Monday, June 23, 2014

I Subscribe to Heretics


On my various social networks I subscribe to heretics, false teachers, dramatic teenagers, wicked sinners, edgy satire, and arrogant ‘Christians.’ On my bookshelves sit books by Rob Bell, Jacques Derrida, Rousseau, Nietzsche, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Philip Pullman, Leo Tolstoy, and even J.K. Rowling. Now some of these persons have exponentially more merit than others, and I would even prefer reading what they’ve written over many bestsellers in the Christian bookstores (which are all too full of false teachers themselves). Even in my Spotify account, I follow such unsavory characters as Nicki Minaj, Jack Johnson, Lily Allen, and Macklemore. But this isn’t a confession and declaration of repentance. In fact I intend to continue paying attention to these people and others. But neither is this a request for you to follow suit: I do not know your tendencies toward sin, and which temptations would cause you to mistrust God. So instead, this is an explanation of my reasons.


I Do Not Approve of What They Write

Although it should be relatively obvious, I’ll say it clearly: as a general rule I do not approve and agree with what they write. However, as the old saying goes: even a broken clock is right twice a day. And those two statements give me enough reason to pay attention to what these people say. I receive daily emails from a LinkedIn Group that question the basic tenets of Christian faith, and deny them. I open my email in the morning and see questions like, “Do you believe Jesus is God?” and answers like, “No” or “Interesting question” or some strange hybrid of Buddhist ‘Christianity.’ Other questions include: “What would change if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead” (the overwhelming answer: nothing, and many denials that he did rise from the dead) –or- “How could Jesus reference Adam and Eve or Noah and the flood with authority?” (implying that we know these accounts are wholly false). I read such things and find them absurd and logically fallacious. But I still briefly read them. Why? Because…
1.)    My heart grieves, and I know that when my heart ceases to grieve I am in danger of losing the heart of Jesus for the world
2.)    My anger is kindled, and I know that when I cease to become angry I am in danger of compromising truth
3.)    My mind is forced to defend and reconcile truths
4.)    If I agree with what they’ve said, I must first examine myself and second learn humility in accepting truth from whatever its source
But my [Heresy] for Today LinkedIn Group isn’t the only one. (Thank my fiancée for that nickname.) All of us are friends with dramatic teenagers on Facebook, and follow them on Instagram and Twitter; we are frequently bombarded with desperate statements about friendship and silly statements about love. Does your heart grieve? Do you pray for them? And we all have ‘that friend’ who posts arrogant and insensitive statements about Christianity. Are you angered against pride and all evil? Do you pray for them? Do you pray for yourself, that you might not be like them? Or do you criticize them… and so become the very person you despised.

I’m aware that my modus operandi isn’t valid for everyone. The kids in my youth group would fall sway to the deceits couched in melody. Rocks dull and blunt blades, but they can also sharpen them if you use them correctly.


I Need to Be Reminded of What’s Alive in the World


Nearly all of my friends are believers. I hardly have a handful of unbelievers. So while most of my friends are encouraging and refreshing; while they can and do point me to the grace of God revealed in Christ… my life can become insular. Church on Sundays. Church on Wednesdays. Church peeps on the others. A churchly fiancée. All of this is good in its own right, but I can easily forget the insanity that wreaks havoc on the world at large. I see the world when I grocery shop, go on a date, drive in the car, but for the most part my imagination of the way life works is formed by the beautiful bride of Christ. Beautiful and desirable she is, but she is also incomplete. And I need to be reminded of what’s alive in the world. I need Lily Allen to tell me what goes through her mind when she hits the club or falls in love. I need Nietzsche to express the fatalistic nihilism that saturates so many minds. I need arrogant Christians to remind me that Jesus’ representatives often fail, and my unbelieving friends have probably been exposed to a few. I need Jehovah’s Witnesses to show me that they are offering a counterfeit gospel in almost the exact language I would use in a street evangelism conversation. I need dramatic teenagers to weep worldwide tears on Twitter so that I remember the 13 year olds I talk to on Wednesdays have a small picture of life and their position before God. I need these people to tell me that they don’t know Jesus so I can stop assuming that everybody is filled with peace and joy, struggling against sin, and looking forward to Jesus’ eschatological kingdom.


Perhaps your life is filled with worldly sinners, and these things would be unworthily burdensome. But perhaps your life is surrounded by Christians, and these things would be worthwhile to notice.



Sunday, June 22, 2014

A Prayer for Your Sunday Evening

Timeless and Tireless Lord Jesus,

Another week has gone or come depending on how I look at it. But either way, when I’m honest with myself I can hardly remember a single minute as distinct from another… let alone distinct seconds… like those ones where in your eternal wisdom you stopped me with a traffic signal; or the ones where my clamorous alarm disturbed my sleep and felt entitled to more rest. Seconds, mere seconds, in the scope of eternity and they seemed mountainous at the time. True, you have made me a dynamic, time-bound, and finite creature who must deal with events as they happen—so it’s fine that I do, but how often did those moments turn to sin? How many seconds did I waste away apart from your glorious joy and peace? In those regretful moments I doubted your goodness and your wisdom, and so now… days later I ask forgiveness. You are my Protector and my Guide but I assailed you. Forgive me. I know now that every single moment is intended to bring about eternal goodness for me and everyone else who loves you, but time after time I forget it—or call it lie. Forgive me and every other one of your children who has done so this week. Restore us to an awareness of your being. Eternal, infinite, powerful, good, Savior, Creator, Provider, Redeemer, Father, Love, Deliver, King, conquering Priest, Holy One—you are. Remind me.

It is easy to make the big jump: it’s easy to promise that when it comes down to it I would sacrifice my life, a martyr for your name. But it’s much, much more difficult to live in the menial and tedious moments in such a way that I truly consider you worthy of sacrifice. Self-sacrifice in monotony is immensely more difficult than self-sacrifice in a flash of glory… at least it certainly seems that way. In the same way, it’s easy for me to know and remember that all things weave together for the sanctifying good of your people, but it’s much more difficult to remember that in ‘chance’ events in miniscule degree, the same is true. So please sanctify me to such a degree that I doubt not your providential hand in minutiae, but instead can show unto others the presence of peace you offer because of your wondrous acts. Make me like you as much and moreso as Phileas Fogg—never regretting a moment of mischance but engaging it for all you have prepared it to be worth. When trapped by an overhanging red signal, compel me to breathe deeply and enjoy the world around me. When coerced by pseudo-melodies to leave dreamland, impress my mind with a semblance of waking from death to life through your renewing Spirit.


Do not let me forsake the small things. It is only because of Christ’s own incarnate righteousness that I know this is even possible, but now I ask that you unite me unto him in greater measure. May my life reflect such reality.



Thursday, June 5, 2014

Common Christian Misunderstanding: "God Helps Those Who Help Themselves"


I’m quite sure you’ve hear the statement before. Perhaps it was in the form of an encouragement, perhaps in the form of a correction or rebuke, perhaps even in the form of a defense. Whatever the circumstances may have been, our next common misunderstanding is the belief that “God helps those who help themselves.”



What are they actually saying?

Those who say this and believe it are saying some variant of “If I do my part God will do his.” It can be particularly reciprocal: “If I scratch his back, he’ll scratch mine,” or legalistic: “God will only show his goodness if I am good first,” or manipulative: “God! I did this, so you owe me.”

But what do they think they’re saying? Something much more admirable, to be sure. They’re trying to recognize some degree of ‘synergism’ or ‘working together’ with God. If you’ve followed the recent happenings with TGC and Tullian, you know that synergism is a hotly-debated topic. Nonetheless there is a type of synergism that everyone would agree to: God has chosen to work through means. Under ordinary circumstances, God uses ordinary means to achieve his desired ends—also known as providence. God typically uses rain to water the ground. God typically uses gravity to draw the rain to the ground. God typically uses the mass of the earth to create its gravitational pull. And on and on we go. Similarly God uses humans to accomplish his mission upon the earth. God has instituted and established certain laws and principles by which life abides—just read the Proverbs of King Solomon. In his wisdom, Yahweh has provided for societies to be built, and for economies to subsist. He has given unto men and women work to be accomplished. So in a way… yes: God has provided means to those [helps those] that they might sustain life [who help themselves]. But  that is not what most actually mean (see above paragraph).



A greater truth…

Actually, we ought to be ecstatic that “helping ourselves” isn’t prerequisite. Because the reality is that we are all helpless beggars, in treason from the law of God and in rebellion against his person stumbling along and making use of his generous provision—from the slightest breath to the most pronounced intelligence and voice. God is the initiator. He is the first cause. And with his unwarranted generosity, we would be left desolate and destitute destined for asphyxiation. No, but far from it: God looks to those who are humble and contrite in heart (Is.60), he shows grace to the poor (Mt.5) and the ones who weep and mourn. The desperate and needy are precisely those who receive unfathomable mercy and grace from the abounding goodness of God. In other words… God helps those who cannot help themselves.

In grace, Christ has appeared to us while we were trapped in the dominion of death and sin. He has liberated us.

We who could do no good, and could not even lift our eyes to the heavens without worshiping creation—us has he wakened.

Who can ascend the hill of the Lord? Only the one who is pure and upright in heart. That was none of us, but now it is any who believe in Jesus; for we have received his righteousness in place of our own.

God does not need you to be good for him first, so that he can finally pour into you the blessings he’s been longing to give. Contrary to what some people believe, God can break into your heart whether you’ve opened it or not; God can break into your mind whether you’ve opened it or not. God is omnipotent, and you cannot compete against omnipotence. God will do whatsoever he will do. You’re the one who has to respond.


So

Instead of throwing off the sheets and jumpstarting your life agenda… spend a few minutes or a couple hours in solitary dependence upon the gracious and wise, all powerful God who supplies you with all your needs; who has worked even before you have. And then get out there and accomplish the good works he has prepared in advance for you to do (Eph.2.10).


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Others in this series:


Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Nomad, a parable

Aimless he seemed to go, though not straining left or right--but endless, endless, endless. On he walked. At times guided by vision, sometimes sound, and occasionally in those tight, damp places--touch.

More than once he traveled through the same place again, but few if any saw him return from whence he came.

They simply watched on, only half-realizing his presence. Unmistakable and hard to miss, but dreadfully difficult to notice. Perhaps embroidered on the fringe of their mind there was a pleasant scent... a warm spring breeze of sorts.

A memory, though, is usually all it was because the real presence of the nomad was so natural that only rebels and stock brokers took notice.

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Was there one alone in the lands? None might say with certainty for while often two passed in proximate time too close to be one, or three passed too close to be two... yet their likeness was so akin that even politicians could not divide the few. And any time several were seen at the same instant... circumstances forbade certain proof. Desert weather may give hallucinations as much as far view and rain weather might impel even locals a course of safety pursue.

Of course unnature should say that a nomad who walks for centuries must have died. But legends of old rumor it is the same man walking thence as now.

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Measured at 30 miles a day for the pace of an average man might yield two-ten by the seventh. But the nomad is rumored never to rest. Even so, with 30 for a day, a distance can be achieved. To the ends of the earth a nomad might reach well before the third year of wandering. But perhaps that is too small a feat for the nomad because rumor and legend are whispered of late that the nomad walks not to sea or shore but to the sun.



Monday, June 2, 2014

Why I Appreciate Nightmares


Dreams are strange to me. I know there must be psychological and circumstantial reasons why I dream what I do. If I fall asleep thinking about a person or incident, often my dream(s) involve those elements. But not always. And sometimes my dreams have nothing to do with anything logical or any past experiences. Dream interpreters have been around for millennia—those who find intended meaning in dreams: dream journals, dream decoders, dream catchers. God has spoken through dreams in the past… even for eternally significant purposes. Even today there are stories of conversions in the deep parts of the world because God appeared to a man/woman in a dream and told them or showed them something. Those of us who aren’t Pentecostal are hesitant to affirm such ‘testimonies,’ but why? Do we not believe that God is sovereign and capable of preparing a dream for you and me? Yes, there are psychological reasons, and circumstantial reasons for our dreams, but nothing escapes the guiding hand of Yahweh.

Recently I had something of a nightmare.

But instead of dreading it upon waking up, I was curious and satisfied.

Here are two reasons you can try to appreciate your next ‘bad dream.’


ONE: The “Oh, so that’s how it works” Effect

When we are awake, we could talk days on the hypotheticals:

  • What if… zombies started to overrun the world? Would you pack up and run? Would you grab a gun and kill? Would you buckle and hide? Would you accept your fate?
  • What if… somebody broke into your house… what would you do?
  • What if there really was a giant spider who found its way into your room?
  • What if you got in a car crash with your loved ones?


Some of the more incredible ones (like zombies) are fun to discuss because if we’re honest, most of wouldn’t make it past the opening sequence in a movie, let alone be the last man (or woman) standing. But in our talking we are working with hubris and pride and incredulity.

Transpose the same event from dialogue into dreamland, and you get a different story. In your dream, where you assume that everything is reality, you respond to a situation as if you were in that situation. You aren’t telling your friends, “Oh—I would grab a sword and fight until my dying breath.” Instead… you are actually grabbing a sword or offering surrender as the case may be. It's the "Oh, so that's what I'd actually do" or the "Oh, so that's how that would work." Sure pride infests our dreams to some extent, and I may not actually be as skilled in par core as I like to dream, but the ultimate payoff of nightmares isn’t in “jump through the window, tuck and roll, et cetera, et cetera.”

It’s much more foundational than that. It reveals your character when hard pressed.

In the tough situations, do I care for loved ones or my own survival? Am I bold and haughty or am I sly and sneaky? Am I resourceful and creative? Am I quick or disbelieving? The "Oh, so that's how it works" is subservient to the greater knowledge: "Oh, so that's who I am." And that is very valuable. That shows us where we need to experience the grace of Christ in effecting righteousness.

Of course the very circumstances of your dream may reveal something about you too: how do you perceive life and the world? Is it kind of like a war? Like a dangerous (mis)adventure? Like a struggle to maintain family and friends? Like a monotonous drone with unexpected surprises? And how can your worldview shift to encompass everything God has told us about the world?


TWO: The Numinous

There’s a term in philosophy: numinous. People have used it in nuanced ways, but I’ll give you an acceptable generalization. The numinous is the confrontation of an overwhelming sense of spiritual dread: it is a fearful overcoming. It is a sense of inescapable ill fate.

I’m not sure who first said that horror genre can be party to the numinous in beneficial ways for the Christian, but I agree. In my Christian context, the Fear of the Lord, the trembling at his might and righteous judgment is sorely lacking. I know and her often that God is compassionate and loving and savior. And I need to hear it more than I already do. But I also need to know that God is a mighty tempest threatening to sink me below the deeps; that he is an uproarious earthquake who can swallow families whole; a King who will make war with the sword from his mouth. God will bend back the heavens and climb into the world to decimate wickedness. But I don’t hear that very often.

Horror stories try to revive this sense. I just read I Am Legend and a series of short stories by Richard Matheson. They fit into this horror genre, and they were absolutely excellent. And one thing they provided was a sense of numinous. The last man alive in the world is nightly threatened by the inescapable precipice of death. The spirit-doll is relentless in accomplishing his dreadful mission—nothing can stop it and the blade he wields. The sinister husband is wicked. The little girl cannot suppress the evil dominion of the dress.

And nightmares can do the same. They present you with a reality of dread, a sense of inescapable, insurmountable fear. Raw power whispers with serpentine lips, “You will fear.”

Nightmares can instill within us the forgotten knowledge of a mighty God of raw power. It can show us again that as enemies of God, we were children of wrath and fear, but in his adoptive care we are utterly loved. It can give us a fear of disobedience lest we come under the crushing arm of the God who speaks galaxies into existence, who limits tsunamis, and relaxes tornadoes.




Thanks be to Christ Jesus who is God the Son, for his love casts out our fear of judgment and replaces it with a solace of his love. His righteousness replaces our ineptitude and gives us hope.