Saturday, October 09, 2010
Friday, October 08, 2010
This is Our Father's - Ugly - World
...but Christians know the glory story but they don't know the cross story. The glory story is that the Christian path is one of glory, observable, overcoming, obviously seen glories as the Christian triumphs over all his enemies. Thus, the Christian has ears to hear the stories of miraculous healings and beatific deaths because those are glory stories. These people live in a world where we can practice a mechanistic kind of magic with God. For the health freaks, if I would just I would just imbibe a magic potion concocted by nutritional wizards then like magic I would be healed. In the spiritual version, a performance of certain rituals of self-exam followed by the prescribed repentance and obedience would free me from my physical ailments. In any case, whereas doctors are reticent to describe what brought on the cancer simply because the factors that can contribute to any given cancer are innumerable, the glory-story folks know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I brought this cancer on myself and it is up to me to reform myself physically or get right with God. In each case, suffering is not something a Christian should have to endure and God's only role in it His deliverance of us from it, if we will meet the conditions.I read that and I think that generally people have not ever really learned how to hope - becasue they have no source for it. They live in a state of denial or they talk about diets or whatever avoiding the fact that Jesus is the only source of hope.
The cross story says that suffering is the path of the Christian. If you are a Christian, more than likely you will not go gently into that good night, and I am not using that phrase in its original context. In the original context Dylan Thomas urges us to rage and fight against death until the last moment. What I am saying is that if you are Christian your death and maybe even the years leading to it, may not be gentle.
That is the ugly truth I want to write about and I will try to write some more about in coming days is that we still live in a fallen world. We should no more expect an easy life and death than did the apostles who often died gruesome deaths, nor should we expect greater ease than the many Christians throughout most of history who have met Christ face to face at the end of starvation, disease, or persecution.
The ugly truth is that the fall still applies and the fall means that the Christian path is a cross bearing path - if you are a Christian expect that life will be harder than you initially imagined it would
The beautiful reality is that the fall cannot obscure God. God is near and dear to the broken hearted. Often in the midst of great pain one senses the presence of God - I know I have. It's not something that can be seen or articulated and in fact those who watch you suffer would probably conclude that God is not there. But the theology of the cross teaches that God hides Himself in suffering, He does not display Himself. I think that's one of the big differences between glory story people and cross people. The glory-storyists want God to display Himself - obviously, to the sight, publicly, in spectacular ways. The cross people believe that God is a God who is quiet, hidden away, is masked in His creation, but is especially made known in suffering.
We seem to want results now, when our hope lies in eternity. And when I read that something else occurs to me - So many people of faith still put hope into miracle diets and and other nonsense when they clearly know better. They treat God like a Christmas present, once the novelty of His genuine miracles is over, they fail to notice His miracles at all.
God works miracles in our lives everyday, just not always the ones we want. As trite as this may sound, the profundity of Jollyblogger's post here is a miracle. Of course, the miracle I most want is for his healing, his complete and uncomplicated healing, but God has, at the moment chosen a different miracle, one in which He has used David to raise the level of Godblogging.
I thank God for that miracle while I pray fervently for Him to remove the circumstance that produced it, all the while finding hope in the miracle God has produced.
Sometimes as Christians when we look at a field of weeds with a single flower in it we need to focus on the flower and ignore the weeds. Sometimes the flower will overwhelm the weeds instead of us having to pull the weeds.
Thursday, October 07, 2010
So it is today. We who follow Jesus are to be his witnesses, telling others what he has done for us. Yet this message will not be persuasive unless it is backed up by evidence of God’s power. If people see God at work in and through us, if they sense his presence in our compassion, our prayers, and our communities of faith, then they will be open to hear what we have to say about Jesus.What's more, I am not at all sure that we live abundantly without God's power being apparent in our lives.
I really hate the artificial divide that so many of us keep in our lives between the intellectual and the actual. We live in an information age. Even the seemingly uninformed among us know far more than the best educated of our predecessors. And yet, taken as a whole, we are largely the same people we were then. Has knowledge truly changed us? Is this information age really a better age?
Anyone that would answer "yes" must live in an ivory tower somewhere - sin still runs rampant.
But then we have those that seem to seek the power of God without the balance of the intellect - they too end up as sinful as the rest of us - and I am never really sure of the source of the power they exhibit.
There is a balance, an we must deliberately seek it.
After I graduated college and entered the working world, I found myself in a large company and I also found myself head and shoulders above my peers in job performance. My education had permitted me a great deal of lab time. They having gone to larger educational institutions had had their lab time severely controlled and limited. I could step into the lab and get busy - they had to make mistakes and learn form those mistakes = practical lessons I had learned in the lab at school.
We need labs in the church - and too often small groups don't cut it. We have to get out there and make a difference, or fail to make a difference and learn the lesson of failure.
Think about it.
Related Tags: Illuminated Scripture
Wednesday, October 06, 2010
Finding Your "Ministry"
This is just the kind of nonsense that raises the biggest red flag for me. Church leaders create all these programs and "ministry opportunities" and then try to plug everybody into them, suggesting that if you're not so plugged you must be passive, etc. Can I just mention that being a Mom and Dad might be a more fruitful and important place to minister than any of the church's "ministry opportunities"? Things that won't last, indeed.That's blunt - and right!
The church exists to build people - good people, people that are demonstrably different than other people doing the same thing. And those people are the church, regardless of institutional affiliation or activity.
The institution exists to serve God and God's people. The people do not exist to serve the institution. The institution is means, the people are the end.
Who do you serve?
Tuesday, October 05, 2010
Art as Evangelism
For the non-believer, perhaps focusing on this “poetical teaching” can offer a way of engaging with religious art in a manner beyond merely cultural or aesthetic appreciation; one which begins to dance, albeit gingerly, along the perimeters of the theological. What we experience in religious art, ultimately, doesn’t have to lead us into heaven. In Botticini’s “Assumption”, the disciples gather around Mary’s tomb, only to discover an assortment of lilies has taken the place where her body should rest. Uncomprehending, they look around in bewilderment. If looking at religious art can leave us similarly stunned, perhaps for some that’s more than miracle enough.Sometimes we get in our own way by over-thinking stuff way, way too much. I think everyone agrees that God is revealed in His creation, and in creating ourselves, we reveal some of God in us - and thus God speaks to those that see the creation. Whether it is art, or a machine, when we make something that has never been made before, God is revealed - to believer and unbeliever alike. That is even true, though to a lesser extent, in the "intended to offend man and God" trash that passes for art in some circles today. The revulsion that we feel towards such things reveals the bit of God's image that remains alive in us.
What;s more, these paragraphs seem to resume that we can only encounter God on a cognitive level. Frankly, if that is what we believe then we have already lost the big battle. God is supernatural and therefore on some levels beyond cognition. When we reduce existence to merely cognitive, we have bought into the modernist, if not post-modernist, view.
Art, if we allow it, bursts through our cognition and touches us on deeper levels. Levels that are often frankly, beyond our control. And that in the end is, I think the point.
The trite but truthful phrase "let go and let God" is about more than events. It's about thinking. Sometimes we have to quit thinking about God and just experience Him. Sometimes art can help us do that, and if it can help us, it can do the same for the non-believer becasue it is not about thought, its about experience.
Is this mystical - you bet. I am no Theresa of Avila though. Mysticism must be balanced with thought, but so must thought be balanced with mysticism. Mysticism is, by the way, different than emotion. That, frankly is where I worry about modern worship music - it's emotional but not evocative on deeper levels.
We are afraid of being evoked on those deeper levels - we can't control them. But God can, does, and it is good.
Monday, October 04, 2010
It's All About Context
These days, we--Christians and non-Christians in the West--have elevated "tolerance" to the highest human virtue. So much so, in fact, that a member of one of my former parishes told me once that, so far as he could tell, the gospel message was, "Live and let live." I wondered what Bible he had been reading.I really like the way Mark puts that and there are two very important points he makes that deserve amplification.
Christians should have no desire--any more than Jesus Himself did--to coerce people into repentance for sin or faith in Christ, of course....
If a child has the notion that sticking her or his finger into an electrical outlet would be fun, the last thing a responsible parent would do is tolerate this impulse. The parent would do everything conceivable to prevent the child from harming himself or herself. Love and truth would trump parental tolerance.
Just so, the Church has a God-given responsibility to militate against a lazy, indifferent tolerance, to instead, opt for love and truth in warning people who ask us for an account for the hope that is in us through Christ, to make them aware of the destructive consequences of flouting God's will, whether it's expressed in materialism, injustice, egotism, lovelessness, covetousness, or sex outside of marriage.
The first point is in the phrase "opt for love and truth." Love DEMANDS that truth be spoken. There is no love in watching someone destroy themselves. Love DEMANDS that we at least make sure people know they are making bad choices. It is inherently unloving to sit by and watch people make mistakes. But love also demands that we do so in a fashion that bespeaks of kindness and gentleness. Illuminating truth and condemnation are two very different things.
In many ways it is not about the truth, but in how we use the truth. It is also important to note that people who behave contrary to truth are often very sensitized to its declaration. They will often cry intolerance at an provocation becasue they recognize the essential truth of what is being declared and it runs afoul of their perceived desires. We are not accountable to those to whom we speak truth as to how we speak it, but we are accountable to Christ, and the how matters as much as the what.
The second point is in the noun "destructive consequences." We are often tempted to define sin by deific declaration. That is to say, "It's sin becasue God said it was." But we do not worship a caprious God. That which is sin is sin because it indeed has destructive consequences - consequences that we should be able to describe and demonstrate without resorting to a purely prophetic voice.
Which brings me back to the "how's" of declaring the truth. Reason matters more than condemnation. Again, the truth is condemning of itself. We do not need to provide the condemnation, only the truth - and reasonably so.