an overdeveloped sense of right and wrong makes for the most obnoxious, least moral people.
evolution is a god. it has a will. it makes choices. it has laws that cannot be violated. it has devoted followers. it is used to explain our most important questions. a god that speaks but cannot be spoken to. a god that directs without compassion. a god that touches us but will not be touched. a god with no comfort for those who serve it. a god with truth but no consequences. an amoral god. a god created in our image.
The little girl got onto the stool at our kitchen counter clutching a cinnamon roll enclosed in plastic packaging she could not open. When asked if she would like help opening it she nodded her head yes. A little boy climbed up next to her. He is her cousin. He is eyeballing the snack.
"Can you share a piece of your cinnamon roll with your cousin?"
"uuuNyo," shaking her head horizontally for emphasis.
She watched warily as a piece was torn off and given to her cousin anyway.
We sit in a seat not our own, in a house not of our own making, holding good things we've not earned and can't access without help, and we refuse to share with our own family. We are all little idiots. Thank God for grace, even the grace that takes something from us and gives it to another.
Acting in accordance with your God-given loving disposition is only as effective and righteous as your obedience to act upon God-given judgments.
Acting in accordance with your God-given discerning spirit is only as effective and righteous as your obedience to act upon God-given mercy.
Christian community is never about what a person can extract, but always about what a person can give. If you aren't 'getting anything' out of a church community you are in the perfect place to participate in the life of the author of the church who came to give everything and receive nothing.
I guess until Jesus sets up his own government and runs it himself there will always be church's that belong to the state instead of states that belong to the church. Personally, I can wait on him. In the mean time the church should realize how we look when we elevate political power over authentic power - we look like fools and we discredit the gospel, which is the only genuine way to human empowerment. The argument in our country over the separation of state and church is irrelevant. No one who understands what the church is believes it could or should be part of the state. The state may enter into the church, the church may never enter into the state. And the state must enter the church is on its knees, bowed in complete submission before the highest authority. The state, in fact, must enter the church as any individual must enter. If the state knocks on the door of the church standing up, the result is ungodly, and if the church knocks on the door of the state on its knees the result is equally ungodly. Be a follower of Christ and the state will follow you. Pursue the state in the name of Christ and the state will merely use you.
Twice in the last few weeks Robb has been questioned at length about the Symphonic sign. People seem incredulous about the fact we don't have one. Anywhere. No, we don't have a sign. We don't have our name on our door. We don't have a white display board to strategically spell out pithy sayings designed to make people think about God as they walk past. No sign. We believe Jesus when he says a wicked generation seeks after a sign...we're just doing our part to keep people from condemning themselves.
When we take possession of another human being in the name of love, politics, business, or pleasure, we do something God himself won't do. Is it any wonder the earth is filled with strife when daily, almost on a moment by moment basis we violate the basic foundational truth of the created world: human freedom? I shudder at the realization of how often, in the name of self, I have tread where angels fear, and God won't follow. I have owned my wife. I have owned my children. I have owned my friends. God, who may rightly claim ownership of me, has penetrated the darkness of humanity's self obsession and lit himself on fire to show the way out. He never violates the first principle of love, he demonstrates it in its completed form on the cross, and invites us to walk freely into the light.
If you do not see your self reflected in a rebuke you are about to deliver, wait until you do - it is the only way you can see the Father's perspective, hear His words and speak life into your hearer. It is very likely you became aware of the failure or brokenness in another person because it needs to be addressed in you and God is giving you a living mirror.
A good leader in the sense the world understands "good" will not necessarily take you to a good place - they will just be effective at moving you to the place they want to go. Hitler was a good leader. Jesus said, "there is only One who is good." If we are to go to good places and do good things it will only happen because we find God to be our actual leader even though we may have to look through others to see him. This is why a leader who isn't transparent cannot possibly be a genuinely good leader. Unfortunately the pastors of this country have been taught to become good leaders in the world's sense of "good" more than in the sense Jesus taught. A pastor who thinks of himself more as the leader of a church than part of a church is in danger of losing his Way and his Life, no matter how effectively he proclaims the Truth. A pastor who is a good leader in the sense that matters is merely transparent and in a line through which others may view Jesus.
To follow Jesus means going toward people in general, and withdrawal from people sporadically. It is unimaginable a God who traveled the infinite distance from eternity to time, spent thirty years living and working as part of a family and a community, and who conducted his public ministry as the leader of a group of people traveling together village to village telling the good news, would lay down his life to create a community who are characterized by separatism and isolation.
A guy goes into a bar in Ireland and orders a Guinness. The bartender pulls out a little packet, tears it open, pours out some white powder on the bar countertop, and gives the man his glass.
"What's the powder for?" the guys asks.
"Oh, that is a very expensive powder, and a very good one. If I sprinkle it on the counter before I serve every beer, no elephants will come into the bar." says the bartender.
"But there aren't any elephants in Ireland!" the man said.
"I know," said the bartender, "I told you, it's a very good powder!"
What's it going to take to rearrange the bartender's belief system? Nothing short of bringing an elephant into the bar will do. All belief systems based on lies or partial truths need to be destroyed in order for people to have the freedom to live fully and to quit expending their resources fruitlessly, but it isn't always fun to have an elephant loose in your bar.
one of my cats ran off last weekend. it was a blustery day, the day he went missing, with disorienting gusts whipping tree tops and pushing and howling. i wondered if it blew away the smell of our house. i thought the cat, who hasn't been outside in years, would be open sky sick. dizzy. how would this indoor creature cope with the outside world and find his way back home? late in the evening my daughter heard him crying out. we opened the door and he ran inside. he plopped down on the floor and closed his eyes. as far as i can tell he didn't waste much time stressing over the time he spent lost. he never said he was sorry. he didn't punish himself by not eating for a day. he was lost. something inside him told him the way home in spite of the confusion, the bluster, the distance, the darkness. he cried out. the door opened. he ran in.
Excerpt from The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, in which a senior devil explains to a junior devil one of the chief means of confounding true growth of a man into the image of Christ.
"Whichever he adopts, your main task will be the same. Let him begin by treating the [A] or the [B] as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the “cause”, in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favour of the [A] or of [B]. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades, matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more “religious” (on those terms) the more securely ours. I could show you a pretty cageful down here,
Your affectionate uncle
[A] / [B]
British war effort / Pacifism (original answers)
conservatism / liberalism
global warming / global economy
gun rights / gun control
urban renewal / homeless rights
community / individualism
patriarchy / feminism
? / ?
What are we using Christianity to argue for? against? Whatever it is, no matter how good the good cause or how bad the bad problem may be; once it moves into the center of our faith, our faith begins to whither.
In the single human being we see the destructiveness of the whole. We are left undone by our sin. We are left without answers. We are left hopeless and helpless. Our inability to explain our own kind isn't about blaming one family or one ethnic group or one economic group - it is about the blame we all share as humans. Our kind is the killing kind. The whole of creation shudders at our evil. The shark and the lion are not murderers. The raven and the raccoon are not thieves. We alone are evil. One of us brings condemnation to us all. One of us demonstrates the depravity of each of us.
God's heart is not hardened against you as you continue to sin; the exact opposite is true. His wounded, vulnerable, tender heart is ever before him. It cannot be hardened. It will not shrink. It's scars will never fade. You and I see a person and say, "She has a great heart." God's heart is so great it cannot be contained in one entity. God's heart is a separate and whole person. It is Jesus. You do not stay away from God because His hard heart prevents you. You stay away because in it's hardness your heart cannot conceive the perpetual tenderness of any heart.
Jesus knows our conflict. He prayed the conflict – "Father I don't want to drink this cup, I want it to pass by me, I don't want to do this thing You want to do, this perfecting work, this finishing work AND Father I want to do all that You want to do. I live only to do Your will, Your plan is the plan."
Great drops of blood came out of his pores. This is where He held onto God and pushed away just like we do. He did it without sin. He can do it in us the same way.
It is going from one stage of completely complete to the next stage of completely complete. It is the full term baby who must come forth or die.
We are always being born again again.
We are a Genesis people, speaking to the darkness, chaos, void and formless, words of light and order and foundation and form.
Easter is about impossibilities. Not that God should die and come back to life; if the absolute of God's life is not the prime fact of the universe, nothing else could be. The impossibility of Easter is that a man should die and come back to life and in doing so disable death for all men. The cross, thrust into the cursed ground, was the skeleton key turned in the lock of sin by the hand of God. No wonder the earth trembled. No wonder the sun hid it's light. See the man hanging limply upon the tree, crushed by the hand of his Father, taken down and planted in the ground from which all of his race were made. But this ground is no longer cursed. The second Adam has removed the stain. The earth is not through trembling, and Jesus is risen out of it like the first bud of the Spring pushing it's head through the dirt. He is the first born from among the dead. He is the first rose which opens it's face to the sky. But He is not the last. Happy impossibility to you.
It's baseball time again. Norfolk is hosting an exhibition game in Harbor Park today - Nationals vs. Orioles - with a sell out crowd. The weather is going to be fine with just a bit of chill on a low breeze. Am I going? No. Don't feel like getting in the middle of the crowd for a baseball game. For me it's not worth the hassle. Now if it was a soccer game I'd probably go. How things change. When I was growing up the big three (football, basketball, & baseball) were all people played or watched. Fall meant the best athletes were wearing shoulder pads, winter they switched to converse high tops, and spring they donned batting helmets. Even though I never really liked baseball very much I probably played it for five or six seasons.
One thing I remember was how poorly I connected with the ball when I was hitting. Somehow it was impossible to make that bat get into the same space with a pitched ball in such a way as to send it much further than the edge of home plate. But when I did make it happen through some freak chance, it would sting my hands. I'm guessing when the pitchers get older than 7th graders (when I hung up my baseball cap) they throw harder and harder. I bet no matter how good a hitter you get to be, making a piece of wood in your hands meet an object going 90 mph still stings. If you have a hard time getting the feel of it imagine standing on the edge of the interstate holding a broom stick out and having a car drive into it. Sting.
Every baseball player goes to the plate hoping they can get their hands to feel that feeling. It's the whole point of the game. Nothing good can happen unless there's some stinging. When I was a kid trying to play the game I complained to the coach about it. He probably said something profound like 'Rub some dirt on it'. I bet real players don't talk about it. They love the game, it's part of the game, they just play. They've moved beyond little league into a place where pleasure and fulfillment are not separate things from pain and suffering, but integral with them. At the same time no one celebrates the pain as if it's a good thing in and of itself. They celebrate the other side of the pain. They celebrate it's result.
When I quit baseball there were plenty of other sports to play. All of them had some parallel experience to stinging hands. There aren't any games without pain. And sitting on the bench avoiding pain is to spend a life playing with plastic happy meal toys ending with nothing. That is real pain. Ending up having done nothing but attempting to create comfort for yourself.
"Of course, I quite agree that the Christian religion is, in the long run, a thing of unspeakable comfort. But it does not begin in comfort; it begins in the dismay I have been describing, and it is no use at all trying to go on to that comfort without first going through that dismay. In religion, as in war and everything else, comfort is the one thing you cannot get by looking for it. If you look for truth, you may find comfort in the end: if you look for comfort you will not get either comfort or truthâ only soft soap and wishful thinking to begin with and, in the end, despair." (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)
Better to learn how to play with the sting than to quit. Better still to come to an understanding that our God has felt the real sting for us.
"Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Corinthians)
The opening line of argument taken up by C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity is the existence of a universal moral law. He uses this to drive on to his conclusions about God and ultimately Christ. If we were to follow him to God and then turn back to the moral law what could we discover? I mean this: all of us are aware of the existence of morality; per Lewis this reveals an Authority existing further back and higher up which has established both right and wrong, and this authority turns out to be what we call 'good.' Now turning from this good Authority, or good God, back to the morality or laws He has created what can we see? A good God who puts certain laws into the world could either be using it to do what human beings do (i.e. for the sake of controlling the world) or He could have a completely super human concept in Mind. Personally I lean toward the second understanding of God's intent for His laws. A God who cannot control His creation without a set of laws would be a weak God, a scared God, an uptight God. He would, in fact, not be God at all. And, taking a look at how the world is working, it would appear His laws are not very effective because they are constantly being broken. No, God didn't put His laws into the world to keep it or us under control. He put His laws into the world to express the truth of where full life lies. His laws are not things impressed upon us; they are written into us. All of us. Breaking God's law isn't so much an offense against God as it is an offense against our selves. The real offense against God is in denying the complete revelation of His law in Jesus Christ and our access to a utterly lawful life through His Holy Spirit. God's laws are often called repressive by those who desire to create their own lives, but the truth is they keep missing life by ignoring God's expression of it through these laws.
Something is wrong for you only insomuch as it precludes you from real life. Evidently there are some things which hold no possibility whatsoever of producing real life in us, so God prohibits them entirely. Other things, actually most things, He only makes prohibitions upon timing and quantities taken into our lives. The explicit prohibitions are recorded in scripture and His Spirit bears witness to their validity, but the others, the majority of life, must be momentarily exposed to His Spirit which was given to lead us into all Truth and to bear witness to Jesus. Since Jesus calls Himself the Way, the Truth, and the Life, we can know His Spirit will always be leading us further in and higher up to authentic life.
When you find yourself among a people of truthful faith telling and faithful truth telling, you have come near an authentic church. Unfortunately there are many more 'churches' in which no truth may be spoken about doubt (without doubt where can faith blossom?) and no faith to tell the truth (without courage how can truth be honored?). Instead of an old rugged cross marking passage into the buildings this kind of church inhabits, there should be a red cross on a white background - a sterile room for a santized version of the gospel.
Christ follower's recipe for a better world: less evaluation, more obedience. Two examples to illustrate: first, how much information do you need about your neighbor's bad marriage and how many people do you have to 'consult' with about it before you simply and obediently pray for them? Second, how long should you see an unmet need, determine if it is indeed a 'worthy' cause, tell 'somebody' about it, before you humbly meet that need at the direction of the Holy Spirit's internal whisperings? Dietrich Bonhoeffer said a real Christian would speak more to God about a brother than to a brother about God, and I would add this; an authentic Christ follower will both pray and give at the leading of God more than they will talk to another Christ follower about praying or giving on behalf of God. If the whole of those calling themselves by Jesus name praticed this we would not need to waste much time evaluating the results; it would be plain and it would be very good.
Who is this man standing next to Clint Eastwood? Obviously Clint is getting ready to receive another Oscar and this guy is showing it around before he gives it over to it's rightful owner. Not really. This is Ennio Morricone. Never heard of him? Unless you are a movie music buff, probably not, but you've heard from him. He received an honorary Academy Award for 40 plus years worth of work on film musical scores. Eastwood presented the award to Morricone and translated his 13 minute long acceptance speech, given in his native Italian. Thirteen minutes! An eternity for a show known to usher the winners off stage in seconds. Thirteen minutes! To summarize a lifetime. But in a time just shy of a quarter of an hour Ennio Marricone became more real to me (and I'm sure many other ignorant yet ardent movie goers) than he had ever been. He took on a face and a name. He came out of the sound bites and spoke . He was glorified.
Sound a little too high and mighty? This is the very essence of what it means to take on glory. It means to become significant; to have permanence and weight. When something is glorified it moves from being ethereal to being substantial. It always puzzled me when people would say Christians are supposed to bring glory to God. If God isn't glory then what is? How can I bring glory to God who is glory? When I came to think of God's glory as a matter of weighty-ness, it made much more sense. God is real. He is the most real. And just as assuredly as Ennio Morricone's music existed in my world outside my knowledge of it's creator, God's creation echoes with His sound whether He is acknowledged or not. Christ followers can ascribe to God the weight due to His work. We do this not as if God needs a golden statue to remind Him of His accomplishments, but to reveal the fullness of life behind His music to those who think the music is all there is to life.
Your personal certainty in Christ is not for you – it is for Him to make use of in His kingdom purposes. All things, yes even the individual follower’s confidence in Jesus, are for Jesus and to be constantly laid out in availability for kingdom advancing purposes. Our lack of understanding this reveals the lines between things we believe we must render unto Jesus (mainly our time and possessions) vs. the things we think are our own (mainly our identities, thoughts, and emotions). All things are Christ’s, in the most comprehensive sense the word "all" can ever be used.
"So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that an idol is nothing at all in the world and that there is no God but one...But not everyone knows this. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat such food they think of it as having been sacrificed to an idol, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled...Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if anyone with a weak conscience sees you who have this knowledge eating in an idol's temple, won't he be emboldened to eat what has been sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge." (Paul's first letter to the Corinthian church)
So followers of Christ have entered into the profound freedom faith in Him produces and yet we are constrained to place even that freedom at His disposal. It is confounding. We love our liberty and celebrate it, but find it has limits. Limits? On freedom? If we look at freedom as the object of our desire this will chaff us. But, if we look at a person as the object of our desire we all embrace the limitations love brings. Love for my family caused me to choose jobs which were not "upwardly mobile." Love for my wife means boundaries around other relationships. If Jesus is the object of our desire we not only rejoice in the things He gives us (freedom), we also rejoice in the use of the things He gives us to further the causes He loves - namely the redemption of all things, especially each person.
We don't read our bibles and pray to get near to God. We read our bibles and pray because we are near to God. We don't perform acts of service for our neighbors and the poor to get near to God. We perform acts of service for our neighbors and the poor because we are near to God. In Christ we are niether better nor worse if we read or prayed or gave alms today; we are not more beloved or more accepted; we are not nearer or farther. We do abide in Christ if we have once accepted his invitation to abide and have ceased from our self-salvation efforts and come by way of the cross. Today will be no different. No salvation via bible study, meditation, or sacrificial acts of mercy. See the cross again in this moment, whatever moment it is during this day; the water cooler conversation, a free minute between classes, an argument with a friend, and you will do what you should do. You will praise, pray, give, sing, reach, speak, confess, run...you will do all for the glory of the One who is glory.
I think there are a lot of us who ran into a guy like this. He had a real smooth pitch. Well rehearsed. He answered all our questions before we asked them. He convinced us he had the cure for what ailed us. He was so insistent and so convincing we bought what he was selling: Jesus in a bottle. This product, we were told, would fix all our problems AND give us minty sweet breath each morning. It didn't work out that way. Although many people present Jesus as a product (and many unfortunately buy Him as one) He isn't. No Jesus isn't a dimestore remedy for all our problems. Not a talisman to pull out of our pockets and rub for good luck, or a bottle to pull down off the shelf and crack open when our relationships are failing. Genies come in bottles, not Masters.