifices.

But even of the redeemed, there are two types of people… those who “abide in his love” (Jn.15) and those who do not. The faithful and the unfaithful. Toward the faithful there is pleasure and great joy. The joy of brotherly love and camaraderie, moving toward the goal together. And toward the other there is rebuke, discipline, and chastisement.

The love of God is complex indeed.

But what of Humans… Who love?

But the love of God is not all there is. What of humans who love others? As humans, we get our source of identity and action from the identity and action of God.

And so our love of God is a love he deserves. It is worship-love.

And our love of angels is one of honor. Of fallen angels: respectful hatred. Of elect angels: respectful mimicry and of hospitality.

Toward animals, we take our cue from God who has crossed essential divides, and we love. Both pets and nonpets in a charity-love. Pursuing the ultimate good of the object in the context of all objects. Destroying termites is valid. Unnecessarily harming rabbits is not. Naming pets and redeeming them is good. Disciplining them in misbehavior is good. Cherishing our family pets is also good.

We are stewards of living nature, caring for it. Of nonliving nature, utilizing it for the good of others. And of unliving unnature as a means for loving everything appropriately.

And humans love other humans. Christians are required to love our enemies, those who hate us; those who hate God. We must still provide charity love in provision and sustaining them. We must love.

And we must love our nonenemies. We must love our friends with a brotherly love (φιλη), standing side-by-side looking towards the goal. Brotherly love must be given toward all who believe because we all have the goal of the glory of God. We have an assumed love toward our families, but while assumed it cannot be forgotten… we must constantly provide and sustain them, living for their good. Toward our parents, an honorable love. Toward our children, a providing love. Toward our siblings, a brotherly love. And we must love our spouse (who is part of our family, and who is the closest friend) with a love that throws myself to death’s gate for their sake.

Love is immense and complex, because love is the relationship between my relationship to anyone and anything. It looks different towards different things and at different times. It is colored by wisdom in any given situation which may result in the apparent bad of one recipient in order for the ultimate good of another in the context of all. Love is no simple thing. Fortunately we have a God who loves us, even when we fail to love him and others.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. And love your neighbor as yourself. Go, and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you, and baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. This command I leave with you, love one another. If someone does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen? Husbands, love your wives… do not exasperate your children. Children, honor your father and mother, and it will go well with you. Remain in my love. If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love. There is no flaw or defect in you. I lay down my life for my sheep. I say to you, love your enemies; do good to those who persecute you. Repent and believe. God is love.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Benefit of Doubt

For an interactive/visual representation please use this Prezi originally prepared for a jr.high audience. 
You may be interested in this short review of a recent book on doubt.

Perhaps the most famous Doubter in Christian thinking is so-called Doubting Thomas. But Thomas the Realist is by no means the only one. In fact, nearly all the disciples doubted the resurrection of Jesus before they saw him. And what about Job who doubted the justice of God? The psalmists and prophets who doubted the favor of God? David who doubted his anointing? And what of John the Baptizer who doubted Jesus’ Messianic claim? In fact many of the believers in the early church doubted the truth of Jesus’ proclamations; for this reason, the apostles wrote concerning them—to know that Christ would return, to know that sins are forgiven… in fact every corrective statement in Scripture is a rebuttal of doubt.

You see, doubt is a struggle, a fight, at the very deepest levels of belief: it is not a rejection of what is believed, but rather it is a bout—entering into the ring with opposing thoughts and fighting for the prize.

Really this happens countless times a day, but most are quick skirmishes easily settled with a powerhouse right hook because you’ve been trained to believe something already. So if I made a statement, your warrior mind is prepared to knock it out almost immediately, or to put its arm around him as a good friend.

The world exists.

God has created you.

Jesus is God, the second person of the Trinity.

The goal of life is to make money.

Jesus was married.

Salvation is about me.

The chief end of man is loving others.

In the former examples, I know how I hope you responded. But if American Evangelicalism is your religion, I also know that making money has a certain pull to it, ‘salvation is about me’ is pretty good, and ‘the chief end of man is loving others’ sounds like truth.

If on the other hand you’ve been trained in biblical Christianity, you likely immediately killed the belief about money and that salvation was about you; while you beat up the final statement then held it up—since the chief end of man is bringing glory to God by enjoying him forever, and loving others is a primary method for accomplishing this goal.

We typically only recognize doubt as doubt when it is sustained for more than a few minutes. It’s then that our minds are drawn to the battle and we focus on every blow laid upon each. These issues vary from person to person, but there’s a social sphere too: what’s popularly debated in the world today. Things like euthanasia, homosexualitymarijuana, gun laws, young/old earth & evolution.

Doubt is the necessary means to disregarding false belief and embracing true belief.

What is truth?

Truth is that which is properly aligned to God.

Get the ‘objective’ language out of your vocabulary, and the same with ‘absolute truth,’ because chances are you’ve been taught to use them incorrectly. And especially stop saying ‘subjective truth’ because you simply do not understand what “those Postmoderns” actually mean.

So even though ‘gun laws’ don’t seem like a faith-issue (unless you are an American Evangelical Republican worshiping God-AND-Country), if God really created all things then all must be rightly aligned with him for it to be considered true (or at  least purely-truly good). What you believe about God shapes the way you view guns. And laws. And circumstances. So it may not be a ‘doubt’ discussed in church because it doesn’t seem to cause people to leave/join the church, but that does not mean your belief of God has no bearing upon it.

Doubt is beneficial because you and I are wrong about things. And the only way to become correct, or more true, is to doubt former beliefs, reject the false, and embrace the true. Sure this calls into question things you were taught all your life, but that’s okay. A refusal to subject your beliefs to questions reveals that you believe your God (or god) is not capable of sustaining true faith through different understandings.

Everybody believes something all the time. ‘Unbelief’ is simply ‘Belief’ in something else. But doubt is not ‘unbelief.’ Doubt is the battleground, ‘Unbelief’/’Belief’ is the world order afterwards. Who is in control? What are they doing? How do they interact with the conquered?

Doubt is the headline match: will you believe God who is the revealer of truth, or will you believe a truth mis-defined by your gods?

The god you worship will shape the way you view and interpret the world.

The way you view and interpret the world will give you a set of values.

Your values will determine your actions.

If you reject God, it’s because you lost the battle long ago too many times.

The doubters in Scripture wrestled with what they thought they knew and what might be true. That's why the Psalmist always returned to what he was certain he knew about God, his character, and his past actions. That's why Paul reminded believers of the truth that was handed down to them (and which was attested to throughout the world): Jesus incarnate, living, dying, resurrecting, ascending, seating, giving, interceding, returning. That's why John the Baptizer sought reinforcement of belief; why God responded to Job; why God confronted Sarah; why God convinced Thomas.

After the doubt, if you lose your former belief, then may the new be the true victor. And I hope it wasn’t because you fixed the fight.

After the doubt, if you maintain your former belief, then may you have it with new appreciation and joy; may it be stronger for the next time. And I hope it wasn’t because you fixed the fight.


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Dear Ruben -or- Acknowledgements 1

Dear Ruben,

You recently asked me to write to you about the people who have influenced my life--a series of acknowledgements, if you will. So be it! Here it is. I'm not famous, but neither am I likely ever to be. So perhaps the obscurity of my own person only serves to highlight the wisdom and tender guidance of our God in developing minuscule humans by using other minuscule humans! To be honest: I'm extremely excited about this: fleshing out the dynamics of human interaction and the way that temporary, innocuous events can alter a whole course of life. We truly are like bumper cars, being constantly jolted this way and that in view of eternity. In many ways these people have shifted me toward a revel in the glory of Yahweh, and I only hope I have returned the favor in some minute way. A stroke in the tapestry, a speck of dust; so we all are! And glory to Jesus for it!

The first guy on my list is named Tyler. I met him years and years ago when I was 12 or 13. He was a blonde boy, a few years older; best friends with Stephen. Together... they formed a disastrous duo. We met on a mission trip to Costa Rica, but the village huts and houses were much more sanitary than this boy. I remember one particular prank: Tyler decided to poop into a Ziploc bag. And to place it inside our leader's backpack. Why did Tyler do such a thing before an 8-hour bus ride? I do not know. But he thought it was the greatest feat his mind (and large intestine) had achieved. There were a few other things he 'accomplished' like trying to convince others you could breathe through your ears; like throwing Stephen's bottled urine across the bus; and like sharing the gospel with an unconverted team member who had never understood the need for personal faith. Did I just Jesus Juke you? Eh, maybe...

But although these events are pressed into my mind, one event stands above the rest. On the last day of our sojourn in Costa Rica, we visited a gift shop. I scoured the aisles for gifts to my family members. Sixty minutes later, I was in line at the register only to find that after all the items were rung and tax added, with both currencies of my pockets out-turned, I was short. $3 and some change. Horror lit my face, and the elves in my mind scurried frantically as I knew not how to supply the 'need' of my family's trinkets. A friend nearby suggested, "You should ask Tyler--I think he has a lot of money left." My mind-elves squealed to one another, "What? How? Tyler went to the Panderia every day to buy a loaf of cheese bread. I didn't spend as much as he did." Nonetheless, one outshouted another saying, "Go ask him!" So little 13-year old "Boston" (that's what they called me) power-walked like a menopausal woman through the store to find Tyler, the goof. Finding him--I don't even remember what I said, but I remember saying it hurriedly--he listened intently, then reached out his right hand and set it firmly and comfortingly on my shoulder with quaking calm. He spoke: "You are my brother in Christ." Pulling a few bills from his wallet he handed them to me with a genuine-sincere-pure-and-perfect smile. I thanked him profusely, promising to repay him when I got home--mailing him the four dollars. Then I sped off to settle trade. And that was it.

We still had 29 hours or so together, but our interaction was limited. I never mailed him the money. I never even got his mailing address. But the thing that really shifted me was not that he gave the money--certainly I was and am grateful. Exceedingly. But the thing that really gets me, even though I skimmed over it and shrugged it off then, was his joyful calm and the conviction in his belief: "You are my brother in Christ." Whoa. I mean, I know that simple text on a screen can't convey everything that he now means to me eternally, but if I could just transfer the weight of his words to you--man. I had heard the phrase before, but it is always said with a trite nod and throwaway smile. Looking back, though, in that moment I had been adopted as a brother. It had already happened in his heart, but there in the gift shop, he pronounced it, and made known to me that our bond fit blood and more. We were brothers, and he would take care of me. He would guide me in life as much as circumstances permitted. I gained a brother. And Tyler, poop-flinging Tyler, gave me the eyes to see the vastness and intensity of the family of God.

You, Ruben, are my brother because of Christ.

In Christ, the familyhead,
EJ Boston

Sermon Page live

I've created a page with links to audio/video sermons that have been recorded of late.

Listen to one if you have the chance, and may Christ be exalted in your life and mind.



Saturday, April 5, 2014

Common Christian Misunderstanding: "All Sin Is Equal"

Hopefully it comes as no surprise that Christians get things wrong. Such is the reality of a finite creature, particularly one strung through with sin.

In fact, sometimes, and unfortunately quite often, popular Christianity can believe and teach something incorrect… for many, many years. There are numerous examples, but the long history of denominations quickly proves that there has been disagreement for quite some time—and they can’t all be right about everything, even though all are probably right about some things.

Common Christian Misunderstanding #1
“All Sin is Equal”

Thus runs the thought, “You can’t denounce the sin of another because you’re sinful too! After all, didn’t Jesus say, ‘Take the log out of your own eye before removing the speck from another’s’?” and “Hypocrite, God paid for your sin, and without him you would go to hell too.” And doesn’t the Bible say that the person who breaks the smallest commandment is guilty of breaking the whole law? I had a friend in high school who stacked nickels on top of each other in three stacks, all varying in quantity; he said, “Look guys, it’s like sin—from the human perspective we see how tall they are, but from God’s perspective [looking from above] they’re all the same.” It was actually a really good analogy, but he was wrong.

Biblical Counter-Evidence

As a matter of fact, the Bible says exactly the opposite of the statement that all sin is equal:

  • “Jesus answered him, ‘You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.’” (Jn.19.11)
  • “Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (I Cor.6.18)
  • “Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” (Mt.12.22)
  • “If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask, and God will give him life—to those who commit sins that do not lead to death. There is sin that leads to death; I do not say that one should pray for that.” (I Jn.5.16)
  • There is distinction of type of offerings to be sacrificed for sin(s). (See Leviticus, the whole book, but especially chapters 1-5)
  • “Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the dayof judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.” (Mt.10.15)
  • “The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination; how much more when he brings it with evil intent.” (Prv.21.27)
  • “Of how much more value is a man than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Mt. 12.12) implying that to do a man wrong is worse than to do an animal wrong (cf.Lk.12.24,28)
  • “How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified and has outrage the Spirit of grace?” (Hb.10.29)

So there is clearly distinction between acts of sin. At least generally (and simplified, without explaining each distinction) we can say some are outside the body, some inside; some are death-incurring, some are not; some are forgivable, some are not; some will be judged more harshly, and some less harshly; some are greater and some lesser.

Is that uncomfortable? I hope it is!

Of course you could explain away the distinctions with some fancy hermeneutical footwork, or by disbelieving Scripture speaks truthfully. Either way, it’s to your loss and consequence.

But What about the Other Side?

There is an element of truth in the statement that ‘all sin is equal,’ and the Bible does say that breaking even the smallest commandment is guilty of breaking the whole. The problem is that popular Christianity’s view on sin is so distorted and uniformed that we fail to make the proper distinctions that Scripture frequently does.

  • Yes: any act of sin is worthy of the agent’s condemnation in eternal, conscious suffering (i.e. hell).
  • Yes: an act of greed in the heart or lust with the eyes is comparable to stealing or to adultery because sin is primarily a disposition, a leaning or a bent toward ungodliness.
  • Yes: breaking one commandment makes you guilty of the whole because sin is relational—disrupting the relationship with an infinite and eternal benevolent being who is worthy of utter honor.
  • Yes: sin can refer to both an action or to a nature.
  • Yes: some people are actually worse than others, and some are actually better than others.
  • Yes: God is justice and God is righteousness, and he is just and he is righteous; he will judge accordingly.

All sin is not equal, but NO sin is good or even better. Instead, think in the categories of bad and worse. And put sin to death, crucify it as it has been crucified with Christ; live and walk in newness of life found in Jesus Christ, the resurrected.

Dignity and Depravity
Finite Perspectives: War