Something More

A quick thought: The cross has to be about more than forgiveness. I’m not sure ‘evangelical’ Christianity gets that. Confession, repentance and forgiveness are excellent things, but redemption is more than forgiveness. All stand under condemnation because of sin, and no sin is a small thing and Sin is not a trivial condition, but examining sin focuses us upon ourselves and/or others, the sinners.

Telling someone he’s unlovable but God loves him anyway is a contradiction at its very core (if God loves me I am able to be loved; that is, love-able), that she is so horrible she deserves eternal damnation but God can forgive her or that one is despicably, unspeakably ugly but God can make him lovely doesn’t seem, to me, to be much of a witness to the world or a source or edification for the Body.

A true understanding of what Sin and its affects are only comes imperfectly after spending time in the presence of God. Until then, and even as one’s understanding deepens, it’s hard not to think of what we consider judicious and just punishment. I think it’s nearly impossible for most people to think of sins of omission or commission as deserving a death sentence unless they are pardoned. Even a deeper understanding of Sin as a condition full of Pride, Avarice, Lust, etc. probably doesn’t elicit a sense of warrant for one’s death, let alone the death of someone else as substitution.

Imagine you’re in a tent on a base during war and one of your corporal rolls a live grenade into the tent in a fit of rage because he hates the sergeant. ?A friend dives on the grenade, substituting himself for everyone else, dying because of the evil of another.Not so hard to understand, and though it’s tragic and grieves you, you feel deep gratitude and love for your friend.

Now imagine you’re in that same tent with just your friend, but this time you’re goofing around like the immature right-out-of-high-school private you are, and you accidentally drop a live grenade which your friend dives on even though he was near the door and could have dove the other way and saved himself. ?You feel deep shame, unbearable horror, and unrelenting guilt, but you still know you’re friend died for you, and maybe someday, hopefully, you realize your friend would not want you to hate yourself and you owe it to him to live the life he spared to the fullest.

Many would agree that the person in the first case who threw the grenade should be executed, but no one would probably argue the second person should be executed, both because of lack of intention and because it would negate the sacrifice of the friend.

People are not Good, but they are mostly decent, at least by any norms ever defined by humanity. We all can see ourselves as the foolish, ignorant private, but we are unable to understand how it merits death. Sometimes we are aware that we are the evil ‘friendly’, but we think of it as a momentary act of emotion, not as a character-defining attribute, and we have trouble understanding how executing someone who had nothing to do with it would ‘fix’ anything, especially since most of the time we authentically are a ‘friendly’ and on the same side.

You lied? Accept God’s forgiveness. He butchered His Son so you could be forgiven. Oops…you did it again? Christ accepted torture, humiliation and crucifixion for a wretch like you because you were too ugly, disfigured and vile for Him to even look at until He did, but now you can be happy. You fudged your expense report? He’s got ya covered with the blood of His boy! Get this! He could have stopped it and He could have killed you for it and sent you to hell, but Alleluia! Instead He stood by and let his Son be slaughtered just so you could be forgiven. Now sing praises!

The sad hard truth is we’re neither the evil corporal nor the foolish private; we’re enemies with God. ?I’m not sure one obtains that understanding without forgiveness, an aspect of redemption and reconciliation, not prior to it. Imagine sin were a fruit and you were told what would happen if you took a bite of it and yet you did, but having taken the bite the poisonous juice traps you in a matrix of self-deception, you leave the garden and get lost, the poison makes you sick, lame, blind, distorts your hearing, disfigures you, put sores all over your body and yet convinces you you’re well.

Someone comes to you and says: You’re vile, repugnant and evil, but you did it to yourself, now say you’re sorry and turn around and go back because God killed His Son instead of you.

There’s got to be more. Isn’t it instead The Father sent His Son out looking for you, and the only way to heal your body, mind, heart and soul was to completely drain the poisonous blood and replace it with pure, and the only pure blood was in the Son, but in order for Him to have blood at all He had to first become like you, and putting His blood into you killed Him? And now the curse is lifted and you know you’re forgiven, all if well, and you back; in fact, with His blood came His Spirit to show you the way home.

Impassibility and the Buffet Rule

I was just walking and listening to a lecture on my mp3 player on the influence of Greek philosophy on early Church Fathers, one of which was the concept of impassibility.  This teaching has annoyed me from the very first time I remember hearing about it, and from time to time I try to articulate why.

Greeks believed that passions (same root as passivity) moved us, so we were not completely acting (same root as activity) freely, which was not good. For God to be good he had to be impassible, or unmoved by passion (or emotion), or he wouldn’t be either good or perfect.

Even if we accept the absurd dissection of God into reason, emotion and will–called the mind of God, the heart of God and the will of God–which can no more be separated than water can from a wave, then why must the conclusion be that God be passionless, or impassible, in order to be unchanging?

In our current state of class warfare, the Left has decided that if a millionaire pays less in taxes (as a rate) than his secretary because he pays capital gains and she pays federal tax then the only solution is for the millionaire to pay more so there is fairness.  Why can’t it be that the secretary pays less?  Would this not also achieve a more fair result?  Why do people so readily accept the conclusions others want them to.

Likewise, rather than God being impassible because He is unchanging why can’t it be that He has perfect, incorruptible, eternal passion rather than none?  An unchanging God moved by love?

Love, joy and peace are not purely emotional, as we understand emotion, but surely they have emotional aspects.  To argue God is impassible is to argue that though He experiences, say, peace that He is not moved by it.  Why can’t He be perfectly moved by it?  Why couldn’t such movement have occurred before the creation, and why couldn’t creation and redemption itself be a result of God being perfectly moved by pure, incorruptible, unchanging love before the creation of the world?

How do we reconcile Jesus Christ of Nazareth as Lord with the Garden of Gethsemane, with the Son of the Most High God weeping when His friend died?  How is the Incarnation itself not a change?

I guess what bugs me the most, and I had three other examples of this I was going to write you about the other day, is the way Christians who accept the philosophical notion of the impassibility of God build the whole edifice upon Platonic thought, which is the iceberg, and cap it off (the tip of the iceberg) with a proof text like God is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow and then cry Sola Scriptura.

Is there any reason a God moved by love wouldn’t still be the same yesterday today and tomorrow; that is, unchangingly a God moved by love?

In Essentials

For decades I have heard people use the expression: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I think a common reply to this is that we can never agree as to what is essential and what is non-essential. In fact, most of the time it appears that disagreement about what is essential is the most common source of disunity within the Body, so we debate and debate the particular question at hand.

However, it seems to me as I have been reflecting on this dictum that it channels the discussion into a false framework; well, not so much a false framework as disguising what the problem really is. It would be hard to disagree with this centuries-old formulation, so why so much disunity? I don’t believe it’s because we can’t decide what is essential and what is non-essential; I think it’s precisely because we all agree to an unstated single, core essential I would state as: The only real essential is understanding and obeying the teachings of Jesus Christ in all things.

So, Protestants believe we are saved by faith alone. We believe that is the correct understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ in both proclamation and action regarding salvation. Catholics believe that when James wrote “You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone” he was expressing a different “correct” understanding of the teaching of Jesus Christ regarding the nature of salvation.

Every issue we disagree about from baptism to the ordination of women, from the number of the sacraments to the proper care of the environment, from the exact nature of the inspiration of Scripture to church polity hinges on the desire to correctly understand the teaching of Christ so that we can be obedient to that teaching. Those who believe homosexuals should be allowed to marry believe they are obeying a correct understanding of Jesus’s teachings about love. Those who don’t believe they should be allowed to marry believe they are obeying a correct understanding of Jesus’s teaching about holiness. Those who think communion should be open to non-believers, those who don’t, and on and on.

Because we are united in our unstated agreement that the only real essential is to be obedient to the teaching of the Living Word we can allow no liberty towards one another because how can one be at liberty to disobey the Lord’s teaching? So the fragmentation of the Church continues apace. “Even so, come Lord Jesus.”

A Life Pleasing to God

“And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” Matthew 3:17

Three things the Father said of Jesus: You’re my Son.  I love you.  I am pleased with you.

By grace in faith, I am an adopted son.  God loves me.  I can not earn His love, His grace, His forgiveness, His mercy or His salvation. (I say “His salvation” rather than ‘my’ because “salvation belongs to our God.”)  I have earned His judgment, His justice, and His wrath.

But is it wrong to live as though I can–through, by and with Him–earn His pleasure, by which I mean work towards His pleasure?  I know it is pleasing to Him for me to trust, hope, believe, submit, rely, etc.–all the generally passive stuff, though more active than we think.  We are so scared of “works righteousness,” though, that maybe we think (or maybe just I think) that exerting effort to “please” God implies we think we can earn righteousness through righteous behavior.

Now, pleasing God isn’t going to happen with just external behavior.  External behavior no matter how outwardly good can be displeasing to God if done out of selfish ambition, greed or pride.  It might be pleasing to God to the extent that it genuinely helps another or accomplishes good in the world, but it will never be well pleasing by itself.  And internal change, though pleasing to God, will remain shallow and incomplete if faith does not act in love and gratitude and therefore not well pleasing to God by itself.

That said, I want to live my life in such a way that God can say: “You are my adopted son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Perseverance, or What’s It All About Alfie?

Sometimes I think the harder you fight the more resistance there is such that more energy is expended to accomplish the same amount.  It’s like jogging 3 miles, but every time you increase your pace the wind blows back in equal proportion, so that you still only jog 3 miles, and you do it in the exact same amount of time, but you’re more worn out and exhausted at the end.

Even if you increase in strength and stamina from the extra exertion, so that each time you jog you can run faster and faster, the resistance is just going to increase proportionally. Like Sisyphus pushing that damn bolder up the hill every day.  You gotta know by the 1000th year of that he was exponentially stronger than when he started.  Didn’t matter.  Push rock up; rock rolls down (lather, rinse, repeat, buy more shampoo).

Of course the analogy breaks down because we don’t move a fixed distance, and what looks like getting nowhere builds character and hope (if we have eyes to see), but that is hard.  Especially when most people in your life only have a snapshot of you.  You come into their picture only regarding specific expectations and needs.  For them, those expectations must be met in full, to their standards, on their timelines, and are all high priority, front burner, world-ending-if-not-done-right-and-on-time issues, and your value to them is based on how well you meet those expectations, no matter how unrealistic, and they do not see the depth and density of your life, care what else you’re doing or about healthy balance.

Our lives are motion pictures but we see one another in still frames.

Let us now praise Crony Capitalism and its offspring: rapacious consumption, driven workaholism, false identity, burn out and debased culture.

“I believe in love, Alfie.  Without true love we just exist.”

(5 + 2) x Jesus = Enough 4 All

“Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ’Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?'” –John 6:8b-9

As school starts back and we approach Rally Day and the kick-off of our annual stewardship campaign, imagine if there were a way to multiply time. Would you believe me if I told you it’s possible?

The Bible is full of lessons on different types of sacrifices to make to God: a “broken and contrite heart” (Ps 51), “a sacrifice of thanksgiving” (Ps 116), “of praise” (Heb. 13), our “bodies as a living sacrifice” (Rom. 12), and money, among others. In speaking of the monetary sacrifices made “beyond their means” to financially support his ministry, Paul said, of the “churches of Macedonia,” that “they gave themselves first to the Lord.”

“They gave themselves first to the Lord,” and somehow, then, were able to give “beyond their means, of their own free will, begging earnestly for the favor of taking part in the relief of the saints.” (2 Cor. 2:8) Wow!

Jesus has a knack of multiplying that which we first freely give to him for His service. Take the fish and loaves, for example. When I read that story in John 6, I have to stop and think “Only a child would have given his small lunch to Jesus to feed 5000 people.” Someone, probably more like Martha than Mary, had responsibly sent her son out with a small lunch. Which of us would have given it up? I’d have thought “Why should I go hungry so that everyone else can also go hungry, because if I give up this lunch you can be sure of one thing: None of us will be satisfied.”

Not that boy. He gave “first to the Lord,” and the Lord multiplied it, not just until everyone was satisfied, but until everyone was satisfied and there were leftovers to boot! In our frantic, panicked, stressed-out, overwhelmed lives do we dare to believe He can do it with time?

I think the answer is a resounding and emphatic “YES!” I firmly believe that God gives us more than enough time to do the work He’s given us to do. Sadly, we beg for enough time when He longs to give us leftovers.

Often times in our lives, when it all gets to be too much, the first thing we neglect is our relationship with God. Our personal devotions, our church attendance, and our participation in Sunday school and Bible study (that is, our personal and corporate worship and our Christian education) suffer. Our service is often maintained, because so much of our image is dependent upon it, but it’s often done with feelings of stress and frustration rather than joy and gladness.

Lord knows (and I say that literally without an ounce of irreverence) we need to rest. He knew it when he designed us; He knew it when He instituted the Sabbath; He knew it when He called us and when He commissioned us. We’re the ones who don’t seem to understand.