Thursday, December 05, 2013

A Felony

Every year the ladies group in our church have a catered Christmas dinner. Traditionally I am the fortunate one who gets to take home the leftovers. It was the same this year. This meant I was able to surprise the girls with a few leftover dessert goodies. 

In the chaos of gleeful celebration, Milana managed to sequester the only two of their favorite cookies. While Madison, brownie in hand, communicated with vigour her indignation, Milana quickly assessed the situation and decided the wise response was to shove both cookies down as fast as possible, racing my reaction to Madison.  

Before I was able to address Milana's overt display of original sin, Madison had a display of her own. Still holding the before mentioned brownie she laid into a tearful lament that was unquestionably an overreaction to her suffering. Thus my attention was redirected from Milana's misdemeanour to Madison's felony. I began a discussion with her about the spiritual discipline of thankfulness. I facilitated her to point out that had she been poor, she never would have reacted so, for she would have been much too excited about the brownie in her hand and the other various treats still waiting for her on the plate. Somewhere in the discussion, I had an epiphany:  I am counselling myself. 


As was recently posted by VOM,  "I have found truly jubilant Christians only in the Bible, in the Underground Church and in prison." - Richard Wurmbrand  

It is far too easy to lament the lost cookie while holding a half eaten brownie.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

#4: Enjoying God

Circumstances have led me to be working from home today. So I’m sitting here on my deck. The sun is out, not a cloud in the sky. It’s warm, but a strong, cool breeze is blowing from the south providing a nice balance and keeping the deck bug free. My yard is freshly cut. In contrast, the field beyond is grown up and seems to be leaning against the split rail fence at the edge of my property. Beyond the field are a row of trees that are leaning slightly to the right, giving way to the wind but standing their ground. And then finally, the lake, just sitting there, just being water, and yet somehow working its magic on my soul. I hear leaves blowing, birds chirping, and, in the distance, a farmer working on his tractor. The entire scene can be summed up with one word… beautiful.
Beauty is one of my all time favourite arguments for God. Like morality, evolution has nothing to say about beauty. Sure, my instincts might cause me to long for water, but to be soothed by looking at it? Why does grass, trees, birds, water and wind bring me so much peace and joy? Why does waterfront property cost so much? Why do people travel thousands of miles to sit and stare at the Grand Canyon or the ocean or the mountains? Evolution can’t explain this.
No, the truth is, we have a God and that God is beautiful. Beauty is an expression of himself. He made the universe to be stimulating, satisfying, and inspiring. There’s no science for it. Just like there’s no science for faithfulness, patience, humility, or sacrifice. It’s art. It’s heart. It’s the other part of us that defines what it means to be human. You won’t find the beauty gene or discover the instinct that causes us to take pictures of sunsets. It’s simply a gift from God. He loves beauty and he loves sharing it. So here I am, sharing it with him and with you.
Christians, a piece of advice: be careful that you don’t get so caught up in the mechanics of faith and life that you miss the wonder and loveliness of it all. Life is hard, but it is also magnificent. Christianity is impossibly difficult, but it is also deeply fulfilling. Love is costly, but it is also majestic. One of the great benefits, and yes requirements, of a life of worship is the more perfect enjoyment of things. Because of Jesus, I can sit here and enjoy this scene without the anxiety of losing it. I can enjoy it without the anxiety of trying to improve upon it. I can enjoy it without trying to make it more than it is. I can enjoy it knowing that it is a mere taste of what is in store for me. And most importantly, I can enjoy it for what it truly is, a gift from God. What peace! So, don’t forget to enjoy. And when you enjoy, don’t forget to enjoy what you enjoy with the one that gave it to you to enjoy.

Friday, May 20, 2011

#3 - Son/Slave...the dichotomy of the Christian position in Christ

(Colossians 3:17, ESV)
"And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him."

Being a Christian is weird. Christianity is full of paradox and dichotomies exist throughout our theology. There is nothing else in the world to compare our faith to. Since Christianity isn’t a religion, other descriptions are given by Scripture to help us understand this radical world view that Jesus has presented. Some of these descriptions seem to be at war with each other.

For example: Son. (John 1:12, ESV)"But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God..." There are many other passages that speak of God as a believer's "Father". In fact, this is what Jesus instructs us to call God. But on the other hand, (1 Corinthians 7:23, NIV)"You were bought at a price…" Slave. Over and over Paul calls himself a slave of Jesus. Bond-servant, to be exact. Which simply means slave by choice. How are we to reconcile Son and Slave? They certainly don't sound complimentary.

In ancient times, being a son was primarily about inheritance. The relationship with the father was one of sharing an inherent interest in the family business (affection was optional and based on the quality of both the father and the son). Since the son was to inherit the family assets, all his work as a son was actually an investment into his future. It was not like today, where a son strikes out on his own as soon as he is able. In fact, the son, even after marriage, would often continue to live on the property and most often within the same house. A new room would be built onto the home so that the son and his new wife would have their own space. All this makes sense of Jesus' promise that “In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Now, if God is our father, his children stand to inherit a great deal, right?

But then, we are also slaves. This means that somehow, though the entire universe is ours, nothing is ours, not even our own lives. This means that my body is not mine. My career is not mine. My marriage is not mine. My children are not mine. Slaves don’t own anything. We belong to Jesus and so does all we “touch”. Slavery: owned and owning nothing.

So how does this dichotomy work? The answer in the verse I quoted at the top. Here’s where the two concepts overlap: a son works for his father, a slave works for his master. Interestingly, like a slave, a son owns nothing either as long as the father is alive. (Perhaps this is why western culture has abandoned the family inheritance idea and made it purely monetary.) Slaves understand their position and obey as a matter of principle. Bond-servants are unique in that they have joyfully and willingly chosen this way of life as a matter of admiration and trust. Nevertheless, when a person chooses to be a bond-servant, they are at the whim and will of their master. This is how Christians feel about Jesus. At his whim and will due to a choice of admiration and trust. At the same time, we enjoy the work of our slavery as a son does. No, we will never “own” the universe we invest in, but we do get to enjoy it as if we do. It is freedom within the confines of the will of our father. We are not free to do as we please, unless, of course, pleasing God is what pleases us. In that case, all that is his is ours, or will be.

Example: work. When a Christian goes to work, they do not go as an employee. They go as a son/slave. They do not have a job, but rather, an assignment and a ministry. Nor do they receive a paycheck. Instead, they receive an entrustment. The funds are not compensation for work. One does not compensate a son or a slave. Instead, funds are released by the father into the hands of his son/slave as an entrustment to be invested into the family business…the salvation of souls. As a son/slave, the funds are never considered to be “his”. All the son/slave has within his control are considered to be his to use to expand the families holdings (the quantity and quality of souls). So, as Colossians 3:17 says, a Christian works for Jesus as a slave, but gives thanks to the Father as a son. It’s actually an awesome arrangement.

The choice Jesus is offering is this: you can give up your independence and, by his grace, become a son/slave of God or you can keep your independence and remain an enemy of God. There is nothing in between. As an independent, you get full control of whatever assets you can gain, but you lose your soul…forever. As a Christian, you lose all ownership, even over your own soul, but you gain God and the enjoyment of all that is his, including your soul.

Tough choice, eh?

P.S. By the way, Christians, if you are living as if you own stuff, you have an uncomfortable conversation with your Master and Father coming…just a head’s up.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

#2 - The a nutshell.

There is a lot of debate these days about whether God exists or not. I had a three day debate with a friend of mine on this very subject. The basis for the question is reasonable. The emphasis on science as our only reliable source for truth coupled with the ego’s desire to determine one’s own ethics makes atheism an obvious choice. In other words, if we can’t prove there is a God, why would one live a life of restrictions?
Fair question.
But what if there is a God? I have noticed a couple things in my research and in my conversations with those that would be classified as “unbelievers”. I have noticed that the theory of God isn’t even thought out. I mean it seems to me that either there is a God or there isn’t. Either we are created by a hyper-intelligent, incredibly complex being with unimaginable power or… something else. I have yet to read or hear anything from anyone that isn’t a believer about the implications of the God theory. Evolutionists seem to want to take the science that suggests we might have evolved and then jump off the philosophical bridge with it into atheism.
Not very scientific, is it?
But what if there is a God? Other than the obvious attributes of such a God (intelligence, complexity, and power), can we deduce what this God might be like?
Can we, for example, infer purpose? Can we say that it is more likely that this “God” created for a reason than not for a reason?
Can we infer morality? It would seem to me that if we are moral and morality cannot be explained by evolution, and there is a God, God is likely moral. Right?
Now, I could continue along this train of thought, but for the sake of brevity, I want to jump tracks to the Christian foundation we call “The Gospel”. Christianity claims that there is indeed a God, he is indeed moral, and he did indeed create us for a reason. Let me first nutshell the reason…

God created us because he wanted to share himself with us…forever.

The process of this is complicated by the need to offer us a choice in the matter. After all, it isn’t sharing if it isn’t optional. What makes this complicated is that to refuse to share God is both the height of immorality and the peak of foolishness. Immoral because the refusal is an act of treason (mutiny) as well as an act of complete self-absorption (pride). Foolish because to refuse God is to refuse anything good.
If you are wondering what refusal looks like, let me nutshell that as well. If God is there, then God is God. He must be our ultimate purpose in every facet of life. Government should be based on him and should exist for him. The same goes for science, business, education, family, etc. This should be happening on a global scale, and it should be happing on an individual level. God should be our ultimate end in everything. When we make him less than this, we refuse him. There can be no middle ground.
This refusal puts God in an awkward position. He is moral; he is just. He cannot simply let this immorality slide. However, he also isn’t about to be defeated in his purpose. Besides, it turns out that he has another purpose…

To demonstrate the grandeur of his grace…

So, his solution, the solution he made us for in the first place, is to pay for our crimes himself. Enter Jesus. Simply put, God’s perfect and eternal son becomes one of us in order to live the perfect life we won’t and then pay the debt we can’t, thereby creating an avenue for reconciliation with our God. He then proved this by resurrecting from the dead.
Now, we can share God…forever.
And we can do it even though we fail. We can do it even though we are weak. The failure and the weakness serve to remind us that we can only do it through him. Which makes sense, because he is God.

Yay God!

Saturday, April 02, 2011

#1 - The Christian a nutshell.

There seems to be a lot of confusion about Christianity. That makes sense to me because Christianity is completely unlike anything else. So it doesn’t fit in any of the files we’ve created in our minds for understanding life. Therefore the common mistake is to shove and twist it so that it somewhat fits into a file we can understand. The most common file it gets pushed into is the one marked “religion”. I suppose the reason is that Christianity includes faith which is usually thought of as a religious concept. And since the faith is in God, it must be a religion.
This confusion is compounded by the fact that many people, especially those that claim to be Christians, overemphasize matters of doctrine. Rather, I should say, doctrines. The result of this overemphasis is that while the fine points are debated, fought over, and even divided over, Christianity itself is missed. This confusion causes all kinds of problems. Those outside the faith are led to believe erroneous things about Christianity. Those inside the faith get distracted easily and spend a good portion of their time honing their ability to miss the point. And then there's that third category of people: those that are outside the faith who think they are inside the faith. They sit in pews, drop a coin in the plate, attend a churchy thing or two and basically have the same look in their eyes that boys have in third grade English class. “I’d rather be playing baseball.”
My goal, and my calling I believe, is to clear up some things about Christianity for anyone that will listen to me. I talk to people, I preach to people, and now, I will try to blog to people. I hope to help those outside the faith to see the tremendous benefit of believing in Jesus. I hope to help those inside the faith to focus. And as for those in the third category…I hope to make them a lot less comfortable so that they will go ahead and join us as well.

So, here’s what Christians believe in one sentence: Life is better with Jesus.

In a world where evil exists, accidents happen, and bodies decay life is mostly about trying to make the best of a desperate situation. We try to find love amongst self-obsessed people. We try to find joy in a world full of disappointment. We try to find security in a world with no certainty. We try to find peace surrounded by potential and actual hostility. Usually this means settling.

We settle for comfort when peace is not forthcoming. We settle for entertainment when joy seems impossible. We decide that compromise and negotiation is as close to love as we are going to get. If we can just get a decent job, a couple of stable friendships, a cooperative spouse and children that don’t embarrass us, well, I guess that’s a pretty decent life. No one gets what they set out to get. For most they don’t even come close. Even for the most successful, there is always a nagging feeling that something vital is missing.

Turns out, it’s much worse than that. What’s missing is that we were made to have a spiritual connection with God and we don’t. As you can imagine, this corrupts everything. It corrupts our desires. It corrupts our ability to reason. It corrupts our ability to relate. This corruption is a cancer that eats everything it can. We fight it in our various ways, learning to cope, once in a while stumbling onto a trick or two that helps us actually send it into a mild and temporary remission. And that is as good as it gets.

But not with Jesus.

Jesus gives us hope. He gives us definition. He gives us purpose. He gives us moral direction. He gives us his Spirit to work within us to cultivate love, peace, and joy. He also makes possible eternal life and even promises heavenly reward to those that pursue him earnestly and faithfully.
None of these things are possible apart from him. Any amount of hope, definition, purpose, moral direction, love, peace, joy and salvation comes from him whether a person knows it or not.

How does one obtain that which Jesus offers? We embrace him. We pursue him like the cancer cure that he is. We make our dreams about him. We make our purposes about him.
The more one embraces Jesus, the more one acquires all that he offers.
The more one knows him, the more one understands what life is about and how to live it well.
The more one trusts him, the more one can take hardship, trial, and loss and the more one can truly hope in eternal life.
The more one loves him, the more one can love others, the better one can love others, the more one can receive love form others. Not to mention the sheer joy of loving God and experiencing his love as well. Which is like nothing else in the world.
And lastly, the more one obeys him, the more fulfilling life is, the more one finds purpose, meaning, and definition. The better they feel about their own character and the better they can get along with others.

Though embracing Jesus means the letting go of everything else, we believe that the trade is infinitely and eternally in our favour.
Though embracing Jesus means inviting spiritual persecution, we believe the temporary and finite nature of the persecution is a small price to pay for the eternal and infinite treasure that we gain for enduring it.
Though embracing Jesus means being cut-off from secular society (to one degree or another), even that secular society within our own family (the disconnection we experience, either directly or indirectly), we believe that the closeness with God we gain and the hope of HIS approval is worth the disapproval and rejection of others.
In other words, no matter what it costs, we believe that embracing Jesus is worth it.

And that’s Christianity in a nutshell. Of course we have reasons for why Jesus is so vital. And, of course, we have explanations for what embracing Jesus looks like. And all of the reasons and explanations are part of Christianity as well. But the essence is simple: we so believe in the person of Jesus Christ that we put all our eggs in his basket. And I’ve never met a person who has done this say they regret it. Never.