Saturday, September 13, 2014

Trying to Have the Best of Both Worlds

Dear world,

There are a number of things about your behavior that I'd like to address.

What I really don't like is when you try to hold two opposite views and pretend that they're complimentary: (a) Christians are goody-two-shoes who can't see evil and horror when it's right in front of their faces, and (b) Christians are scheming, low-down, wicked hypocrites who insist on pretending that they're really moral and upright - more than the rest of us struggling sinners. Which is it? Take your pick. You're always telling us that we have to choose, while also pretending that there really is no choice but death and horror. Why don't you admit that this is what you've chosen. This is where your choices without God lie - death, and horror.

What I also really dislike is that you love to point out where Christians go wrong, and then when any sort of wandering finger of blame works itself around to you, you go all prim-and-properly moral. "Don't judge", you say, "Jesus wouldn't do it". This is completely ignoring the fact that, once again, you're asserting two opposite views: (a) Jesus did all that was nice and moral and proper and kind, but (b) we can't trust the Bible when it says anything about Jesus acting like a Judge. Somebody else must have monkeyed with the words.

On the one hand, we're supposed to believe that you can sneer at everything written in an ancient book, or airily waft away every view of Jesus that doesn't agree with your own views. On the other hand, we're also supposed to believe your assertions when you pull out bits of the Bible that happen to suit your pre-existing views - while accepting blistering rebukes whenever we pull out bits of the Bible to prove a cherished belief. Yet you won't accept that you have any views, or at the very height of admittance, that everyone is tarred with the same awful human brush of bias. If that's so, why is it so important to point out that Christians tend to be inconsistent? If you can stand on the Bible to point at Christians, do you realize that they should be allowed to do the same? Otherwise, there's that awful word "unfair" that can be flashed across your reality like a very unwelcome beam of light. You claim God is unfair, by allowing evil into the world. Is that any excuse for you to go around pointing fingers and quoting bits of Bible verses, while not attempting to listen to anything that the Book says? If God is unfair for allowing wicked humans to trample around the world and on each other, is it also unfair that He gave you life? You certainly didn't give it to yourself.

I can admit that I'm a hypocrite - Jesus makes me confess this on a regular basis. He tells me to love you even when you're alternately smiling and trying to tear down my faith with everything you have, and I really object to that. I can also admit that I have needs that fall outside of anything included in the five senses, and that I'm woefully inadequate to provide much for myself. A flawed human being does not make much of a towering pillar of strength.

What you're doing is trying to have the best of both worlds - God's and Satan's. You want the power to rule yourself (and maybe others) without any Divine interference. You want the ability to point to someone and say they're inconsistent, while not admitting your inconsistencies. I share that same tendency - that's how I know what you're doing. No one spots a phony better than a former phony who's only halfway toward the cure.

If you get all offended about this letter, good. Maybe we can have a real discussion, instead of you being allowed to have all the laughs at our expense, while we're supposed to sit with our mouths shut, emitting an aura of kindliness via a wistful and heavenly expression. If you don't like that, it's kind of tough beans. When God gets through with you, you'll have wished that you listened, and turned the searchlight of truth on yourself. It's better to do it now, rather than have it done to you by an Almighty and Perfect Person who knows you better than you want to know yourself - in front of the rest of the world. Everyone will be squirming. Everyone will have really superior thoughts about their neighbors until it's time for the beam of light to reach their own life. No one will escape, and everyone will bow the knee.

Think about that, next time that you pull out one of the three verses you know. You just might be hearing them - and some that you don't know - for all Eternity. I may not be that great at loving people the way that they seem to wish to be 'loved' - i.e., allowed to do whatever they please without question. What I do know is that I wouldn't wish Hell on my worst enemy, but that it's going to happen to whoever doesn't admit that their personal habit of offending God is the highest and worst evil of mankind.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Book Review: Schaeffer's 'The Great Evangelical Disaster'

Most of Schaeffer's writing is easily read and accessible - that's what makes him a good introductory author for theological topics. Here's a one-sentence summary of the book: If evangelical believers don't know how to convey the truth in love, they will accommodate the world and commit theological suicide.

These are a few points that might be easy to overlook, because he presents them in simple terms:

  • The world often knows what's at stake, and better expresses the divide between belief and unbelief, than Christians do. (Why is that? He doesn't say, but I'm guessing it's because Christians often and erroneously think that because Jesus crushed Satan's head, the spiritual war is over. It's not.) 
  • Evangelicals who get confused between 'showing love to the brethren' and 'giving up [truth] to get along' do more damage than the world.
  • If we do not fight the spirit of compromise within our own churches, we will continually lose battles until self-proclaimed Christians are nothing more than spiritual zombies.

  • Theological, church-wide statements, far from being mere formal expressions of intellectual assent or dissent on difficult topics, have real-life applications: abortion, marriage, homosexuality, creationism or evolutionism, etc.
  • Repeated important word and topic: "the watershed". Schaeffer explains the divide that happens when water falls on an area, flowing either to the right or the left. What starts as a small difference, in scope and perspective, becomes a large difference. 

  • Far from pushing his readers to exhaustively examine every small detail (and Christian) for error, he repeats the idea of the Double Task: "[The Christian] has to practice both God's holiness and God's love." 
  • Just as holiness without love is harshness, love without holiness is compromise. Both are grave watershed errors.
  • These errors allow Satan to encourage Christians to swing from one arc of the pendulum to the other, from compromise to harshness and back again. "The devil never gives us the luxury of fighting on only one front, and this will always be the case." 
  • The costly nature of showing love to the bretheren includes monetary losses, or any other kinds of losses, because it's one of the true ways that the world can see whether or not we are Christ's disciples. (John 13:33-35) 
  • While the Parable of the Samaritan shows the costly love we are to have for our neighbors regardless of their faith (since all men are made in God's image), our true test of discipleship comes out as we love our fellow believers even more (Galatians 6:10). It's a both-and, not an either-or. 

Love and truth, based on the Rock. Go and do likewise. :)

Friday, May 9, 2014

Amazon Book Review - "Crucify! Why the Crowd Killed Jesus"

Like the author, I'd always been a bit puzzled as to why the crowds 'suddenly' seemed to turn on Jesus, after waving palm branches and shouting “Hallelujuah”.

                                           Book: Crucify! Why the Crowds Killed Jesus

Even after having read the gospels multiple times, I didn't quite get the full picture of how Jesus intentionally and continually pointed out human failings and flaws to his audience, who clearly were happy to be fed and healed - but didn't want God's Son telling them what to do. More importantly, they didn't want to be told that their fond ideas of God, who He was, what He required (heart change along with living out the Commandments), and what He came to earth to accomplish - were all wrong. Sadly, that doesn't seem all that unfamiliar to those of us who follow Him, slowly and haltingly and occasionally with much complaint. (“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”)

I'd always known that occasionally the crowds in Nazareth or around the temple were enraged enough to want to stone Him, but the author makes it very clear that part of Jesus' intent was to poke at their issues of pride, self-deceit, and hypocrisy...starting but not ending with their Pharisee and Sadducee leaders. The author makes it abundantly clear that there is no possible way, based on a thorough reading of the Gospels, to just see Jesus as a self-proclaimed agent of political and social change. HIs kingdom was not of this world, and He frequently used means that wouldn't make sense for someone trying to wow the crowds long enough to snatch political power.

Whenever the crowds tried to coerce or haggle with Jesus, he challenged their assumptions and ideas. They would try to force him to become king, at the improper time, and without consulting His Father. When He tells them point-blank that they only seek Him for more physical food, they ask to be given the ability to “work the works of God”. When He says their work is to believe, they throw the question back and cynically ask for a sign – even after having been fed with 5,000 loaves. “Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat'.” Unlike the Samaritan woman at the well, who first asked for the water of eternal life and then believed, these noble bread-seekers complain about Jesus when He says that He is the eternal Bread of Life.

They really don't like it when Jesus says that there is no side road to salvation. “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” One, that's offensive because it puts all the power in God's hands, not in man. Two, that's doubly offensive because birth and privilege don't matter – if the Father hasn't allowed access to the Messiah, you won't get it. No wonder many of the disciples turned around, leaving the original twelve astounded at the turn of events.

The text does not say this last bit. I'm just putting myself in their shoes, watching Jesus (a) wow the crowds with the food miracle and His dynamic words, (b) see Jesus evade their attempts to make Him their leader, (c) see the crowds have a very sharp and public debate with Jesus, and (d) see a whole crowd of seeming Jesus-followers melt away.

The only difficulty that I have with this book is the author's habit of doing what I just did – read meaning into the text. Sometimes it's difficult to spot the difference between the author's realistic imagination, and what the text actually says. It's good to read the book while flipping through to the noted chapter and its context.

Besides the clear rebuttals about Jesus being 'only' a good moral Teacher or political activist, the author clearly shows that the Pharisees were not the problem during Christ's time on earth. Man's sinful rebellion against God is the ultimate problem.  

Friday, April 4, 2014

Movie Illustrations on The Flesh, The World, and The Devil

I'd like to have titled this post "Random Angry Thoughts About Unfairness" or "Letter to the World...." followed by a lot of swear words.

Really, it's amazing how the human heart can turn into an inferno of frustration, anger, and just plain meanness at the drop of a hat. Sometimes, I wonder if all the Bible studies and prayer times and psalm sings in the world do a whole lot to turn us (mainly me) into anything other than Spawn of Satan when something goes wrong.

Something Always Goes Wrong

One of my 100 favorite films, 28 Days, has a great supply of quotes and illustrations because the main character (Sandra Bullock) is dealing with addiction. I deal with a sin addiction on a daily basis, so it's not too hard to relate. One of the counselors relates the common scenario of making a promise not to indulge in the addiction, "and then something would happen - or nothing would happen - and I'd get that feeling. And you all know what that feeling is." The hands shake, the eyes bulge, and you've just Got to Have That Something, whatever it is. Having it doesn't solve the problem, just sets you up for more issues later.

The World Is A Bitterly Hard Place

Ebenezer Scrooge is both my favorite and least favorite character in all filmdom, mostly based on the best Christmas Carol film ever.  "I think the world is becoming a very hard and cruel place, Mr. Marley. One must steel oneself to survive it, and not be crushed under with the weak and infirm." As Scrooge gets more involved in 'real life', his face gets colder and more impersonal, ostensibly stronger and better able to deal with the hard facts of the world both condemning and screaming after wealth, crushing the lives of the poor.

However, it's the kind Alice whose 'gentle tongue breaks a bone' with some real truth: Scrooge is operating out of greed and fear. Changing to meet the harshness of the world only makes him cruel and self-deceived about his inability to be content, or suffer despite obstacles. Fearing to be crushed under the pitiless wheels of the world, he merely crushes others in his haste to get away and survive. She knows that survival is not the highest good.

The Devil's Disappearing Act

You might think that the only good illustrations about Satan come from horror films - really, that's the last place you should go. He's far too obvious in his effects there, not the least of which is that strange and horrified addictive fascination with evil that horror films tend to create.

Other than the extremely frightening depictions of Satan's voice and stare in The Passion, the best illustration of how the Devil operates (I think) is in The Devil's Advocate. He's always a liar, from nurturing rebellious thoughts about God 'making up' rules to suit His own fancies, to claiming that he has power he doesn't have, to claiming to be man's helper - helping us reach our highest potential without God. That's always the catch - God has to be left out for us to really flourish.

Satan takes the truth about himself, and puts it on God. He's the accuser, he's the one who stands at the brink of the abyss and tells us we shouldn't have done what he suggested as a great idea, he's the one who plays with us and rejoices when we fall. And then he blames God, and hopes we'll blame Him too.

Faith often reasserts itself after I've nearly lost the battle. Perhaps God will be gracious, and allow me to win sometimes without coming to the edge of the pit. In heaven, I shall laugh and not cry, there will not be any weeping or gnashing of teeth.

I lift my eyes to the hills, from whence comes my aid, my safety, and my Rock.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Formula For The Good Life

Working my way through the First Book of Peter, internally sighing over his insistence on pointing out all of my worst areas of sanctification (suffering without retaliation, submitting to authorities, blessing my enemies, etc), I came across this:

Formula For the Good Life

"Whoever would love life and see good days must (1) keep their tongue from evil and (2) their lips from deceitful speech. They must (3) turn from evil and (4) do good; they must (5) seek peace and (6) pursue it." 

Hah, I thought, no problem here! I've been trudging on the great Road of Sanctification for a good many years now, and I've got this turning away from evil down pat....ho boy. Apparently there's a pride issue that yet again has to be taken to the throne. See what I mean? Peter, always pointing out everyone's flaws (mine).

First Step - Keep My Tongue From Evil

Since I now work from home, that's usually not a problem unless someone calls on the phone or my husband comes home. Then the mouth opens - then there's opportunity for all sorts of things mentioned in James 3. Sadly, keeping it shut all the time isn't really an option, as I'm far beyond hope for a Reformed nunnery.

Second Step - Keep My Lips From Deceitful Speech

This step was more of a poser. It's not as broad, and I'm really not sure that my habit of half-truthing it is really acceptable in the Lord's sight. Apparently, He's a little more keen on me keeping away from both active and underhanded evil, which brings up the third point: turning from evil.

Third Step - Turn From Evil

When I first started crawling toward the cross with real intent - not because it would get me points with the parents - I thought I was doing pretty well to just not do what I'd done before. Perhaps my former lifestyle (I Peter 5) wasn't carousing and orgies (unless you can count rebelliously reading until 3 a.m.) but I wasn't really old enough for that, plus our social circles didn't really offer those opportunities. My introvert orgies were sneaky and secretive and all on the inside. Combine that with a lack of desire to confess sin and ask for help, and these habits can become lethal - especially if you have a habit towards building up pride via knowledge.

Fourth Step - Do Good

A good illustration might be the difference between toddler faith and teenager faith. It's not just enough to walk away from evil, there's the replacement factor of turning from stealing to giving, turning from gossiping to becoming compassionate and service-oriented, turning from lying to telling salty truth with grace.

Fifth Step - Seek Peace

Sure, who doesn't want peace? Well, people who like the noise and pride of life and indulging in orgies - and introverts who want peace on their own terms with no one around to mess it up. Really, it's just a party of one gone mad. If you haven't been in a habit of turning your feet from evil and then doing good - which necessarily involved other people - then peace will be really hard to find. Real peace necessitates communion with the Peace-Giver. (Now I sound like Max Lucado.)

Sixth Step - Pursue Peace

If peace were a deer, you'd have to quietly and slowly stalk it through the underbrush, learning how to place your feet just so (on the right path), and move in rhythm with the surrounding area, so that you won't scare off the Peace Hart. Mature believers are quite serious and focused when they want something, they know how to quietly and doggedly pursue. It's toddlers and teenagers that crash around a lot more, drowning out peace with excitement and discoveries. A really good hunter, or pursuer, will sometimes run and sometimes walk, but never turn aside until the prize is won.

That's where I want to be.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Counter-Cultural Activity of Prayer

After a small gathering of prayer warriors this Wednesday, I fell to thinking about how prayer that shaped the Western world is completely against the values of our modern Western world:

  • Action - Prayer often feels useless because the activity is done by God.
  • Speed - There's no way to utilize any tool to speed up God's responses.
  • Temper - "The wrath of man does not produce the righteousness of God". 
  • Personal opinion - One of prayer's big goals is to focus you on hearing God and obeying God, and actively turning your back on your own desires and thoughts.
  • Individual achievement - This counts for nothing with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. They created the world in 6 days, and invested personal effort in saving children that weren't interested in obeying them.
  • Crowd approval - Jesus excoriated the Pharisees for making long prayers in the marketplace so that everyone could applaud their holiness. Daniel won a court case appeal (via lions) for his habit of keeping a window open while praying, while 120 satraps lost their lives. 
  • Rebellion - this is "as the sin of witchcraft", and hampers prayer. 
  • Anti-authoritarian - God is the authority. You're not. Submission is essential.
  • Self-actualization - Humility, begging for forgiveness, and admittance of sin are in complete opposition to "I can do it all myself" - especially since many Scriptural examples of prayer's power came with people in groups (Pentecost, Peter's release from prison, Solomon's dedication of the Temple)
  • Dialogue - God does answer, but He doesn't given an immediate verbal response, He often uses silence, or we have to figure out what He wants by (a) waiting, (b) listening, and (c) reading His Word. The whole book of Nehemiah shows individuals and groups repenting of sin, describing God's amazing attributes, and making respectful requests. Not once did God say "why yes, that's a good plan". They had to figure out His answer from what happened after the prayer.
  • Personality - God created it. See "individual achievement". 
  • Quick fixes - God let Abraham and Sarah sit on a promise of His (for a son) for 25 years. Also see the Parable of the Persistent Widow.
  • Aesthetics - Prayer can be heard in prison or at home. ("God, be merciful to me, a sinner.")
  • Positive thinking - Nehemiah's prayer for wall restoration and Hannah's prayer for a child were answered, along with Elisha's prayer for blindness of the Assyrians, Elijah's prayer to burn up a sacrifice to shame the priests of Baal, 
  • Cheap grace - Prayers won't be heard by unrighteous men, those with violent hands, or by men who treat their wives badly (1 Peter 3:7). Also, selfish motives (James 4:3), lack of attention to His commandments (Proverbs 28:9), unrepented sin (Psalm 66:18), lack of faith (James 1:5-7) and lack of forgiveness (Mark 11:25) are all hindrances to prayer. In fact, you may get curses instead of blessings for these abominations. 
Our King likes to be approached regularly with acknowledgements of His person, understanding of His grace, and attention to His will - before we make our requests known. At the same time, "Abba, Father" and spread-out hands can work, while the Holy Spirit makes intercession with groanings that cannot be uttered. He's always ready to hear a contrite heart. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

Thoughts on Rick Warren, John Piper, and Sobriety

Every Christian struggles with thinking more of themselves than they ought (or else Romans 12:3 wouldn't have so sternly warned believers on 'opinion sobriety'). It would be harder, while fans scream your name, in church and out of church, to keep a realistic view of yourself as a redeemed sinner. Even so, I cringed a little to hear the words "sacred trust" handed admiringly from one big name to another: John Piper to Rick Warren.

Quite honestly, I found myself pleasantly surprised by Warren's answers on several basic questions. It seems that he came out of a theological hall with more knowledge - and desire to serve - than most institutions give to their students. I began listening in the same way that I shop at major department stores in malls - "how horribly inflated are these prices" - and came away thinking that the $1,500 St. John dress may be quite a bargain at $250. (After looking through racks of goods 'worth' thousands, your judgment gets impaired.) He believes in a literal hell, God as a sovereign, and the necessity of believing in Christ as the only way to truth and life. Well and good.

At the same time, I would not at all be willing to attend Saddleback regularly, knowing that the minister will water down or edge around explanations so that more seekers can go away with a slight interest in cracking open a Bible. If a person is being drawn by the Spirit, they may welcome someone with clear statements about sin, righteousness, and the judgement to come. Otherwise, the polarizing nature of the Scriptures will work, and like Felix, you may be sent away to 'come again and speak another time', while the hearer hopes to bribe you with friendship and human bonding methods, to never again say those horrible words about 'judgment'.

What most bothered me - especially after hearing a rousing discussion on Piper via the "Sinners and Saints" radio program - was how enamored he seemed to be by Warren's success. It set my teeth on edge to see Piper animatedly talking about how "the world needs an authentic testimony from a living voice" - as if Moses and Jesus the final Prophet weren't enough. It also set my teeth on edge to hear Piper reiterating the same sort of fawning accolades that Warren must often get from starry-eyed media acolytes: "you're the most publicly influential the world". There were assuring words about the necessity of humility. But it still seemed like the fascination of Harry Potter wand-maker Ollivander, who seemed to be more entranced by Voldemort's power than his evil nature.

There is nothing wrong with men of the true gospel finding large audiences of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Crowds clustered around Jesus, and a crowd of 3,000 gladly bent the knee to Christ after Pentecost. There is a great warrant for leaders asking each other hard questions and comparing each others' practical views of Scripture. "I withstood [Peter] to his face", says Paul in Galatians 2:11. But nowhere do I find, in either the Old or New Testament, leaders of the persecuted churches of the Way talking about their influence on the world, and how the world needs them to go forward. In every way, they talked about the reign of Christ, the person of Christ, the power of Christ as effected by the Holy Spirit, the transformation that happens when God calls to man. This sounded more like man justifying himself, for which Job was rebuked by God - and then forgiven after repentance.

Sobriety in thought is necessary for each believer, struggling against the natural desire to have a good opinion of himself. Nehemiah constantly references God's hand in both judgment and restoration, how his success is only due to the good hand of God upon him. It's hard to communicate a message to thousands of people and not miss things, or have our motives misinterpreted. But I came away from watching this interview, thinking that John Piper is just as soft on those who have experienced success, as Rick Warren is soft on unbelievers - so that the Way might appear easy. Jesus never said he'd take away the burden of the yoke, just that it would be easier under Him than under anyone else.