Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What's Going On Inside of Me?

To say I am conflicted is to drastically understate the turmoil I feel in my spirit. I have recently known a season of spiritual warfare and confusion unlike anything I’ve known in my Christian experience. As a result of this experience I find myself asking questions I never dreamed I’d ask. Questions like, 'What’s going on inside of me?'

Inside my head I know certain things to be true which barely ‘feel’ true anymore. Inside my heart I know certain other things to feel true which every ‘wise counselor’ assures me are false. Honestly, what’s going on inside of me? Is my heart lying to me? Am I not permitted to have the feelings of safety and encouragement; or is my head (and all the wise counselors) lying to me? It just seems like a huge convoluted mess.

My heart deceives me, I know. Recently I have even allowed my heart to deceive me to the degree of leading me into an area of sinful disobedience; an area in which I couldn’t believe I found myself. My heart is depraved, yes, and that depravity is deep. Does this mean that I cannot find solace and comfort from the pain?

Similarly, my head’s commitment to truth becomes cold and academic; almost clinical. Surely there’s a Truth that lies somewhere between my heart’s depravity and my head’s intellectual approach. Surely Jesus is in the business of dispelling darkness and lifting fog. Surely He can answer the question of what’s going on inside of me.

Monday, November 8, 2010

An Aching Void The World Can Never Fill

The year was 1998.

At that point in my life I was a 24 yr old man with a wife, 2 kids and a job. I was involved in the same conservative religious sub-culture in which I had grown up as a kid. It had been 10 yrs since I had officially aligned myself with the group; though I had never really been misaligned since birth. It was all I had ever known. I was also deeply addicted to pornography and had serious anger issues. In an attempt to overcome my sin I became more and more entrenched in non-conformity and asceticism. While this lifestyle had the appearance of wisdom, such self-abasement and severe treatment of the body was of no value against fleshly indulgences.

Due to the fact that none of my attempts were producing any lasting fruit of righteousness I eventually concluded that religion was nothing more than an illusion; while there was probably a being who created, he was obviously disinterested, at best, in our lives; Christianity was simply a playact in which the actors and the audience were one and the same (and I was as equipped as anyone to continue following the script); death was the eventual end of it all for each of us. These conclusions didn’t quite feel right, however, so I made one last ‘all or nothing’ attempt to clear the confusion in my mind. I called out to God.

My calling out was not what you normally think of when you hear a sinner speak of calling out to God, though; it was more of a barter, a challenge, a dare. I decided that there were a few different things to which I needed answers simultaneously. Was there indeed a God? Was he remotely interested in the details of our life? Was there an afterlife (what I had always heard referred to as heaven, or paradise)? If he existed and if there was some form of an afterlife; was I satisfying his expectations well enough to gain me his acceptance? Those were the questions that led me to the challenge, or dare.

At the time I was working on a commercial steel erection crew building a structure on the back side of Lafayette, IN. This building was kind of out of the way with nothing much around it at the time. Seldom did we see much activity except construction related traffic and people, which made the likelihood of the challenge all the more unlikely. This was intentional; I was presenting a challenge to a god whom I wasn’t positive existed which would require extremely abnormal circumstances in order to come to pass. I think deep in my heart I was afraid of what I knew to be the certain answer. The challenge went like this, ‘If there is an after life, a heaven, and if I’m unprepared to stand and be judged worthy for acceptance into the same, place a [specific item related to my current addiction] in plain sight on the job site tomorrow.’ That was my fleece and, like Gideon’s, it was highly unlikely.

It happened.

I dismissed it as chance.

The next day I ‘fleeced’ it again. This particular thing had never happened before so I was certain it was impossible on subsequent days. It happened…again…the very next day. Suffice it to say God had my attention but I didn’t know how to respond.

I immediately decided that I had to have answers. Period. I would stop at nothing to find these answers. Answers to the questions about salvation, victory over sin, Christian experience and anything else you could think of related to the subject. The problem was, though, I wasn’t sure where to turn so I went to the only place I could think of, the Bible. I was familiar (raised in church) and unfamiliar (never made personal application) with it all at the same time.

I poured myself into studying this book.

I didn’t know how to study. I didn’t know where, in the book, to look for answers. Daily I rose and spent 1-2 hrs combing through its pages. Asking questions; seeking answers. Nothing could deter me from my quest to find answers to nagging questions about the emptiness I felt in my soul.

For the next 3 1/2 years I maintained this daily regimen, alone. I dared not admit to anyone that I was a hypocrite, a fake. I was a reasonably respected member in my local church who was meeting all the expectations of the other members and leadership. How could I drop the mask and let those people see who Aaron Hoblit really was?

The date is now early 2002.

By this time I have come to realize that the Christian ‘god’ (whom I understand theologically to be somehow connected to Jesus) is both real and interested in our individual lives. I also understand that prayer is [somehow] an integral part of the whole equation. I realized that ‘relationship’ was the buzz word used when referencing this interaction with this god. (Though the church I affiliated with seemed to minimize this concept.) I could also recognize the difference between those who ‘had it’ and those who didn’t.

Vivid in my memory is a Sunday evening sitting with several families in a living room setting when one brother casually says, ‘Let’s go around the room and have everyone share their testimony of conversion.’ What was a casual statement for him was a catastrophic turn of events for me. I was very aware of the lack of such a ‘testimony’ in my life. I panicked. Suffering from a head cold at the time I feigned laryngitis. Serious. Drastic circumstances call for drastic measures.

I’m not certain how deliberate my prayer was in the next few weeks but it went like this, ‘Lord, give me one of these ‘testimonies of conversion’ so I won’t be embarrassed the next time the subject comes up.’ Noble? Hardly, but He heard; and answered. Three weeks later on a Tuesday afternoon he did just that.

Damascus Road. Darkness to light. Dead to life. Something significant changed that day.

My fire had been lit and nothing could put it out. I continued my habit of rising early (sometimes as early as 3:30-4 am) and spending a significant amount of time in the Scriptures. Daily I was receiving new revelations. Prayer permeated my every waking moment. I began distributing gospel tracts everywhere I went and sharing the gospel with everyone I met (whether they wanted to hear it or not!); customers, bank tellers, waitresses, store clerks, friends, family, strangers, everyone. People who had previously known me began asking what had happened--pointing to positive changes in my life and habits.

God began opening doors for ministry. Street evangelism. Prison ministry. Worldwide online evangelism. Music ministry. The sweetness of what had happened in my life simply needed to be told. I was a dying patient who had met a man who had completely healed me of my sickness called sin and I was on a quest to tell every other patient dying of the same ailment. Nothing could stop me. Nothing.

Fast forward nearly 9 years to present day.

Where is that blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul refreshing view
Of Jesus and His Word?

As I look back over the last several years I realize that something dampened the fire. My zeal to ‘save the world’ has become slightly cynical. The passion I had to share the gospel with everyone I met has been replaced with complacency. The desire I for constant communication with my Father has been reduced to Post-It ™ Note prayers. My study of the Scripture has become academic. My habits have become loose.

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!

While I’m aware that this experience is common to mature Christians something tells me it doesn’t have to be this way.

Return, O holy Dove! return,
Sweet messenger of rest!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Mysterious Paradox

[The gospel] is not a question to be answered or a puzzle to be solved. It is a paradox to be relished, a wild, outrageous secret to be astonished at and then snitched to the world as the greatest joke ever told...The Mystery of Christ is a festival of weakness and foolishness on the part of God...something that makes no more sense than the square root of minus one--something that is deaf to our cries for intelligible explanations but that works when it is put into the equation of the world--something that can only be marveled at because it is preposterously Good News. The Bible, from Genesis to Revelation, has one Word for us: God has upped and done the damnedest thing. Or, to get the direction and adjectives right, God has downed and done the blessedest thing we could ever not have thought of.

-Robert Farrar Capon

Monday, November 16, 2009

Step Seven

I have been reading 12 Steps For The Recovering Pharisee (like me), John Fischer. This book uses the 12 step model of recovery, though he rewrites the steps to be applicable to Phariseeism and overcoming such legalistic, self-righteous habits in our own life. The following is chapter 7. I know it's a rather lengthy passage, but hopefully you can find the time to read and consider it. It has especially spoken to me.

Step 7
We embrace the belief that we are, and will always be, experts at sinning.

In the course of one private conversation between the two of them, my mother informed my wife that I didn’t sin. Now, my wife had been married to me for over ten years at the time, and, as you can imagine, she had a somewhat differing opinion on the subject of my sinfulness or lack of it. I was pretty shocked myself to hear of my supposed perfection, and though I would love to believe my mother, I’m afraid my wife knows better. Though we often joke about this now, I wonder what would bring my mother to pose such a preposterous claim about me. Aside from the expected parental my-son-can-do-no-wrong myth, was there anything more indicated in this dubious assessment? I believe that there might have been.

Many evangelicals mistakenly believe that a person’s spirituality and closeness to God are inversely proportionate to the amount of sin in that person’s life. More sin, less of God; more of God, less sin, the ultimate goal being sinlessness—a state that no one we know has actually achieved, but is theoretically plausible nonetheless. I guess my mother had me so close to God that I had to be sinless in her mind.

This equation is carefully bolstered by glowing testimonies and the close-to-perfection reputations of those who are close to God. Ministers and those in “full-time Christian service” are closer than anybody and thus the furthest from sin. This is why it is so devastating to the church when these close-to-perfect people fall prey to a terrible moral failure. The result is shock and disbelief. They were so spiritual; how could this have happened?

The big Christian lie

In his charming coming-of-age novel, Portofino, Frank Schaeffer, son of Francis and Edith Schaeffer, two of the most important Christian thinkers in the last three decates, strips the veneer away from what many must have thought was the ideal Christian family.

Frank—formerly Franky—paints a picture in this novel of a fundamentalist evangelical family on vacation in Italy over the course of two summers. The parallels between the story and what I know about Frank’s own family and childhood are everywhere. In the story we see a distant, silent father, who in public is fighting for a culturally relevant biblical orthodoxy but in private is prone to huge mood swings and a violent temper, a wife who fights with him over which one of them is more spiritual, and children who are forced to be “biblical” before they know what any of it means. Though some of the situations are humorous and charming, others are too painfully real to just be funny. Having grown up in a similar evangelical family caught in a public and private dichotomy, I find Portofino cathartic, to say the least.

In looking into this story, I discovered that I have two reactions to this dysfunctional Christian family. The first is to take some pleasure in their shortcomings because then I can feel somehow better about mine. The second reaction is to be disappointed. Something inside me wishes Frank hadn’t uncovered this flawed family portrait because then I could go on believing that at least someone I revered, like Francis and Edith Schaeffer, had gotten it right.

It occurs to me that this second reaction could be thought of as the big Christian lie. That is, the belief that somebody, somewhere, got it right. Don’t we flock to speakers and singers who are up front and important because they are getting it right, and aren’t they up ther be we expect that of them? When it comes painfully obvious that in some area of their lives they did not get it right, aren’t they promptly removed from their place? Aren’t all those smiling people on the covers of Christian books telling us how we, too, can get it right if we follow their advice? If we didn’t worship at the altar of getting it right, there wouldn’t be a market for half this stuff.

But have no fear, Christian entrepreneurs, the market is not in any danger, because this appeal has held human beings in its grip ever since Moses came down the mountain with God’s top ten list for getting it right. And we all carry on with the lie.

The lure of ‘almost’

Unfortunately, getting it right is not the issue. If we were all facing sin more realistically, we would not be so surprised when it shows up in the life of a spiritual leader. (I sometimes fear what my children will write about me!) If we were being truthful about who we really are—all of us—we would know that our leaders are human, just as we are.

Sometimes I wonder if we want our spiritual leaders to be perfect so we don’t have to be. As long as we believe somebody’s perfect, we can go on perpetuating the myth that perfection is possible and keep on shrouding our own sin safely behind the lie of ‘almost.’ We are almost there. We have almost arrived. We are almost holy. One more book, one more seminar, one more revival service, and we will be just like the person on the cover of the book or the brochure. That’s why when leaders fall, it blows the cover on this charade. Suddenly this elusive spiritual life we are trying to lead is further away than we thought. ‘Almost’ is not even close. If the pastor can fall, what does that say about our chances?

If we were more honest with ourselves, we would know that the real question is not how someone so high could fall so far, but rather why hasn’t it happened sooner in such an atmosphere of denial? What were these people doing up there in the first place; and what were we doing putting them up there? The real problem in this case is not with sin, it is with our false idea of who we think we are. We need to understand that wnen someone falls, it’s not the end; it’s just the truth finally being known. It’s actually a good thing if it sends us all back to the gospel, where we should have been all along.

I often wonder how a gospel based solely on the merits of one who has died to forgive sin could be perpetuated on the merits of those who don’t seem to need it. If the whole point of the gospel is forgiveness of sin, then why do we insist on continually parading these almost perfect lives in front of each other? How has it happened that the people who proclaim forgiveness of sin don’t seem to have any sins to be forgiven of themselves? How has a church that once was the happy possession of common fishermen and prostitutes and tax collectors become the home of the spiritually elite? There are, undoubtedly, numerous and complicated answers to these questions, but I believe at the root of them all is lurking the issue of the Pharisee.

The call of the ancient Pharisee

Sin has a way of showing up only on the front end of salvation. Sinners are those who need saved, but once they are saved we rarely hear about sin anymore. Yes, sin still turns up in the context of those sinners ‘out there’ who need Jesus, but don’t we ‘in here’ need Jesus just as much after we’re saved?

It’s as if we believe another standard takes over once we become Christians. The unbeliever receives forgiveness of sins; the believer, however, must simply stop sinning. The blood of Jesus Christ covered my sins when I became a Christian, but now that I am saved I’d better straighten up and fly right. Salvation is for those who need to be saved, not those who already have been. And whenever not sinning takes precedence over the forgiveness of sins…beware the Pharisee.

‘Who among you is without sin?’ is the damning question Jesus posed to the Pharisees. We should ask ourselves the same question. John put it another way: ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves’ (1 John 1:8). And yet we continue to want to be deceived—to perpetuate a myth about ourselves and our leaders that keeps our sin hidden from view because the alternative—to come clean—is just too scary. Although not sinning is not possible, we choose to perpetuate the false belief that it is, rather than face the truth. We created these perfect spiritual leaders in the first place to prove that it can be done; but they are living way beyond their spiritual means. If my assessment is true, it may actually be the grace of God that brings them down so we can all start facing the truth.

I grew up on hymn lyrics like, ‘What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.’ I noticed the hymnist put this in the present tense, meaning that sin is a daily reality in the believer’s life. But I have a hunch most people don’t sing it that way. We sing it as if it were, ‘What has washed away my sin?’ As if sin were now behind us—a remnant of our non-Christian past.

One can see how subtly we become prime candidates for the fraternity of Pharisees. When being perfect is more important than being saved—when not sinning takes precedence over honestly dealing with sin—all the same dynamics that tantalized Saul of Tarsus are waiting to empower us falsely. The supposed perfection, the arrangement of the standard so as to make the breaking of it almost impossible to do, the judgment of others, the hiding, and, of course, the hypocrisy, are simply too alluring to refuse.

Foolish Galatians

‘You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you?’ wrote Paul in his letter to the same. ‘Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?’ (Galatians 3:1, 3)

Apparently this is not a new problem. We start with the Spirit; we start with salvation; we start with the undeserved grace of God, but then human effort creeps back into our spiritual lives like weeds returning to a weeded garden. We start looking to ourselves again, thinking we have to come up with what we need to be good Christians, and the minute we start looking to ourselves, we start covering up and being defensive and comparing ourselves to others, just like Pharisees. It’s inevitable: Where there is spirituality mixed with human effort, there will be all the pitfalls of the Pharisees, writhing like a brood of vipers waiting to entangle those who fall in.

If it took the Spirit to saves, Paul points out, it’s going to take the Spirit to keep us saved. Start with the Spirit, stay with the Spirit; start with salvation, stay with salvation; start with grace, stay with grace. How can we add to what Christ has done? We are saved each day the same way we were saved the first time. We brought our sinful lives before God, turned from relying on ourselves to relying on him, and received his life in exchange for ours. It’s no different now. It’s a moment-by-moment transaction.

The Galatians were trying to perfect through human effort what the Spirit had begun without their help, while all along denying that very Spirit the right to their lives. Their problem was the same as the Pharisees: they wanted to be in control of the process. They wanted to take back what they gave up in the beginning. Apparently they were too uncomfortable not being in control. Who else would turn down the grace of God but someone who didn’t want to be vulnerable to it? It’s a tragedy that while there is grace to cover all our sin, there are still sinners who don’t know about it and Pharisees who don’t want to know.

Salvation: then, now, and later

Confession of sin in our churches most often comes from those who are just being saved. We hear their stories as the equivalent of the ‘before’ pictures in liposuction ads with all that detestable flab hanging out over the edges of ill-fitting bathing suits. The assumption is that the rest of us have had all the sin sucked out of our abs and buttocks and are currently enjoying our slim, trim ‘after’ bodies. If sin does happen to show up later in a believer’s life, it is the result of a temporary backsliding. It happens to the best of us now and then. This is ‘solved’ by a simple rededication of our lives to God—a sort of ‘salvation refresher’. Sin is rarely, if ever, addressed as a normal part of a believer’s everyday experience.

Is salvation a one-time experience or something that we need every day of our lives? Yes and yes. These are actually two aspects of a three-pronged process of salvation—past, present and future. The theological names for these three aspects of salvation are justification, sanctification, and glorification. Justification is what has happened to us in relation to our sin, once and for all, on the cross. Jesus Christ’s death in our place has justified us forever before God and made possible our fellowship with him.

But this does not mean that we are sinless. Paul calls it a ‘body of death’ that we still have to carry around in this life even though we have received the firstfruits of the Spirit in our hearts (Romans 8:23). We are currently caught between our ultimate glorification when we will receive our resurrection bodies like Christ, and the past-justification of ourselves through the finished work of Christ on the cross. Everything in between is our present-tense experience of the process of sanctification. That experience includes both sin and forgiveness of sin as a daily occurrence. Though our salvation is secured in heaven, we experience it currently as we struggle with our sin nature and feel God’s knife cutting more deeply into the subtleties of our flesh.

The experience of sin in a believer’s life is not always backsliding. Nor is it always willful disobedience. Often it is what is simply revealed or brought into view because of the Holy Spirit’s work at peeling away our sin nature like the layers of an onion. The longer we follow Christ the more we discover how deep the sin goes and how deep and wide are his mercy and love. Realization of sin, confession, and forgiveness continue as we find out more about ourselves. This is why this process is both painful and rewarding. Painful because we keep discovering how far we still have to go, but rewarding because we keep discovering, as well, how far Christ has gone for us. This is also why the older believer always has an affinity for the new believer. It’s the same process. The new believer may be experiencing God’s forgiveness for the first time, but the experience is immediate, real, and necessary for both of them.

This is also why the new believer and the old believer can both sing the same song, tell the same gospel story, and talk of the same forgiveness fresh from each one’s current experience of it. Take the following hymn:

At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light,

And the burden of my heart rolled away;

It was there by faith I received my sight,

And now I am happy all the day.

Does a twenty-year believer sing this song thinking back on twenty years ago when she received her forgiveness? Is the twenty-year believer remembering and vicariously experiencing her former forgiveness through the tears of the new convert? Or does the twenty-year believer have her own tears welling up in her eyes as she sings this hymn for the umpteenth time, realizing it’s implications even more deeply than the last time she sang it because of the sin for which she has just received fresh forgiveness? This is how our salvation continues to be alive in our lives.

‘Tell Me the Old, Old Story’ is another old hymn I remember singing often as a child. Well, the old, old story has a way of always being a new, new song when we understand and experience the painful and glorious process of our sanctification.

More sin; more God

‘The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more’ (Romans 5:20).

At the beginning of this chapter I talked about this erroneous equation: More sin, less of God; more of God, less sin. I would like to suggest at this point a totally different equation. I would like to suggest that more of God in my life actually means more sin, if by more sin it is clear I mean the awareness of sin. The person who is closer to God is more aware of sin than the one who is distant, and thus that person will be having a more relevant experience with God as he or she grows in the faith.

This is why older Christians keep getting more humble as they grow older. They keep finding out how much of a sinner they are and how patient God is with them.

Paul puts it this way. ‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life’ (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

Here Paul makes a truly daring claim. One would think great leaders like Paul would be able to claim themselves as examples of righteousness and holiness, but Paul does not. He claims quite the opposite; he brags about being the worst sinner among sinners. He chose to exemplify himself in this manner so that others might have hope. If Christ would have patience with Paul—the worst of sinners—then no sinner could claim to be outside the reach of God’s grace.

These are truly unusual bragging rights. In essence Paul is saying he has more sin than anyone so no one can have any legitimate reason not to believe the forgiveness of God. If there’s hope for him, the worst of sinners, there’s hope for anyone. ‘For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect’ (1 Corinthians 15:9-10).

To extrapolate somewhat on Paul’s statement, I offer the following paragraph:

You think your sin is so great that God could never forgive you? Well, think again. I murdered Christians for their faith. I carried out the judgment of God upon the very people he was calling out to do his work. The cloaks of the murderers ended up at my feet. Awful things were done, at my command, to more people that I can count who were and are now my brethren, and the responsibility for all these things rests on me.

More of God, more awareness of sin. The more I see of God, the more I am aware of that in me that is not of God. That’s why Paul’s statement is in the present tense: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst.’ Paul experiences a continual awareness of his sin nature. I would want to say I was the worst of sinners…but not Paul. The reality of his sin was as current and fresh as the reality of God’s grace. Paul knew that he couldn’t really know God’s grace without knowing his sin and how little he deserved what he was receiving. Deserve it, and it is no longer grace.

If we are going to recover from this pharisaical phoniness, we are going to have to get a present-tense awareness of our sin. We need to be experts at finding and rooting out our own sin—no one else’s. We have plenty to deal with right here in our own heart without having to take on anyone else’s sin as our personal campaign. I am the worst sinner I know, simply because I know myself better than anyone. My sin is the worst because it is mine. I am intimately involved with it. I know all its subtle nuances, its illusions, its rationalizations, and its cover-ups. Of my sin I am an expert. Anyone else’s sin is not my business to evaluate.

And follow this: Jeremiah informs us that our ‘expert’ knowledge of sin is still limited at best. Deeper than what we know about our sin lies that which we don’t know. ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure,’ cried Jeremiah. ‘Who can understand it?’ (17:9). This is a reminder that, however much we know about our sin, we still do not know it all.

Paul picks up this theme in 1 Corinthians 4:4: ‘My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me.’ Paul never claims sinlessness, but he does claim a clear conscience. The sin Paul knows about, he has brought to the Lord already and received forgiveness; what he doesn’t know about is known by God and will be revealed in due time.

A clear conscience, therefore, does not mean we are sinless. It means we are covered by the blood of Jesus for what we know and what we don’t know. That should keep us humble until the time when the Lord returns. ‘He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God’ (1 Corinthians 4:5).

The recovering Pharisee’s creed

When I speak of sin, I will no longer talk of it as something in my distant past. When I speak of forgiveness, I will not speak of it as something I received years ago when I became a Christian. I will speak of the sin and forgiveness I experienced today—that I am experiencing right now—that enable me to be human and real and truthful with who I am and who I am becoming. And when the conversation turns to talk of sinners, I will realize the conversation is really about me. I will always know that I am the worst of sinners. I put Jesus on the cross; my sin nailed him there. And if I ever catch myself thinking that there exists, somewhere in the world, a worse sinner than I, regardless of the gravity of the crime, it is at that point that I have stepped over the pharisaical line and am speaking about something of which I know nothing. When it comes to sin, I can only speak of myself with absolute certainty, and in regard to myself and sin, I am certain of this: that I am an expert in both my sin and my forgiveness. One brings me sorrow; the other brings me great joy. The remarkable thing is not that I sin, but that, in spite of my sin, I am capable of having fellowship with God and being used by him for his purposes in the world.

‘So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!’ (1 Corinthians 10:12)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dietrich and Jace's Perspective?

Say, I've got a little brother,
Never teased to have him, nuther,
But he's here;
They just went ahead and bought him,
And, last week the doctor brought him,
Wan't that queer?

When I heard the news from Molly,
Why, I thought at first 'twas jolly,
'Cause, you see,
I s'posed I could go and get him
And then Mama, course, would let him
Play with me.

But when I had once looked at him,
"Why!" I says, "My sakes, is that him?
Just that mite!"
They said, "Yes," and, "Ain't he cunnin'?"
And I thought they must be funnin',--
He's a sight!

"Why'd they buy a baby brother,
When they know I'd good deal ruther
Have a dog?"

He's so small, it's just amazin',
And you'd think that he was blazin',
He's so red;
And his nose is like a berry,
And he's bald as Uncle Jerry
On his head.

Why, he isn't worth a dollar!
All he does is cry and holler
More and more;
Won't sit up--you can't arrange him,--
I don't see why Pa don't change him
At the store.

Now we've got to dress and feed him,
And we really didn't need him
More 'n a frog;
Why'd they buy a baby brother,
When they know I'd good deal ruther
Have a dog?

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pride and Prejudice

There seems to be two attitudes hidden the heart of every man. Pride and prejudice. No attitude seems to be worse to accept in others than pride. Pride, and specifically spiritual pride, is a stench in the nostrils of every individual when present. Second to that, and often a counterpart to spiritual pride, is prejudice. Jesus must have known this when using the parable found in Luke 10:25-37. This parable, often refered to as The Parable of the Good Samaritan, seems to address both of these issues head on.

Let’s look first at the cast of characters in this incident. We find Jesus having a conversation with an unnamed lawyer. In this conversation Jesus introduces four fictitious characters to weave a story in which to make a point. These four characters are as opposite of one another as any four individuals you could choose. First Jesus introduces a ‘certain man’. Joe Average Citizen. This man was given no description, no features, no defining details and no name. Secondly He introduces a priest. Priests were the ones responsible for the sacrifices in the temple. No doubt everyone revered these men as ‘men of God’. Thirdly Jesus introduces a Levite. The Levites and the priests worked closely with one another in temple work. While the priests were responsible for the sacrificial duties, the Levites were the oil that made the whole machine of Jewish worship run. The Levites were responsible to see that all the little details were attended to, including, but not limited to, making sure the right vessels were at the right places with the right contents at the right time, and on, and on, and on.

Next, however, Jesus introduces someone quite different than a nameless, faceless (presumably Jewish) citizen, or a priest, or a Levite. A Samaritan. You can almost hear the hiss in the term. Derogatory and demeaning hardly describe the tone and manner in which the Samaritans were referred to. You can imagine the young boys calling each other ‘Samaritans’ as they had their petty disagreements. Tossing the term around with the assumption that Samaritans weren’t worth anything. No, it wasn’t assumption, they knew the Samaritans weren’t worth anything. Half-breeds at best, the Samaritans were ½ Jew, ½ Gentile, ½ idolatrous, ½ orthodox. No one knew for sure what they were, and quite frankly, no one cared.

Why would Jesus use such a motley cast of characters? What lesson needed such contrast to be articulated?

Let’s remember back the first person we were introduced to, the lawyer. Verse 25 tells us that the lawyer asked Jesus what needed to be done to inherit eternal life, simply to test him. Jesus knew this; he had dealt with these tactics before. Being a lawyer, obviously this man knew the written Mosaic Law; therefore Jesus simply asked the question back at him, ‘What does the Law say?’ Like a simple game of pass with a lob one direction and a return pitch, nothing seems amiss. Possibly realizing that his ‘trap’ didn’t spring as desired he was left with no choice but answer. ‘Love God with all your heart, soul, strength and mind and love your neighbor as yourself.’

Possibly this lawyer was in the crowd when Jesus was asked ‘what is the greatest command’ (Mark 12:28-31) and he answered in the same manner. ‘Right’, Jesus answers, ‘do this and you will live.’ But wishing to justify himself…… the lawyer was still intent on trapping Jesus. ‘Who is my neighbor?’ he asked. Jesus experienced the same thing again in Luke 16:14-15, Now the Pharisees…were listening to all these things and we scoffing at Him. And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts…’ Some people simply don’t know when it’s time to quit pushing the issue. How often are each of us exactly like this? Each time we are Jesus responds in the same way as he responded this time………directly.

Jesus replied and said, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among robbers, and they stripped him and beat him, and went away leaving him half dead. And by chance a priest was going down on that road, and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite also, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, who was on a journey, came upon him; and when he saw him, he felt compassion, and came to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them; and he put him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn and took care of him. On the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper and said, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I return I will repay you.’

With no less than 12,000 priests and Levites living in Jericho, and with the temple being in Jerusalem, it’s not a hard to imagine a priest or a Levite being on this particular road. Remember who Jesus is talking to? A Jewish lawyer. To this man the most shocking event in Jesus’ little story was the fact that a Samaritan ‘felt compassion’, while we are appalled that the priest and Levite lacked compassion. No doubt this man knew Numbers 19:11 said the one who touches the corpse of any person shall be unclean for seven days. He also knew Deuteronomy 21:1-9 said If a slain person is found lying in the open country…and it is not known who has struck him, then your elders and your judges shall go out and measure the distance to the cities which are around the slain one. It shall be that the city which is nearest to the slain man…shall take a heifer of the herd…and the elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a valley with running water…and shall break the heifers neck there in the valley. Then the priests…shall come near…and all the elders of that city…shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the valley; and they shall answer and say, ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it. Forgive your people…and do not place the guilt of innocent blood in the midst of your people Israel.’ And the blood guiltiness shall be forgiven them. So you shall remove the guilt of innocent blood from your midst, when you do what is right in the eyes of the Lord.

Quite possibly this lawyer would have been thinking that there was nothing strange at all with the behavior of the priest and Levite. Being ‘men of God’ it would have been unwise for them to have intentionally made themselves unclean for this stranger. Not just unwise, it would have been simply irresponsible. Likewise, he may have thought it equally irresponsible that the Samaritan showed mercy to the presumably dead man, and further evidence of Samaritans ignorance to the things of God. How could the elders measure to the city so that the blood guiltiness of innocent blood could be properly removed if this Samaritan moved the corpse? Obviously this Samaritan lacked proper religious etiquette and manners. Many, many times in our lives as well, official religiousness kills common humanity. Spiritual pride, coupled with our preferred prejudice, kills God’s work of mercy and compassion for our fellow man.

Another scripture which shows this is 2 Timothy 3:1-5 But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be loves of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power… We have heard this scripture often to explain and define the current times. Somehow, though, I’ve always missed the point that this isn’t talking about the heathen, unbelieving people around us, but rather it’s obviously talking about professed Christians. In the last days men will have all these wicked attitudes while professing the name of Jesus. They will be so wrapped up in their official religiousness that they miss the call of God to a life of transformation and power.

While there could have been any number of excuses for the priests and Levites neglect of the beaten, unfortunate man, Jesus didn’t consider any of them worth mentioning. What he did consider worth mentioning was the fact that a Samaritan, of all people, who was simply travelling through, was willing to come to this mans assistance. The lawyer probably turned his head away in disgust when Jesus mentioned the idea of a Samaritan. Being ½ Jewish, ½ Gentile, ½ involved in pagan idolatry and ½ orthodox the Samaritans were indeed a despised race. The idea of Samaritans having any qualities worth imitating was unthinkable; preposterous; insane! Anyone who would have even suggested such a ridiculous idea would have been considered almost equally despised.

Yet, somehow this didn’t bother Jesus. He continued on with his story, explaining how the Samaritan was willing to interrupt his scheduled travel for a day or so; willing to further risk his reputation by being involved with this man; willing to reach into his own funds in order to support a stranger; willing to commit to further repayment over and above the initial investment. Jesus was actively arresting this lawyer’s pride and his prejudice and he’s willing to address our similar attitudes when they present themselves.

Proverbs 11:17 says that the merciful man does himself good, but the cruel man does himself harm. While it may stretch our minds a little to consider religion cruel, it is nothing less if that religion keeps us from common human kindness. When we become so entangled with our own religious ideas of what God wants that we can’t see past our official service to him to see the needs of humanity around us we are exhibiting both pride and prejudice.

Jesus said in Matthew 25:34-46 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of my Father…For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited me in; naked, and you clothed me; I was sick, and you visited me; I was in prison, and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see you…? The King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it to one of these brothers of mine, even the least of them, you did it to me.’ Then he will also say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry…I was thirsty…I was a stranger…naked…and in prison and you did [nothing for me]. Then they themselves also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you…? Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

Blessed are the merciful, Jesus says, for they shall receive mercy.

Jesus, willing to further challenge the lawyers prideful position of prejudice then asks, ‘Which of these three do you think proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell into the robbers’ hands?’, trying to force the him into admitting and affirming the Samaritans mercy. However, the lawyers pride wasn’t going to fall that easy. His prejudice was too deep to be given up the quickly. His religious position required them both. ‘The one who showed mercy toward him’, he answered, unable to even breath the word ‘Samaritan’. Jesus, willing to give one last challenge, but characteristically unwilling to force him into any acknowledgement simply said, ‘Go and do the same.’

The conversations over. We know nothing more of the lawyer. Did he give up his pride? Did he overcome his prejudice? Did he go and extend mercy to his fellow humans? We’ll never know, but we do know this, the message is the same to us as it was to him.

Will we give up our spiritual pride? Will we overcome our religious prejudices? Will we become more concerned with common human compassion and less concerned with official religiousness?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A New Command

"One wonders why no one in church history has ever been considered a heretic for being unloving. People were anathematized and often tortured and killed for disagreeing on matters of doctrine or on the authority of the church. But no one on record has ever been so much as rebuked for not loving as Christ loved. Yet if love is to be placed above all other considerations (Col. 3:14; 1 Peter 4:8), if nothing has any value apart from love (1 Cor. 13:1-3), and if the only thing that matters is faith working in love (Gal. 5:6), how is it that possessing Christlike love has never been considered the central test of orthodoxy? How is it that those who tortured and burned heretics were not themselves considered heretics for doing so? Was this not heresy of the worst sort? How is it that those who perpetrated such things were not only not deemed heretics but often were (and yet are) held up as "heroes of the faith"?

The Myth of a Christian Nation, Gregory A. Boyd