“The Shack” Movie: Forgiving God

 

In the movie, “The Shack” God speaks to the main character, Mack, by putting a letter in his mailbox. An invitation for them to meet and spend time together. Without going into all the back-story, let’s just say that Mack finally does decide to accept God’s invitation, and that he meets with all three members of the Trinity.

I was originally going to try and address all that people find controversial in this story, but that’s been hashed over many times by people who actually have a lot of followers on their blogs, and besides, I felt led in another direction, as the preachers like to say. This movie does touch on a lot of big issues. Things like forgiveness and judging and just how God operates. I want to narrow it down and mostly talk about what the title says- forgiving God.

But, to get there, I have to address a related issue. One of the criticisms of the movie was that it teaches universalism and not the need for salvation. There may be some truth to that, as this isn’t your typical evangelizing Christian film, however, after I thought about what actually takes place, I realized, that, to me, it was all about Mack’s salvation, because, what is salvation, but first, an invitation from God, then our response and God taking us through a process that ends with us trusting him whole-heartedly?

And that is exactly what happens here. Mack, like a lot of us, has a deep distrust of God’s goodness, because of his life experiences, and even meeting God face to face does not immediately erase that mistrust.

We talk a lot about God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of others, and as important as that is, we can’t get there without first trusting him. And in order to trust him, it seems to me, most of us have to forgive him first. Sound odd? Think about it. Who has not, at least in his heart, said to God, as Mack does:

“Where were you when this terrible thing happened. Why didn’t you stop it?”

We all have those moments, unless we just refuse to consider the possibility of a God at all, or we just bury our questions and refuse to speak to him. Our reasoning usually goes something like: God, you have all the power, therefore, you should use your power to eliminate all our suffering. Or, if we are at least a bit selfless, then we think God should eliminate everyone’s suffering.

“Papa” as God the Father is referred to in the film, tells Mack that he has never left him or his daughter, but that is not enough to win Mack’s trust. Jesus assuring Mack that if he keeps his eyes on him he has nothing to fear, although helpful, still isn’t enough. It isn’t until Jesus sends him to meet Wisdom, and Wisdom puts Mack on the judgment seat and allows Mack to be the judge, that the layers of his mistrust and anger at God begin to be peeled away and he finally realizes that God truly is good. (I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, while giving a very brief synopsis.)

Ok, I said I was going to try to stay on topic, but this might be a good place to discuss one of the problems I think people have with this story. God appearing in human form is always problematic. I mean, who knows what form God would take? So, we have a lot of confusion about God the Father appearing as a kindly black woman or the Holy Spirit as an Asian woman. It’s hard to believe that people take offense to this, when the God of scripture appears as a burning bush, a pillar of fire, a man, on several occasions prior to Jesus, and so on. I suspect the real problem people have is that God doesn’t seem majestic enough, or big enough, or angry enough. But, the fundamental mistake Mack makes is to think that he has God all figured out. I think a lot of people are making the same mistake when they try to limit how God could choose to reveal himself to us. I also suspect that some find this version of God disturbing because they, like Mack, have held him at arm’s length all their lives. And of all the ways to do that, the religious way is perhaps the most deceptive, because it feels righteous. It feels like reverence, like the right thing to do, because God is big and scary and beyond our comprehension. The problem is, it’s much easier to fall back on religion then to move forward into a real relationship with “Papa”. Less rewarding, but religion is easy, just follow the right rules, say the right words, perform the right sacraments, and you’ll be respected. Really, you don’t even have to trust God or like him to do religion. But, scripture makes it plain that we are not mere orphans, we are sons and daughters of God, if we are his. We are not mere slaves, but friends of God, if we have learned to trust that he is indeed good, always.

It’s funny how, when I start thinking along a certain line, God will start re enforcing the point in different ways. Probably because I’m a little dense. I sometimes listen to Catholic radio. I know, what a shocking revelation, right? Don’t worry, I do disagree with some stuff, but the nuns always have interesting stories, and sometimes there are phenomenal preachers, or talking priests, or whatever they are called. The one I heard this last week could have fit nicely into any Protestant pulpit. Basically, it was all about the necessity of a personal relationship with Jesus, and not just keeping the sacraments and doing service. I was a bit blown away. After all, I’ve heard all my life that this is precisely what Catholics don’t believe in. Anyway, one of the things he said that caught my attention is that we are born mistrusting God, because this is what the serpent, Satan, instilled in us. It’s our natural inclination since the deception of Eve. And what coming to faith is, is laying down our mistrust, our judgment of God and submitting to his ways, his wisdom. Coming to believe that he really is good and knows best.

Just like in the movie, God is always the one who initiates contact with us, but we decide whether we are going to stay stuck in our sinful state where we are on the throne or if we are going to let God have his rightful place. For many of us, relationship with God is impossible, because we haven’t forgiven him for not fixing the world the way we think it should be. We haven’t forgiven him for letting that person die, or this person leave or that other person betray us, or he didn’t stop us from doing something foolish, or..the list goes on and on. Only after we forgive him will he be free to embrace us in our brokeness, which is where real relationship starts.

If the question is: Should I see the movie? I’m going to say yes and add a caution, but for a different reason then most. Be careful. Because, it will probably make you cry and it just might open your heart to a God who is both bigger then you can imagine and who loves you more then you ever dared dream.

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Beautiful Mess

It’s February and everything is messy. The back yard is a sponge that throws mud up your pants wherever you step. Sandpaper throats and chest colds. Summer one day and snow the next. Life is messy, always, but early spring here is a sloppy, slippery mud bath.

“Don’t mind if I fall apart, there’s more room in a broken heart.” (Carly Simon)

I like quoting old pop songs because there are little bits of truth in there sometimes, that stand out and stimulate a thought process to discovering deeper Truths. Ever notice that the best of what culture says is always something that God has already said either through scripture or nature or other believers? This is probably going to be a continuation of my last post in some ways, since I’m still mulling over Voscamp’s book and adding my own thoughts to the mix.

We all start out selfish, greedy for milk and crying for sustenance and more, for a full belly and a comfortable place to lay. And it seems that for many of us, we stay that selfish infant until our hearts have been cut deep enough, until we have bled enough to notice we aren’t alone here, that others are bleeding too. Your pain becomes a mirror to reflect the pain of others, the pain everyone has endured from living in a sin sick world. And when you wake up to that reality, you begin to see that most of us are pretty much the same at the core, only our masks vary. It does seem a shame that God has to let us break before we can pass on his grace in any meaningful way, but it also makes sense that it works this way in the broken reality we all exist within. “The world is backwards, but it looks natural.” says singer Chris Taylor. If it wasn’t backwards, we wouldn’t be broken and this would be paradise.

But what happens to those who refuse to break? Or rather, those who refuse to admit that they are already broken, that they have lost their way and failed, and wounded the ones closest to them, the ones they were supposed to help and heal? If you go there, if you refuse to acknowledge your own busted up state, there are only a few paths open for you. Most likely, you will wear your self righteousness like a thorny crown, because you can’t speak the truth, that you’ve been wrong and sinful and weak. And the sad thing is, everyone but you will see through you. Everyone but you will know that your bravado hides a gaping wound. Broken, contrite hearts grow larger, but a heart that you try to hold together through your own strength shrinks into itself, and you can’t share what you refuse to see. You can’t give what you refuse to receive.

The reality is, we all bleed. The only choices are to bleed light or to bleed darkness. Sadly, it’s possible to be so blind as to think you are giving when you are only taking. Gladly, the incomprehensible truth of the Incarnation is that for those who open their broken heart to him, we have a God who bleeds with us and for us. I read somewhere recently that we should never give God human characteristics- and it’s a fair point. But, it also makes me smile,because God gave himself human characteristics. He did the unthinkable by making himself over into our image after making us in his image. He made himself human so we could taste of his divine grace. No wonder we have to bleed to fill anyone’s needs. Our example did the same, bled himself empty to fill all our needs.

If you choose to reject your need, you can always try being tough. That should work, right? That’s what the world is constantly drilling into our skulls, though every action movie and superhero story. Sure, you can hold it all inside for awhile, but it’s going to bleed out somewhere eventually. You can be tough and press down the pain and hoard your grievances and curse the world. You can sit and count the ways that people who were supposed to love you did you wrong. But you’ll shrink. You will dry up into a twisted caricature of who you were meant to be. You’ll bleed poison into all your relationships if you swallow that bitter pill.

What’s the alternative? Jesus was blunt: “Love your enemies.”

What?

“Bless those who curse you.”

How is that possible?

It’s only possible for those who have finally understood that the grace they’ve been given was wholly unmerited. You can’t earn God’s grace, so why would you demand that other’s earn your grace, your forgiveness? We only think we want fairness from God until we understand that fairness would result in our damnation, then we beg for mercy. Go ahead, drink in Jesus’ words about giving even a cup of cold water having it’s reward. It’s true. But, remember that he also said that if you lust in your heart, you’re guilty. That does sound a bit unfair. Shouldn’t we be judged only on sins we have actually committed? But God isn’t concerned only about your behavior, he’s also concerned about your one broken heart that needs healing. You can do all the right things for all the wrong reasons. You can be a model citizen and hate your neighbor. You can have a heart of stone and sing worship songs with abandon. You can fool everyone but yourself and God. Or you can fall on your knees when no one sees, bleed out your pain to him and receive enough grace to overflow onto others.

What we humans often do, what we tell ourselves is-tomorrow. Tomorrow will be better. Because tomorrow I’ll break these chains of sin-regret-sadness-addiction-sorrow-whatever our burden is today- tomorrow we will throw it off and find joy, find peace. But what I’ve heard the Spirit whisper, what I’ve begun to see, is that tomorrow never comes. It’s always today. If you want abundant life, and who doesn’t?, you had best discover it here, in the midst of your mess. It’s not hiding on some mountaintop somewhere. Sure, I’d like to live in that log cabin in the mountains, my dream place, but the fact is, I’m still here in the muddy swamp. Sure, I loved the sea and heard God there and in the front row at a Crowder concert. But in between those high worship moments, there are a lot of days that have mud to slog through and mundane work that needs doing. Joy isn’t held in reserve for that perfect vacation, or until you get it all together and once and for all conquer all your sins and sorrows. No, it’s right here in the middle of the mess of life, with all it’s sharp edges and disappointments and dark places. We have the hope of heaven, but unless you let heaven bleed though when you feel like hell, when you’ve got a cold and the dog threw up on the couch and there’s bills to pay and sore backs and short tempers, unless you can find your joy then, you’re never going to find it in your ideal happy place.

The people we look up to as saints didn’t live on the mountaintop all the time either. In fact, many of them had terrible lives and died as martyrs. They all had broken pieces, guaranteed. What else drove them to their knees but their pain and brokenness? Jesus did say he came to bind up the broken hearted and to set the captives free, but he didn’t say he came to make our lives trouble free. Sorry, that’s not in the Book, health and wealth preachers notwithstanding. What he said in no uncertain terms is that in this life we will have trouble. “But take heart, I have overcome the world.” That doesn’t mean he’s going to take you away to Eden, to a perfect garden with no weeds. Not yet. It’s means he will walk with you, even, especially, through all the weeds and briers and thorns, if, and only if, you invite him to. It’s the people who learn to lay it down, to admit their need, who get to laugh with him in the midst of their mess. That get to experience transformation and become confidant that nothing in this world can separate them from the love of Christ.

Romans 8:38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

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Your One Broken Heart

What do we do with our pain? Some days, I swear that this world is nothing but pain. It’s in the air, the water, the dirt. We breath pain, eat grief. We humans bath in it from birth, from the moment when our raw skin first touches the air and the light burns our eyes. To live is to experience loss. To love, the deepest pain of all.

When I’m swimming there, in pain too deep for me to touch bottom, I know my need, it’s just that I can’t. I know what I should do, only it’s impossible. What I need is to let go of the struggle, to lay back and float free into Jesus. I know that it’s my fear of the deep that steals my breath, my lack of faith that tenses my every muscle and makes me heavy. And so, Christ whispers: “Let it all go. Let me and only me keep you from drowning. Breath me in and you can exhale and not sink. I’ll be your air. I’ll be the ground when your feet finally touch bottom.”

Somehow, sometimes, buried within this deepest kind of pain, are bits of joy, a kind of other worldly joy that bubbles through the veins when I don’t expect it. Fleeting, yes, faint at times and strong at others, it bleeds into me through a stray song lyric, through a soulful embrace from a friend, through beauty, prayers, poems and passion. To stop and bathe in that kind of joy is a rare thing. A taste of redemption.

And there in that dark place, punctuated by random bits of light, I wonder: What is life, really? Scripture says a vapor, a morning mist, soon to pass. Some days it seems that there is something behind the mist, a deeper mystery that I can almost make out, but it remains just out of reach. And so, I grasp for those things here that seem to touch the mystery, those things that are larger than my understanding. I try to transcend the mediocrity that living on this planet can be. Enduring love has an allure, for every honest heart, a fragrance of transcendence, because it’s so rare. For two people to choose each other for over sixty years as my parents did-that’s something to hold onto, an anchor in the mist. In this temporal, impatient and increasingly rude culture we live in, any kind of long term relationship feels almost unnatural. But sixty years? That feels like holy ground. I feel like taking off my shoes and bowing my head in the presence of such a miracle.

How vulnerable do I want to be here? Should I mention that my natural preferred state is isolation? My comfort zone, a bubble, a shell that I keep close to keep others at arm’s length? But I try. Sometimes, with a great deal of effort, I manage to reach out a tentative finger, and hope God takes note of my great “sacrifice”. I hope that he understands my heart and grades me on a curve.

In “The Broken Way”, Ann Voscamp asks it plainly: “ What do we do with our one broken heart?” And her answer, pared down to it’s core, equals just this: We give it away. We give our pain, our brokeness to each other and receive wholeness in return. Counterintuative doesn’t begin to describe this revelation. This is a hard way to swallow, a hard path to follow. Hard? For some of us, it’s like yanking out our own teeth. Why is it so absurdly hard to show our neediness? Even with God, it’s hard, and it’s not like he doesn’t already know. But with people? We used to do an object lesson sometimes when we taught Sunday School. Have a kid fall backwards and try not to catch himself. Have him trust us to catch him. It’s not natural. It feels like foolishness, like a little suicide, to let go and trust even a friend to catch you. What if they just stand back and laugh at your pain? Some will, you know. I’m sure some of you know all too well what that feels like. Why risk it?

I’ve got a bunch of notebooks and I keep losing them. Somehow, I keep losing the one I’m currently writing in. But, maybe there’s a reason. Because it makes me keep re writing this last bit. Maybe God just wants me to really grasp what he’s saying, making me write it down until I really understand.

Shortly after Mom died, I ordered the book I mentioned earlier, and shortly after it arrived, I had to take my wife to a doctor and a hospital lab for some tests. So I took my book along.

I’m sitting in a waiting room again, only a week after Mom left us all broken and empty in another waiting room. So, I’m pretty much hating hospitals right now. Most people you see in these rooms are not the most pleasant company. It’s just the nature of waiting rooms. Most are worried, or sad, or both. And I’m on the same page. I’m also trying to read the first couple pages of the book, which in my current state of mind, is almost a physically painful process. When you’re still wearing your own suffering, walking in it every moment, reading about someone else’s pain is enough to make you bawl, even in public. But, there’s this young woman who walks in with a little girl. A baby, really. A baby who has just reached that almost walking stage. An almost bald little girl, with pink shoes and a smile, if I may be so corny, a smile which lights up the room like a ray of sunlight in a dark, damp cave. She’s just learned to say “Hi!” and she’s using her new word on everyone. This child doesn’t yet know what a stranger is. And there in that moment, the joy bleeds through and the miracle happens. I find out later that Ann calls it koinonia- communion. But all I know right now is that all our sad faces are breaking, cracking into smiles. We really can’t help it. She doesn’t just give of her joy, she is joy. And so, I see Jesus in the flesh in a waiting room and feel the touch of the holy and it’s like God says: “See, this is who you can be, who you should be to a broken world.”

I haven’t read the book yet. I don’t yet know how I’m going to live with my one broken heart. So, God gives me a preview. How do you heal it? By giving it away. And it will come back to you. “A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.” Luke 6:38

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The Real Life

 

There is an old saying that the only difference between the rut and the grave are the dimensions. New Years seems like a good time to consider what ruts we might be in and how to get out of them.

“I want to live the real life.

I want to live my life close to the bone.

Just because I’m middle-aged that don’t mean

I want to sit around this house and watch T.V.

I want the real life.

I want to live the real life.”

(John Mellencamp)

I was biking this summer on a paved trail and this old song was scrolling through my brain for some reason. Probably because the real life to me involves being active, even if I don’t always feel like it, and my legs weren’t feeling like it. I came into a clearing and saw a big bird overhead. An Eagle, I thought, squinting into the sun, but then he turned and I realized it was a buzzard, so I yelled:

“What are you doing? I’m not dead yet!”

I’ve noticed something about me that I don’t like much. I can be here, but not really here. In fact, I’m pretty good at being present but not present, as in, my brain and heart are somewhere else. It might be a good thing if you’re a dentist or a factory worker. I used to say that divorcing mind from body was the way to get through a day at the factory, but most of the time, it’s not a good thing.

Because, when someone is with you, they want to know that you are there with them, that you are fully engaged in the moment, not off wandering through the stratosphere. But, we settle into our routines, we get comfortably numb, we forget that life is supposed to be an adventure, that we should be fully engaged and living the real life everyday.

We take a walk, we see a rainbow. Does it amaze us as it much as it did as children?

The grass is still as green, the fall leaves are as gold, but we don’t always see them, self absorbed as we are. We don’t always smell the fresh earth after the rain. We don’t run down the gravel road in our bare feet anymore, as fast as we can go, for no particular reason. It’s too painful, our feet are too tender and we might pull a muscle. We don’t go fishing enough. There is too much work that is always waiting for us, crouching in the back of our guilt ridden minds.

I had an aunt who lost her vision to diabetes when I was a kid. I think I finally realize now, that as an outdoor person losing her sight, she lost more then I can imagine. She could describe places, a little spring here, a stream there, places she loved and wandered in before her world grew dark. If we aren’t careful, if we don’t pay attention to what we have, our worlds can grow dark simply because we get too caught up in making a living to truly live.

And while we are at it, at some point, in middle-age or before, you hopefully quit trying to make people like you and just let yourself become the person God intended. And if no one ever gets it, if no one totally understands you, that’s ok. You’re not a teen ager anymore, and the drama of trying to be cool or to fit in is too much effort now.

“And heroes they come and they go. And leave us behind as if we’re supposed to know, why? Why do we give up our hearts to the past, and why must we grow up so fast?” (Eagles)

This world is beautiful but badly broken. Glorious, but soaked in grief. Sometimes when you see through the fog of your false self, and your own fake smiles start to sicken you, you can see the depths of your own ingratitude for all that you’ve been given. Is there anything uglier than a hard heart?

The ocean waves mesmerize, sooth and shake and disturb and comfort, and beauty always leaves you wondering and grasping for more.

I read somewhere where someone said (rather mockingly) that some people think God has their picture on his refrigerator. And I thought: Isn’t that what the Incarnation tells us? That God has every one of our pictures pasted on his refrigerator and written on his heart? Rich Mullins said that when someone told him that God loved him, his thought was

“Big deal! That don’t make me special. That’s just means God don’t have no taste. And thank God, he doesn’t.”

He died once for ALL, so you are no more special then the rest, and yet at the same time, you are his most prized possession.

I know this is a wandering post, but somehow I think it will all fit together in the end. We humans like to believe we are free, but we are bound by our physical limits, by our perceptions, by our sins. There is much will power can accomplish and much it can not overcome on it’s own. The natural man isn’t born truly free. “You must be born again”, Jesus said. As soon as you are old enough to yell:

“Mine, mine!”

You are bound by your greed, your lust for more, the lust of the eyes, of the flesh, the oh, so sneaky snake in the soul that is pride, and ultimately by the prince of this world. The natural man only becomes free to an extent when God opens his eyes to his need for…something. Something more. This opening of the eyes of the heart is sometimes called preveniant grace. And it is here that the will is now free enough to choose, once it understands that there is a choice to be made. It is here that a man or woman can see both sides of the wall.

“ A dark and silent barrier between all I am and all that I could ever hope to be” (Kansas)

Most are living in a fog where they can’t see or feel the wall. That’s the reality of living only by the flesh, you are unable to see anything else. But somehow, we know we are not what we could be, what we are meant to be. Something, like a nagging itch at the base of the skull tell us: Something is missing, there must be more than this to life. And when we see the open fields, the sunshine behind the wall, it can be thrilling and terrifying all at once. There is a certain perverse comfort in our bondage. It’s familiar and easy to fall back into, but it always promises what it can’t deliver: peace and contentment. But, those fields, so open, there is no telling what could happen if I vault over the wall and start to run! Can you hear the beating of that distant drum, hear the song start to rise from a place in your heart that you thought was wholly shattered?

“I am free to run, I am free to dance, I am free to live for you.” (Newsboys)

Such freedom is frightening. So many choices, when before the only choice was self.

You can’t sit on the wall forever. You can’t expect God to be passive about your choice. Rather, he is passionate and will pull you over the edge if you allow it. This tug of war with your soul must end in true freedom or renewed bondage. And once you have seen the fields of freedom, the return to bondage will be that much more painful, the chains that much tighter.

It is a strange paradox, indeed. How can submitting to God bring freedom? Is it a shock to learn that all along it was the evil one who is the control freak? Didn’t they tell you that this world is backwards and little is what it first seems to be?

Sin has been called many names, but perhaps the truest name is: “That which makes us not ourselves.” (The Sacred Romance) It’s not only the opposite of freedom, it’s the opposite of your true identity and the thief that steals joy, peace and life. Real life.

Of course, the reality is, we all face many walls in life. But, scaling each still starts at the same place, with the heart’s cry to the Maker of all for redemption and help and hope.

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God, the Election and You

I really didn’t want to write this blog post. First, I hate politics. I’d rather think about almost anything else then the coming election, and even though I don’t watch T.V., I’m sick to death of the whole wretched muck-raking, name calling, angry, disgusting mess. So, I tried to write a theological thing that ended up as just another opinion piece about how I see God working in the world as opposed to how some other Christians think God is working. But, then I thought-all that random musing, where does it really take us? How about a rubber-meets-the-road, straight talking opinion piece that tells exactly what I think of the whole mess and why I think that way? So, hopefully, that’s what this is. Take it or leave it, love it or hate it, I’m spilling my guts and not pulling punches.

You hear this all the time, when the subject of the election is brought up:
“Well, God is still in control.”

And I know people take a lot of comfort in that thought, but here’s what it sounds like to me:

“We have no control of who is going to be the next president, so let’s just vote for who we think is the less evil one so that we can feel good about ourselves. God’s the micro-manager of the election, after all, so it’s all up to him.”

As if God doesn’t delegate any of his authority to anyone. As if we have no responsibility to do the right thing, not the easy thing.

Let’s be honest for a moment. Hillary is a career liar. It’s basically all she’s ever done. Well, that’s not quite true. She has also whined a lot and tried to cover up a lot of her husband’s filth, and caused some good soldiers to die.

And now that all the Trump lovers are smiing and high fiving me, let’s be honest again. Donald Trump is an arrogant, bigoted, shallow, womanizing fool, who is in no way shape or form fit to run for any sort of public office. Actually, I could come up with many more adjectives, but some of you are already thinking that I am talking in a most un Christian manner. On the plus side, I didn’t call him a snake, viper or hypocrite, like Jesus called the Pharisees, but, why not? Hillary and Trump are both those things too.

Proverbs 18:7 – A fool’s mouth [is] his destruction, and his lips [are] the snare of his soul.

Proverbs 14:7 – 14:9

7 Go from the presence of a foolish man, when thou perceivest not [in him] the lips of knowledge.

8 The wisdom of the prudent [is] to understand his way: but the folly of fools [is] deceit.

9 Fools make a mock at sin: but among the righteous [there is] favour.

Hopefully, these verses will satisfy those who are shocked at my use of the word “fool”. I can’t see how any honest person can read these verses and not think of Trump. So, then, what are we to do? Doesn’t God pick our leaders anyway? I’m sure you have heard the Cyrus argument by now, but if not, it goes like this: God said:

“He is my shepherd

and will accomplish all that I please;

he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,”

and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.” ’

God says this in the book of Isaiah about the pagan king Cyrus, so it’s fine to support Trump proudly because maybe, just maybe, God will use this wicked man to do something good. So goes the argument. Can I just say that this argument is plain dumb? Just because God uses some actions of an evil man to bring some good does not mean that God approves of those actions. The Bible is full of examples of how God will take someone’s evil plans and use them to bring about something good. BUT how much more would good actions by a good man bring glory to God? Yes, God used evil actions of men to bring about redemption for the world and he used his own people’s rebellion to spread the gospel to the world, but what does Paul say about that?

Romans 11:

 11I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. 12Now if the fall of them be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness?

15For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be, but life from the dead?

In other words, if God could use their rebellion, how much more can he use their obedience?

Or, in the case of Pharoah:

16But I have raised you upa for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth. 17You still set yourself against my people and will not let them go. 

If God used Pharoah’s rebellion to bring glory to himself, how much more could he have used Pharoah’s obedience? (This is an often misunderstood verse, that people tend to read backwards. As if the only way God could be glorified was by showering plagues on the Egyptians.? Don’t you think God could have shown his power just as well by Pharoah starting a revival among the Egyptians?)

And finally, it was not God’s will that his people should have kings, but that they should be ruled by him personally, but he allowed them to have kings because of their stubbornness. God is in control? What kind of control are we talking about here?

1( Samuel 8:6 )But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”

1 Samuel 8 :19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”

21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before theLord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”

So, who should we blame for all the evil kings that followed? Certainly not God, he made his will known from the start. We are where we are, not because God is controlling our leader’s actions, but because he is allowing us as a nation to reap what we sow. If, as some suppose, God can use a wicked man’s actions to bring some good, how much more will he multiply a good leader’s actions?

And since this is supposed to be an opinion piece, perhaps I should quit throwing verses at you and just state my opinion. Voting for the lesser of two evils is still voting for evil. I believe those evangelical leaders who are still supporting Trump are going to regret it in the long run. Because we have only seen the tip of the ice berg, so far. When Clinton was in office, not one of these leaders would have excused any of his immoral actions, but because we are so afraid that a second Clinton presidency will cost us religious freedoms, we are willing to overlook Trump’s blatant and unrepentant immorality? I know, we’ve all sinned, and I’ve read that argument already. I know, we’ve all been fools and thought bad thoughts and done bad stuff, but this is the difference-we have repented of our sin. Trump is unrepentant. David repented of his sins, of adultery and murder. King Saul came up with excuses for his. And which of them was called a man after God’s heart?

And furthermore, shouldn’t choosing a leader of a nation require at least as much discernment as choosing the leader of your church does? If a man repeatedly cheats on his wife, do you really trust him to keep any of the other promises he makes? I could go on, but you get the point.

But aren’t we stuck between a rock and a hard place? Aren’t we stuck with the choice or two evils? Well, no, not in my opinion. We have other choices, besides the front runners. You can’t make choices like these out of fear, “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (2 Timothy 1 :7) From the start, we have seen a lot of angry people running after Trump because they are fed up with the current administration and afraid we have more of the same. Anger is just fear coming out sideways. It never leads us to wisdom.

To me, the obvious choice for President is Evan Mcmullin. Because, finally, here, I believe we can find integrity and common sense in one package, which seems to be an increasingly rare thing in the political world. If you must be afraid of something, think about how hothead Trump will handle relationships with our allies or how Hillary will try to cozy up to terrorists. And then consider that Mcmullin’s job was to hunt down terrorists and have them arrested or eliminated. Now, I know, many will say that this guy has no chance, so it’s a wasted vote. But doing the right thing is never a waste. If you think God is in control, or (as I see it) still capable of working miracles , then why eliminate the seemingly impossible long shot?

Now, having said all this, I suppose I have to state the obvious. If you’re voting for Trump or Hillary, I’m not here to be your conscience. That’s between you and God. And I’m not going to think any less of you for your opinion. All I ask is that you consider what I say with an open mind and follow your conscience. “And that’s all I have to say about that.”

 

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In Him all Things were created

” In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” John 1:1-3
These are incredible verses. I know, we use words like incredible and amazing far too often, mostly for mundane things like ice cream and electronic devices and jump shots. But, in this case, we really can’t be guilty of overstatement. There is so much more here than immediately meets the eye.
Jesus was there from the start. We get that, hopefully, even if we can’t really comprehend it fully. We know about the Trinity. Jesus always existed in perfect harmony with the Father and the  Spirit. But, what if John is saying more then that? Why is he going out of his way to connect Yeshua (Jesus) with creation? Actually, we usually think of creation as being the work of Yahwah, God the Father. Depending on which translation you’re using, we are told either that all things are made “by” or “through” the Word.
A couple commentaries:
“Πάντα διʼ αὐτοῦ ἐγένετο. The connection is obvious: the Word was with God in the beginning, but not as an idle, inefficacious existence, who only then for the first time put forth energy when He came into the world. On the contrary, He was the source of all activity and life. “All things were made by Him, and without Him was not even one thing made which was made.”
“(not anything] No, not one; not even one: stronger than ‘nothing.’ Every single thing, however great, however small, throughout all the realms of space, came into being through Him. No event takes place without Him,—apart from His presence and power.”
And some parallel verses:
“yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.” 1 Cor. 8:6
“For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him.” Colossians 1:16
“For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.”
Romans 11:36
Starting to see a theme here? It’s not just that Jesus was there, as some kind of causal observer at creation, it’s not even just that he assisted in creation, but that everything came about from and through him. It almost is starting to sound as if, Jesus didn’t just create or help create but that creation itself is made from his essence. Of course, I have to tread really carefully here, because someone is going to misunderstand and think either that I mean Jesus was created along with everything else or that I’m some New Age lunatic that thinks creation and Jesus are one and the same. That’s decidedly not what I’m saying. I’m saying “What if?” What if God was not creating ex nihilo, (from nothing) but that God drew the raw material for creation from himself and more specifically from the part of himself that is Yeshua  Jesus. So, from his essence comes matter, comes planets and galaxies and rocks and trees and life in all it’s majestic variety.
And I can see someone squirming already, because it still sounds too mystical, too weird. Ok, so let me state my case a bit more. Obviously, creation is not God, creation cannot and does not have the properties of the Trinity, so you can relax. I’m not going New Age on you. But we are told that matter comes from energy and that everything was supposedly once a speck of pure energy. When I try to get a straight answer from Big Bang proponents I get replys like: ” A compressed speck of energy with infinite mass.” And my little brain retorts: ” I’m sorry, did you just seriously use the word “infinite” to describe matter? Are you loony tunes?” If that’s the case, then obviously that matter was magic, or at least had  properties that no matter we can observe has now, and we have just stepped into the realm of the theologians and left science far behind.
Let’s just run with this for a moment and then you call me loony tunes if you like. Matter from energy and energy drawn from the essence of Jesus the Christ, placed outside of himself  (we really don’t need a place to put it other then outside of God, as no place could be said to exist yet in any sense we can understand. And  time didn’t exist yet either.) Energy that God then  re-formed into matter, that continued to expand, that spawned seemingly endless galaxies that we can’t find the end of, and he create’s life from this raw material, here on a certain green and blue planet. No, not by some process of billions of years of  random evolution, but quite deliberately, rapidly, and with intent. “In the beginning God created the heavens (galaxies galore) and the earth.” (as far as we know, the only place he then went on to create life) Out of what? Not out of nothing, but out of the Word. So, you are a quite literally a word of God spoken into being by the Word, whose life and death and resurrection are recorded in the Word we call the Bible.
A few things that should be obvious: God has no limits. He can give of Himself infineatly and never be any less then he was at the start. I’m also not saying that God is still creating new worlds. Unless someone can prove otherwise, I believe he continues to reshape what already exists, what was there in the beginning, drawn from his own essence.
This brings up all kinds of questions and connotations in my weird little brain. Like: (If this is so) Transubstantiation would be real in one sense at least. The communion bread really would be Christ in essence, because all matter consists of his essence. Remember, matter doesn’t ever go away, God just reforms it. A tree dies, it becomes mulch to grow other trees or firewood and then ashes, that rot and become part of the soil, but they don’t go away, they only become part of a different form of matter. Of course, I’m not saying that the bread is the literal  body or Christ, but this makes it more then figurative. There is water somewhere in this world that ran off of Christ’s body at his baptism, but thank God, there has never been a corpse of Christ returning to the soil of this world.
I have all kinds of questions about how sin could be allowed to corrupt matter created from and by God himself, but that would take me on a long rant into mysteries that are never fully answered in the Word. We could talk about atoms and up quarks and down quarks, but we really can’t say scientifically what holds it all together. Fortunately, we were given the answer to that mystery:
(Jesus) is the image of the invisible God, the first-born [prototokos] of all creation; for in him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities [these words in Greek refer to the hierarchical angelic powers]-all things were created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. Colossians 1:15-17
 The Greek word used in these verse: “sunistemi”, means to be compacted together, “to stand-together,” “to be constituted with.”
Despite thermodynamics, despite death and decay, those alien invaders that sin brought with it, Christ holds everything in the universe together. His essence is the glue of creation.
And let’s not forget that one day creation will be restored to it’s former perfection, where sin and death and disease will no longer corrupt it. Where sin and death will die and matter will once again be pure and holy, and Jesus will once again be all in all and his Spirit will completely indwell every one of your molecules, the parts of your new body. Molecules that were formed once of his essence, of his reaching inside himself for the raw material to then reach out and create you. So, that our knowledge will no longer be limited by our sin nature, and that knowledge of him will flow through us like water, so his Spirit will not only be in us, but fully in all, so that we will truly ,finally, be one with him in the same way that he is one with the Father.
And again, a disclaimer, I’m not a Morman, I’m not saying that we will be little gods, but that every rebellious fiber that now exists within us (oh yes, you have them, whether you admit it or not) will be purged from our whole beings so that we can experience  total oneness with the Son and with each other. We can barely grasp that possibility in our current state. But, you can get a taste, just a glimpse of it now and then. Maybe in the face of a friend who dances before God with reckless abandon, not caring what anyone thinks. Maybe in a sunset that isn’t just a reflection of God’s glory, of his artistry, but is composed of matter and colors pulled from his very being. I suppose you could take my musings here and go off the deep end with them.  But it seems to me that sometimes Christians are so afraid of mysticism that they miss the very ways that God is reveling himself to them.
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Puddleglums and Ragamuffins

He never really seemed to have much of a chance at life. His siblings hogged his food and pushed him away and his mother didn’t seem to care. He was smaller than the others, weaker, he had trouble even learning to walk. His joints were stiff and when he finally could walk, he looked like a little robot with his jerky movements. He should have died from loneliness if nothing else. But he just kept hanging on, refusing to give up his feeble fight for survival. We named him Puddleglum, the little lost ram lamb who was the runt of the litter. He’s still unhealthy. He could still die any day. (We took the name Puddleglum from one of C S Lewis’ novels. Puddleglum was a pessimistic Marshwiggle.)

Most of us love happy endings. My writing friend Franny always wants a pink bow at the end of every story. Really, who wants to read a book or watch a movie that just leaves you hanging? Who wants a story where the good guy never really seems to win the battle? But, sometimes reality for some people looks a lot like little Puddleglum’s life. They’re still holding on. But nothing has gotten better. It’s more about stubbornness than victory.

I love being near the water and I love sunsets, like most people do, I suppose. Several years ago, I finished the day’s work and just had one of those “gotta get away from it all” moments, so I drove down to the lake to a favorite sunset watching spot to be alone. But, wouldn’t you know it, someone was sitting on a blanket in my spot. I really was not happy. “C’mon, God, I just need a few moments of peace here.” I’m sure you never whine to God like that. But I’m not as spiritual as you are. Anyway, before I could get back in the truck, this woman sitting in my spot recognizes me and says “Hello.” Great, now I’m stuck. I can’t just ignore her, that would be rude, and I do kinda know her. I mean we went to church together, she hung out with my wife, had been at our house. So I go over and sit down a discreet distance away. After all, being married and all and wanting to be all proper and stuff, and golly, I mean, you don’t just plop down on a blanket next to a single woman at the beach. So I sit in the dirt. And we talk. Well, mostly she talks and I listen. I’m much better at listening than talking, see.

Her life hadn’t been easy, I’d known that before, but oh, my goodness, God, give this poor woman a break, will you? Bad enough she has a mental condition, mood swings, violent ones sometimes, bipolar I believe, but then her husband divorces her and re-marries and she barely gets to see her kid? You may be thinking, yes, but you’re only getting one side of the story. True enough. Living with her couldn’t have been easy. But the medication had started to work for her, and he did make a promise … But here’s the thing. Right in the middle of the complaints she says, “God is so good.” And talks about sunsets and beauty. In spite of everything in her Puddleglum, depressing existence, she didn’t blame God. She didn’t need me to tell her God cares, she knew that. This divine appointment, I believe, was just because she needed someone to listen without judging.

What do we do with the Puddleglums in our lives? We’ve all been there. But doesn’t it seem that some people are just stuck there continually? I’m reminded of those Christmas cards people send out, you know the ones:

“Johnny is a straight A student, Sally is going to the Olympics and Dad and Mom are on their second honeymoon and life is all peaches and cream.”

I’ve always wondered why nobody sends out blatantly honest Christmas cards that say: “Things aren’t so hot, the kids’ grades stink and the house is falling apart and Dad lost his job and Jimmy is in rehab again.”

I know we all want to look our best, but sometimes telling how bad things are isn’t complaining. It’s just honesty. But, perhaps you’re thinking: “What about thankfulness? Didn’t you do a post on that?” And you’re right, so right.

When you’re stuck in Puddleglum’s world, you have to be honest, but you also have to look around and say,

“Even if there isn’t any feed in the trough or hay in the mow, God is still good.”

David does this over and over again. If David had written in the modern vernacular his basic message might be: “God: life for me really stinks right now. I really wish you’d fix it. And quickly. But, I’m going to praise you anyway, because I know you really do love me.”

Job pretty much says the same thing.

You know, most of the time, we are the cause of our own troubles. But not always. Often others really are to blame. But when you’re tempted to blame God, remember He never said life would be easy.

Jesus said: “In this world you will have trouble. ” John 16:33

No ifs, ands or buts. And tomorrow may be better. But it may be worse. The only guarantee is that God won’t leave us. We can leave Him, but He’ll still be there waiting for us to come to our senses.

Fortunately, we’re all going to die. Fortunately? I know that sounds like a joke. “Life is hard and then you die.” But, really, if you’re ready, dying isn’t such a bad thing. Not that you should be in a hurry to get there. When you think about it, even if you live to be 100, life is still extremely short. You might not feel that way now, but trust me, once you get past 40, the months feel like days and the years like months.

Puddleglum’s and Ragamuffins are often some of the most interesting people. Brennan Manning said he wrote The Ragumuffin Gospel for “The bent and bruised who feel their lives are a grave disappointment to God” and for “anyone who has grown weary and discouraged along the Way.” We can’t all be Pollyannas and that’s okay. God, I think, would prefer honesty. But, we melancholy types need the optimists in our lives too, to balance us out. At the least, we need to read books by organized, optimistic people now and then.

I suppose I have a special empathy for those with infirmities because our first child was born with a leg length difference. Through many miracles of God and the use of modern medicine, her legs are nearly even now. I have no doubt that those trials had something to do with her tendency to be drawn to and try to help the broken people of the world.

I’m not the farmer in the family, although I was raised on a farm. A good farmer would have disposed of Puddleglum by now. He’s likely never going to be healthy breeding stock and the last thing we need is a half crippled ram. But, I have to root for the underdog. It’s important to believe the downtrodden can prosper. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matt. 5:3

I doubt any of us want to be poor in spirit. We want to be full and happy and prosperous, but Jesus seems to be saying that being a spiritual beggar is what will bring you close to Him. So, we are right back to humility. (See “Too Much Pride.”)

One thing Puddleglums and Ragamuffins have in abundance is neediness. They recognize that they are spiritual beggars and don’t deserve for God to fill their storehouses to overflowing. Look at David. Sometimes the Psalms get a bit confusing. Sometimes David sounds down right schizophrenic. I mean one moment he is whining about his enemies being at every side and asking why God has forsaken him, the next he’s praising God for his faithfulness. One minute he’s groaning about eating ashes and the next he’s dancing before God in his Fruit of the Looms. I’m pretty sure David was a Pentecostal rather than a Presbyterian. But I’m getting off track. Where was I? Oh, right, David understood his neediness just fine while he wandered in the wilds. It was only after being made King that he got to thinking maybe he deserved something that he’d never earned. Like his neighbor’s wife. I’m not sure what David would have done with Puddleglum the ram lamb, but I’m pretty sure being David’s sheep would have been better than being his enemy. I think David understood that “Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,” but he had no problems with helping the Lord bring His vengeance on his enemies.

But you have to appreciate his honesty. David didn’t put a smiley face on when he prayed. He just laid it all out there, but at the same time his groaning would morph into praise even in the worst of times.

There’s an old country song called “Plastic Jesus.” There is some debate as the authorship, but a guy named Ernie Marrs of the Gold Coast singers is sometimes credited with the original verses. Just to give you a taste:

When I’m in a traffic jam

He don’t care if I say “damn”

I can let all my curses roll

Plastic Jesus doesn’t hear

‘Cause he has a plastic ear

The man who invented plastic saved my soul

Yes, it’s a very sarcastic song, but it makes its point. Sometimes we treat Him like a little figurine on our dashboard, a good luck charm that we can take out of our pocket only when we want a blessing. Plastic Jesus has a pleasant permanent smile frozen on his plastic face and never chastises us for our road rage. Plastic Jesus might be convenient, but He’s not real and He can’t speak to our hearts like the real one.

God with us – Immanuel- is both friend and confident and judge. Both completely able to emphasize with our trials and completely above and beyond our comprehension. Because a God you can put in your pocket can’t save you or convict you. You need someone who can cry with you and correct you. Totally there and totally other. Fully human and fully God. The God of Puddleglums and Ragamuffins must be small enough to fit in your heart and big enough to fill the universe.

To Him be all glory and honor forever, Amen.

Categories: doctrine, God, salvation, theology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Can People Change?

This is probably a question everyone asks sooner or later. “Are we all just stuck with being who we are, warts and all, or is change possible?”

You know how it goes. Maybe you make New Year’s resolutions and break them the first week. Those of us with a few years on us start to see patterns in our lives where we have missed the mark pretty consistently in some area or the other and wonder if those patterns can be remade into something new and better.

We watched a movie a couple weeks ago: “16 Blocks” (with Bruce Willis) and this seemed to be the central question the film was asking. In fact, Bruce states quite emphatically early on in the movie that people don’t change. He plays a bad cop living with guilt of the choices he’s made and self medicating himself with booze. And yet, when faced with the choice of looking the other way as his fellow bad cops execute a witness, something snaps in his mind and he finally takes a stand. It seems there are some lines he is not willing to cross. And although his ex-partner insists that there are no such lines, most of us have them, I think. We may draw them in different places then someone else, but we like to believe that when push comes to shove, we’ll do the right thing. We believe there is some standard of right and wrong. And as C.S. Lewis said, when you’re arguing what that standard is, very rarely does the other guy say “To hell with your standard.” Instead, he tries to convince you that his standard is the correct one.

But, maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. When we fail to live up to our own standard, what do we typically do? We determine to do better next time. The Apostle Paul talked about this “What I do not want to do, that I do.” There is some debate whether Paul was talking about himself as an unregenerate individual in that verse, or even in some sense identifying with the Israelites and how they had strayed away from God so many times. But, the most direct reading of the verse is Paul talking about himself, as a believer, still struggling with doing what was right.

We’ve probably all met people who just don’t seem to care one way or another. Perhaps they have really reached a point where they are so hardened that they have no conscience, but I think in most cases, it’s some kind of defense mechanism against what they know to be right, but can’t seem to live up to. Like the person who you invite to church, and they say:

“Surely, I’d be struck by lightning if I walked through those doors.”

As if God is done with them, as if they’ve sinned so bad He can’t forgive them. Can that person change? Or are the fates just set against them? Are they just a cautionary tale for others? Worse, did God put them here for that purpose? Actually, some Christians seem to believe exactly that, although they might not say it out loud. To put it more pointedly, are some people pre-chosen for ultimate destruction and there’s nothing they can do about it?

John Calvin thought so, following Augustine’s lead. There are a couple of extreme views on this. On one side you have Pelagius, who supposedly believed man could avoid sin by the strength of his will and live a holy life. On the other side was Augustine, who, at least in arguing against Pelagius, seemed to end up saying that some are fated to be sinners and others saints from birth, while also maintaining that even the saints need grace, and can not avoid sinning by willing themselves not to. (The last part few Protestants or Catholics would argue against today.)

Keep in mind that when this argument was going on, Protestant churches did not exist, and also included in this whole controversy was whether or not infant baptism was needed. Anyway, some, such as John Wesley, thought that Pelagius, who ended up being branded a heretic, got a bad rap, and his teachings were just misunderstood by some in the church. But, regardless, my first question is: Did you ever meet anyone who could live up to Pelagius’ ideal of a sinless human being? Me either, although I met some who seem to believe they are sinless. And second, does God just zap some people with faith and make them “saints” and refuse to zap others, so they are condemned to hell from birth? If either of these are true, why does scripture encourage us to have faith and increase our faith, and why does God get upset with people sinning if He fated them to do it?

Ok, so I’m a theology geek, but I’m going somewhere here. How does this all tie in to our question: If you want to truly change, is it possible? And how?

Sure, sheer force of will can do a lot. Some decide to work out everyday and actually stick with it. (Probably because they find they actually start to enjoy it, but regardless…) Some do stick to their diets and lost weight. I decided to quit drinking Mountain Dew cold turkey and so far, so good. (Hey, I like to aim high!) It’s only been a couple weeks though.

But, but, an honest reading of scripture will not lead you to rely on your own will power. Good grief, no, that’s a recipe for failure. In fact, what God keeps saying is to give up your will and seek His. This obviously isn’t God zapping you with faith, or you gritting your teeth and trying harder, rather, it’s surrender. It’s admitting you need to lean on Him for everything.

Any improvement in any relationship takes effort, though. Which brings us to prayer. I’ve been trying to be more deliberate about praying. More specific. No hurried grocery list of requests presented to God as if He were a genie looking to fulfill my every wish. It seems that real prayers start with praise, and giving ourselves back to Him, and getting in line with what He wants, before we ever get to the asking.

The picture on my computer screen is currently my parents wedding photo. It’s a strange thing to see your parents as young lovers looking forward to a life together. It brings to mind just how quickly life goes by and how often it doesn’t turn out as we expected or wanted. My parent’s generation definitely had something that I think this generation too often lacks. I know, I know, it’s tempting to look back at the good old days as if things were perfect then. Well, they weren’t. And really, people were not less sinful. But, in general, it seems to me that they had guts. Guts that we often lack. I don’t know how to say it plainer or better than that.

When you have a tough job in front of you, whether it’s raising kids of baling hay, or just going to work at the same place everyday, you have a choice. You can whine and complain all the way or you can face it with grit and determination and humor. The big thing now seems to be authenticity. The kids, and to me twenty somethings are kids, don’t want to be fakers. They don’t want to say one thing and do another. They want to live what they believe. No more going to a job you hate just to put food on the table. They want to change the world and bring social justice and well, be real.

And that’s good. Well, to a point. Because in real life, what you’ll find is that in every job, even if you love it, there is something you hate. And authenticity can also be used as an excuse. “I don’t feel like working today.” Well, guess what, we all had those days too, but it never did pay any bills to be a slacker. So, we slogged through a lot of days we would just as soon forget. I know this is starting to sound like I’m putting down the younger generation. And that’s not where I’m going, although there is a problem with the work ethic of many. There are also many young people who are getting it done and choosing to enjoy their work.

How about this one: “I don’t feel like praying today.” That might be totally authentic. But, I think God would say that not feeling like praying is a first rate reason to pray more. The less you pray, the less you’ll feel like praying and the reverse is also true, the more you pray, the more you will want to.

But I keep forgetting about that person who isn’t so sure prayer works anyway, or that God even gives a rip about them. After all, if He cares, why doesn’t he fix this mess of a world that He made? (If you even believe He made it.) It’s hard to believe by looking around you, I’ll admit that, but that war has already been won. The fix has already come with the cross. But the battles are not over. Because God has decided to work through His people, instead of just zapping all the sinners, it’s going to be one bloody battle after another until all His enemies are under His feet. There are two opposite and equally wrong notions out there. One is a kind of deist view of God where He sits back and just lets everything happen without raising a hand, as He lets the world destroy itself. A lot of end times theology gets bogged down here. A kind of helpless shrug: “Oh, well, it’s all going to hell in a hand basket, but God will remake it all in the end, so we’ll just sit in our bunker and wait for the second coming.” The other extreme is God ordaining all our sin as well as all the good and just moving all the pieces on the chess board. This leads to the same shrug: “Whatever will be will be, and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Reality is a lot more complicated than that. We are told that prayer really does change things.

“When a righteous person prays, that prayer carries great power. Elijah was a man with passions like ours, and he prayed and prayed that it might not rain-and it did not rain on the earth for three years and six months. Then he prayed again, the sky gave rain, and the earth produced it’s fruit.” (James 5:16-18 Kingdom New Testament)

We are told in Ephesians that we are in a war and need to put our armor on and the “shield of faith so we can extinguish the firey darts of the evil one.”

How do you put on your armor if not by prayer? All this might sound overly dramatic, especially if you aren’t a believer, but isn’t it what we intuitively know the world to be? Most of us don’t have to be told that our nature contains both light and darkness, that we are capable of great good or great evil. It’s obvious to anyone who pays attention to their own conflicting desires.

So, what made Elijah so special, that his prayers could change the weather? According to James, nothing. He was just a man like us. He sure wasn’t perfect. He was passionate for God at times and passionate about saving his own skin at other times. He had great faith and he doubted. Sound like anyone you know? But when he was all in, when he was on fire, his prayers changed things. (And brought literal fire from heaven.) Again, according to James, your prayers, like his, have great power. Do you believe that? Really? Do you think your prayers could change the weather? The world? How about your own heart? Probably not, if they are only mumbled lists of the stuff you’d like God to give you.

The trouble with talking like this is that some of you are going: “Who does this guy think he is?” Or “I know this guy, and he ain’t nothing special, certainly no spiritual giant.” That’s ok, and you are totally correct. In fact, it’s actually much worse then that, and I mostly write this stuff for myself and then, with great fear and trembling, post it on the ‘net, because there is one chance in a million that it might actually help someone.

Fortunately, Jesus gives us an example of how we should pray. I don’t think the idea here was to just repeat the “Lord’s Prayer” over and over, but to give an idea of the shape our prayers are supposed to take.

“Our Father, in heaven, hallowed be your name.”

Praise comes first, thanking God for who he is, putting ourselves in the proper place. He’s Holy and perfect, we aren’t.

“Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven”

His kingdom hasn’t fully come yet, it hasn’t taken over everything, there is still a bloody battle raging. I want your kingdom, God, send your kingdom, defeat the kingdoms raised against you…” His will isn’t being done everywhere, obviously, so we pray for it to advance, and we align ourselves with His will. It’s hard to go wrong if you pray for things you know He wants to accomplish. What would this world look like if His will was always done here?

“Give us our daily bread.”

We’re finally asking for something we need, but notice it’s what we need, not everything we want, necessities, not extravagance. Now, I don’t think it’s always wrong to pray for stuff, but everything in moderation….

“Forgive us our sins.”

Wait, you mean believers sin? Ok, I’m not going there, but apparently Jesus expected them to sin now and then, like every day, and need forgiveness. Seems like it couldn’t hurt to pray for forgiveness, even if we think we haven’t done anything wrong.

“As we forgive those who sin against us.”

Do we? If we don’t, how can He forgive us?

“Deliver us from the evil one.”

He’s real. This is a real battle, we have to pray for deliverance. And get specific about it. Deliver me from…pride, fear, lust, whatever it happens to be. Make us Victors over evil, Jesus.

“Yours is the kingdom.”

Again, invoking His kingdom over your little domain, and over the big stuff, too, whether it’s your cancer, your cold or your children.

“And the power and the glory, forever, Amen.”

Transform this world with your power, God, with your Glory, advance your kingdom, bring more people into your fold, break the power of darkness and send the demons back to hell. And when we pray in Jesus’ name, it’s not just a neat ribbon to tie things up. His name is where the power is, because of the cross, His name is what shuts up the enemy.

Like I said before, the trouble with writing “religious” posts is that someone might think that I think I’m some spiritual guru. But, it’s not like that. We are all on a journey that is taking us closer to truth and to God or further away from Him and His truth. You might be way farther down that road then me, but that’s not the question here. It’s not so much where you are on the journey. But if you’re on the right road.

And getting on the right road isn’t near as difficult as some make it out to be. Jesus said that if you seek you’ll find, if you knock the door will be opened to you. Only it’s not going to happen if you’re running in the wrong direction as fast as you can. If I had said at the beginning of the post, that, yes ,people can change and change can last, and prayer is the way there, it might have sounded a bit like a nice motivational poster, but I hope I’ve explained enough that it’s more then that when I say it here at the end.

You can’t earn change, you can’t really get there by the sheer strength of your will, and most of us have tried that. But you can accept the change that comes with constant communication with the Change Maker.

Categories: arminianism, Calvinism, doctrine, free will, God, salvation, theology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Humility is not Self-Hatred

It’s almost spring and the weather is on a rollor coaster. I’m sitting in the sunlight on the back porch, but the fires are still hot in the wood stoves. Because you can’t trust the weather to remain warm for long. Kind of like my relationship with God. Get close to the warmth, drift away, become distant and cold and work hard to get warm again. Kind of like a marriage.

But, the funny thing is, God doesn’t change, He just goes on being Himself. He just goes on being a “good, good father” regardless of what we do. He just goes on loving, even when we pull away. We get this wrong, because we get scared, or we get weak, or we can’t see the forest for the trees, because we get in the way. It usually goes something like this: “I’m a total screw-up, surely God must hate me.”

News flash: Self loathing isn’t humility. Now, yes, I know, we are supposed to hate our sin. But, do you suppose that the saying “Hate the sin but love the sinner.” only applies to others? It seems to me that a lot of self hatred comes from things that are beyond our control. You think you ought to be able to make someone love you the way you love them, and when they don’t, you blame yourself. Or, you get beat down and abused for years and one day decide to quit being walked on. Or you throw your whole life into raising your kids and they hardly want anything to do with you anymore, so you blame yourself. I could go on and on. If you haven’t had any of these experiences, or any like them, chances are you know someone who has and struggles with self hatred because of them. What is it with casting blame and why does it matter so much to us whose fault something really is? Maybe because we really don’t forgive others or ourselves near as easy as we pretend to?

But God does, regardless of our human tendency to believe otherwise. Because we know He is holy, blameless and perfect, we wonder how he can not blame us for being so messed up so much of the time. We forget. He was the one who tore the veil away from the holy of holies. The One who invites us close, not shying from our stains, who throws His arms around the manure-smelling prodigal and kisses him.

What do you suppose it feels like to be kissed by God? Perhaps you already know.

The sunlight has chilled already, and I grow impatient for the heat.

We hold Him at arm’s length for what seems to us to be the best of reasons, because we know just how dirty we are in comparison to His righteousness. We forget that Jesus touched lepers and still does. That He gathered grubby children to Him, that He touched a corpse, for goodness sake, totally taboo for a Rabbi. But He didn’t care, because He came to heal the broken hearted and give good news to the captives. The only people that tick Him off are the self-righteousness, those who suppose they have all their religious ducks in a row, that think they have it all together. If you think you have to have it all together to approach Him, you’re finished before you start. Look at the men that Jesus gathered around Him, listen to them whine throughout the gospels, vying for position, missing the point so often and yet , and yet, they were the ones He chose, knowing all their many faults. Fishermen, the rough blue collar crew of the day, a tax collector (traitor to his own people) even a Zealot (anarchist). He didn’t go to the church and pick out followers from the elders and pastors. Oh, that’s right, those are the people who set Him up to be crucified. That’s not a slam against pastors and elders, but it should make us pause and wonder about our tendency to put people into categories. Sometimes those who become saints don’t come in the packages we expect, and sometimes the worst sinners look the way we think saints should look.

It makes you wonder who Jesus would pick as His inner circle today. God is not respecter of persons. He doesn’t love Ma Teresa more then He loved Hitler. Try wrapping your mind around that. Those who are His enemies choose to be, and I know that’s a complicated subject, but God’s love doesn’t have limits. His patience does. He said  2“I have spread out My hands all day long to a rebellious people, Who walk in the way which is not good, following their own thoughts…(Isaiah 65) He punished those who rejected His love, and yet, He still brought salvation to others, through their descendants. Using even rejection to spread His love to the whole world. And still today, so many provoke Him to His face, and He delays His judgment.

There is no more Greek or Jew, no more slave or free, there is neither male nor female.”(Galations 3:28) All who accept His grace are one in Christ. There’s an old saying that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. No one gets more of Jesus simply because of who they are. The one who seeks finds, to him who knocks, the door is opened. The problem is, we don’t seek enough. We don’t knock hard enough.

I think I understand why people became Monks, why some lived in total solitude in order to focus on God. After all, it’s other people who tick us off, who disgust and annoy and hurt us. Take away all the distractions of humanity and you can feel pretty holy. Well, assuming we also rid ourselves of all other distractions and temptations. It’s a great idea, but only for awhile.

Moses and Jesus went to the wilderness to be alone, to escape and in Jesus’ case, to be tempted. But, they came back. Honestly, sometimes I want to go to the wilderness and stay. People can be so annoying, but the problem is, that goes for me to. I’m perfectly capable of annoying myself.

We can’t go anywhere that God isn’t and we can’t run from ourselves, so what are we to do? Fortunately, He extends more grace to us then we do to ourselves. And this might sound odd in light of my last post about pride. Because isn’t this self-hatred we are talking about the opposite of pride? Well, no, not really. Self-forgetfulness is closer to being pride’s opposite. Self hatred is still focused on self.

If there be any virtue, if there be any praise, think on these things.” What things are we thinking on, when we become self despisers? And who is feeding us those thoughts? It’s not so hard to figure out. Where does self-hatred take you? Depression? Sickness? Suicide? There is a huge difference between genuine guilt that leads to repentance and condemnation that leads only to the pit. One leads you to God and the other leads you to shove Him away. One is God’s gentle nudge and the other is Satan’s mocking shout.

Rule of thumb, if I can’t find the words to say what I’m trying to say, C S Lewis has probably already said it. Besides, quoting Lewis just makes one sound so scholarly.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.”

That sums it up nicely, I think. To become so infatuated with Jesus that one’s self becomes an after thought, that’s a worthy goal.

Categories: arminianism, Calvinism, doctrine, free will, God, salvation, theology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Too Much Pride

 

Common as dirt; as old as sin
The road to ruin, again and again
Oh, how many dreams have bloomed and died
Too much pride

How many heavens are hopelessly lost?
How many tender loves has vanity cost?
Lord, help the soul that can’t be satisfied
Too much pride

( Don Henley)

Writing is sometimes easier with music in the back round. I prefer folk/gospel, and the soundtrack for this post were songs like “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” and “Over in the Gloryland”, songs to keep the mind relaxed and the creative juices flowing and help the words meet the page.

All sin is the sin of Eve. The arrogance to place one’s self over God, to take what He has told us is death and destruction, instead of resting in his loving provision. All sin is ungratefulness.

“There must be more. God’s holding out on you.” The old snake whispers. “Drink the magic potion of rebellion and become wise, become something more then a mere human.” But the potion turns sour in the stomach and sickens the soul. It pulls us back into our worse selves, mires our feet, quells the desire to be farther up the road where Beulah land begins to peek through the clouds.

Just like the snake, we sneer. “I’m just roaming to and fro, doing my own thing.” and God whispers: “Child, why do you still long for that bitter gall, that Judas dipped sop, that forbidden, wormy fruit? I have so much more for you, if you would only open those fists, and lower that proud head.”

And we long and we long and we want and we want and we strive, for what? For the Glory land, or for the ashes of sin on our skin, for whitewashed tombs of dead bones? Wandering through this world, clutching burdens we don’t have to carry, because we don’t trust that He has our best at the center of His heart, in the place where He wills us to be. How can we believe that we know better then He? Then the One who longs to ease our pain, to shoulder our burdens, to bear our grief?

Time moves on and the raw music of life in this valley of shadows wears at the edges of our souls. But, listen close to the hissing snow fall, listen with a child’s ear, shrink until you can roll down the rabbit hole of faith once again and hear angel’s wings in the snow fall and holy laughter on the wind.

Life is a surprise, a gift, though often messy with pain mixed with the joy. Usually, we don’t really see the light until we’ve been touched by the dark. Oh, we could once, as children. We could embrace each day’s treasure then. It came naturally to our innocent souls.

Now, He has to shape us with pain, sometimes chosen by our own stubborn souls, sometimes sown into us by others. So often we only seem able to know what we have when we are in danger of losing it. If one person in this world loves you unconditionally, you are wealthy, blessed beyond what many have known. Yet, we so take for granted those who love us. Do we think it’s deserved on the basis of our supposed goodness? Do we accept embraces as anything but grace? Or praise as anything but love unmerited? Do we thank God for the ability to press a computer key, move a finger or a limb, see beauty or write poetry? Do we even know what gratefulness looks like?

All sin is ungratefulness. All good flows from thanksgiving, from giving of God’s abundance, passing on a crumb of what he bestows graciously on His children. And how do we receive gratefully?

How do we began to open eyes blinded by the serpent who disguises himself as an angel of light? The answer is so counter intuitive that we blink and laugh. Become a child again. Because “Jesus Loves the Little Children” isn’t just a cute song.

“Truly, I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Matt. 18:3-4)

Humility? That’s it? That’s the secret? But we want to do big things, we want to be Saints and warriors and leaders and stand head and shoulders above the crowd and lead a great throng into Zion. And Jesus says, “Kneel low and wash dirty, smelly feet.” Jesus says, “Become a slave.”

You mean, all this time, that woman working quietly to prepare food in the Church basement may have been greater then the pastor? That making a child smile may have been every bit as important as leading a Billy Graham Crusade? Can we even wrap our minds around that, we who put so much stock in microphones and mega-churches, in bank accounts and the praise of men?

Our default mode is puffing ourselves up, craving praise and recognition and Jesus says: “Humility.” Thankfulness for the small. For a scrap of bread and a bit of meat. For the chance to hold a hand or hug a neck without needing anything in return.

It’s hard to fathom, because it’s not the way our world works. Here, we revere the spotlight, but He praises the humble and gives the earth to the meek. But, haven’t you noticed? The more you insist on your own way, the more miserable you become.

All sin is pride. But-but, didn’t I say all sin was ungratefulness? Well, yes, but from whence does pride spring if not from an ungrateful, withered heart?

Pride, that great purple onion that irritates the eyes of all who see it, in you, in me. Peel back the layers and find what it is that makes it so difficult to just let it rot away. Somewhere in there, I think you’ll find pure, unadulterated fear. Fear of others, not fear of God. Fear of being found out, of being found wanting, found to be less then enough, weak and needy. How foolish can we be? What are we afraid of, we who have God on our side?

“Perfect Love casts out fear.” God’s agape love already covers your fear, if you will only kneel to accept it. And we are beginning to see that all sin is also a refusal to worship, to bow the knee, to acknowledge we don’t have it all together, that we need help and are poor, blind and oh, so needy. The humble will be exalted and those who exalt themselves will be brought low.

There’s the irony: When you try so hard to make yourself large, your soul becomes small. And when fear drives you to arrogance, your fears come true and you are exposed for what you are, because as the song says: “Sooner of later, God’s gonna cut you down.”

C.S. Lewis imagined all of hell fitting into a small crack under the floor of heaven. Because when we finally become nothing but self, we shrink to fit into our withered souls. That irony again, when we accept our smallness and weakness, He can help us grow larger, large enough to walk in the solid reality of Glory.

“It’s the slowest form of suicide. Too much pride.”

Categories: doctrine, free will, God, salvation, theology, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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