A day in the life: from meth addiction to Christ’s impeccability (pt. 1)

“Now this is the commandment, the statutes and the judgments which the LORD your God has commanded me to teach you, that you might do them in the land where you are going over to possess it, so that you and your son and your grandson might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be prolonged… “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the LORD is one! “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. “These words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your sons and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way and when you lie down and when you rise up…”
{Deuteronomy 6:1-2, 4-7}

A few observations followed by a real-life illustration:

1) Fear of the Lord & love of God is nurtured through biblical instruction. The ultimate goal of God’s instruction is to move His people to love Him with heart/soul/might.

2) The best parental instruction is an outworking of God’s words on the parent’s heart.

3) An all-consuming love for God is what Christian parents are called to reproduce in their children through instructing them in His word.

Not every day is like last Saturday. In the car running some errands my oldest saw a billboard advertising the dangers of meth. After the obligatory “What is meth?” followed questions on the production of said drug and it’s abuse. The knee-jerk, superficial answers aren’t always so difficult–drugs are bad, drugs can harm or even kill, don’t use drugs. But superficial instruction falls short of the biblical job description for a Christian father.

Later that evening our 2nd oldest was watching a movie in which a young girl confessed a theft she didn’t commit simply because she saw no other way around the protracted stand-off between herself & the accusing authority figure. That scenario prompted the following query: “Did Jesus never sin because he couldn’t or because he didn’t want to?”

How will a Christian parent answer these “childish” questions? What chapter & verse addresses drug addiction or the ability/inability of Jesus to sin? And should I find relevant Scripture will my explanation(s) stimulate a love for law, theological trivia, or God?

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a prayer that reveals a true heart

…O Thou blessed Pilot of the future as of the past, we are so happy to leave all to Thee; but in leaving all to Thee we have one wish, and it is that Thou wouldst in the next year glorify the Father’s name in us more than in any other year of our lives. Perhaps this may involve deeper trial, but let it be if we can glorify God. Perhaps this may involve the being cast aside from the service that we love; but we would prefer to be laid aside if we could glorify Thee better. Perhaps this may involve the ending of all life’s pleasant work and the being taken home–well, They children make no sort of stipulations with their God, but this one prayer ascends from all true hearts this morning, “Father, glorify Thy name”…

Charles Spurgeon, “A Golden Prayer”, The Pastor in Prayer

diminishing authenticity

A culture obsessed with authenticity presents the church with a significant challenge. As those who are to be in the world but not of it, the Christian enters the cultural arena as a gymnast mounting the ultimate balance beam. Losing our balance means disqualification, regardless of whether we fall on the side of isolation or accommodation, but our challenge is greater still. We must strive for precision. Keeping to the center doesn’t preclude the possibility that we still flail & flounder through a cringe-inducing exercise when the difference between authenticity and pretense is a matter of inches.

And it’s the difference in these inches that brings us back to the worship promo from the previous post. Authenticity may be reproducible in a number of other venues but Christian worship seems to be one area where authenticity can’t be manufactured. When you have a list of things you’re going to do or customize or build for authentic worship, you’ve already missed the mark. If Scripture has anything to say about authentic worship it will certainly drive us to make much of Him and little of ourselves (and our efforts).

Authentic worship is centered on a person not a style or location. Build it around anything else and it’s only a matter of time before your flailing leads to falling.

A tone deaf call to worship

I recently received a Sun morning church bulletin that also contained a promo brochure for a new, “authentic” worship service that would target “this”, “emerging”, “current” generation. I’m willing to assume that this church’s effort toward outreach & “authentic” worship is well-intentioned and sincere, but the brochure’s theme(s) sounded biblically tone deaf to say the least:

The name communicates relevance, setting and atmosphere – for emerging generations…

maybe you, like many others, seek a more relevant venue…

expect a totally different look, sound, touch and feel…

People that seek this type of venue look for a concert atmosphere and setting.

Recent paint, updated seating plus the soon-installed, brand-new sound and lighting systems gives [location X] a whole new look, touch, feel, and sound.

Expect volume, lots of volume, along with fresh music…

The setting for worship means everything to every generation…each generation needs the right setting.

Previous generations needed aesthetic and formality. This generation needs high tech and informality.

Who/What exactly are we worshiping here?

Picking and choosing from Jesus’ commands (pt. 2)

[see the Jan 27 post for pt 1]

If I were a betting man I’d wager that BL is more concerned with the inconsistent application of Mat 5:27-28 than he is with inconsistent interpretation . However, interpretation will always have a bearing on one’s application so something should be said about the way we go about making sense of Jesus’ teaching in Mat 5 especially since BL astutely observed that none of us are hacking off limbs in obedience to Jesus’ teaching on lust, theft, etc. What follows is the 2nd half of my response–again, w/ a few edits–to his questions/comments:

4) Jesus’ teaching on divorce seems to be an open & shut case when compared w/ the rest of Scripture. By tht I mean there just doesn’t seem to be any other passages that would add qualifications to what Jesus teaches. [The one exception would be what Paul says in 1Cor 7:15 but on that point Paul refers to “mixed” marriages whereas Jesus is speaking to covenant community.] Other passages that directly speak of marriage end up as a “yes…and” complement to Mat 5:31-32 whereas passages like Rom 13:1-4 create something of a “yes…but” contrast to the “don’t resist the one who is evil” of Mat 5:39. Consequently, Jesus’ divorce/remarriage command seems to have a greater across-the-board clarity than does His resisting evil command.

5) Biblical instruction can mix literal & figurative statements without forcing us to pit a literal interpretation against a figurative interpretation. Human language works that way all the time: “If you smart off to me or your mom you are breaking a house rule. It’s better to zip your lips than to have your rear end beat black & blue.” [even in that statement the “figurative” discipline (beat black & blue) refers to literal discipline (spanking)]

6) The over-the-top “tear out your eye” has to be considered w/ the rest of Jesus’ teaching on sin, righteousness, judgment. Would Jesus have us believe that physical maiming was a real way to escape sin & judgment? A radical approach to sin eradication is what Jesus means to address, but even gouging an eye out isn’t radical enough.

Them’s fightin’ words

Don’t know how many people keep up w/ current issues in the evangelical world. It should go without saying that some “issues” are weightier than others. Recently two flashpoints developed around the “Jesus>Religion” spoken word video and T.D. Jakes participation in (James MacDonald’s) Elephant Room despite his reported heterodox views on the Trinity. In both cases language and word choice was a significant source of angst.

Not going to make any comments on either kerfuffle. However, I do find myself a little perplexed (and sometimes troubled) over the sentiment voiced by some which asserts that Christians shouldn’t get too worked up over words & doctrine. On the importance of words and doctrinal formulations I (coincidentally) found this extremely relevant passage as I was reading yesterday:

Last and most important, it is exactly this which explains what is so inexplicable to all the modern critics of the history of Christianity. I mean the monstrous wars about small points of theology, the earthquakes of emotion about a gesture or a word.

 

It was only a matter of an inch; but an inch is everything when you are balancing. The Church could not afford to swerve a hair’s breadth on some things if she was to continue her great and daring experiment of the irregular equilibrium. Once let one idea become less powerful and some other idea would become too powerful. It was not flock of sheep the Christian shepherd was leading, but a herd of bulls and tigers, of terrible ideals and devouring doctrines, each one of them strong enough to turn to a false religion and lay waste the world.

 

Remember that the Church went in specifically for dangerous ideas; she was a lion tamer. The idea of birth through a Holy Spirit, of the death of a divine being, of the forgiveness of sins, or the fulfilment of prophecies, are ideas which, anyone can see, need but a touch to turn them into something blasphemous or ferocious.

 

…Of these theological equalisations I have to speak afterwards. Here it is enough to notice that if some small mistake were made in doctrine, huge blunders might be made in human happiness. A sentence phrased wrong about the nature of symbolism would lave broken all the best statues in Europe.

 

A slip in the definitions might stop all the dances; might wither all the Christmas trees or break all the Easter eggs. Doctrines had to be defined with strict limits, even in order that man might enjoy general human liberties. The Church had to be careful, if only that the world might be careless.

–G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

Picking & choosing from Jesus’ commands

The following is a portion of an e-mail exchange I had with a long time friend. Let’s call him B Lamb…actually Benjy L…better yet we’ll just call him BL to protect his identity. Anyway, BL’s questions surround a church’s seemingly arbitrary application of Jesus’ teaching in Mat 5:27-45 (take a quick read for yourself if you’re not familiar w/ the passage). BL’s questions/comments lead off (italicized) w/ the first half of my response (w/ minor editing) following. The 2nd half of my response will follow in a subsequent post.

Why do we take the words about divorce so literally when we do not take anything else taught in that passage literally? No one cuts out their eye or cuts off their hands. We make promises all the time instead of just letting our yes be yes. We fight back against those that hurt us. And we kill our enemies instead of praying for them and doing good to them. But we have strict guidelines about who we allow to get married in our church based on this verse!?! So the only logical conclusion that I come to based on how we practice these verses is that everything Jesus taught in this passage was metaphorical except His teaching about divorce – that is literal.

1) Sadly, it’s easier to hold a literal interpretation on a teaching that doesn’t affect you personally. Many (most?) of us don’t think they have to worry about divorce so it’s easier to take a hard line there than on persecution, swearing, etc. where we’re more likely to be confronted w/ Jesus’ teaching in real life.

2) Christian obedience will always be a progressive work. To a certain extent I shouldn’t find it shocking to find inconsistency in our application of Scripture. Our objective is to commend Spirit-led obedience where it’s found and to challenge ourselves in those areas where we lack. The church’s fidelity to Christ’s teaching on marriage/divorce can be used as a platform to promote greater fidelity to swearing & persecution teaching. (see, for example, Jesus simultaneously commending & convicting churches in Rev 2-3). As we commend & challenge we serve the church well to pray for a greater work of the Spirit to get our eyes wide open.

3) Cultural setting can affect how we interpret & implement certain commands. “Pray for those who persecute you” has a radically different meaning for a constitutionally protected American Christian when compared to an Afghan Christian. It can be difficult to chart a path for living out Christ’s commands when society affords me additional privileges and protections—especially when those protections are God ordained. In certain instances even Paul took advantage of civil law rather than take a beating or suffer a miscarriage of justice (Acts 16:37; 22:25; 25:11).

Rational fools who worship an ass?

Beware the deception that we can win the world if only we’re nice enough or smart enough or relevant enough or more scientific or more inviting. To most of the world we’ll never be more than fools who worship an ass.

To say that the world will always consider us to be fools no matter what we say or do is not the same as saying it doesn’t matter what we say or do. No honest reading of 1Cor 1:18-31 can lead us to any other conclusion than that the world will consider us to be fools preaching foolishness but to acknowledge this fate is a far cry from suggesting that the mind is irrelevant in our witness. Our message may be ridiculed but that’s no excuse for abandoning the field of reason and persuasion.

The gospel is the power of salvation but God imparts the saving knowledge of that gospel through various means and methods. We need only look to Paul’s example in Acts to see that a self-identified “fool” will still reason from Scripture (Acts 17:2; 18:19) and attempt to persuade by argument (18:4; 28:23-24).

Fools need not be irrational fools.

Only fools worship an ass

1 Corinthians 1:18, 23a For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…we preach Christ crucified…

Some think the earliest representation of worship involving a crucifix is contained in graffiti discovered in a guardroom near the Circus Maximus in Rome. Known as the Alexamenos Graffito and variously dated anywhere from the 1st to 3rd century, the graffiti is a crudely drawn picture with an inscription. The picture portrays a man standing at the foot of a cross with his hand raised in worship to the man hanging there. The man on the cross is drawn with the head of an ass and the inscription reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.”

Beware the deception that we can win the world if only we’re nice enough or smart enough or relevant enough or more scientific or more inviting. To most of the world we’ll never be more than fools who worship an ass.

Jesus in 2D

In the course of a casual conversation a friend mentioned a book he was reading that had him rethinking his picture of Jesus [I haven’t read the book]. I don’t know how much my friend had read but at this particular point the projected image of Jesus was that of “playful”.

Certainly the author had read the Bible enough to know that no such description is applied to Jesus which is why, through a bit of spiritual extrapolation, he discovered “playful” Jesus by observing that Jesus spent most of His time with 12 other guys {exercise your sanctified imagination}. Along this line of thinking I would surmise other “proofs” could be found in Jesus’ love of children, his ability to tell a good story, and his use of sarcasm.

Now I don’t doubt for a moment that Jesus smiled and laughed or that he was anything but a dour personality. However, I must admit a significant level of discomfort when I hear someone promoting a novel description of Jesus:

1. These new pictures of Jesus are akin to what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”. That is, it gives the impression that previous generations of Christians were oblivious to some espoused truth that only now has come to light. Maybe there’s a reason why 1000s of years church teaching never saw fit to describe Jesus as “playful”. [just as an aside, it’s interesting to note how often reviews and blurbs of these novelty books invite the reader to “discover” this new truth which apparently had been hidden in previous generations]

2. New pictures frequently lack an appreciation for the distinction between the humiliated Son and the glorified Son. Consider that during the days of Jesus’ earthly humiliation John laid his head on Jesus’ chest (Jn 13:23) but when he saw the glorified Jesus John fell to the ground in fear (Rev 1:17).

3. New pictures–especially those that emphasize Jesus’ humanity–are colored almost exclusively by the Gospels rather than a broad reading of Scripture. At the very least this risks an imbalance in which Jesus’ humanity overshadows his divinity [I don’t think this is the normative impression one gets from reading the Gospels]. A full reading of the NT just doesn’t seem to lead one to the impression that Jesus is primarily a comfortable friend.

4. New pictures often speak where Scripture is silent. Closely related to #3, this practice usually comes by a narrow or selective reading of the Gospels. As narrative literature, the Gospels are rarely explicit on subjective details like facial expressions, tone of voice, inner motivation, etc. Consequently, readers often feel a certain freedom in applying his/her own spin on the unmentioned details.

Purveyors of these novel depictions of Jesus promise to deepen our love and respect for Him but I suspect that in the long run such pictures will diminish Him. Rather than marvel at His majesty we settle for sentimentality that is more flat than full.