Thursday, November 20, 2014

When Good isn't Good Enough

My son has reached the age where he has been taught the classic, "Stop, Drop and Roll" technique for addressing being on fire.  This is a good thing.  If my son ever finds himself in a situation where his pants have begun to burn and smolder, it will be very beneficial for him to know what to do.  Not to mention it is fun to watch him demonstrate his SDaR technique in our living room.

Valuable as it may be, SDaR misses a very important point that ultimately is much more vital to my sons survival.  Practically speaking, the likelihood of my five year old spontaneously catching fire while playing on the swing set is highly unlikely.  What is much more probable is that while we are sleeping there is an electrical fire that starts somewhere in our house.  With our house ablaze my son may very well find some sort of fire on his clothes.  And if that is to occur....he has to GET OUT OF THE HOUSE!!!! 

If you were to find yourself in a burning house all the SDaR in the world will not save you if you do not first get out of the source of the fire.  No matter how effectively and rapidly you roll back and forth on the floor you will eventually burn up.  Get away from the fire, and THEN deal with your smoldering pants.  To reverse that vital process is the height of absurdity. 

In the Gospel of John the ministry of Jesus really gets going when he comes to the Festival of the Booths and calls out all the hyper religious people for being great rule followers who are still destined for destruction.  The Jewish religious establishment prided itself on doing all the right things the right way, but Jesus tells them it is all for naught.  Their behavior is not going to stave off destruction. 

Clearly he was a popular fellow......

Behaving morally, ethically, kindly, etc, are all nice and commendable things.  My preference is to have neighbors who do NOT rob me in the middle of the night and set my house on fire.  The reasons that they do not behave in such a manner are, in some ways, immaterial to me.  If my neighbor believes he is being monitored by aliens who will shoot him with space lasers if he mistreats me, the end, self-centered result is that my day to day life is more pleasant because I have a neighbor who acts appropriately. 

Good behavior is our Stop Drop and Roll.  In a vacuum it is a good thing to know and put into practice.  But what if we are ultimately in the middle of a blazing inferno? 

In John 8 Jesus is beginning to get to the crux of his argument.  That these moral and good behaving people cannot follow Jesus and are going to die in their sins(verse 21).  To understand the context of what Jesus is saying we must recognize the context of the environment that Jesus is stating this.  Everything about this Festival is in proclaiming how righteous and good they all are because of how they follow all the rules.  Their self-styled "goodness" is based on the belief that following the clearly laid out rules justifies themselves in the eyes of God.  They treat religious law as a sort of road map that guarantees that they will arrive at their desired destination. 

With that sort of imagery in mind Jesus says, "You cannot follow where I am going".  Which means, "There is no human road map that you can control and manipulate that will save you".  What will save them?  Believe in the Son of Man who will be raised up(verse 28).  Through the finished work of Christ on the cross(the raised up Son of Man) we can be saved from death.  There is no other way.

If you are sit in a burning house your inevitable life trajectory is destruction.  Before you do anything else, get out!  The natural state of our lives is death.  No matter what good we do, what rules we adhere to, what ethically justifiable behaviors we practice, we are headed to a fire. 

Does this mean that "good" behavior is pointless?  Of course not.  Even if you get out of the burning house you still have to deal with the embers before they cause you damage.  But if you reverse the process of salvation first, THEN regeneration(Holy("good") lives), you aren't doing anything at all.  Rolling around on the ground won't get you out of the house.  Getting out of the house makes the rolling around effective. 

You will never be good enough to get out of the fire. 


Saturday, November 8, 2014

Is Mark Driscoll Bigger than the Cross?(aka, what Church should I go to)

What makes a good church?  Why should you go to "this" church instead of "that" church? 

The Gospel.

Let me be more clear.

The message that we are sinners.  Lost and dead in our sin.  Christ came and died in our place to pay the penalty for our sins.  Through his FINISHED work on the cross we can have life and this is the power of God.  And the cross PREACHED is alone the power that a church has to share.  (I Corinthians 1:18)

Everything flows from that.

Paul says in Galatians 1:8 that if anyone is preaching something OTHER than the Gospel of Christ crucified they are under a curse. 

So what about churches and people teaching things that you disagree with regarding secondary issues?  In Philippians 1 Paul shares about two types of people; 1) Those who preach Christ humbly, and, 2) Those who preach Christ for personal gain.  And how does he respond to these "false" teachers?  He rejoices that the Gospel is preached. 

So why doesn't he get more tough on these self-centered teachers?  I believe it is because of what he says in 1 Corinthians;  Only the cross has power.  Either we, in our clever words and window dressings, have the ability to change lives, or, the redemptive finished work of Christ on the cross changes lives. 

Let me illustrate this in a silly way.....

If I have a goal to teach someone how to read there are a number of different ways I can present it.  Some we could argue are better than others.  Some techniques might even be fairly absurd.  But even if I teach my son that the way to read is to hold a book in one hand while tugging on his ear with the other, does he learn how to read?  Yes.  We can all agree that my added ear tugging was unnecessary and ultimately unhelpful, but, if he does learn to read, he will probably realize that the ear tugging is superfluous to the process and eliminate it on his own.  Yet the essential and life changing goal has been achieved.  He can now read.  And he will be able to read for the rest of his life.

If Christ is preached, and the cross is visible, most, if not all, of the superfluous ridiculousness that people may add will eventually take a back seat.  Because it is not our power that changes lives, but the power of God. 

Does this mean we ignore absurdity?  No.  But we too often focus on the absurdity and not the power.  The way we criticize other churches is often done in such a way that we are subtly claiming that because they have added some "ear tugging" they aren't really alive in Christ.  If the central message of a church is Christ Crucified, than let us rejoice in the Gospel.  Which isn't the same as saying that we should all go to that church and participate in "ear tugging". 

In the course of the Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill saga(look it up yourself) a common refrain I hear is how "this" is the sort of thing that causes people to leave Christ.  Let me say that again.  When my son discovers that my "ear tugging" technique was stupid he will never read again........

What power do we preach?  Our own?  Or the Cross?  If we preach the Cross, regardless of the reasons or the technique, than our own failures and mistakes have no effect on the power of God.  Unless you believe that a single man, or church, can supersede the power of Christ. 

Say whatever you want about Driscoll and his innumerable problems, but he preached the Cross.  There are literally thousands of stories of people who came to the cross through the message of the Gospel that was preached.  There surely was a progressive growth of "ear tugging" secondary doctrines that began to bleed into the life of Mars Hill, but the cross was always preached.  And like Paul, I rejoice for the lives that were saved because of CHRIST! 

And we should also weep for the people who were hurt by the secondary issues.  This is a fine line that we must struggle to maintain.  But we can not lose perspective that while we have a responsibility to address sinful behavior(ala Paul vs Peter), we cannot begin a process of claiming that the power of salvation comes from any one teacher's perfect motivation and technique. 

When we look for a church to go to we must begin and end with the question, is the Cross preached?  If it is, than weigh carefully the secondary issues.  If it isn't, it is not a church.  Even if it gets secondary issues right.   

Reminder...preaching the Gospel does not give you a pass for sin....

Friday, November 7, 2014

Sin, Judgement, Grace

My five year old son loves to play a "game" with his little sister.  He will snottily ask her a question that has an obvious answer that he knows she will get incorrect.  When she inevitably fails the pop quiz he will snap "no, you're wrong!!"  Obviously we are working on correcting it.  But it is an interesting illustration of our human nature....An unhealthy part of our psyche enjoys proving people are wrong and that we are right. 

Very few things feel sweeter than a good old fashioned, "I told you so".  It isn't just enough to be right, we like to bask in the gloriousness of our rightness while rubbing other peoples faces in their wrongness.....Especially when we perceive someone's being wrong as a personal affront of some sort.  You probably don't think of yourself as being a snotty 5 year old tricking his sister, but ask yourself how you feel about people who defend a diametrically opposed political position.  WE LOVE to see them be wrong.  And if we have a good clickbait article to illustrate it we will find some way to slyly post it in the social media world so that they have to see it....

Legalistic morality is the dressed up and articulated version of the "told you so's".  Religious Laws are a tool that are used as hammer to bludgeon those who do not live up to the standards that we appeal to.  While the Law in general serves a helpful purpose in structuring and protecting culture, it does not develop people who live naturally within the framework illustrated by the Law.  It, quite frankly, does not change hearts.

Will my son stop tricking his sister with his questions because he wants to be loving and encourage her to feel good?  Or, does he stop tricking her because he doesn't want to put his nose in the corner anymore?  If the only reason we do what is right is to avoid something that is bad, are we truly doing what is right?

The Law is a trap that is used to produce guilt. 

In the Gospel of John chapter 8 a woman is brought to Jesus

“Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him."  John 8:4-6

Is a law against adultery a good thing?  Sure.  But do we hear from these Teachers a broken heartedness over the damage of this sin on her family or the family of the person she sinned with?  No.....Do they seem personally broken up about having to confront such a difficult situation?  No....They were just giddy(I say that because of the preceding context that we know these men were previously brainstorming a way to get rid of Jesus) at this golden opportunity to trap Jesus.

The Law was not being used for the woman, it was being used for their selfishness.  It wasn't an opportunity to correct a harmful behavior, but a chance to prove that THEY are the righteous ones. 

Those who are most comfortable with appealing to the rules are often those who do so to assert their specialness because of how they perceive that they themselves measure up in comparison. 

Jesus makes an appeal that cuts to the heart of our "gotcha" attitudes.  

When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” -John 8:7

Those who want to harness the hammer of the law need to recognize that it will be equally upon them.  The Law does not give freedom to anyone.  It enslaves everyone.  Jesus is making very clear to us that the their are no degrees of condemnation that the Law brings with it.  

At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” - John 8:9-11

The Law exists.  It is true.  But it does not change us.  Grace and love are the tools that change our hearts.  When Jesus came He fulfilled the demands of the Law and offered Grace to all who accept it.  When we don't accept it, we make a claim that we would rather live with the Law.   When someone says that they think they are going to heaven because they are a good person they are appealing to the prison of the Law as their hope.  They are hoping that they can do enough good to avoid punishment.  

The irony is that one of the oft used criticisms of Christianity is that Christian's use the threat of hell to get people to behave.  Yet by divorcing ourselves from the Grace of Christ the only reason we have to behave is to avoid punishment.  Either in this life or the next.  Why should the atheist "act" good?  Because there are "consequences".  Why should the generic spiritual person "act" good?  To avoid consequences.  Only in Christ are we told we can be fully loved even when we break the "Law".  

Let me say here for the record...if anyone tells you that you should be a Christian so you don't go to hell, they are not telling you about Christianity.  They are just telling you the age old performance based story of the Law dressed up with some "Christ-yness".

     

Having the Law doesn't change the Heart

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Gospel Doesn't Care if you Fail Today

We have developed a pretty extreme standard of evaluation for success.  Specifically, that it must happen immediately.  This is influencing nearly every aspect of our lives. 

What are some of the most popular television shows over the last few years?  Reality competition.  American Idol, the Voice, Project Runway, etc.  They all promise something very similar.  You, yes you, are a diamond in the rough.  Overnight we will discover your God given talent, launch you into the stratosphere and you can bask in the glow of your own brilliance for the decades to come. 

Perhaps you would never try out for something like this, but when we look at our culture today we see this same insipid attitude permeating every nook and crevice of societal thought and progression.  Recently I was reading about how the Millennial Generation was struggling post college.  The dream careers they had been promised were not materializing.  One particular character was profiled in a NYT's piece who was currently living in his parents basement.  Now, he had been offered a well paying job right out of college(50k+) but it wasn't REALLLLLYYY what he saw himself doing to "change the world" and "live his dreams".  So, instead of contributing to society, he was playing Xbox in his parents basement......

Do you remember layaway?  It used to be the common method of purchasing something you needed or wanted.  You made a long term disciplined commitment to putting away a set amount of money towards the eventual purchase of the item.  Today we just carry credit card debt with huge interest rates.  We want that big screen TV today, not in 12 weeks.  So what if I pay 20% more than it is really worth.  My life is poorer if I have to wait.....

It is what we desire from our politicians today.  I have a problem, however I define it, and it should be fixed.....immediately.  The long term costs of fixing the problem today do not factor into whether or not it is actually a good idea, fix it for me this very moment!  And the politician who promises the most quick fixes gets my vote......

Can you name any successful weight loss programs that advertise that if you stick to our plan for the next 2 years you will do great????  Or, are the ones that are out there promising 10 minutes of exercise 3 times a decade.......

In the Gospel of John chapter 7 Jesus has been rubbing everyone the wrong way.  He has called out their self-centered hypocritical religiosity and basically ticked off all the big wigs in Jerusalem.  No one is clamoring for more of this criticism.  They are actually plotting to try to kill him.  So, the next day, since it wasn't working out very well, JC went on vacation.....I mean....He came right back and kept at it. 

During Jesus' Earthly ministry He experienced arguably more setbacks than victories.  Not to mention an entire community would turn against Him and cheer for His execution.  You might argue that He did all of that because He knew what was going to happen in the end.  But, you and I, we clearly aren't God, we don't really know about tomorrow. 

And that, my friends, is our problem.

Could you die tonight in a freak ceiling fan accident?  Of course.  But by focusing on the limited reality of our temporal existence we accept a false premise that our lives are measured, and therefore, valued, by finite circumstances.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross instead points to the reality that every moment of our lives is a beautiful facet in the tapestry of our eternally designed purpose.

We have become prisoners to the tyranny of the moment.  The seduction of the quick fix.  The comfort of the easy solution.  What makes us feel good today becomes the highest standard of our subjective morality and evaluation of value.

The Gospel is not concerned with the immediacy of the moment, but in the reflection of an Eternal God.  Even in the suffering and the failure of a moment eternity beckons us forward.  When we make decisions from a perspective of self we make limiting choices that disconnect us from a larger picture.

When Jesus returns to Jerusalem in chapter 8 the teachers of the Law bring an adulteress to Jesus to judge.  They point out her clear sin, and, the clear punishment.  Black and white and in response to the immediate moment they demand "judgement".   The law, the tyranny of the moment, demands us to value each other's personhood by our most recent success or transgression.  The Gospel tells us that we are more than our failures.  Sin locks us into being defined by our moments.  The Gospel frees us to be shaped by Christ's love. 

Though you may die tonight, the life God has made you for, and the life you are called to, is one that sees the moments of your life as part of an ever continuing whole.  Are you looking to feel good today, or be met in love and grace forever?  There is a reason that the Gospel message is to come and die, to pick up our cross.  Living for yourself shrinks your experience and joy to a mere moment.  Living in Christ extends it to everlasting.

Even when you make a terrible mistake, you are never a mistake

  


Thursday, October 30, 2014

Partially Seen, Fully True

"For now we see through a glass, darkly"-1 Corinthians 13:12

We do not know the future.  Regardless to what the tabloids and 1-800-pyschic commercials may tell you our ability to fully discern the future is pretty much impossible.  In the 13th chapter of Corinthians Paul is imploring his readers to live lives defined by sacrificial love.  And the motivation and encouragement for such love is the picture of the eternal hope we have from the receiving of the greatest sacrificial love that was freely given on the cross. 

But Paul uses this phrase to illustrate the reality; We can barely make out what that future looks like from our current vantage point.  Yet our hope in what we can see can be rooted in its being fully true.  While the absolute clarity of tomorrow's promise is dimly seen, the markers we pass along the way in the present point us towards the future moment when it will not be seen darkly, but in glorious light.

If we are indeed imprinted with the DNA of eternity as image bearers of God, then we will have an innate sense of seeing eternity through the dimly lit glass of our present.  And it would stand to reason that the experiences of our lives would leave markers and evidences of this eternal design.

Over the past few weeks we have been studying the book of Ruth at church and it concludes with a genealogy.  While genealogies are typically boring affairs and most of us fly right past them when we come across them in the Bible I think they serve two important purposes...

1- They place the narrative of Scripture in history.  The names mentioned are not just mythology, but traceable individuals and families that point to the reliability and historicity of Scripture.  While they are not always written to be an "exact" account of a family tree, they do not make up people to fill in the gaps. 

2-  Genealogies serve to illustrate the on going story and purpose of human life that extends beyond our finite personal mortal coil.  Dogs do not care who their great grand dog is, nor, do they care who their great grandchild dog is.  Nor do other animals.  Yet humans are intimately aware and find value in such family connections.  For good and bad we see and intrinsically desire an observable place on the timeline of eternity.

If we are indeed made in the image of an eternal God than this is logical.  And, it would be logical for Scripture as a reliable testimony to the character, person and nature of God, to contain elements that point towards these truths. 

If we are nothing more than a pile of accidental DNA than death, lineage, family, etc, would have little influence on our state of emotions.  The only value we would place on life, and ours specifically, would be for personal enjoyment and the impetus to procreate our DNA in some form.  And when those two standards(enjoyment and DNA passage) become limited, or, eliminated, it would be reasonable to no longer value such a life. 

But even at our societal worse we cannot fully embrace such folly. 

As much as we try to deny it we are powerfully affected by things that happen to people out of our sphere of relationship.  Genocide is heartbreaking.  Murder is shocking.  Death is feared.  But in a society that is hell bent to disassociate ourselves from the eternal nature of life we try to philosophically justify evaluating the value of life by subjective standards that diminish the beauty of life as a whole.

I recently wrote about two significant indicators of this cultural "evolution".  Society is trying to have its cake and eat it to.  We intrinsically sense a need to value life objectively, yet we try to justify valuing it subjectively when it suits some limited moment.  This is the fertile soil of a culture of death. 

Either ALL LIFE is of significant value that is not possible to be measured by some sort of "standard"

or

NO LIFE is intrinsically valuable and worthy of protection.  It is only subjectively so as long as the math lines up.....


We cannot know what the future holds because we see through a dimly lit glass.  There is no fool proof formula that proves that it all "works out".  But our internal selves, as affirmed in Scripture, point us towards the truth that life has a value that is impossible to measure.

When Ruth and Boaz got married they didn't do so because they were promised some great future if they would just do something difficult.  They did what was right and what honored God and life.  Through a dimly lit glass they chose life and a future knowing only that moving forward with God was the only way to see what would one day be on the other side.  They never saw what came of their marriage(King David and Jesus), and oftentimes neither will we.

But God does.



Just because you can't see the future, doesn't mean it doesn't exist

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

What Gives Life Value?

Utilitarian philosophy is influencing our culture much more than we probably realize.  In a very short nutshell---it is simply the idea that the value of choices, things, people, etc, are deeply tied to their "usefulness".  This is shaped by some evolutionary and naturalistic assumptions that measure choices by the tangible benefit they provide for the "species". 

As this thinking has subtly seeped into our collective conscience we have begun to accept and practice thoughts and behaviors that even 100 years ago would have been generally reprehensible.  As the modernity of the 20th century reached its zenith forced sterilization, abortion, locking mentally challenged people away for their entire lives, etc, began to become acceptable(if "hidden") practices.  If you want some more information just google, "Eugenics". 

You might argue that we aren't acting so brazenly anymore.  When was the last time you heard about someone being forcefully sterilized?  While it might be true that we don't have national programs actively designed to pre-emptively deal with these "unsavory" genetic wastrels, the internal philosophy that gave rise to such policies has become deeply entrenched in the way we approach our valuation of life.

In the past few months we have seen witness to two stories that publicly exhibit this mindest;

29 year old Brittany Maynard is choosing suicide due to receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis.

A mother has publicly stated that she wishes she had aborted her adult son with down syndrome.


Wait wait wait you say!!!!  How can I "judge" their decisions???  I haven't walked in their shoes!  I don't know their struggles!!!

You are right, I do not know either of these hurting women personally.  But if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and, kills its young like a duck......it's a duck. 

What is on clear display in these stories(and the thousands of related ones we DON'T hear about) is that we have accepted a philosophical school of thought that measures value by extremely utilitarian standards.  For Brittany, her life loses value, and therefore, purpose, to continue on, when she reaches a point of no longer being "her".  For the mother of a downs child, her child does not contribute in a material way to her life and her family and so it would have been better to have killed him before he was born. 

Are we forcefully executing people society deems "unworthy"?  No.  But we have bought into a belief that life has a very limited value that it is subjectively evaluated. 

In the case of Brittany some people have argued that she should hold on because beautiful things can happen even at the end.  While this may be true, I think it is accepting the terms of debate established by the subjective morality proponents.  Namely, that life has value when it "accomplishes" something.  It is holding up another false measuring stick that compares and contrasts tangible benefits to tangible costs. 

Either life, and the living of it, has intrinsic and immeasurable value beyond our limited scope of observation, or, life is nothing more than a series of mathematical equations.  Once we as a society accept someone's subjective standard of what makes their life valuable, we have accepted that all of life is subjectively valuable.  And therefore, some life is more valuable than other lives. 

And, if we accept that premise, who is the final arbiter that decides which lives are of greater and more important value than others? 

When we accept the argument that "this" life is worthy to be eliminated, than the standard by which ANY OTHER LIFE can be potentially ended has been established. 

Life is an immeasurably complex, beautiful and eternally imprinted experience that can never be measured by limited contemporary standards.



This mother thinks she should have killed this son..........

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Don't Be Forgotten

Upon the tumultuous sea of human experience the common shared impulse is to defeat the march of time and to last forever.  Whether through the endowing of personal legacies, or, the collective pursuit of cultural timeless towers we all find ourselves investing in a future that will outlive the oldest of us. 

The Pyramids have stood for thousands of years, nations pride themselves on the longevity of their history, the earliest collective human endeavor recorded in the Bible was to build a great Tower so that their name and people would last forever.  The men who shook nations are remembered for millennia, the inventions that changed life as we knew it influence each successive generation to come. 

Here comes some bad new...You will not build a pyramid.  You will not establish a new nation that will stand for centuries.  And if you are reading this you probably are not working on the next great invention.  What is your lasting legacy?

In Ruth chapter 4 we are introduced to a new "important" gentleman.  While Ruth has previously approached Boaz as her Kinsmen Redeemer there is another legally more appropriate person that must first be addressed.  Being an honorable and righteous man Boaz goes to the city gates(the place where business takes place) and waits for this man. 

But there is a very important point to take note of regarding this person.  Though he plays heavily in the narrative of chapter 4, and is even given a speaking role in the story, his name is never mentioned.  He is forgotten, an afterthought, a bit character that is listed in the movie credits as "man at gate". 

Why?

I would argue that it is because he refused his calling.  He had a moral and legal obligation to Naomi and Ruth to take on Ruth as his wife and to start a family with her and provide and protect her for the rest of her life.  But it would have potentially put him out, so he declined. 

While you are probably not weighing the pros and cons of marrying a young widowed pagan woman who is currently taking care of her widowed mother-in-law, you do have a calling in your life.  You are made in a beautiful and wonderful way.  You are unique and gifted in ways that no one else has ever been.  God has called you to Himself for a purpose that is much more than you can envision.

Yet most of us will be forgotten.

Have you ever asked yourself, "What is it that God is calling ME to"?  Have you ever sat and talked with other believers about the decisions in your life so that you can prayerfully seek God's will with your brothers and sisters?

If not, why not? 

God is probably not calling any of us to build a Pyramid, or, found a nation.  But the simple call to honor God and serve others who God has brought into your life are the foundations of a lasting legacy.  Boaz didn't marry Ruth to birth a King.  He married Ruth to honor God and to love a woman in need.  And their grandson was King David, and their many great grandsons later was Jesus. 

Boaz didn't wake up that morning to change the world.  He went forward to do what HE SHOULD do in the moments before him. 

What about you?  What small moments do you need to seek God first, and you last? 


Not all Pyramids leave a lasting legacy.....