Sunday, March 31, 2013

Of Fact and Fiction

     I read a lot of books. I love to read. I'll read most any kind of book, fiction or non fiction. I enjoy history, biography, science, Christian living and even bible study books. However, nothing, and I mean nothing beats a good story. I have always enjoyed amazing tales of fantasy and legend. I can long remember reading the book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne as a kid and being enthralled by the fantastic story of Captain Nemo and his reluctant guests.
     I think most people love a good story, whether it is true or not. I think people even more heartily enjoy a story with a happy ending. This may be the reason the Gospel story resonates with so many people, even those who do not accept it as true. Most people can get behind the idea that Christ was, "a great moral teacher", but struggle with the common element of the miraculous in the biblical narrative. Even people who might agree that there is, indeed, a God, view stories of miracles with some skepticism.
     We are able to read and hear stories that obviously defy reason and enjoy them. More than that, we can't get enough. It seems that the impossible to believe somehow draws us like a moth to a flame. We read these works of fiction and lap up every detail of the story eagerly hoping for the protagonist's ultimate victory, even in the face of incredible odds. If we may readily consume the works of Steven King without hesitation, why do we doubt the veracity of the Bible and it's contents? Could it be that even we, as Christians, struggle to separate the Scripture from the realm of fanciful story? We have nearly lost the sense of the miraculous, simply putting it away as a childish fancy not to be taken seriously.
     I think there is more to this sensation of joy at the fantastic than meets the eye. I think God has put within every human being a sense of the transcendent. I think He has placed within us a natural affinity for the "supernatural". That is why these sensational tales of romance and adventure grab our fullest attention so easily.  Escaping to a world of fantasy only makes us yearn for a reality that does  not exist. We pretend and dream. Then we grow up.
     As adults we use drugs, alcohol, television, and more complex yarns of fiction to lull ourselves into another world, knowing all the time that it can't be real. Yet, we wish it were. In these things we do and read and watch, we find the briefest escape and filling of that internal lack that burns through us. Many of us don't even recognize that yearning for what it is. We are too practical and adult for such a feeling. However, some of us have still retained a bit of the inner child that seeks that fantastic story and believe it must be true in some odd way.
     Then we read the Gospel of Christ. We are immediately drawn into another story wherein we read of miracles and almost cryptic sounding teaching we cannot get enough of. It resonates within us and we know that there really is more to this story than meets the eye. But we have convinced ourselves that such things cannot happen and dismiss them as fantasy and imagination. Why the feeling then? Why the sense that there is more to things than meets the eye? As Chesterton once commented, we are not really adults until we are childish enough to believe in fairy tales. I think this is a truth of God's Word. We read much of the Bible in "mature" disbelief. However, is that because we have taught ourselves to disbelieve or because the thing is untrue? I think that is the largest truth of the Gospel. It is so incredible that it must be either the Truth or the height of madness.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Gloom, Despair, and Agony.....

     When I was a kid my dad would often watch reruns of the old music and variety show HeeHaw. At the time I really didn't like the show much except for the occasional joke I found funny. Now, I watch the show and really enjoy most of the music and am better able to appreciate the show's humor and style. If you've never seen HeeHaw, there is a part during the show in which some of the cast members sing a song called, "Gloom, Despair, and Agony On Me". It's hysterically funny, but is also a good example of how we sometimes feel as human beings. It seems our days are filled on this earth with much suffering, both great and small, and if we are not ourselves going through a major personal tragedy, someone we know is.
     However, by and large, we seem to have lost touch with the sufferings and trials of our fellow beings. Now, I think there are great many reasons for this lack of compassion and feeling. In fact, I have touched on some of those reasons in a previous post. Also, though, in the church, there seems to be a sense of self-righteousness. We seem to have the impression that since we have the Truth, that we are just a bit better than the average "sinner". We tend to speak unkindly about homosexuals, fornicators, drunks, and the like. Certainly we are not to condone or support this type of behavior, but neither are we to use harsh and hate-filled language to condemn those that practice such things. Dr. David Gibbs of the Christian Law Association once said it this way, "God never calls us to be a critic". I agree with Dr. Gibbs. We very often find ourselves not separating the sin from the sinner, and particularly in the case of homosexuality this is a grave error. As Believers we must let people know that we do not identify people with their wrongness and sinfulness. Certainly we should not support sinful behavior or lifestyles, but we can compassionately address these things in a way that does not drive people away from the Gospel message. Love rather than Judgement is the Revelation we are given in Christ. Many are desperately seeking something to assuage the longing that life has left them with but they look in vain for answers that Believers often fail to both give and live.
    I read once, in a place I really cannot recall, that one in three Americans is being treated for depression. That is a fascinating piece of commentary for a nation that is widely considered to be the most prosperous in the world. In the midst of this material prosperity we have filled our homes with belongings and filled our hours with entertainment.  We spend our hours in the midst of noise and activity in a vain effort to crowd out the emptiness that has crept into our souls. Why has this prosperity so sapped the satisfaction and real happiness from the lives of so many?
     In Christopher Nolan's film The Dark Knight Rises, Batman is faced with arch enemy Bane for a brutal fight. After a brief flurry of punches by the "Caped Crusader" that do not connect, Bane is heard to say, "Peace has cost you your strength. Victory has defeated you!".  This could well be the commentary that could describe the culture in the West now. A high standard of living, abundant educational opportunities, and increased free time have made us complacent spiritually. We live in a time of unrivaled freedom of expression and thought in the Western world. We can, for the most part, share our faith and ideas openly and without fear.  However, the Christian church did not always enjoy this freedom and ease. For hundreds of years, all over the globe, those that named Christ were beaten, tortured, and slain. In the New Testament one of the words translated as "witness" is martyre┼Ź. This is the Greek word from which martyr is derived. So, in the early church the very concept of becoming a Christian carried with it the idea that you would very likely die for your faith. It was in that climate that the church flourished and came to influence so much of Western society.
     However, in this current cultural climate of freedom of expression and mild-to-nonexistent persecution the church has begun to try to be "culturally relevant". It has taken its message and truncated it into an entertaining, "feel-good" Gospel that all can be easily swallowed and requires very little change on the part of the average pew-sitter. We have begun to turn church into an emotional experience, and the message of the Gospel suffers from this approach to evangelism, as does its effectiveness. We speak harshly about people's sin and error but show much grace and latitude with our own. Our youth have begun to gather at churches expecting fun and entertainment, and they find it. Though, this entertainment driven Gospel does very little to insulate them from the vicious onslaught of secularism and intellectual skepticism they will face during their college years. That kind of Gospel will not survive tough questions and does not prepare people to face skeptical co-workers, or friends. We have so long measured success in the body of Christ by numbers-in-attendance that we have stopped fighting for the Truth, peace, grace, or humility. Peace, has indeed, cost us our strength.
     In many parts of the world persecution rages and literally millions of people have come to Christ in spite of this. Is that what it will take in the West? Will renewed persecution be the tool that God allows to "separate the wheat from the chaff"? I heard somewhere, once, that we are always only a single generation away from persecution in the Western world. Is that what it will take to shake the church from this current lackadaisical attitude? I pray that we, as the Body of Christ will begin being more like the one we claim to represent and worship. I pray that our lives and conversation will begin to generate more light that heat and that we will leave self-righteousness behind and allow Christ to shine in us. That is the way forward into the light and out of the gloom, despair, and agony of the darkness that has crept in on us.

May God bless and keep you.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Reasoning Relationships

     I have been thinking alot about relationships in my life recently.Family relationships, the relationship with my wife, and even friendly associations. Our lives are made up of relationships, whether long term or only for the briefest periods. In many ways relationships define us as human beings. Certainly animals have relationships to some degree, but not to the complex and powerful degree of human relationships.
     There is something mysterious, to my mind, about relationship with our fellow beings. These connections between people are powerful and life-changing. Many times in my life have I heard the old adage, "You are known by the company you keep" and I have, many times, given out that same advice. There is truth to that proverb. The people and relationships in our lives are capable of molding us and shaping our thoughts, opinions, and feelings. Really, our very worldview is strongly influenced by the people we choose to associate with and relate to.
     I think this is why I find the Gospel of Jesus Christ to be such a tremendous mystery and such a marvelous revelation all at once. You see, in the bible, God is not asking us to believe the far fetched tales of an ancient tome about miracles and unseen beings. If miracles and fables are all we see in scripture than we aren't paying attention. No, God is asking us to have a relationship with Him. The whole of Scripture points to God's ultimate desire to have relationship with His broken creation and it is that relationship that baffles me most of all.
     As I sat last night pondering these things it broke upon me what an amazing thing it really is to have relationship with God. Certainly, the bible calls God, "the King of kings", but what an insignificant title to ascribe to the one who breathed this vast creation into existence. To be the King of all earthly kings is a small thing, really, when compared to that. We sit here on this spinning, blue marble in the vastness of a cold universe and the Creator of it all wants a relationship with us. I think that John Piper points this out best of all in his book, God is the Gospel. In this book Piper does a fantastic job of showing that relationship with God is the ultimate good of the Gospel. So, all that Christ did was in order so that we might see our way back to a joyous reunion with our Creator. This is something that separates Christianity from all other worldviews.
     I know of no other religion wherein one might have a relationship with God the way we do in the Christian faith. I understand that in Islam, believers are Allah's servants and can merely hope to attain paradise. In Hinduism, many gods are obeyed but none relationally. In Buddhism the truth lies within and we must quiet our desires and cravings to reach enlightenment. There are no relationships here only service to a creator or a principle. Only in Christianity can we have a loving mutual relationship with our Creator. This relationship is, among other things, what sets the Christian worldview apart from other faiths.
     In fact relationship is part of God's very essence and being. Our God is triune, meaning that He consists of three persons in one Godhead. The trinitarian God of the bible consists of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. One Being, three Persons. Not multiple Gods, just One. In the same way that a man and wife become one on their wedding day, the same is true for God's being; Three in One. This is how the Believer can express to the skeptic, the idea that God is love. In other worldviews a god created so that it could have an object for its love. In Christianity God is love. God can be love because love is expressed among the persons of the Trinity. Among the three persons of the Trinity one can see unity, community, and diversity. Just like the church itself.
     In recent days I have wondered at the many denominations that exist, and why so many Christians seem insensitive to their fellow human beings. (My wife says that I sometimes think too much. She may well be right.) I have concluded that the Trinity is an apt illustration for the Christian church because within the church there is unity around Christ, there is a diversity of opinion on certain doctrines, and a community of Believers that should stand with one another as one to lead the world to relationship with Jesus Christ. One purpose and center, yet with a self-contained diversity. Though, Believers have fallen into the Western world's culture trap of objectifying our fellow human beings.
     We consume pornography at an alarming rate, violent movies are normal fare in theaters, and broken homes have become an all too common thing. All of this is due to objectifying our fellow person and making them less than a creation in God's image. Men in our culture are encouraged to view women as sexual objects to be consumed and forgotten. Women feel this pressure and have begun embracing styles and social behaviors that only a short time ago would have been shameful. This open lack of shame and lack of reluctance to view sex and violence openly, or even be appalled by it, is due to our culture burning into us the need to serve ourselves at the cost of others. People have been transformed from beings with whom we should relate and have concern for, to vehicles for the fulfilling of our desires and objects for our entertainment. Is it any wonder we see children gunned down in our schools? Is it any wonder divorce is common,when relationships are given up on as soon as our partner stops thrilling us? Sexuality has moved from sacredness to a place of depraved consumption. People have begun to be viewed as objects for destruction or, at least open ridicule and scorn, when they stand in the way of our desire or convenience, or opinion. Movies are filled with the kind of thoughtless violence that we see spilling into our schools and streets. The cure for this is meaningful relationship.
     A restoration of relation is the only thing that can save us from this sad predicament.We need to begin to separate ourselves from the false reality that the movie screen and the social networks have put up before us and begin to relate to our fellow beings again on a closer level. We need to see their pain and joy, struggles and victories and not just see them, but feel them as our own and seek another's best in the same way we seek our own. That is the nature of relationship. And it is the nature of relationship with God. He wants us to see ourselves as He sees us; to live by His standards. Not so that He can limit our experiences, but so that, in Him and with Him, every experience may be novelty and we may finally assuage that burning desire within us all: the desire for that love, acceptance, and satisfaction that only comes through relationship with Jesus Christ.

May God bless and keep you.