Dabar [theme]

He shall cover thee with His feathers, and under His wings shalt thou find refuge: His truth is a shield and buckler
Psalms 91:4

Be it ours,when we cannot see the face of God, to trust under the shadow of His wings. C.H. Spugeon

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Praise & Praise

Sometimes God's mercy, kindness and His love come breaking through on the dreary and forsaken life. I am so thankful that God has chosen to shine His love upon me and my family this day.

Thank You Lord that your grace and beauty have been a light to this day, that your love has streamed into our lives, and I pray and ask as I give thanks for answered prayer, that You will continue to shine and illuminate our way, provide for our transport, encourage our travel on this path and may Your glory and honour be foremost in Your dealings with us.

Psalm 52:9
I will praise You forever,
Because You have done it;
And in the presence of Your saints
I will wait on Your name, for it is good.
Psalm 7:17
I will praise the Lord according to His righteousness, And will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.
Psalm 42:4-5
When I remember these things,
I pour out my soul within me.
For I used to go with the multitude;
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.
Psalm 21:13
Be exalted, O Lord, in Your own strength!
We will sing and praise Your power.
Psalm 28:7
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
My heart trusted in Him, and I am helped;
Therefore my heart greatly rejoices,
And with my song I will praise Him.
Psalm 150:1-6
Praise the Lord!
Praise God in His sanctuary;
Praise Him in His mighty firmament!
Praise Him for His mighty acts;
Praise Him according to His excellent greatness!
Praise Him with the sound of the trumpet;
Praise Him with the lute and harp!
Praise Him with the timbrel and dance;
Praise Him with stringed instruments and flutes!
Praise Him with loud cymbals;
Praise Him with clashing cymbals!
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

A Short Story

The sound of crunching gravel under the tires of my truck were announcing my arrival in the farm-yard. My visit was not anticipated, for reasons of my own. The reception by the husband of the lady I wanted to visit was in question.

She had within the last two years or so become a Christian, having received Jesus as her Savior. Her faith has been tested, as there has been illness, first Parkinson's and now cancer. There has been opposition to her faith, her husband is anti-church, anti-Christian, perhaps anti-God. Her boys are undecided, only one of her sons showed up for her Baptism, and only one Daughter-in-law with two of her Grandchildren. She has been supported in large part by her sisters, who during the course of illness and now as she lays dying have travelled to be with her and care for her.

My knock at the door was answered by the husband. I introduced myself and explained the nature and intent of my visit. He invited me in. One of two sisters was present and I recognized her from the many times she has brought her sister to Church when she has visited. It was good to see her here.

I exchanged the usual pleasantries and asked to see the person who occasioned this trip. I was shown into a back bedroom, there lying on the bed was the dearest of ladies, a person who in an inexplicable way (one of those God-things) had become an endearing presence in my life. I had been given the incredible honour and privilege of being a part of her Baptism, it was a simple thing to do, her Parkinson's made it difficult and challenging to enter and extricate herself from the Baptismal Tank, so I, as I had done at regular services prior to this, I offered her my arm and escorted her to and from, as well as helping her descent and ascent from the Tank.

This wasn't the only connection I had with her. Her sons were businessmen in the Oil Industry, and through the various jobs and business ventures I have been involved with I knew two of her three sons reasonably well, and one of the three better than the others.

It is in this context that perhaps one of the most prominent ties had been formed. This lady had asked me to pray for her family, and I promised I would. I also prayed for her, for the strength of her faith, for her resolve, for her witness and that all these things would bring about the salvation of her family, because you see, she was the only Jesus that her family knew at this time.

"Hi, how are you?", I asked, thinking immediately how stupid that question was.

Her answer was full of grace, weakness, peace and discomfort,

I sat down beside her bed and grasped her hand, searching for words that would convey the thoughts of faith and comfort that I believed she needed to hear. The conversation went on, haltingly, with fumbling for words on my part, with inspired words that were obviously not my own, and there were interruptions from the sister, always timely and relieving.

As I was preparing to leave having spent enough time to exhaust my host, the husband took me aside. He asked me quite pointedly if I believed that God could heal his wife. It was an anticipated question, it was going to be the challenge to the belief and faith of his wife, it was going to provide the reasoning and justification for his dealing with the unwavering faith of his wife. My answer might have occasion to change the way this man thought about God and Christianity.

Did I believe? There was more to the question than just the pat answer I could give, an answer that would attest to my own faith, my own belief (and that answer shrouded by the What if God chooses not to) ... but what of the consequence, the result of that answer... what of the prayer for healing and the opportunity for that healing to be denied. Is it my faith in question, is it the faith of the lady, or does it become a question of what the husband will do with the result of healing and the subsequent decisions and actions that will be required of him in response to that healing. Was there adequate preparation for that answer? What if in light of healing there is still a hardening of the heart towards God?

And so the question was asked of the husband, "What will be your response to the healing of your wife?"

"Why is this my problem? It sounds like you're passing the buck and getting out of a jam, because you don't believe God can heal?", replied the husband.

"Well Sir, it is not so much the question whether God can heal or a question of when He will heal, it is just that I have never personally seen God actually heal. I have friends that have personally experienced and witnessed healing but I have not been a part of any such event. I will confess to you that the absence of this experience has shrouded my faith with questionings and a type of doubt, and in reality I have seen more friends and family die after prayer for healing then I care to account. The question that has come to mind has changed for me from one of What faith is required to believe for healing, to What of the consequences of that healing for the faith of those in the vicinity of illness and the long-term results of that healing for the person. I believe God to have that Infinite Wisdom that only He holds and I realize that that answer is not the thinking man's response to the question, but God is God and what happens is the best or is what God deems to be the 'good' in my life. I have no answer other than that. Should your wife be healed?, Could your wife be healed?, Yes!, Will your wife be healed?, I have no guarantees, no promise, and in fact my anticipation of healing is limited by my personal experience, and for that I am sorry."

What you are saying doesn't make sense, it would be foolish to live life without some reward or value to it.

Yes Sir, we all live our lives with a certain element of faith, whatever that 'faith' truly is or believes in. The Christian faces an enigma, especially with regard to how the world relates to faith and reward, hope and success and any other of those thoughts that you want to put together. The contradiction comes as a result of the combining of a secular view, more akin to common-sense, as compared to a spiritual view which is mystical. You end up comparing the natural to the spiritual. Faith has no basis in common-sense and for the most part, whenever faith is reduced to a format where understanding and evaluation are possible a contradictory event or series of events will occur, challenging the very core of what a Christian believes about God. The testing is not entirely of God's doing, there are 'valleys of affliction' that Christians pass through that are a part of living in an evil world, and there are those occurrences that bring about confidence that God will see the Christian through regardless of circumstance. Testing will either prove faith or kill it.

Why does faith have to be tested, isn't surviving enough?

"Well surviving would be enough, but we come with a mind-set predestined with thoughts of death and destruction and those thoughts are further enhanced by life and the possibility of all the evil that can happen and is happenning around us. We are born with the thoughts that there is always more to this life than what we are going to experience while living. You must admit Sir, that you don't believe this is all there is?

"Yes, I believe there is more after death, but Why must good people suffer unfairly?

What's the use of living your life for God only to find out that you have to suffer? What is life if it can't be made better by the choices? Why would I want to be a part of that?"

"The essence of the eternal changes the perspective of life, altering the character of pain, suffering, and even failure. The eternal perspective alienates the meaning of life; our sense of justice and fairness, from the temporal sufferings and pain of this world, because it compensates for the current injustice, pain and suffereing by believing that the subsequent life (the eternal) enables the transforming of this existence into a life where the practicing of virtue is the embodiment and entitlement to a reward which cannot be earned or bought and is only sought after because the emensity of the free gift demands our loyalty to the giver of the gift, God. There is meaning to life despite the experience of pain and suffering, despite the frustrations of failure, despite disappointments and dashed hopes because the Christain is noy limited to this finite existence and is not bound by the mind-set that this life is finally and exclusively the sum total of man's destiny"

The husband said, "I know a little about religion and it sounds like there is salvation by works involved in your little speech."

"It would be a works theology and I guess it would be nice if there was a relationship between the virtues, the goodness of God granted as recompense for obedience to those virtues and happiness or welfare or the absence of suffering and pain, but the absence of relationship achieved through a reasoning process, (heavy emphasis on reasoning process), anticipating a distinct cause and effect for our faith does not prove conclusively that God has failed or that our beliefs are flawed. Although this reasoning has formed the bulwark of secular societies proving of the absence of God or at least His love, not only that there is no relationship between the pursuit of happiness through virtue and the presence of pain though vice but that these are random and unpredictable events not actually consequential polarized opposites, but are reversed in actuality and are plentiful in example and provide substance and belief that the opposite occurs more prominently in reality. Life is understood as being without rhyme or reason and our human existence continues to stump our ability to create a plausible explanation of life's events in the context of the anticipation of reward or goodness for virtue and anticipation of punishment and pain for actions of vice and evil."

"That is a very sadistic God you serve, Who is said to have the power and Who won't even do good for those that give their life to Him", the husband said.

"Yes Sir, I have to agree with you on a certain aspect of what you say, God does appear to be sadistic, cruel and heartless and I believe any thinking Christian whether he will admit it or not has thought that thought at some point in time. It appears to be a wasted life when the evil-doers experience wealth, health, and flourish at every thing they do, while those living meager existences are claiming the life of virtue is the life to live. Sometimes it appears that it is just a mental crutch to alleviate the stresses of poverty, pain and misfortune. It could almost be felt that all the world punishes virtue and blesses vice. That is the tension that is created by those that think of life in terms of cause and effect, attempting to reason and think through life's quandaries and circumstance and wanting to be able to predict plausible outcomes for actions of either virtue or vice."

"Maybe that is why religion should be for the old or the dying, it has no place for the living and the striving", said the husband, "specially if you want to be successful."

"There are a lot of people in the world who view God in just that manner, they see the charity or love of God as being framed by either need or time, not worrying about the consequences of their life now, but reserving their devotion to religion for a time and place when it is 'needed' most. A lot of people thing that the eternal aspects of life need not impinge upon the current affairs and enjoyment of life now, assuming that they will have time and place for God when the question of their eternal destiny becomes more pressing. As you think about this, it is maybe in that context that the true value of the virtuous life should be held and esteemed, in that the full life lived when it has knowledge of God and the recognition of the decision that must be made in terms of how life is to be lived is only just and fair to all when seen through the eyes of God as He sits in judgement and looks at the total of life's accomplishments and the virtues that were practiced in that life. Basically I am postulating that there may be or will be an accountability for all of life, it's actions and motivations and God Who sees all and knows all will be the judge. Who is to say how people will be judged when they had knowledge of Jesus and yet still waited. When they had same attitudes and motivations of all those around them. When what they said and did was not authentic.

"What is authentic in this life, isn't everything just facade, smoke and mirrors?"

"Well that brings us back to the topic of virtue, those characteristics of life that are seen to hold the greatest of values, faith, courage, temperance, justice, goodness. We view these traits and virtues in light of the effect they have on people when faced with life's dilemmas. Just giving vocal assent to the importance and validity of virtues is of little effect when explaining the why-fores, without seeing the application of those virtues under duress. For example, Abraham's faith is held as a mile-marker of faith practiced because he was willing to sacrifice his only son at God's bidding. Courage, faith and obedience are only courage, faith and obedience when facing uncertainty, when the outcome has no guarantees, after all if everyone acted only when they knew the outcome, and no one truly does, there would be little accomplished in this world. There would exist no courage, faith or obedience. In a world where there is no evil, no ambiguity, life would become a series of behavioural self-interested calculations designed to achieve the greatest rewards known to man.

"So why go though all this pain, why not just end it before it gets so bad? You could just go to heaven and forget having to endure whatever sickness you have."

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Thought-Provoking Quotes? #1

Of course when one speaks of the loss of intellectual morale in the twentieth-century Church one has in mind much more than the depreciation of the doctrinal demand by unthinking ecclesiastics. Except over a very narrow field of thinking, chiefly touching questions of strictly personal conduct, we Christians in the modern world accept, for the purpose of mental activity, a frame of reference constructed by the secular mind and a set of criteria reflecting secular evaluations. There is no Christian mind; there is no shared field of discourse in which we can move at ease as thinking Christians by trodden paths and past established landmarks.

It is clear that where there is no Christian mind to pass judgement upon society, those who care for human dignity and integrity on other grounds than the Christian's will be provoked to rebel against the multifarious (multiplicity; having great diversity or variety; of various kinds; diversified; made up of many differing parts; manifold) tendencies of contemporary civilization to depersonalize men and women. This rebelion must be regarded as a significant feature of the post-Christian world. ... the protest needs to be made. What is bad is that it should come from outside the Christian tradition.

(Coming to)...grips with man's lostness, his bewilderment, his rootlessness. If you wish to meet, at a level of deep compassion and tenderness, with the soul of modern man, face-to-face with all the baffling paraphernalia of contemporary civilization... Here on the knife-edge between laughter and ears, one lives through an aching yet farcical bewilderment which lacks even the clarity of doubt, the rudder of defined uncertainty. For this angst, (acute but vague anxiety or apprehension often accompanied by depression, especially philosophical anxiety) unrealized and unfaced, is no more than a frowning crease on the forehead and a curling smile about the mouth.

Here is the bafflement of the soul - an inner cluelessness prior to that state of organized interrogation at which one can ask: "What is the meaning of life? What is the purpose of anything?" Here is a primitive lostness which allows for nothing so confident as a question (for to ask a question is to presuppose a possible answer, a system of logic, a rationale at the back of things). Here one fumbles for the very means of utterance.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A Priori Liturgy as Narrative; What's the Point

A priori means something is based on hypothesis rather than experiment: (a priori knowledge) or that something is self-evident or intuitively obvious.

Liturgy usually refers to the predetermined or prescribed set of rituals that are performed, usually by a religion as an official act of worship or as a specific structured type of service (marriage, funeral, baptism, etc.) of the Christian church. This is in keeping with a view of God as proprietary, sensible, rational and seeks to maintain the deepest sense of reverence and the sacred context of worship.

Liturgical worship is viewed by some evangelicals as the quenching of the Spirit and a dry, non-emotional, arranged format of worship not worthy of a God of transformation and creativity.

Narrative is telling a story, the systematic, chronological, absurd, discordant recitation of an event or series of events recounting my story, your story, our story, HIStory and in the midst of this rhetorical narrative God is viewed in varying degrees as being, unmanageable, dangerous, liberating, and merciful. (Its usually about personal context)

A priori liturgy is a misnomer, the two thoughts are polarized positions dictating a cause and effect relationship derived from opposite directions. Liturgy seeks to create via 'a law' or a form the creation of an experience which is in accordance with acts and actions and will as a result of the succession of events have determined results and benefits. A priori approaches the problem of cause and effect as undetermined, infinite in possibilities, suggestive of the implications, although maintaining the hypothetical aspect for all reasonable expectations of present and future consequence. Liturgy approaches from common ground, assuming that all relate and associate from the same origin, having the same experience without any distortions or dissimulations. A priori approaches from an understanding of the divergent grounds of the experience of people, assuming that imagination, invention and experience are arbitrary and random, therefore relationship is founded upon the coincidental and accidental crossing of paths in life. In the discussion about life all sides have validity. Within the Christian Church the seemingly polarized thoughts and concepts, although divisive, can be unifying in that they continue to place before us a God who can never be reduced to any form conditional to human conception and thereby removing Him from His transcendence and place as the Supreme Author of all that is.

In all the discussions revolving around the Church, the fact that the Church needs to change? the Church must become missional? the Church must define or redefine missional? current culture demands a new approach to how we do Church? Church is not the same as it use to be? and that if change does not occur the Church will die? there seems to be a lack of a consistent value of the Church as an entity existing to promote the glory of God. We do not attend Church or go to Church; we are the Church. This essence of what the Church should be about? is undervalued by our current society and there remains little or no emphasis to place the Church as a prominent feature of everyday life in the people of our time. The question of it being 'just a place' has been addressed (no pun intended) by the creation of Home Churches and small groups operating as sanctioned or non-sanctioned para-church options, with varied success. The question of worship-styles and the quagmire of achieving or maintaining happy worshippers is an ongoing experiment in futility only assuring that a given segment of a Church's population will be unhappy. It seems everything about the state of the Church is in question. That is well and good, it is good to question and evaluate, for in the answering of questions the honest appraisal of the things we believe become reality. There is nothing so articulate as doubt.

Proponents of virtue-ethics hold that it is, or can be, a great destroyer of abstraction, that as archaic as the concept is, it contains the operative principles enabling focus on excellence, wisdom and the 'good'; and is concerned with the development of practices and forms of living that shape a life in such a way so that the whole of life becomes an example of the virtues. Commitments are grounded in actions. Virtue ethic seeks to declare, “don’t listen to what it says, look at what it does”, and in application to the Christian story, it should sound something like: “don’t listen to, attempt to understand, or rationalize what it says, look at the practices that flow out of adherence to the story, and that is the better barometer of truthfulness.”

Excellence as a virtue is linked to the 'Imago Dei' , the fulfillment of purpose and function; the living to one's full potential. The Greek word for excellence is 'arete" and means the settled disposition of the mind determining the choice of actions and emotions, consisting essentially in the observance of the mean relative to us, this being determined by principle, that is, as the prudent man would determine it.
"Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence (arete), if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things." Philippians 4.8. The search for excellence takes into account our fallible human searching and seeks to connect our theological pursuits to the way we live and the people and communities we form.

"Wisdom tries to embrace the imaginative, the intellectual, the passionate and the practical; it refers to the wisdom of God as well as to fallible human searching. Wisdom need not be competitive with the various other terms that describe theology, such as understanding, thought, knowledge, truth, reflective practice, dogma and doctrine. Wisdom encourages rigorous inquiry and thorough understanding. Wisdom traditions are concerned with the long-term shaping of life in many dimensions, including the common good and the formation of the whole person." When we seek wisdom, we entertain different consequences than just getting something right or wrong, we take heed of the common good and the consequences to our body and community. The search for wisdom takes into account our fallible human searching and seeks to connect our theological pursuits to the way we live and the people and communities we form.

'Good' is the essential key to the fulfillment of 'virtue ethics', as defined by, "...do unto ... as you would have..."; and "Don't listen to what it says, look at what it does". In doing there is necessity for the removal of the abstract notions of what 'good' is and in doing there is application of the actions determined by the actual, in reality 'good', for a person, group or community (grace with stains and grit) and those actions are a result of face-to-face relationship or in the absence of the face-to-face at least actions determined by real need and not a subversive self-aggrandizing purpose or the placating of a sense of conviction motivated by a desire to appease personal guilt and shame. The search for the 'good' takes into account our fallible human searching and seeks to connect our theological pursuits to the way we live and the people and communities we form.

The world-view is disorientating and subsequently creates a sense of immediacy and implausibility to the actions of a Church group in actively functioning as the 'way'.

The overwhelming dysfunction of the world, its fragmentation, its consistent appeal to the powers and property of man to repair and the seemingly impotent response of religion to offer a viable alternative to the problem has left the Church with a void to fill, a seeming 'black hole'. Our theology and ecclesiology should be the determinants of our methodology, not the reverse. People are strongly adverse to the questioning of why? they do the things they do, and for the most part view that as being an attack on their primary belief system. God will always remain God regardless of... Karl Barth wrote, "We must begin all over again with a new inner orientation to the primitive basic truths of life: only this can deliver us from the chaos arising from the failure of conservative or revolutionary proposals and counter-proposals... above all, it will be a matter of our recognizing God once more as God..."

It is in crisis and emergency, the recognizing of life as a non-static, perpetually changing series of open-ended circumstances that theology is formed.

"How disastrously the Church must misunderstand itself if it can imagine that theology is the business of a few theoreticians who are specially appointed for the task...; is a matter for quiet situations and periods that suit and invite contemplation, a kind of peace-time luxury...as though the venture of proclamation did not mean that the Church permanently finds itself in an emergency! As though theology could be done properly without reference to this constant emergency! Let there be no mistake. Because of these distorted ideas about theology, and dogmatics in particular, there arises and persists in the life of the church a lasting and growing deficit for which we cannot expect those particularly active in this function to supply the needed balance. The whole church must seriously want a serious theology if it is to have a serious theology."

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The 'OR"

The 'OR' has implications of connection, union, and the joining of values which by choice and discernment logically exclude one option or set of values as being false and one option or set of values as being true. The 'OR" results in a decision; "Something marvelous happened to me. I was transported to the seventh heaven. There sat all the gods assembled. As a special dispensation, I was granted the favor of making a wish. "Do you wish for youth," said Mercury, "or for beauty, or power, or a long life; or do you wish for the most beautiful woman, or any other of the many fine things we have in our treasure chest? Choose, but only one thing!" For a moment I was bewildered;
The 'OR' implies an ultimatum, a final judgement or some distinct reference point at the present time or in the future which will declare the value of the choice. The radical choices made in life may not be seen as having any pre-ordained value, however, "one must choose, and through one's choices, one creates what one is". The 'OR" means there is or will be an accountability for life's choices, if not believed to be to a higher power, at least to one's self for the outcome.

There is only one way to get faith. It is built upon the elements of trust and learning trust and the learning of trust through the relationship which is developed by time spent. It is built upon contact, watchfulness and subsequently leaning upon. It is the cause and effect of the knowledge of Jesus, the changing of life's perspective through the credibility built upon a trust relationship with God through Jesus Christ, His Son. "But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord." ... and it was whispered as if a mystery or having mystical consequence 'they have been with Jesus." There is no 'OR'; the 'it' of faith is relationship, communing, friendship, intimacy and through that the 'beholding', the changing "from character to character"; the reflecting

But with mild radiance every hour
From our dear Savior’s face benign
Bent on us with transforming power,
Till we, too, faintly shine.
Sprinkled with His atoning blood
Safely before our God we stand,
As on the rock the prophet stood,
Beneath His shadowing hand."
and growing.
"Do not interrupt the flight of your soul; do not distress what is best in you; do not enfeeble your spirit with half wishes and half thoughts. Ask yourself and keep on asking until you find the answer, for one may have known something many times, acknowledged it; one may have willed something many times, attempted it--and yet, only the deep inner motion, only the heart's indescribable emotion, only that will convince you that what you have acknowledged belongs to you, that no power can take it from you--for only the truth that builds up is truth for you."
That truth, that growth, means being able to make and take moral responsibility and accountability for life's choices; it means in acknowledging Jesus as Savoiur the shaping of one's own character, values, inclinations, and personal identity is the responsibilty of and is dependant upon His authority and sovereignty; it means being willing to take active control of one's life by honouring promises, commitments, friendships and marriage, and striving to become a better human being through taking an active role in shaping of oneself and one's manner of life. This is not a passive existence.
'whom having not seen you love'

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Needs,Wants and Faith

Christians come to their faith with a host of needs, needs for stress-relief, better parenting skills, business strategies, and sex advice.

Some Christians approach their faith as need-satisfaction. I need and God steps in—via some Christian product—to satisfy that need. This is consumerism, but it is more psychological than economic. In the end, God satisfies me, fills me, supports me, completes me, guides me, encourages me, and fulfills me. This is how many Christians envision their faith, God as a uber (super, mega)-product, the Divine Snake Oil.

Where does this neediness come from? Freud had the answer when he noted that to exist as a human is to exist as a neurotic animal; to exist existentially, with fears, doubts and questions; to be human is to be neurotic. If we were not neurotic we’d be living without an internalized conscience. To have a conscious awareness is to be human, which means we live neurotically, we feel shame, guilt, and remorse. We obsess with how people feel about us and if our breath smells bad. We check our hair in the mirror and wonder if we are living up to our potential. We evaluate and castigate; we fret and bet; we sell our shame to buy our fame, exchanging who we are and can be for a perception of who we want or wish to be by use of our purchasing power; we try to take the humiliation out of humanity; and all this is just pride, disguised.

As Christians enjoy more of our leisure time we begin to think, and as we think we grow progressively neurotic, obsessing over our sex-life, our home decor, our socio-economic status, our parenting skills, the intelligence of our children, and, most ominously, our "relationship with God.” As a consequence, neurotic Christians seek solace in a faith aimed at the managing of our neurotic obsessions and compulsions. Shopping, consumerism, the expectation of product satisfaction, needs- vs. want-based purchasing, the best bang for my buck mentality, has crept into the church and is being exposed as just a way to fill time and soothe oneself. The church becomes a crutch that is gilded and its value is esteemed by the carat content.

A missional church understands all of its life, focus and vision as mission and subsequently, possibly idealistically, congregations practice simplicity in the name of Jesus, they resist the spiritual power of consumerism that dominates our culture. Simplicity is defined by many thoughts; unmixed, consisting of few parts, freedom from cunning or duplicity, freedom from artificial ornament, pretentious style or luxury, clearness in explanation and demonstration (I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time, Blaise Pascal), purity and clarity. There is no OR in Christianity.

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away." — Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Matthew 8:20, "...and Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head."

The seeking after prominence; the desire for worldly possessions, material assets (your career belongs to Him He owns your family, your home, your car, your ability with numbers, your grasp of complex concepts, your ease with people, your eye for design, it is all His, and He calls you to use it all, not in a self-serving way but in a God-serving way, toward the fulfillment of His purposes); the transient notions, fads and fallacies of this current culture capturing the hearts of Christians (William Law talks about "the expulsive power of a new affection", the adventure for which we have been made, that something-bigger-than-ourselves for which we have longed all our lives); the improper motivations of faith-based living (what matters to God is what you do with what you have and His measuring stick is this: recognizing that what you have does not belong to you in the first place, but to God); the delaying of action, the failure to promise and fulfill in order to attend to the pressing needs of life (many things consume us: stock prices, sports stats, IQ scores, our latest relationship, our newest job, our most difficult teen, our most ailing parent); and the other loves affecting devotion and the 'do unto...as you would have...' are the things which possess our focus and create the many compulsive behaviors which Jesus is addressing in this passage of Scripture.

Christians are approaching their faith to meet psychological needs. What kinds of needs? The needs are mainly neurotic, distress that is largely self-inflicted from rumination, introspection, self-consciousness, worry, social comparison, and idiosyncratic obsessions or compulsions. The Bible, most current Christian literature (loosely defined use of this word in this context) and popular Christian teaching is focused on giving a neurotic person the confidence, energy, and self-esteem to decisively step out of low self-esteem, lack of confidence, self-defeatism, and emotional rumination.

Being neurotic meaning, unhappy, suffering from low self-esteem, carrying emotional baggage, listening to negative self-talk, feeling confused, experiencing a sense of mental depression, or feelings of underachievement are all symptoms and conditions requiring some level of therapy. The Christian approach seems to be currently focusing on faith as that therapy. (In my estimation a new and improved version of the prosperity Gospel) Therapy is a fine thing, but there are consequences for this focus on faith as therapy. Marketing Christianity as a therapeutic culture creates a dilemma. A therapeutic environment has tendencies to be ego-centric and faith in that setting reduces the cross of Christ to a feel-good, psycho therapeutic intervention (Jesus Loves Me!, 1 Cross + 3 Nails = 4 Given, and the parable of Jesus' footprints).

There does exist great therapeutic value to every aspect of the Gospel, however, the problem lies in the incarcerating effect, the consumer-driven mind-set, the marketing and media presentation of faith that only addresses need and is unable to move beyond that point to instituting change. We are stuck as a church applying salves and ointments but never healing, always dealing with scabs and sores but never closing up the wounds. People come to church broken and wish to stay broken and when challenged to discipleship, when challenged to comfort others as they have been comforted, when encouraged to pass on the story of their victory, we find ... What?

The anxieties, fears, existential phobias, coping and defense mechanisms and the human condition in general are part of the "...contemporary man and [he] is blind to the fact that, with all his rationality and efficiency, he is possessed by "powers" that are beyond his control. His gods and demons have not disappeared at all; they have merely got new names. They keep him on the run with restlessness, vague apprehensions, psychological complications, an insatiable need for pills, alcohol, tobacco, food, [religion]– and, above all, a large array of neuroses. (Jung, 1964:82).

Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.
He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending; and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

"Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light."

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Benefit of Affliction

I struggle with the concept that there are 'benefits in affliction', if the affliction becomes the point of reference for all the miseries of life and the person or persons become incarcerated to a mind-set of doom and martyrdom and can never remove the shackles of despair for any sense of the promise for the future and any blessing that can be procured.

The phrase borrowed from Romans 8:28, "...all things work for good' has become a platitude that exists as a reference to some vague notion that there are 'benefits to affliction' which 'somehow' have as a result a good which brings the Christian or anyone experiencing misfortune to a higher state of spirituality or to a greater depth of love for God, a result of suffering which is deemed to bring about a definite, calculable and necessary outcome.

The problem lies with the fact that God sanctions suffering and raises both the issue of the pain as a problem, that of being an innocent victim of seemingly arbitrary acts of sovereign cruelty; and the hope as a solution which is without immediate recourse, prompt reward or has limitations of access to the salve and ointment which cures and heals: the problem is because God sanctions our suffering; the hope is because God sovereignly sanctions our suffering.

Job 2:10 But he said to her, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?" In all this Job did not sin with his lips.
Isaiah 45:7 I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things.'
Eccles. 7:13 Consider the work of God; For who can make straight what He has made crooked?
Amos 3:6 If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid? If there is calamity in a city, will not the Lord have done it?
2 Cor. 12:7 And lest I should be exalted above measure by the abundance of the revelations, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I be exalted above measure.

All these verses speak of the sovereign will of God, something that can not be disputed. The sovereignty of God is absolute, infinite, existing regardless, rightfully possessed and secure. It is a surety that God's will will be done.

1 Chron. 29:11, "Yours, O Lord, is the greatness,The power and the glory,The victory and the majesty; For all that is in heaven and in earth is Yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head over all.

Psalm 22:28, "For the kingdom is the Lord's, and He rules over the nations.
Psalm 115:3, "But our God is in heaven; He does whatever He pleases.
Daniel 4:35, "All the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing; He does according to His will in the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth. No one can restrain His hand or say to Him, "What have You done?"

There must exist an expression that acknowledges that God is God! Not a God, but the God, the only God, the supreme, inexpressible, awe-inspiring, omnipotent God.

God's sovereignty allows Him to exercise His authority and power according to His purpose; it allows Him to delegate the use of His power and authority: Deut. 8:18, "...and you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth,..."; it allows him to execute justice; it allows him to show mercy: Romans 9:15,"For He says to Moses, "I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion."; and God's sovereignty expresses His love. If God's love and sovereignty were not inexplicably united, then God would become bound by a law of love which would rule His actions and compel Him to exercise His power and authority in a manner declared by a cause and effect equation totally denying Him His place as the Governor of the Universe. Grace would become a mute point of salvation, faith and hope would cease to be motivational points of reference for the doings of God or the actions of man, and life would be an existence without any concept of love; for it is love which is the true gift: John 3:27, "A man can receive nothing unless it has been given to him from heaven." and it would not be free.

Job in his pain and suffering was able to express the depth and wonder of his faith, hope and love with these words in Job 13:15, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him."

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Life is Difficult

"Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult-once we truly understand it and accept it-then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters."

"Failure is a part of life. When we embrace that truth, we transcend it. Once we accept the fact that failure happens then we can courageously face failure because we know it can't be completely avoided."

“Though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again” (Proverbs 24:16).

In the languages of the Bible the words that most nearly approximate the concept of success are ones that mean “blessed.” In Hebrew the word is barak (benediction; to kneel; by implication prosperity :- blessing;-supremely blest; by extension fortunate, well off :- blessed, happy) in Greek the work is makarios (attribution of good fortune :- blessedness.). Both convey ideas of success, prosperity, happiness and enviably abundant life.

Romans 8:28, "...and we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose." This is a well-known and often misquoted verse used to promote the value of Christian living and the subsequent benefits; as well as falsely placating the grief and sorrow arising from traumatic events that occur to all regardless of religious affiliations. Its key phrase "to those who love God (love the Lord)" are left out of the quotation by the world at large. This would seemingly affect the interpretation of the passage, however I see the absence of the phrase only makes it for Christians, in light of traumatic events, more palatable in defining a theology incorporating the 'blessed' life embodied in following Jesus. In other words believing the blessings to follow far outweigh the tribulation of the present time. The absence or presence of the phrase merely placates the obvious retorts to the Prosperity essence of the thought propounded by advocates of a 'blessed life' because of our status as Christians. It follows then that in whatever troubles, or afflictions, or persecutions that arise, God presses them into service; and they make a part of the general working, and are caused to contribute to the general good of the person who now loves God, and who is working by faith and love under the influence and operation of the Holy Spirit. It is rather tidy to believe this and I am in no way, shape or form denying the existence of this as the truth of our relationship with God or His purposes being worked out in life for our real welfare; for the promotion of true piety, peace, and happiness in our hearts. In adversity, affliction, persecution, trials there is contribution to the perfection of the saint and God is part and parcel of the continuing life experience in and through all situations.


The emphasis always seems to be that the 'good' in measure outweighs the 'bad'. It seems the emphasis is placed on the value of the 'bad' in relation to the 'good' and 'good' is assured the win in the contest. I do not believe this is a practical nor sensitive way of applying this verse to people experiencing pain and misfortune either without or within the church community. The application of the verse in most situations implies a band-aid solution for an amputation. It offends in that it places a burden of guilt for a failure to exercise faith and hope and rest in God's love and estimate the reality of grief and sorrow and loss being experienced which reflects the true sense of the feeling of the individual. The application fails to equate personal experience with the pains of the journey.

What is to be gained by the process of the experience is not a 'given'; it is not a 'gift' bestowed; it is a work, dirty, dusty, messy; a progression; a movement from - to; and this must be taught and learned, it cannot be received via osmosis, it is to be appropriated with struggle and failure. The personal struggles and those of the world are with the aspect of a God who makes "all things work together" in our lives "for good"; ultimate good, by allowing, which implies a leaving of the Christian to experience the just deserts of cause and effect; and the obvious blind eye which is turned to the presence of evil in the world and the powers which are possessed by evil and used to thwart and control the people of the world to a purpose deigned to achieve its ultimate destruction and under whose authority, in whose realm, we live.

The application of the verse does well with regard to maintaining a compliant contentment with the sovereignty, omniscience and glorification of God, assuring tranquility, peace, grace, an unyielding to any sense of vengeance or justice; gratitude and humility in light of our condition as ill-deserving sinners of Christ's redemptive work; and an acceptance and understanding of the eternal concepts of 'the Lord as my Helper'; the assurance of God's promise to "...never leave thee nor forsake thee", more appropriately rendered "I will never, no, never leave thee, nor ever forsake thee." and the trust in the providence of God.

My will be swallowed up in Thee;
Light in Thy light still may I see
In Thine unclouded face.
Called the full strength of trust to prove.

"Can you, will you, endure the tests, the trials, that alone can prove the full strength of trust? The lightest of weight tests the strength of a child or the aged and infirm but heavier and heavier weights alone test the full strength of a man. Will you, can you, bear patiently, without murmuring or complaining, the trials to come, which alone can prove the full strength of your trust and train it for larger service and greater trials?" The Christian life is not casual it is causal. There is a specific cause of every effect and quite possibly no other. If a particular effect is to be attained then a specific and corresponding cause must be set in motion. All nature groans in protest against an absurdity that expects to secure an effect without the employment of an appropriate cause. "Do men gather grapes of thorns or figs of thistles?" The answer lies in the Matthew 11:29, "Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls." The answer is we must learn. We must learn in humility of spirit realizing that the circumstances that befall us are not things from which we can avoid or fly from, but those things that must unfold so that in learning of our predicament, that place where we are able to be taught, consoled,etc., we can discern the path and make the decisions, in essence become literate of the will of God and His purpose and accept that His love contravenes all the purposes served by others and the evil that exists in this world.

The ultimate danger in the use of this verse in the context of appeasing the question of pain; in placating the wounds of life; in esteeming hope and faith in God sovereign, merciful; lies in the fact that we languidly (without force or effort), lustily(an appetite satisfied with milk yet without full knowledge desiring to express meat) and thoughtlessly (careless, inconsiderate, inattentive) profess a faith we do not possess, a love and devotion which our whole life falsifies, a joy which lacks radiance and light, and which the eye contradicts.

To borrow a concept from Blue Like Jazz, I apologize for my own and those who have acted like myself, for actions, words and deeds which have falsely portrayed an understanding of pain, sorrow, affliction; I apologize for having tried to placate or assuage fear or grief with an expression of remorse for your situation of which I have no knowledge; I apologize that in my lack of compassion I did not even show-up; I acknowledge that I have failed as a Christian to be a source of God's love; and I vow to acknowledge that I do not have the answers. What I do ask is for your forgiveness; for permission to stand with you, to hold you when you cry, to comfort you, to show up,...

"Say not my soul, ‘From whence can God relieve my care?
Remember that Omnipotence has servants everywhere.
His method is sublime, His heart profoundly kind,
God never is before His time, and never is behind.’"