Thursday, May 25, 2017

What Love Is (1 John 4:7-10)

As followers of Jesus, we are commanded repeatedly in the New Testament to love one another. (Just in this passage we get the exhortation multiple times: 4:7,8,11,16,19,21; 5:1.) Unlike becoming a follower—which we are incapable of doing anything to facilitate—being a follower is characterized by what we do. Being a follower of Jesus means that we are loving towards others.

So, what does that look like? How can we know if we are behaving in a way that would characterize us as true children of God? To know that we must first know what love is.

This is actually a huge problem for us. We have so many distinct understandings and ideas of what love is, that we can come up with a lot of different ways to be “Christian.” Some of them have so pervaded our culture that people have decided that we can live with the “benefits” of Christianity without having to believe in God or Jesus at all.

How does the world define love?

Most see it as a feeling. It comes and goes like a mood or a craving. It is hardly the sort of thing upon which to base anything substantial. But it is certainly a positive feeling. These people would argue for a Christianity where people simply remain positive and nice. It is the religion of politeness. This may seem like an other-centered idea of love, but it is really just about self, love as feeling is all about how the world treats me. I feel good when things are good. My goal in life is to be nice because I want the world to be nice. It is the most vacuous understanding of the Golden Rule. This is not the love that the Bible shows us.

Others—and this may be the majority position on the matter—see love as being all about sex. The warm-fuzzy feeling induced by a biological imperative to propagate the species. Or, in today’s culture, we can even drop any thought of reproduction. It is all about brain chemistry and there are any number of things that can trigger our pleasure centers. It is hard to imagine basing any form of Christianity on this base-level understanding of love. Only creepy-cultists and criminal-priests would try to build a theology here.

Higher minded people look to the sacrificial love of a parent or a soldier. And they come closer to the biblical idea of love, but again they fall short. Humanity can fathom sacrificing oneself for a child or a home-land. But this is still tangentially based on a cult of self.

The biblical concept of love is actually foreign to us. All of these other ideas may point in some way towards the concept, but they all fall hopelessly short. John tells us here that God IS love, so to begin with we are dealing with something beyond our created reality. But, God is knowable because He has revealed Himself to His creation. So, love is also something we can know, as we come to know God.

And the best picture of love ever put on display is presented here as the definition: Christ on the cross. God sending His only Son to die for people who had declared Him to be their enemy; people who had rejected and hated Him. The Gospel is our best example of love. It is the love that we aim for in our lives as we interact with other. It is John’s best test for authenticity in the follower of Christ. If we claim to know God, we will know Him as He showed Himself in the Gospel. If we claim to know God we will live our lives as examples of God’s love.

So, Christianity based on the Biblical idea of love is one where people no longer live for themselves. They don’t even live and love their own, the people of their family and community. True followers of Jesus live loving sacrificially towards everyone; even their enemies.

How is that even possible? Keep reading…

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

"Rogue One" (2016)

When I finally get around to making my 2016 list in film, “Rogue One” is pretty much guaranteed a spot on the most disappointing list. When we heard that we were getting more stories in the Star Wars saga, most people likely had a response that was a mixture of excitement and apprehension. Star Wars has given us some of the best and the worst stories in recent decades. The continuation of the main Saga has been acceptable so far. (But I reserve the right to hate it if things go the way they appear to be going.) But this “Star Wars Story” is quite the opposite case. It is a waste of everyone’s time.

First off, it is a story that didn’t need to be told. It was completely contained in the opening scrawl to the first Star Wars. There is no mystery as to what is going to happen. We know the outcome. We know that almost no one of significance from this story will ever be seen again, so we know their outcomes. And, there is no real mystery as to how the story went down.

Therein lies the second, bigger, problem. If there ever were people pondering how the events of the prologue to “A New Hope” occurred, “Rogue One” offers no good answers. All we get here are bad ideas that threaten to ruin the stories we do care about. The most important being: why did this story have to happen in the first place? When the message gets snuck out of the Empire and into the hands of the Rebellion, everyone is surely asking themselves: “Why didn’t the plans get snuck out too?” And, once we see the size of the plans, we find no plausible reason for them not to have been delivered up front.

And, much like the ill-conceived prequels, this movie only serves to further ruin a villain who used to be the epitome of cool-but-creepy. Only here, instead of making Vader a pathetic, whiney, brat, it has him so agile and mobile, we find ourselves wondering how he can become so stiff and slow what amounts to a few minutes later.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Stranger than Fiction

I enjoy conspiracy theories as an entertaining fiction. It is fun to imagine crazy realities, partly because such outlandish ideas are non-threatening in their unlikelihood. (Sort of how monster movies are fun but serial killer movies are too realistic to be simply entertaining.)

The best argument against every major conspiracy theory is their supposed secrecy. If the government had indeed staged the moon landings, for example, evidence would exist. There would be too many people involved for proof to not have been exposed. Instead, most conspiracy theories argue that a lack of proof is their best evidence. That is silly.

Take, for instance, the idea that aliens have visited our planet and that the government knows about it. This (silly but fun) theory tells us that every president, after they are sworn into office, are shown the proof of the alien threat. That theory would have us believe that there is an entire cabal of people who know about this “truth” and yet it has never gotten out.

If you believed that idea up until now, you would have to admit that it is officially hogwash. Trump would have been told about the aliens and it is not in him to keep such a secret to himself. If the aliens have come, the presidents are not hearing about it!

Trump himself has been the subject of a lot of outlandish ideas. He was just running to help Hillary. (That was wrong!) He didn’t really want the job, and was just in it to win and would turn the actual governing over to underlings. (Also, sadly, a thought that ended up not playing out.)

Instead, reality is proving to be stranger than fiction. Every day that goes by we experience a man who, through incompetence, ignorance, or delusional thinking, digs deeper and deeper into crazy scenarios. No self-respecting conspiracy theorist would try to float the things that have actually happened!

Our conspiracy minded friends are likely all a tizzy with ideas of what will come next. If there is a powerful Illuminati behind the scenes controlling everything it won’t allow such incompetence and ignorance to continue. Fortunately, or unfortunately, there isn’t.

If it weren’t so consequential, it would be entertaining. Oh, who are we kidding? It is entertaining! Isn’t that what we want now? This is what you get when a culture decides that reality TV is preferred over intelligent, character-driven, plot-with-a-message stories. Who wants a smart, beneficial-for-the-people, government when you can have a narcissistic, paranoid-delusional, center-of-the-universe, teen-ager running things?

Friday, May 5, 2017

Death (Genesis 23)

To my mind this is a strange inclusion in the text. Why is chapter 23 even recorded?

Well, for one thing we need to give some thought as to why it is not there. Some commenters try to tie this chapter into Paul’s allegory of the Child of the Promise and the Child of Slavery. (I didn’t say they were good commenters.) They say that we see in the death of Sarah, the passing of Israel. You should never allegorize Scripture. Only Scripture can break that rule, and when it does, it does not give us license to expand such allegories.

Instead, we see an important reminder. The Bible is the story of God’s intervention in history to bring about the reconciliation of fallen creation. Genesis shows us the beginnings of this plan. But this is a long game God is playing. When He chooses Abraham to bless all of creation and to be the forefather of the Messiah, He is going to wrap things up in a few years. Death is still an emanant threat. It is still an ever-present enemy and reminder of our rebellion. We continue to struggle against sin and death—and lose—for millennia. Even after Christ is victorious over sin and death, God still plays out His salvation plan. People continue to live and die, but just as we saw an aspect of grace in Genesis 3, we still see creation continue, God giving more time for more people to find their way back to Him.

Also, there is something here about being a sojourner in this fallen world with God. We do not have—or need—a home here in this fallen world. We are just “passing through.” And yet we do come “to rest” in death and await God’s ultimate restoration there.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Ten Years

It is hard to wrap my head around the fact that it was ten years ago yesterday that I started writing here. In that time I have written 2465 posts; probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 750,000 words. What started as a discipline has developed into a habit and, hopefully, a skill. I plan to continue to use this space much as before, but in a less disciplined way. It is time to channel this more and more into other areas as well…
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