Thursday, August 13, 2009

Spiritual Ignorance and Arrogance

If you are anything like me, you have probably moved through various Christian "incarnations" during your lifetime. I was raised Roman Catholic, became an evangelical and went to a Presbyterian church while at University, then became a Baptist (CBA), then a refomed Congregational church member, then nothing, then a Confessional Evangelical (read: Lutheran). It has been a difficult process, and the driving force behind these transitions has been whether or not I'm saved.

Although a lot of this struggle sucked, it was worth it. All of the introspection, frustration, depression, and even despair fueled my need to have a "hope and a future". Fortunately, I ran into Martin Luther who had deeper and more introspective struggles. His book, "The Bondage of the Will", even in English translation 500 years later, comforted and assured me of God's favor toward me because his Son was brutally crucified on a cross for me.

Now, when I encounter people who have never stepped foot out of their Christian background because they are afraid or stubborn, I no longer wonder why they are they way they are. I realize they are arrogant. This arrogance leads naturally to ignorance, because they are unwilling to look at any other Christian tradition to learn and grow from.

My greatest hope for those of you who read this blog is that you experience the Grace and comfort that Jesus has given me. Secondarily, though, I hope you will also be willing to engage with other Christian traditions for your growth and understanding. Even if you don't go from one entirely different denomination to another, as I did, you can gain so much just from entering into a conversation with people of other denominations.

A final word on this matter. I used to be very defensive when it came to my faith. This was a sign that my faith was not founded on rock, but on sand. God is more than capable of defending himself, and if you are engaging a person from a different church tradition (or lack thereof) than yours, that person is probably not out to wreck your faith. Even in argument, ask what you can learn from the other person. The Christian faith can handle disagreement. God can handle disagreement. If your faith is dismantled easily, it might be time to allow that dismantling to happen and trust that God will resurrect your faith in the end. He is, after all, in the business of resurrection!


Saturday, September 27, 2008

Having our sin exposed

Do you remember when you were just a kid and you would dream about being in a school play (or some other performance)? You were there, all alone, in front of your peers. Then, for no reason at all, you would either lose all you clothes, or just become naked? You were vulnerable; exposed; raw.

Nowadays, politicians and celebrities who are caught "with their hand in the cookie jar" are told by their handlers to address these "inconvenient truths" head-on and without apology. They turn these situations into an opportunity to feel sorry for their weakness, and that what they did wasn't "so bad". (please forgive my liberal use of quotation marks)

As believers into Christ (this is how the Greek of the New Testament is best read), we acknowledge that we make mistakes. We fall from time to time and do something stupid or hurtful. We apologize to God and man (when necessary). It is the idea of keeping short accounts with God that keeps us from running of the rails. And, underlying this belief is the idea that we are the best judge of our own failings.

As a matter of fact, we don't like it when people point out our failings. Sometimes, we turn it back on them and blame them. On the other hand, sometimes people call our action a failure or a mistake when it is not.

This is all to say that we are not the best judge of our sin or someone else's sin. We are unaware of our smallest sin most of the time. Unless you are a rabid legalist, or a victim of verbal/emotional abuse, you are probably unaware of your true shortcomings.

Humans evaluating humans is an unhealthy practice that won't lead to a revelation of our fallenness. As an analogy, in the banking industry, tellers are handed hundreds of bills in their training so that they can literally feel the difference between real money and counterfeit. The real money is a standard to evaluate the counterfeits.

God is the best standard of evaluating our failings. And, we do have failings, otherwise, there is no need of Jesus' crucifixion.

Yes, God, described as an "all-consuming fire" and of whom it is "a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God" is our standard of perfection. His perfection is not static, though. His perfection lies in how he relates with Himself and His creation. The God who created the earth and humanity saw this humanity fall at a single stroke. The creation He was pleased with became unpleasing and despised instantly. One act, one failing, one falling to temptation, and all of humanity for the rest of human history was called Sinful.

That's how bad sin is. One sin has completely polluted the human race. And the pollution is in our evaluative powers, as well. You see, it is not simply that we commit sin, but that our judgement of what is and isn't sin comes from a corrupted mind. Our hard drives are full of viruses and trojan horses. We can't be trusted to know our own sin or that of others.

David was a "man after God's own heart". He was also a womanizer. To his collection, he added the wife of a trusted military general who was righteous and loyal to David. By David's direction, this general was left to be killed by the enemy so David could "screw around" with this guys wife. David thought nothing of it for a year. Think of it: DAVID, the guy who wrote the Psalms, the greatest king of Israel, the guy who killed Goliath as a boy, was unaware or unwilling to acknowlege his own depraved behavior.

It took an outside source in the prophet Nathan to point out David's sin. He told David about a man who had many, many sheep, but who wanted his poor neighbor's single sheep. The shepherd then killed his poor neighbor to get that sheep. David was outraged at that story and railed on the wealthy shepherd. Nathan then proclaimed, "YOU are the man". David then broke down in repentance.

The son who was born of Bathsheeba (the woman David commited adultery with) died.

It is the same with us, too. God has shown us His love and forgiveness in the face of Jesus. Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, through whom the whole of creation was created. He is the Word. "Before Abraham was born, I am" Jesus said. This person condescended from heaven to live a miserable life on the earth and when that life was at its peak, He was made the sacrificial lamb for our sin.

After this, God sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts as a deposit for heaven. This is the counselor who points us to Christ. He is the "still small voice" who speaks our sin to us. He does this through the word of God, the Bible.

We don't have a clue how bad our sin is. We carry along, and feel bad about our lives, or good about our lives, or bored with our lives, but it is another thing to feel sinful. That the marrow of our bone is infected with the cancer of sin and no operation can save us.

Delusion is my current sin. The delusion that I have been doing the best I can for my family. The delusion that I am a loving son and a supportive husband. But my actions call me a liar. I allow others to support me with my physical needs without realizing that I should be providing for these need. I am a thief. I have failed to love my students, at times, becoming irritated with their inability to understand concepts or their pronunciation, or their slowness to learn. I have publicly humiliated some of them. Whether this was on purpose or not, it is the truth. It is killing another person by crushing their spirit. I haven't adequately prepared my lessons, instead, putting exercises in order and saying that this is a lesson plan. I have stolen.

And through it all, I've been a little sorry. Now, though, I am . . . a sinner.

There is no cure for a sinner. The cure that God provides seems worse than the disease. He heals us by killing us. He crucifies us through people like Nathan who are able to see our sin by the power of the Holy Spirit, and the word of God. But, but, God crucifies those whom He wants to save. The Christian life is not about dying to sin. It's just about dying ... and being resurrected. The God who created life through Jesus in Genesis one, recreates fallen man into a new creation through Jesus' death. Ultimately, it is His kindness that leads us to repentance. You see, it is easier to point out the little issues of cursing and driving too fast and leaving the toilet seat up than to take a look at the depth of our problem; us.

The Good News is Jesus is in the business of crucifixion and resurrection. He's good at it. No, He's perfect at it. He won't leave you alone to judge yourself. He won't leave you with your loser friends to figure out your sin (read Job). Jesus will work to show you your sin, so that He can show you the living greatness of His forgiveness. This forgiveness is His very life given for you. Now and forever. Amen and Amen.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Tolerance vs. Timeless Truth

A little while back, I happened to catch an interview of John McCain on the Ellen Degeneres Show. She is a Lesbian, and asked McCain what he thought about gay marriage. He simply stated he believed marriage is between a man and a woman, exclusively.
She told him that that was "old thinking". She wanted him to be "tolerant", but was she tolerant of his "old thinking"?
At any rate, he could have pointed this discrepancy out, or he could have said, "It's not "old thinking," it's ancient thinking! The first institution was marriage. Adam and Eve. God created it that way. As a matter of fact, Martin Luther (500 years ago) believed that the celibate priesthood and the monastic life enforced on men and women by the Catholic church was a great sin. God loves sex between a man and a woman, and he loves the institution of marriage. He made this institution before he created Israel, the church, or even Abraham.
Although men and women who are gay consider this intolerant, what about their rejection of God's institution? It is the rejection of his created order, and in effect, an open rebellion against their Creator.
But back to the point at hand; Tolerance is a more important value in this country than truth. When gang members are excused for their crimes because of their upbringing, this is tantamount to enabling. The "tolerant" people feel sorry for the perpetrators of crime more than the victims. They protest the death penalty because it's cruel. At least criminals who receive the death penalty have the opportunity to restore their relationship to God. They didn't give their victims that consideration when they killed them.
It is the unfortunate situation that tolerance breeds enabling, victimizing, apologizing for evil, and in actuality, intolerance of those who call it as it is. They don't want to be held responsible for their choices and actions and they want to protect others from this accountability.
I am sorry that this is not a more gospel-centered article. In the end, I am a sinner. The Gracious God of the Universe revealed this too me, and forgives me even now, not because I am so good, but because He is! He loves us and gave himself for us. He died for Criminals, enablers, "the tolerant" and Chrisitans.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Unbound God

Tonight, I was looking at the Talbot Theological Seminary website checking out some Robert Kolb distance learning class on Luther and his theology. As I was doing so, I saw a hotlink for "the unbound Bible", which is some kind of Bible resource for students at Biola and Talbot. It got me thinking about Jesus.

My first thought was that we have an unbound God. What does this mean? He is omniscient, omnipresent and omnipotent. No revelation here, these things define God at his most static.
What is interesting, however is the consideration of how God is unbound in scripture and in our lives.

Consider Jacob wrestling with the angel of the Lord. I believe this is the pre-incarnate Christ. As my wife pointed out, God is an all-consuming fire. Jacob didn't run into that God, he ran into a God who wrestled with him face-to-face. The worst thing that happened to Jacob was the displacement of his hip. This story is troublesome to honest thinkers. How can a pre-incarnate being wrestle with a human being? Jesus didn't have a body yet, right? Please don't forget Jesus is almighty God. He is also the redeemer of the world. His face is a continual face of grace (excuse the rhyme) to mankind.

God is defined as Love in the scriptures. It is impossible for Him to lie. It is impossible for Him to be or do evil. Although God has wrath, it is wrath toward unrighteousness out of righteous anger. God is pure. He is Holy. He is bound by His nature. Someone once smugly asked me if God was a Calvinist. God is beyond our ability to conceive of Him.

Let's go further. Jesus is the creator of the world. Matter came into being because of the being of Jesus. It is also sustained by Him. If anything, we are bound to Him, even as sinners unsaved.
We are bound by our nature, too. We are bound to worry, hopelessness, despair, sinfulness and death. We are, by nature, mortals. He is immortal, by nature, and is unbound by all of our weaknesses combined. Most importantly, He is unbound by our sin.

Yes, it is true that Jesus was bound by the nails of the cross, and allowed Himself to be pinned to the tree. God the Father was unbound in the wrath He poured upon Jesus for the totality of our sin. But Jesus was unbound in His ability to be punished for our sin.

Risking triteness, Jesus' body was bound in the tomb. Three days later, His bindings were loosened and His unbound body was freed to visit with the apostles and, ultimately, to ascend, unbounded by space, into heaven.

Now, the unbound Jesus prays for us before the Father 24/7. His sacrifice is unbound, paying for our sin even to this day.
Jesus Christ is unbound in his ability to forgive us our sins. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Lately, I have been reflecting upon my future in teaching. I am looking for a motivational factor that exists in each human being. It is easy to get a hold on this. Being a child of Post-moderninsm, I start with what has motivated me to continue learning. Why do I have a desire to continue to read, think and digest ideas? Why does anybody pursue an education if it is not for financial gain?

The answer is epiphany. What is this? Why is this so important? What does it mean? Is it really that crucial for education? Consider; a person may easily memorize information, mimic exercises, perform operations, etc., and maybe they can even do them at a high level. Those who are capable of these types of pragmatic performances are said to be "intelligent" by our public and private academic institutions. Those people may even move from high school "success" to university "success" and yet never have a day in their life of epiphany. Their education is hollow, even if they went to Harvard, Oxford, or Stanford.

Epiphany is that moment when, after much work, a person is able to grasp an idea or concept that isn't simply on the surface of the pages in a book. It is an insight that feels like a payoff for all of the research and effort you have put into understanding something. For those who have achieved this, it is like discovering gold. At that moment, even the work you have done to get to that point seems like part of the payoff. You have been changed by it.

Epiphany is soul food. When I think of what a human being is capable of, most are being short-changed in their human development. If they could experience an epiphany once in their lives, they would want it like a drug. They would continue to pursue their growth and development without a teacher's prodding.

My time at the University of Arizona as an undergraduate was great. I mean, socially, I had a good time, and I even enjoyed some of my classes. My major was creative writing, and that was pretty fun. However, the most important semester in my three years there was taking Algebra. I had taken it in high school, and did o.k., but never quite understood it. As a matter of fact, I was so loathe to taking any math course again that I waited until my senior year of college to fulfill the math requirement for my major. I didn't place as well as I would have liked, and ended up in an Algebra basics class that prepared students for the regular class which fulfilled the requirement.

I was told that there was no teacher for the class. You simply had to study for the 10 quizzes and four tests and take them on the prescribed days. You were to read the chapters on your own and you could access math tutors in the lab during certain hours. I had to teach myself Algebra!

The predominant question in my mind during this effort wasn't how do I do this, but why do I do this? If I understood why, then the how would be easy. It was in the struggles of trying to understand the mathematical operations in the book that I had my first epiphany; Math is beautiful! That revelation wasn't possible with a teacher. It was only through the consuming effort to understand that success was born. At 21 years old, for the first time in my life, I had an epiphany. It has motivated me to learn ever since then. I am not satisfied with face-value answers, but work on things until I can uncover the truth. I have become relentless. And this change of humanity was not the result of a teacher, but a little epiphany.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Psychological Effects of Law/Gospel

A few weeks ago, my family went to dinner at some friends' home. The husband mentioned to me that he is in a Christian counseling program which utilizes the scripture in order to help people psychologically. He described some of the priciples of this program of study, and I realized something; psychology deals in degrees.

Some would say that the fusion of Christianity and psychology demeans both fields. They run on different presuppositions. Christianity is centered on the work of Christ on the Cross, while psychology is anthropocentric, meaning it is centered on man (and his development). Christianity is passive, in the sense that Christ is the author and finisher of our faith, while psychology demands activity from the one who submits to it (meaning the psychologist's recommendations).

These recommendations may include doing something that you never have before. An example of this is when a psychologist empowers you to say "no" to your mother and establish boundaries with her. The Christian psychologist may draw on Christ's response when told that his mother and brothers were outside waiting for Him. He replied "Who are my mother and brothers?" He was individuating the psychologist tells us.

Another recommendation might be in the field of pornography. Christian men struggle with this almost more than non-Christian men. The psychologist would recommend to keep the pornography out of the house and put a filter on the computer. It is an attempt to control the circumstances of a wildly out-of-control human being.

These are not bad things. If you don't look at pornography, you have more time to read Plato, or if you're a Christian, the Gospel of Luke. But the suggestions of the Christian psychologist end up being ... well ... psychological. S/he may borrow from scripture to strengthen her/his point, but it does an injustice to the radical nature of the Gospel.

I believe psychology is important. I believe it is particularly important in the field of relationships and emotional health. When a trained professional can look at your concerns and "objectively" guide you through them, you learn a new way of thinking that should lead toward greater emotional health.

I believe in the proper preaching of the Law and the Gospel. Christianity loses its vitality without this preaching. This preaching does not say that "application" of the scripture makes you more holy or complete. Instead, it hands the hearer the proclamation that Christ is the author and perfector of faith. In other words, our salvation and sanctification are the work of the living God in, and especially, through, us.

The Law, which is spoken through the pastor, brings the conviction of guilt, not by the condemnation of his statements, but by the scripture itself (note that scripture is God-breathed and the Holy Spirit works through the words). This does not produce guilt or self-condemnation. The preaching of the Law pierces the heart and causes the hearer to say "Woe is me! I am a man of unclean lips and I live among a people of unclean lips". In other words, I am a complete sinner worthy of God's destruction. This is radical. It does not fit into psychology, and psychology would criticize it. It would say that this minimizes a person's self-esteem. It is irresponsible.

I agree. It is irresponsible to preach the Law without the Gospel. The preaching of the Gospel after a person's conviction of sin (not self-condemnation or guilt) is paramount. You cannot over preach it. This gospel says, "You have been forgiven all of your sins because Christ Jesus took them upon Himself and received eternal punishment (within three days) for you. You are now a priest and co-heir with Jesus." This is radical, too. The psychologist would say this is delusional. It is narcissitic. It is absolutism at its worst. But isn't it the absolutism of salvation we all crave? As Christians, we proclaim Hebrews 11:1, which tells us that faith is assurance. And, this assurance does not come from what we have worked with our hands, but from The God-man Jesus Christ who erases the gray areas and proclaims to us, I am the way the truth and the life, there is no way to the Father but through me. (psychologist: narcissitic delusion).

What is the psychological effect of this Law/Gospel preaching? It destroys hope in one's ability to uproot sin in their own life. Since the heart is deceitfully wicked, it doesn't ask you to look inside yourself, because you are a convoluted mess. It tells you that look to Christ on the Cross. As Luther put it, "I have a crucified God!" (psychologist: embraces contradiction; delusional). The Christian, then, is not told to improve by degrees and effort, but by death and resurrection ... being killed by the Law and resurrected by Christ. The Christian becomes radicalized. Simultaneously, you enjoy peace, because you are assured that Jesus loves you yesterday, today and forever because He has placed His name on your forehead. May God bless and keep you, Amen.

Friday, November 02, 2007

The work of the Devil and the flesh

I have come to understand that our society is becoming guilt free in its attitudes. Although this is the case, and most people are attempting to drown their own conscience, I find that I still live in the world of guilt.

Guilt exists in two ways; first, it is the inevitable feeling of having done something wrong that hurts oneself or another. The term "another" does not need to be another human being. It can be "an other" in the sense of a living creature that has been harmed by one's action(s). The second way guilt exists is through the manipulative or controlling statements (or actions?) adults employ on children. The long-term effects on children is fairly well understood. Adults may face a lifetime of self-destructive behavior and negative self-talk as a consequence of feelings generated from the internalized statements adults imbued them with.

The second type of guilt creates a "tape recorded" message of catastrophic failure to events that may only be minor. The child, who becomes an adult, ends up reviewing events with the skewed lense of guilt and shame, not realizing that they are in a perpetual cycle of guilt. It has become "hard wired" into their personality.

So, with all of this forensic analysis, I open myself up as an example. I have hurt people by my actions, lack of actions, words, or lack of words. Some of these events are of the recent past, but some of them may have happened 28 years ago. Usually, I don't dwell on these past events, because I am caught up in things I'm doing or relationships.

Then, for some unkown reason, one of these guilt-inducing events run through my mind. I am transported to the event as if it were actually happening all over again. The feelings connected with it are intense and raw. I feel guilty.

Where do these replayed events come from? Why are they happening? The Christian worldview states that we have been forgiven for all of our real and imagined sins through the work of Jesus being crushed on the cross. In the midst of a guilt-inducing event, however, one becomes blind to the cross, or simply discounts it. I have felt so guilty for some of these events in the past, that I have considered ways to rectify the circumstance even years later. "If I just make things right" I argue to myself, "then I will be free of this guilt, and can work on another past event". What is really happenning?

My flesh is warring against me. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?" (Jer. 17:9). It is not the only one that accuses us, though. We have an active adversary in the Devil and his minions. He is "the accuser of the Brethren". This re-hashed guilt is a weapon in his arsenal. Putting it frankly (cover your children's ears), the Devil is a Son-of-a-Bitch. What then, can be done for a heart that is racked with guilt?

John writes, "By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart". It is in the moment that I see an event replayed before my eyes, when I feel the beginning of guilt, that I say to myself, "God is greater than my heart", and "I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal. 2:20).

It is at these times that I need to hear the Gospel, not the "to do list" of how to make myself right. Finally, I know that I never want to do thes things again. I can ask the Lord to help me as a weak and sinful man to love others rightly. And, I can pray for those whom I have wronged to forgive me. God be merciful to those of us who have to fight guilt. Amen.

Some thoughts on a University Education:

First, if you attend a class that has 400 or more students in it, you are not getting an education.

Second, if every time you go to class, the professor gives a lecture and nothing more, your are not getting an education.

Third, if your first two years of college are a repeat of courses you took in high school, you are not getting an education.