Posts Tagged 'Christianity'

balcony 02If you have paid any attention at all, you know full well how tumultuous has been the upheaval of the past year of my life. I’ve tried to keep my rants to a minimum, but sometimes I have failed. I have tried to learn through this experience of career change and learn I have–not always willingly, not always happily, and not always without an adult beverage to take the edge off of the process.

I’m not the only person in the world who has had to endure a career change. Some welcome it, others fear it. I’m somewhere in the middle, taking a more philosophical approach that goes something like this: “Why?”

Or maybe that’s the coward’s way out, who knows?

It’s always easy to avoid reality by asking ‘why’? Asking ‘why?’ enables us to sit and wonder all day long. Asking ‘why?’ is enabling–yes, it serves as a sort of co-dependent to all our Right-ness. Asking ‘why?’ is a way of avoiding the changes by hanging around in a fog-like stupor and questioning over and over again all the circumstances and issues that lead up to the moment when the change actually, and perhaps inevitably, took place. I guess maybe we think things will magically change if we sit around and question long enough what went wrong. So we lash out, question, regret, blame, and do all sorts of other unsavory philosophical things in the name of ‘Why?’ and never actually arrive anywhere but right back where we started: Why?

Rich Mullins sang about it in a song called ‘Hard to Get’:

And I know that I am only lashing out
At the One who loves me most
And after I figured this, somehow All I really need to know
Is if You who live in eternity
Hear the prayers of those of us who live in time
We can’t see what’s ahead
And we can not get free of what we’ve left behind
I’m reeling from these voices that keep screaming in my ears
All the words of shame and doubt, blame and regret I can’t see how
You’re leading me unless
You’ve led me here
Where I’m lost enough to let myself be led
And so You’ve been here all along I guess
It’s just Your ways and You are just plain hard to get

‘Why?’ becomes a sort of soothing god; a justifier of our self-righteousness; a companion in our misery. ‘Why?’ people are quite lonely people. It’s a wonder God allowed such a wicked word to be invented or to evolve alongside the aardvarks and amoebas. It’s a wonder that God allows, or catalyzes, such events to foster the perpetuation of the ‘Why’. Mysterious ways indeed!

In the course of this journey I have been taking I have gone from the guy who stands in front of the congregation, leading, praying, preaching to the person going most out of his way to hide: the balcony person. I have gone from being Bud Selig to Bob Eucker. I’m not writing this to disparage those of you who, reading this, also identify with the balcony. On the contrary I am saying I completely understand. I have become, in a little less than a year, a full-fledged, member of this esteemed congregational clique that goes out of its way to be unnoticed, uninvolved, and unannounced. It’s easy to migrate and hibernate and remain invisible in the balcony. I’m becoming a pro.

Following are some observations I made one Sunday morning while sitting in the balcony during worship. They define my experience and perhaps yours. Everything I write in this post is, obviously, patently, personal and generalized. I make no claims here to omniscience. I only offer what I am or what I have become or, probably, what I have resorted to in order to figure out what church means at this juncture in my life and as an insulation against hatred for the Body Jesus loves.

First, as noted above, balcony people can hide. We neither want to be seen nor need to be. In fact, we prefer being unnoticed. This may be a good thing. As I reflect back on my days as ‘the guy up front’, I think to myself it may have gone better if I had been a balcony person then too. Maybe, I say this regretfully, but maybe I wanted to be seen back then and maybe that was a problem, a large problem, The Problem. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to be seen, but being seen by the right one, the One who sees all and from whom none can hide, is a far, far better reason to be in worship. Perhaps the balcony is sort of like the prayer closet; perhaps it should be.

Second, balcony people are, at best, spectators not participants. (Participation necessarily implies more than one.) I know this is not entirely true, but it has become true for me. Being a balcony person has given me the opportunity to observe the worship and avoid participation. I noticed that some Balcony People do not even sing when the words appear on the screen. What I have noticed is that Balcony People are keen to let things happen. They are fine with allowing the worship to be directed or lead or controlled by some other person. Being in the balcony gives me the opportunity to do what I want: sit when I want, stand when I want, spread out my notebook and legs when I want. I can be no one and everyone in the balcony. In the balcony I can watch what other people do, and people do not do much in worship. The reason I can get away with this is because in the worship our eyes move only in two directions: down (for example, in prayer) and forward (waiting to see the next move of the worship leader). No one looks up and no one looks back. The balcony is safe from prying eyes, but perfect for spying eyes.

Third, balcony people are, by and large, anonymous. Seriously: how many people who are downstairs are going to make a beeline to the balcony during the Passing of the Peace? In my experience none. I do not have to talk to anyone while I’m in the balcony. I do not have to shake hands with the preacher. I do not have to say hello to the annoying old lady who wants to slobber all over everyone with her hugs and ‘Jesus Never Failed Me Yet’ sort of naiveté. I do not have to have a name as long as I am in the balcony. For that matter, no one even has to know I am there. I can slip in and slip out as quietly as the proverbial church mouse and no one is the wiser.

Fourth, and finally, Balcony People can and do come and go as they please. There is no real starting time for those who sit in the balcony. They can afford this lack of punctuality because no one but other Balcony People see them arrive–and they understand all too well the reason for being unpunctual (to avoid others). On the other hand, Balcony People can also leave whenever they want. I’ve seen this phenomenon on more than one occasion and, to be sure, participated in it as well. It is a sacrament of Balcony People to leave early. We can leave during the sermon, before the offering, after the communion, but especially before the very end when we might be forced to make eye contact with other folks, those folks, the ones who sit on the lower level closer to god. I think this is the key: the freedom to avoid others, the freedom to avoid their strangling handshakes and hugs of super Christians, the freedom to avoid their questions about ‘what church we belong to’, and the freedom to avoid the other twenty questions that have nothing to do with anything but the sinister attempt to get me to belong.

Maybe the goal of conversation should not always be to get me to belong. Maybe I’m fine un-belonging for now.

What I have learned most about being a Balcony Person is that I get to be alone. Maybe that’s why balconies were invented in the first place, you know, so that people like me could hide; so that us undesirables wouldn’t have to be looked at or interacted with on Sunday mornings (we tend to bring down those on whom Jesus has painted a perpetual smile). Maybe it was created precisely to be a hiding place. Maybe the balcony has become the new ash heap, a modern pile of garbage for the Jobs among us, a Patmos for the defeated and broken, a Kedar for the struggling. (God’s people spend a lot of time in exile.) Job sat with friends in his heap while he suffered and tried to figure out the whats and wheres and whys of his trials and so do we–except it’s in a nice clean, carpeted, air conditioned building. And maybe we get to hide there for a while, kind of like David among the Philistines or Noah in his ark, until it is time to move back downstairs with all the people who have it all together, for whom Jesus contains no mystery and the Why no longer exists.

Balcony people can afford to hold hands with ‘Why?’ longer than those who sit amidst the congregation because we are in no hurry to arrive and in no hurry to leave. As a balcony person, I can take as much or little time as I need. I do not have to have it all-together in order to be a Jesus follower. I can be the run down, undone, miserable, joyful, loser that I am in the balcony because the only one who sees me there is only One whose sight matters during the worship. This doesn’t make us superheros or special or more real than anyone else. And this is not to say that all bottom-dwellers are exactly the opposite. It just means that this is my experience in becoming a wallflower in the congregation.

I think Balcony People are those who are lost enough to be led. Not all, but many. Those in the balcony are those who, to some extent, realize that sometimes God wants to know just how much we want Him. This is not to rundown the superheros among us who sit downstairs on Sundays. It’s just to say that some of us feel like we need to sit on a small hill of rubbish or in the upstairs or in the balcony so that we can get just a little closer to God. We need those extra twenty or so vertical feet. Maybe we think being higher up means he will hear our voices a little clearer or, better, that we will hear His.

Maybe we just like being invisible for a while.

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“Whatever individuals conclude about the causes or cures of homosexuality, the church should offer more support for gay Christians who want to be celibate members of the Christian community but know that struggling with sexual temptation is more than they can bear in aloneness.”

Tony Campolo, Speaking My Mind, 69

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I recently encouraged a friend of mind to read a book that is especially outstanding and, when I first read the book, was incredibly encouraging to me–introducing me to a pantheon of authors who I may not have otherwise heard of let alone read. Since reading Yancey’s book, I have read many of the works of 10 of the 13 authors that Yancey writes about in his book. He’s right: they are powerful thinkers, powerful writers–even if they are not all necessarily orthodox evangelical Christians.

Well, as I have told you, I have been ‘having issues’ with church lately due to my untimely and unfortunate dismissal from the congregation I served for nearly 10 years. After thinking about it, for like a minute, I decided that it would be a good idea for me to reread the book too. It might also prove a good conversation starter for us here at CRN.info.

The book was written by Philip Yancey and is titled Soul Survivor: How My Faith Survived the Church. I certainly haven’t experienced everything that Yancey experienced, and I’m not for a minute suggesting that my friend has either, but I do think that Yancey brings up many important issues for Christians to consider and I’d like to share some of them here with you and invite conversation.

This first subject came to me in a powerful way this past Saturday when I was in class at CSU. My Saturday morning class is Diversity in Educational Settings and we were talking about race, race relations, and the early days of multi-cultural education in America (among other things). I was surprised to learn that among those who were the pioneers of multi-cultural education and the establishment of the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History were Carter G. Woodson, W.E.B. DuBois, and one Charles C Wesley. Wesley is described, along with these men, as a pioneer of ethnic studies.

Thus the quote, from Yancey’s book, concerns race. I was a little taken aback Saturday morning when I realized how subtle and insidious hatred can be–hatred being the fuel of racism. My professor grew up in the South and lived through all the racial tension that existed there then. She has seen all sorts of stuff and lived through it. She said to me after class, “I don’t hate.” If The Shack were ever to be made into a movie, she would play the Father role. She doesn’t hate. I can tell by looking in her eyes. I want to be that person–the person who can experience what she has experienced and still not hate. So, Yancey,

Today I feel shame, remorse, and also repentance. It took years for God to break the stranglehold of blatant racism in me–I wonder if any of us gets free of its more subtle forms–and I now see that sin as one of the most poisonous, with perhaps the most toxic societal effects. When experts discuss the underclass in urban America, they blame in turn drugs, changing values, systematic poverty, and the breakdown of the nuclear family. Sometimes I wonder if all those problems are consequences of a deeper, underlying cause: our centuries-old sin of racism. (16)

I have a lot thinking, and praying, and repenting to do. I’m a little naive. I grew up in a ‘white’ town, went to a ‘white’ school, went to a ‘white’ college, and even now live in a ‘white’ community. My home church is ‘white’–literally, no one even of Hispanic background. For my entire preaching career I have served in ‘white’ churches. It’s not that I am a card carrying Klansman or flying the Stars and Bars in my front yard, but it is that more subtle form of racism that refuses to see certain advantages that are inherent in ‘whiteness’ and the all too willing heart to blame people instead of being compassionate–compassionate to all people–regardless of who they are or what color their skin is. That is, it really doesn’t make a difference why people are poor, or why there is no father, or why a person is homeless. Fact is, they are; and that requires response and action on my part.

There was a retired preacher who belonged to my home congregation. He used to pray, when he was invited to pray, that God would ‘forgive us our sins of omission and our sins of commission.’ I understand what he means now.

My first day in the diversity class, I was the only white man in the class of 30 or so people. My second day some other things happened. On the way in, one of my classmates needed help–parallel parking–and was waiving frantically for me to help. She is a student from the former Soviet Union, and at least nominally Muslim. I was able to help her get her car situated. In the class, I was seated in the middle of three African-American women–one from Ghana–who also became my conversation group for the day. On my way out, two African-American women were sitting in their van beside the curb and the van wouldn’t start. At first I walked by, on towards my car that I knew would start. Then the thought entered my mind and I turned around and went back–I have no particular knowledge of how to fix broken vans, but just to ask, to let them know I was thinking about them. I’m in a small study group for the class that includes and African-American man, a Jewish woman, and a woman of Native American heritage.

The Lord is teaching me something and interestingly enough I didn’t even know I needed to learn it. I’m not sure at this point it is necessarily about race as much as it is about noticing people–people I might otherwise overlook or ignore–and being available when the Lord moves people into the path of my daily walk, doing things that might otherwise make me uncomfortable, speaking with people who might otherwise make me nervous. And what strange people he moves into our paths. Perhaps keeping our eyes open and our ears open is part of the goal. Perhaps being open to the promptings of the Spirit is the key. Maybe part of the reason I have been having troubles with ‘the church’ (and not just the one that terminated my employment) lately is because as long as I was in one place, another ‘white’ place, there would never have been an opportunity or a reason to deal with these aspects of my life that were so glaringly deficient and sinful.

I don’t understand all the ways of the Spirit–and I’m not a little sad right now about working at Blockbuster video while I work on my Master’s degree–and maybe I don’t necessarily have to. Maybe all I have to do is be awake, aware, and alert and then God, in His time, will teach me what needs to be taught. Or he will teach me lessons I didn’t know I needed to learn in places I wouldn’t expect them to be taught and in ways I would never expect to learn. The preacher at the church this morning, Allistaire Begg, prayed this prayer:

Lord,

What we know not, teach us.

What we have not, give us.

What we are not, make us.

Amen.

Indeed.

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A while back, I read this fantastic little book called Perspectives on Election: Five Views. It is a helpful book–who could imagine that humans could even invent consistent supralapsarian perspective on election, let alone teach it to people in the pew–and yet that is one of the five perspectives discussed in the book.

The view range from that just mentioned to infralapsarian election (a variation on the Calvinist doctrine) to Classic Arminianism to Universal Reconciliation and the Inclusive nature of Election to Divine Election as Corporate, Open, and Vocational.

The authors are varied and include: Bruce Ware, Robert Reymond, Jack Cottrell, Thomas Talbott, and Clark Pinnock. Each author wrote from his own perspective and then the other authors respond with criticisms of that position based on their own position. So, for example, if Robert Reymond wrote about the supralapsarian position all the other writers wrote a criticism of his position each from the point of view they adhere to.

It is a fascinating book and if  you are interested at all in such discussion, you should get it and read it. Today’s thought for the day comes from this book and in particular it comes from Thomas Talbott who wrote from, espoused, and defended the position of Universal Reconciliation and Inclusive Nature of Election (a point of view that I do not necessarily endorse myself). Still, his thoughts are worthy of consideration.

Consider first a mere awkwardness in the doctrine of limited election. If God has commanded us to love our families, our neighbors, and even our enemies, as the New Testament consistently affirms, then a doctrine of limited election carries the awkward implication that God hates (or simply fails to love) some of the ones whom he has commanded us to love. Jesus declared  that we are to love our enemies as well as our friends, so that (a) we might be children of our Father in heaven and (b) we might be perfect even as our Father in heaven is perfect (see Matthew 5:43-48); that is, we are to love our enemies because God loves them, and we should be like God in just this respect. So why should God command us to love some of the ones whom he himself fails to love? The reply that we can never know in this life who are not the objects of God’s love may seem to provide a practical reason for loving all, lest we fail to love a true object of God’s love. But such an answer hardly accords well with the words of 1 John 4:8, ‘Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.’” (Thomas Talbott, Perspectives on Election: Five Views, 215)

So just exactly who are we to love? And please, for the love of all that is right and good, do not dismiss Talbott’s quote simply because he is a universalist. Consider carefully what he has said, and have at it.

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I linked to the three blog posts you will read about in this post by hopping over to Twenty-Two Words. I was intrigued by Piper’s title: Imagine What it’s Like to be Both Homosexual and Christian Before Offering a Fix. Well, most of us will probably say: I’ve never thought of it that way. I don’t think Piper is saying we should sit back on our comfortably Christian couches and fantasize about homosexual acts. I do think what he is saying is: How do you live, knowing you are a sinner who struggles with your own pet issue, and a Christian too? How do you live with the contradiction? How do you live as a hyphenated Christian? How do you live with the paradox? At minimum, Piper is suggesting that such a paradox is possible in the church. On this point, I believe he is correct.

Do you ask people for solutions to your voyeurism? Do you ask people for solutions to your alcoholism? Do you ask people for solutions to your pride? Do you ask people for solutions to your lust? Do you ask people for solutions to your anger? Your hatred? Your racism? Your greed? Your gluttony? And when you get answers, do you take offense at the happy, Sunday-School, answers that sound something like: “Oh, just look to Jesus and it will all go away. Then you will be all better.” If you don’t, I think you should. The struggle goes much deeper and oftentimes we are ‘out in the wilderness’ facing the devil. The nights are long; the food scarce; the temptations great. Jesus is the right direction, but sometimes we cry, “Eloi, Eloi, Lama Sabachtani.” Sometimes we are frightfully alone.

_______________________________

Imagine what it’s like to be both racist and a Christian before offering a fix to a racist. Imagine what it’s like to be both greedy and a Christian before offering a fix to a greedy person. Imagine what it’s like to be both egomaniac and Christian before offering a fix to an arrogant person. Imagine, if you dare, replacing the word ‘homosexual’ with ‘adulterer’ or ‘drug addict’ or ‘compulsive gambler.’ However, this may not do. Misty Irons writes:

But the downside of “homosexuality is just like any other sin” is that this naturally leads people to say to someone like Wesley, “Well then, why can’t you deal with your sin the way I do? Pray for victory, seek God’s face, put off the old man and put on the new. And why do you ‘need’ love from the church body over this? Isn’t the love of God in Christ sufficient for you? And aren’t you being defeatist by calling yourself a Homosexual Christian? I don’t identify with my sin by calling myself an Angry Christian or a Lying Christian.”

For this reason, I have never completely agreed with the “homosexuality is like any other sin” approach. Among those desires and compusions [sic.] that we call sin, I believe homosexuality belongs in a unique category of its own. And while it often helps to understand the involuntary nature of homosexual attraction by comparing it with lust, anger, covetousness, and so forth, at the same time it is critical to understand homosexuality as more a condition than merely a desire or compulsion. “Condition” as in: we are all born into this world in a fallen condition in Adam, which no human effort is going to alter prior to the bodily resurrection [sic.] (Misty Irons)

Do the patented, thoroughly biblical answers work? Is it enough to pray? Is it enough to seek God’s face? Is it enough to be caught up in worship? Does this make all the cares, worries, struggles, and fears go away? Does it end your loneliness? You know as well as I do that it ends them for a day or two or less and then you are right back at it again: lusting, drinking, watching; sinning. Tell me, how do we live in victory when we know we are habitual failures? Her solution?

If every straight person were to stop for five minutes and truly consider the extent to which their own heterosexual orientation has permeated every aspect of the way they have been thinking, feeling and relating to the world since the second grade, and then imagine what it would be like to struggle to suppress every aspect of their heterosexuality all day, every day for years on end, no one would be asking homosexuals questions like, “Why can’t you get a grip on your loneliness?” “Can’t you ever get over labeling yourself ‘gay’ or ‘homosexual’?” “Why can’t you just turn to God for love?”

Instead more people would be saying, “Tell me what it’s like to be you.” “What can I do to help you make it through today?” “Do you have a free evening to go grab a burger with me?” (Misty Irons)

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Friends,

I’d like to share some personal reflections concerning president-elect Barrack Obama and how I have chosen to respond to his recent election to the highest office in our land (save for that of the local church preacher.) PS–as you know, these reflections are my opinion only. They do not represent the views of anyone else who writes for CRN.info. I do not speak for anyone here but myself. jerry

I shall state from the beginning of this post that I am a conservative. That does not mean I am a Republican. Nor does it mean I am not a Democrat. What it means is that I believe certain things about fiscal responsibility, certain things about morality, and that I believe certain things about personal responsibility. It does not mean that I am a misogynist, homophobe, redneck, indigent-phobe, a war-monger or a racist. It does not always mean conservatism=Christianity.

It does mean, among other things, that I think homosexuality is a sin (although for some conservatives it does not mean this at all), men are men and women are women and we are not alike, and that America has come a long way in its race relations since the Emancipation Proclamation. It does not mean I think America is the best place to live for everyone, but it is the best place for me to live (and that our history is rich, diverse, and blessed.) It does not mean I think America is perfect. It does mean I think a lot of places in the world would be rather bad-off if the USA didn’t exist. It does not mean I love war and violence. It does mean that I am not so naïve as to think a world, fallen as it is, will be devoid of war apart from the reign of Christ. It does not mean that those in elected-office get a blank check from me, but it does mean that I respect the office they hold and that per the Scripture, I should pray for them. It means that I think abortion to be one of the most despicable, heinous and outrageous crimes a person can perpetrate against the human body, against life. It does not mean that I think those who have had abortions have committed the unforgivable sin.

Being a conservative gets a bad rap because most think it means being intolerant of those who are living differently or believing differently—as if God’s grace depends upon the rightness of our opinions and convictions. Being conservative does not mean we are intolerant of people even if we are intolerant of certain ideas that people hold or certain lifestyles that people, for whatever reason, live. For that matter, intolerance does not mean or equate to hatred. My conservatism flows out of my being a Christ-follower and not the other way around. It doesn’t mean this for everyone, but it does for me. Being conservative means not being liberal. Neither idea means being less than or more than human. It means having ideas about things that matter this much.

I have made a very difficult decision to champion Barrack Obama. I have written critically of President-Elect Obama and some of his (political and theological) views at my own blog. I had an argument with family members at a summer picnic because they already supported him (actually they just opposed President Bush). I have harbored terrifying thoughts about what an Obama presidency might hold for America. I have read the blogs of those who also live in terrific fear of what an Obama presidency might hold. Like here. And here. And here. (And there are many, many more just like this.)

Suddenly it came over me last week at a prayer meeting, as I listened to a man I know speak about some of his concerns and how God is using this shake this and squeeze that and how the church needs to get ready, that I don’t need to or have to fear a so-called liberal president. Why should I fear? Whom shall I fear? The Psalmist wrote, “Some trust in horses and chariots, but we trust in the Lord our God.” Whom shall I fear? I will not live the next four years of my life in constant fear of some imagined agenda people have put into his mouth. I have other things I’d rather worry about—like prayers, Scripture, those God has put in my life and the lives that God has shoved me into. Fear is not high on my list of fun ways to live, nor is it on my agenda for tomorrow.

So I have decided that I will be a supporter of Barrack Obama for a few different reasons.

First, I will be a supporter of Obama because it is not in my nature to act like an ADM. That is, I will not be one of those who will sit back and engage in schadenfreude. The writers of .info have always impressed me not because I agree with the position they take in regard to everything, but precisely because they do not engage in delight at the failure of others. I don’t want him to fail. Granted, I hope some of his policies fail and do so miserably. But I can hope for him, without supporting his particular ideas about morality.

Take abortion for example. When I went to Great Lakes Christian College in 1991, I remember gathering one night to pray for upcoming elections. The candidates were Bill Clinton and George Bush. We had one issue, mostly, on our minds: Abortion. Then Clinton was elected, much to the chagrin of many people. And you know what? Not a thing happened concerning Roe v. Wade for 8 years of the Clinton Administration. Then George W Bush was elected. And not a thing has happened to Roe v. Wade for 8 years of his administration. I’ll grant that Mr Obama is a flaming lunatic when it comes to his opinions on abortion, but I’m not naïve enough to think that John McCain, had he been elected, would have suddenly swung the pendulum so far right that Roe v. Wade would have been overturned. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter. I’m just saying that perhaps it is time for Christians to find alternative ways for dealing with the abortion issue besides putting all our stock in a presidential candidate who will ‘get the right people on the Supreme Court and get Roe v. Wade overturned.’ I think that is a pipe-dream at best.

To the point, I will not engage in schadenfreude when it comes to Pres-E Obama. I am not an ADM and I never will be.

Second, I don’t have to live in fear of him. He is a man and I just find it impossible to believe that it is his stated or secret goal and purpose to ruin the America we all know and love. Fact is, if he produces policies that differ from my point of view that is fine. If he produces legislation that is forcibly contrary to God’s Law, I have the biblical obligation to disobey. I don’t have the obligation to live in fear of Obama any more than liberals had reason to live in fear of George W Bush or than first century Christians had to fear Caesar. I will not conduct myself or raise my family or practice my faith based on fear of any man or woman in political office. The only fear I have a right to practice is fear of God.

The bottom line for me is this: God is still Sovereign. I heard someone say the other day that our fate lies in Obama’s hands. Pshaw! I saw an ad on facebook that has a picture of Obama with the word “Hope” underneath. Pshaw! I have heard people comparing him to the Messiah. Pshaw! I hear people say that the president of the United States is the most powerful man in the world. Horse****! He is none of these things for me because Christians are strangers, pilgrims, sojourners and aliens…I have as much fear of him as I do for the little old atheist lady who lives next door. Christians live under the sovereign watch-care and covenant-love of God Almighty. Whom shall I fear? This is not so much about should I support him, as much as can I support him. The answer is yes. I didn’t vote for him, but I’m not about to abandon him either. This is a matter of trust: Do I trust God who loves me or fear a man who cannot do me any harm?

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Friends,

This past Sunday I preached from Isaiah 5:1-7. These are powerful verses and, to be sure, it is terribly difficult to miss their point. They speak of a people, Israel (Judah), specifically planted and given one task: To bear good fruit. And the vineyard God planted was given every possible advantage and ability to do just that. As we learn, however, ‘He went out to look for a crop of good grapes, but it yielded only bad fruit…He looked for justice, but saw bloodshed; for righteousness, but heard cries of distress’ (2c, 4b, 7). God is looking! God has expectations! The question we must ask ourselves is this: Will he be disappointed with what he finds?

But there are more questions we must ask about this notion of fruit bearing–especially in light of the fact that Jesus practically repeated this song, this parable, verbatim in John 15. There is no doubt here that God is judging us: ‘I looked for good grapes, and it yielded only bad fruit.’ This is no different than what Jesus says in John 15: ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes.’ God is judging us; God is shaping us; God is making decisions about who is and is not worthy of continuing as a part of the vineyard. I wonder if we ever stop to consider that?

Sometimes, in my opinion, we get so caught up in our own judgments about who is and is not producing fruit that we fail to consider that God himself is making those decisions far in advance. I wonder if we trust God’s discernment in these matters or if we are more than convinced that He needs our help?

There are other questions, questions such as: Are we bearing fruit that is edible? I mean, if God finds it detestable, how do others find it; that is, the lost? Are we starving the world because the fruit we produce is worthless? Are we bearing fruit that is pleasing to God first? Are we bearing fruit in keeping with God’s character (righteousness, justice, love)? Are we bearing fruit at all?

Assuming we are bearing fruit, do we stop to consider that God himself is not unaware of our vintage, that he makes the ultimate and, presumably, the only judgment about its quality that matters? I mean, if God is the one who prunes and pares the branches, well, does that mean that only his judgment ultimately matters? Does God need additional fruit inspectors? Or do you think that God’s judgment is sufficient?

So, if God himself has defined the nature of the fruit we are to bear (good & righteousness & justice [Isaiah]; love & lasting [John]), and told us how we are to do so (by remaining in Jesus), and told us for what purpose we are to do it (bring glory to God, John 15:8), and told us that by doing so we demonstrate conclusively to whom we belong (Jesus, John 15:8), then are we, the body of Christ, doing that very thing: Producing fruit in accordance with our call? (John 15:16). Are we producing fruit that is pleasing first to God? Or are we producing bad grapes, a wasted crop, a poor vintage, a harvest worthy of only the fire?

I see this as a serious issue in the church because, as I pointed out in my other post, people are dying and being killed and killing themselves while the church is playing games. Sometimes I think we spend more time inspecting fruit than we do actually producing it. Am I the only one who sees that as a serious, serious problem?

Always For God’s Glory!

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Friends,

I have spent the last three days mulling over what transpired here over the weekend. I have had to do a lot of soul-searching, so to speak, and even now I am hesitant about writing here–for some reason I am still not a little concerned that I have given .info a bad image or failed to live up to a certain standard of ‘expertise’; nevertheless, here I am. (I have developed a set of rules that will govern my future posts and writing here at CRN.info and I think I might actually publish it for you.) For now, I have decided to write again–because I must.

While lurking, I read this: “This place is supposed to be the “Christian” blog…er…right?” Well, I can say: “Yes! It is.” We don’t always agree (sometimes we don’t really even like each other very much); we certainly do not all share the same ideas about theology or politics!, but at the end of the day, we still have enough nerve to love each other, correct each other, demonstrate grace to each other, and help one another carry the burdens of this life. This is why I cannot, even though I said I would, stay away for a week. Not only is writing my passion, but I love those I write with here and those who read. This place, as a microcosm of the church, is where I meet grace daily–no matter how badly a post is written or how many people take umbrage with it. Grace. Ahh…how did Annie Dillard write it? “One catches grace as a man fills a cup under a waterfall.”

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My friend and brother Joe Martino wrote a great post about this very subject: Why I Stay in Church: What if it’s about Becoming Holy? What I appreciate about Joe’s post is that he is not afraid to be honest about the church: cuts, nicks, scars, bruises, blood, stink, tears, and sweat. It’s all there. I think it is only people who are not Christians who really expect the church to be perfect, an expectation that the Head of the church, Jesus of Nazareth, doesn’t even have (or else there would be no need for grace). Those of us who are Christians–whatever that means–have no such illusions. We, the baptized, are those who understand only too well that the church is a place for the misfits and losers of the world; those uninitiated in the ways of world domination; those unfazed by exploits of power, rebellion, and ‘wisdom’; those who demonstrate by their faith that they belong to a different time, and place, and person. The church is a place for people who are hungry for grace and forgiveness and mercy because they are tired of the manner in which the world conducts its business.

In short, the church is a terrible place at times; ugly; malformed; malnourished; distorted; unlovely; unkempt; and yet, strangely enough, among the church (es) is the place John tells us he saw Jesus: “And when I turned I saw seven golden lampstands, and among the lampstands was someone like a son of man, dressed in a robe reaching down to his feet and with a golden sash around his chest” (Rev 1:12b-13, TNIV).

Oh, he’s in the church? Oh, He’s in the Church! Here’s how Joe ended his thoughts:

I mean He didn’t have to create church this way. He could have done it another way.  How many people in church annoy you? How many people in church are just irrelevant to your life? How many people are lying to you? How many are cheating on their spouse? How many could care less if you can’t pay your bills this month?

So why did God design it this way and why should we stay. What are some common problems in the church and how might we wrestle through them?…What would happen if we looked at church more as a means to make us holy than we looked at it as a means to make us happy?

I couldn’t agree more. That holiness is shaped in us not because of the righteous things we do or the right things we believe or the holy places we go. No. It is shaped in us, we are formed for holiness, by the ever present help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us despite all those nicks, cuts, scratches, wounds, sins, etc. Strange that we are loved because of, despite our weakness and not despised for it. Strange that Jesus should walk among us. Strange the Holy Spirit should live in us. Strange that the Father would choose us. Strange that we are such a peculiar people and yet so fondly adored by the Creator of the Universe.

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I learn a little bit more each day about the magnificence of God. What sort of God chooses to align himself with the weak, the underdogs, the unwise–in fact goes out of his way to accept us? What sort of a God is it who loves people like us, people lacking in perspicacity and overflowing with indignation? I hear he is fond of us, his people. I’m glad. He has made me glad. There’s something to be said about ’sticking it out’ when we find ourselves in a place that makes us uncomfortable or unhappy or discourages us or abuses us or unhinges us. After all, God sticks around. In fact, Jesus promised never to leave, nor forsake us. Never. That’s a mighty long time. I guess I can tolerate a few years here on earth. What of you?

Semper Deo Gloria!

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Friends,

Finished reading Just Couragethis morning. This is a fascinating and insightful book by Gary Haugen of the International Justice Mission. (I have written about IJM at Advance Signs). Anyhow, here’s a quote from his book:

Jesus is relentlessly issuing the invitation and forcing a choice to action. What are we going to do? I am much more interested in telling Jesus and others what I believe, but Jesus (and the watching world) knows that what I truly believe will be manifested in what I choose to do. (Just Courage, 125)

Always for God’s Glory!

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Friends,

I’m supposed to be on hiatus this week as I begin moving into our new house and all, but something at SOL caught my eye this morning and I don’t want to let it pass without a comment or two.

Before I object to something in the post, I want to state upfront that I agree with this statement, “You cannot be a Christian and support the killing of un-born babies.” I am opposed to abortion on demand and the wholesale slaughter of children (even as I am opposed to the wholesale ‘putting away’ of the elderly in nursing homes or white vans owned by Jack Kevorkian). Murder, what the Bible calls enmity in Genesis 3:15 and elsewhere, is a terribly heinous sin and is perpetuated as the seed of the serpent goes about the business of trying to annihilate the seed of the woman. I am not, please note, not disagreeing with this particular point of the OP.

Having said that, I also came across this sentence (this quote is from Dave Daubenmire’s article that the author of Slice excerpted) that sort of bugged me. I’m not posting this because I agree or disagree (although I am leaning towards disagreement) at this point, but rather to stimulate some wholesome thinking and hopefully learn something. Daubemire wrote (admittedly, there is no other context aside from what the author of Slice excerpted, but I think I am not misunderstanding what he is saying):

No wonder we are losing the battle for this nation.

Now here’s my question: Is the battle we are fighting really for ‘this nation’? Is that really the war we are engaged in right now? I have to say, with all due respect, because in this instance I am perfectly willing to learn–that is, I’m not entirely certain of my position–that this doesn’t seem to be true. (I could ask if anyone thinks RW should have been tougher on the abortion issue, but that’s another post.) You see, I think here I agree again with Ellul who wrote this: “The church lets itself be seduced, invaded, dominated by the ease with which it can now spread the Gospel by force (another force than that of God) and use its influence to make the state, too, Christian. It is great acquiescence to the temptation Jesus himself resisted, for when Satan offered to give him all the kingdoms of the earth, Jesus refuses, but the church accepts, not realizing from whom it is receiving the kingdoms.” (The Subversion of Christianity, 124)

My point here is that if we are in a ‘battle for this nation’ are we not settling? I mean, is a merely Christian America the goal here? Is that why I wake up and pray every day? Is that why I preach? Is that why I sing? Is it God’s ambition that every business, every corporation, every entity in America, be Christianized? I know, I know: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done…” Yes. But if our vision doesn’t extend beyond the borders of America, are we not selling short the prayer? God’s vision is universal, cosmic, not merely local or national. When we pray, “your Kingdom Come,” does that mean, ‘Your Kingdom come in America?’ as in ’smite all the heretical enemies of America so the truly elect can get on with the business of Eden in America? Is that what Jesus had in mind?

With all due respect to Mr Daubemire, I am not fighting a battle for this nation any more than I am fighting a battle for the community where I live. Mostly I’m fighting a battle within myself (Romans 7) and often I’m losing–more often than I am winning. So my question to you is this: Are we, Christians (or for you good Reformed folks, the Elect), fighting a battle for America? Is that our particular calling at this particular moment in the history of the universe?  Ever? (On a side note, I might ask if RW is really the reason we are ‘losing the battle for America, but again, that’s another post as I don’t happen to think that what goes on at Saddleback is necessarily indicative of what goes on in most churches in America.) And do we really think that abortion is the issue in this battle? It goes back to Genesis 3:15 and the enmity. America is fond of killing in general; we invent ways of doing it; we glamorize it in films and Law and Order reruns; we are obsessed with killing. We have all sorts of reasons for murdering, but they are all murder. Abortion is a symptom and a consequence of the greater problem we have in the world, not a specifically American franchise.

What do you think? Does Ephesians 6 here play any role in this? Is there a battle for the soul of America that Christians are engaged in? (This sounds very political, and I am tres skeptical of the church being involved in politics at any level.) I’ll be interested in reading your thoughts. Please try hard to stay on topic and not railroad this post. Thanks in advance.

Soli Deo Gloria!

PS-please don’t read this and assume that I am either a) pro-abortion or b) anti-America. I am neither and if you accuse me of being so, I will sic merry on you or Rick or iggy or all three at the same time.

PPS-shame on Daubemire for laying all this at the feet of RW! Even if we are ‘losing the battle for America,’ it is hardly just to pile that at the feet of one person, especially RW. Fact is, all of us are guilty at some level. All of us bear the shame and responsibility for the sin of this nation.

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