Thursday, June 22, 2017

Non Tacet Consentire

This year has been a bad one for my disciplined writing habit. It could simply be a case of burn-out after ten years, but that is not a good excuse. The whole point of maintaining a discipline is to do something despite feelings, despite inspiration.

There is also the fact that I have been incredibly busy with work the past six months. Also, not a good excuse. In the past ten years, I have noticed that the discipline of posting has had the effect of improving my discipline, organization, and productivity in all other areas of life. Now, to be fair, the sort of activity I have dealt with this year is not what comes most easily to me. When dealing with strictly organizational, logistical challenges I use up a lot more energy than when working strategically.

But the most compelling excuse I can think of is the cultural climate. I tend to think about and write about what I see in the culture. Quite often that ends up being about things that are off, or wrong, or need to be changed. Not just in the culture at large, but also within the church culture.

I was once told by wiser, older, missional figure that those who are sent out serve a secondary function to their sending church culture. They look back with a prophetic, convicting gaze. From the outside, they more easily see the inconsistencies, the errors, and the danger zones that those within often overlook. In the proverbial frog-in-the-boiling-water illustration, they are a frog outside the pot shouting out warnings.

However, today’s cultural climate is a dangerous place to be that sort of voice. One likes to think that followers of Jesus are most interested in truth and most aware of their own fallibility. Christianity is all about heeding wisdom and not being the fool who never hears correction. We don’t hold up examples of Christianity where the culture was guarded above all else. Pharisees, inquisitors, and witch-hunters are not who we want to be. But from time to time that is who dominates the church. The voices who value power and influence above integrity and humility. I hope that is not who we are deciding to become.

But it feels enough like it that one hesitates to say anything critical.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Faith-Testimony-Life (John 5:4-12)

Here John arrives (again) at the last of his qualities of the Children of God. Just as those who walk in the light, the children of God keep the faith. They stick to the truth that they received.

And the truth is that it is simple. John has just said that the commands of Christ are not burdensome. The truth of His story isn’t either. Instead of a long list of philosophical ideas and rules of behavior, “the Faith” here is the simple truth the Jesus Christ is the Son of God. The core of orthodox Christianity is the truth that Jesus is the Messiah. He is fully man and fully God. He is the only way to a restored relationship with God.

There is a bit here that is hard for us to fully explain in our context. Whatever John precisely meant with the water and the blood talk was apparently clear enough to his readers that he didn’t feel the need to expand on this shorthand. But what is clear is that the Gospel of John is a testimony about Jesus that serves as prove to his claims. And, if that is not enough, John reminds us that his story is corroborated and affirmed by the Spirit of God Himself in his ministry of inspiration.

So there is a nice flow here as John describes the fidelity to “the faith” of the Children of God. The faith is attested to by the testimony. The Children of God, in staying true to the teaching they have received, share in that testimony. To trust in the witness is to participate in that witness. We carry the testimony in our own stories with the Gospel. And that testimony is what leads us—as well as those who hear and believe—to life.

Thursday, June 8, 2017

"10 Cloverfield Lane" (2016)

The thing about “10 Cloverfield Lane” that makes it noteworthy is the twist. Not because it is unforeseen; and especially not because it is an otherwise unworthy story. On the contrary… you suspect the twist from early on. And, there is a lot more going on here than a twist ending. But, the twist offers us the most thought-provoking aspect of this movie.

So, before you read on, you might need to familiarize yourself with the story.

What is so fascinating about the story of Michelle being [abducted? saved? spared?] by Howard and being held captive or perhaps being allowed to live in his shelter is that it is both/and story. Yes, Howard is some sort of sadistic kidnapper with evil and selfish intentions. But just because he is bad does not make him a liar. He is right about what is happening in the outside world.

It exposes a flaw in our thinking. We assume people are either bad or good. Howard has to be one or the other. If he is saving Michelle from the end of the world, he must be good. On the other hand, if he is abducting her he must be lying about why he is keeping her prisoner. The truth is that life is messier. It is possible for mostly good people to do bad things. We all of us have something broken in our core. And, unfortunately, it is also usually true that bad, even evil people can be right about a lot of things. Evil does not imply a fundamentally wrong worldview. In fact, the truly evil understand reality and chose to proceed down a wrong path.

So, beware oversimplified judgements!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What Love Demands (1 John 5:1-3)

John draws his discussion of the test of love to a close, as he so often does, with an “if-then” argument. It is a bit of a complex, four-part description of true faith.

The four qualities that are here inextricably a part of true faith are: right belief, right relationship to God, right relationship to others, and obedience to God’s commands. Here is how it works:

If you believe (i.e. trust in the reality that) Jesus is the Messiah, with all the implications that that implies, then you are a child of God.

Coming at it from another direction, if you love God, then you will also love the children of God.

Proof that you love the children of God is the fact that you obey God’s commands.

And, simply put, loving God is obeying His commands.

So, unlike what the picture above may seem to imply, this is not a case of four qualities that can be variously combined to create ever-better expressions of faith. Instead, they are all there or they are not. If you believe you will be. If you are you will love. If you love you will obey. Instead of seeing the picture as a Venn diagram, think of it as a single circle that has been temporarily stretched in four directions at once to show the qualities. As soon as we let go it will snap back together as a single thing—true faith.

When we claim to be a child of God, the Bible tells us that this will inevitably look like this. We will love God, we will love others the way God loves us, and that love will be expressed in a life lived as God wants us to live it. We can’t have an intellectual faith that does not impact the way we live. When we consider all of the laws and commands of God, they all ask us to be more loving. Jesus told us that the entire Biblical Law was summarized in two ideals: to love God and to love each other.

When we see God’s commands that way, we would have to agree that they are, indeed, not burdensome. They will not always be easy, nor simple or cheap. They are certainly something we must improve and grow in as we walk with God. But if we are truly children of God we have His promise that we will experience that growth.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

"12 Years a Slave" (2013)

I recently attended a church event where “12 Years a Slave” was featured. It was probably the perfect setting for seeing such a film. It is not something you would want to watch for entertainment! And, as might be expected, the theme of the evening was a reflection on the freedom we have in Christ. That is one way of looking at things, but I had a few other thoughts.

The story that this film is based on is almost unimaginable. A free man is kidnapped and forced into slavery for over a decade. While that sort of thing still happens even today in parts of the world, the unimaginably evil aspect of this story is the way that it was tolerated by the people and government of the United States—a self-proclaimed Christian society!

The “freedom in Christ” parallel breaks down a bit because the slavery one is freed from is not the bondage of an innocent man wrongly enslaved. We Christians believe we have been set free from a slavery of our own design and choosing. That said, plenty of “Christians” continue to live in a bondage of sorts even after they have heard the message of the Gospel.

My thoughts coming out of the viewing were indeed of the self-examination variety. However, I think the way to approach the film is to see ourselves in ALL the characters. What of myself do I see in the other slaves? How about in the slave owners? The “compassionate” one, the brutal one, or the detached “fair” one? And, while everyone may want to see themselves in the Brad Pitt character (including Pitt, who as a producer cast himself in the role), even there, there is something to learn. Would we have had the courage to stand up to an unjust system protected by the law of the land? Do we?

If I am honest with myself, I see aspects of myself in all he various—even terrible—characters. And THAT is where I begin to appreciate my freedom in Christ. I was a slave to sin. I was a terrible person on my own without God. That is a slavery I never want to fall into again! Even though I still live in a world where such evil is pervasive and accepted—and still affects me from time to time—I am not bound to it. My future is not doomed to its mastery anymore. I am free to do what is right, and I do not have to rely on my own courage or power to resist it.

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