Monday, January 30, 2017

The Gospel Message: Christ Paid for Sin (1 John 2:1,2)

Lest we despair in the third false claim that John rejects, he offers us here too a joyful hope.

In 1:6,7 John contrasted claiming to be a Christian while living in sin with real fellowship as seen in living as God desires.

In 1:8,9 John contrasted the claims of those who said they were good enough for the Christian life with real fellowship as seen in self-awareness and seeking God’s forgiveness.

In 1:10 John said that a denial of guilt was a lie. Now here in the first verses of chapter 2, he reminds us of the Gospel:

For all who do sin, and are aware of that sin, and their need for forgiveness, Jesus is an advocate before God’s judgement. He is their propitiation--which is to say that He has paid the penalty for their sin. The punishment has been delivered and paid, and we can be declared righteous in His righteousness. Jesus offers this to the whole of humanity. All that is asked of us is to trust Him to be our advocate and propitiation. Unfortunately, what we saw in the three false claims John highlighted is that not all will turn to Jesus.

However, that is a theme of 1 John. We share the truth of the Gospel to everyone so that they at least have a chance to accept fellowship with God. In a world of “post-truth” we offer truth. Not judgement; no holier-than-thou condemnation. Not information; no facts that we have simply memorized and know. Simple witness; sharing what we know to be true because we have lived it. Even the accounts of other witnesses like John can be shared with confidence because we have experienced the Word of Life for ourselves.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

The Nature of Fellowship: God is Light, We Must Walk in Light (1 John 1:5-10)

So how does the goal of Christianity—restored fellowship with God—look like?

John starts by reminding us that God is light. Wholly light with no trace of darkness. This is symbolic language. God is not actually light. God created light along with all of the rest of reality. To say God is light refers to His holiness. Holiness itself is a bit symbolic. We think of “Holy” as being “good” or “godly” but that is because God is holy. What the term really means is completely different. God is unlike His creation. And since creation has fallen due to the sin of humanity, creation is separated from God. However, Jesus Christ with His sacrifice on the cross has atoned for that sin so that we might again be in God’s presence and have fellowship with Him.

However, John insists that the light or holiness of God matters. We cannot waltz into a relationship with God unchanged. In Christ we have access, but we must approach God on His terms. John highlights three obstacles to a relationship with God; three false claims people buy into:

Unchanged Lives: “If we claim we have fellowship with God, but walk in darkness…”

Some people think that knowledge is enough to please God. If we simply acknowledge the FACT that Christ died for the sins of the world we will be in a restored relationship. We can go on living in our sins because Christ’s sacrifice has covered them all anyway. That is akin to saying that we are inside a building because we know where the door is. You must enter through the door to get in the building, and you must live a life pleasing to God to be in the Kingdom. Yes, it is Christ’s sacrifice that makes that possible, but it is not enough to know that. We have to walk with Christ and follow His lead.

Merited Grace: “If we claim we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves…”

Other people think that they are followers of Jesus because it comes naturally to them, or they are somehow more open to the truth than others. Some Christians quickly forget (if they ever knew) that they struggle with sin nature. More often than not, these people develop limited lists of what constitutes sin and what doesn’t. So homosexuality is a sin, but gluttony isn’t; robbery is, talking bad about others isn’t. This is the realm of legalists and Pharisees. Instead, John reminds us that we need to live a self-examined life. We need to allow God to convict us where we stray and confess and repent of sins where they pop up. Jesus offers us all the forgiveness we need, but we need to acknowledge our need.

Denial of Guilt: “If we claim that we have not sinned, we make God a liar…”

In John’s day, some people thought that the body was bad and that all goodness in people resided in the spirit. And, since only spirituality was eternal, they didn’t need to worry about sins. Anything done in the body was temporary. Faith and eternal life was intellectual.

(Believe it or not this idea persists to today. Some people think heaven will be a spiritual place in "the clouds." The Bible actually speaks of a new heaven with a new creation, and that things will be as they were in God’s original plan, in the garden. We are both spiritual and physical being and we always will be. Our sin problem is a very real problem.)

Another way this attitude is still with us today is in the denial of guilt. Guilt is seen only as a bad thing. People convince themselves that they should never entertain it. And, while false accusations leading to guilt can cripple us and rob us of the joy of fulfilling God’s plan for our life, guilt as a result of real wrongs is an important warning. When people today try to write sin off as genuine mistakes made by well-meaning people, they are not only making God out to be a liar; they are lying to themselves. We are all guilty and, without the Gospel, that is a terrifyingly real problem!

Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Message of Word of Life (1 John 1:1-4)

We live in a time characterized as being “post-truth.” Germany declared “Postfaktisch” to be the new “word of the year” for 2016. It seems we have arrived where postmodernity has been leading us for the past 100 years. No one has any confidence in reality anymore. Things that are self-evident, or at least very likely and confirmed more and more each day, are openly denied by those who do not wish to accept them.

Just last week, when President Trump was inaugurated, we saw this play out in an almost comical way. Trump’s inauguration crowd was smaller than the crowd that had attended the swearing in of President Obama eight years prior. There was no shame in this. The earlier inauguration had been the historic swearing in of the first black president.

However, Trump, from his vantage point on the dais thought that the crowd was “huge.” (Even though he had not been on the stage in 2009 for comparison.) He sent his spokesman out to claim that his crowd had been the largest crowd ever. Period. Even though the data—the facts—all claimed otherwise. Photos, metro transit numbers, television viewership, was all down from previous years.

In spite of this, Trump supporters polled have claimed that pictures of Trump's crowd show more people than Obama’s. They reject what their eyes tell them to embrace an idea they wish were true.

Something that can complicate this whole post-truth reality we are wrestling with is that not all reality is so simply proven with facts. Sometimes—in cases not so clear-cut as photographs of crowd size—facts must be interpreted.

Do the facts of the fossil record support the theory that natural selection--a process whereby species are preserved--explain the origin of all species through a process of macroevolution? No. Not yet in any case.

Does the data show that global climate is warming? Increasingly this is becoming undeniable. Are we at fault or is it a part of a natural cycle influenced by other factors? That debate rages as people embrace their own selections of data.

And what about faith?

By the very nature of the concept of divinity, we cannot “prove” the existence of a creator who transcends our reality. Therefore, some people think the concepts embraced by religions lie fully in the realm of post-truth. They believe that you can only believe such ideas as opinions; that they lie outside the realm of facts.

That is not entirely true, however. Even if we cannot demonstrate the existence of God or a supernatural dimension to life through science, there are other facts to take into account. What are the claims of a religious belief? Do they maintain an internal consistency? Are they based on real facts? Do they effect real world changes that line up with what they claim to want?

This is the sort of thing 1 John was written to demonstrate. John is writing about truth, about things that he knew and experienced, about things his readers can trust. In 5:13, he states plainly, “I have written to you… in order that you may know…”

Look at the argument he so deftly handles in the first sentence:

“What was from the beginning,”

This can both refer to the eternal nature of the truth of Jesus Christ that he will be writing about—as he had already done in his Gospel—or to the fact that the truth he was about to reinforce was the same truth that had been accepted from the start of Christianity; all the way back to Jesus’ teaching.

“what we have heard,”
“what we have seen with our eyes,”
“what we beheld,”
“and our hands handled,”

This is a barrage of facts. John is reminding us that his truth is something he experienced. He heard Jesus teach. He saw the miracles performed. He observed Jesus and sat at his feet learning his truth. He touched the man who had proven himself to be God by defeating death.

“concerning the Word of Life—”

The content of John’s message is all about real life. Life that transcends the death and contamination and evil that we contend with in this fallen world.

“and the life was manifested, and we have seen and bear witness and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us—”

Once again, we are assured of the reliability of the testimony given here. John experienced and lived with a taste of real life--eternal, transcending life--in the person of Jesus Christ.  A man who was at the same time the Son of God, God himself.

“what we have seen and heard…”

Again, this is not hearsay.

“…we proclaim to you also, that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

John ends this sentence by explaining his motivation for sharing the truth. This is not an exercise in knowing something. This is not an information dump nor an attempt to set people right on their understanding of the world. The goal of sharing the Truth is that people may have a relationship. A restored relationship with their Creator who loves them and wants them to experience Life—life as it was meant to be. A relationship with Jesus, the Son of God who is God but became a man as well, a real man living the life as the Creator intended it to be lived. And that they might have a real relationship with the people of God living in community as God intends.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Homunculus

When a messiah complex
Comes with skin this fragile
It hampers one’s hero delusion

When the thing one craves most is
Confirmation of grandeur
It causes empathic occlusion

When whatever they say is
An alternative truth
Then their world is just an illusion

Add it all up and what do you have?
A tremendous foregone conclusion

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Beware Again of Questions without Answers (Genesis 14)

This is either one of the most fascinating or frustrating chapters in Genesis.

It gives us the only highly detailed account of what was going on in the world at the time of Abram, with names of kings and cities and detailed accounts of battles and subjugations; but at the same time these details have yet to be found outside of Scripture.

It also gives us an account of Abram that expands our understanding of him. We know him as a man of faith willing to take risks, but also a timid man who cowers in front of other powerful men. He is generous, giving his nephew the choice of the land as well. Here, though, we see a man who takes on a powerful alliance of four kingdoms who have taken Lot hostage. And he wins.

If Abram has that capacity for battle, why hasn’t he taken the promised land for himself? He even refuses to take any personal winnings from the battle. He does not want to be indebted to the people in the land. He wants his blessing to be clearly from the Lord. That is likely the point of the story here as well. Abram is in the promised land because God has told him to be there. God has also said He would give the land to Abram’s descendants. Abram knows where success comes from. He is not about to take matter into his own hands. (Or is he? He shouldn’t be, but we are not talking about a perfect man of faith here, stay tuned!)

Finally, we get the most annoyingly interesting character in Scripture: Melchizedek. The King of Salem (Jerusalem) is seen a few times in the story of redemption. But the hints mentioned are the sort that send us—yet again—into a dangerously speculative mood. We have already seen how Genesis prompts all sorts of questions that it has no intention of answering. As frustrating as that is, asking the wrong questions of the text will only lead to problems.

Suffice it to say that Melchizedek reminds us that God is far more active in creation and history that the Bible will ever say. That knowledge is reassuring.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Introductory Context (John's Epistles)

John’s epistles can be tricky to follow. To a casual reader things like “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves,” followed by “I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin,” can be confusing. We need some context.

People who study and compare John’s Gospel with the epistles believe that John’s community of congregations was facing a multifaceted theological challenge. If we realize that the epistles were written to a network of house churches that needed help with their teaching, things become a little easier to understand.

It seems that there were at least four schools of thought in the churches. First there was a group of Jews who embraced Jesus and John’s teaching, but struggled to see Jesus as truly divine. Then there were the Greeks who had a dualistic view of the world and had a hard time believing that Jesus could be flesh and still be good. People who had the correct, paradoxical understanding of Jesus being fully man and fully God were stuck in the middle. Finally, there was a group or groups of people who were leaving the churches to embrace completely deviant teaching.

John’s epistles (and the Gospel) were written in part to address these challenges. This explains why they at times argue against two opposing errors.

Reading 2 John and 3 John (the only books that can truly be called letters) really helps us see this tension. 2 John was written to a congregation exhorting them not to follow the false teachers. 3 John is addressed to a house church leader, encouraging him to stand up to a fellow, misled, leader and to embrace Christians from other fellowships who share sound doctrine.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

The Unique Claims of Christianity (3: The Way)

We find the core of Christianity’s uniqueness in John 14:

“LET NOT YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED. BELIEVE IN GOD; BELIEVE ALSO IN ME. IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE ARE MANY ROOMS. IF IT WERE NOT SO, WOULD I HAVE TOLD YOU THAT I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU? AND IF I GO AND PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU, I WILL COME AGAIN AND WILL TAKE YOU TO MYSELF, THAT WHERE I AM YOU MAY BE ALSO. AND YOU KNOW THE WAY TO WHERE I AM GOING.” THOMAS SAID TO HIM, “LORD, WE DO NOT KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. HOW CAN WE KNOW THE WAY?” JESUS SAID TO HIM, “I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME. 

Jesus makes claims here that He is the only answer to our problem of sin and death. Let’s look at His three claims in reverse order:

The Way 

And in the first place, Jesus claims that He is the way. This is where Christianity is truly unique. Other religions claim to show us the path to God or immortality or enlightenment. Jesus does not. He did not say that He had shown us the way. He says that He IS the way.

Christianity does not look at our hopeless problem with sin and death and tell us the way to work our way out of the problem. Every other religion does this. Their teachings all claim to have a path that we must attempt to follow and that, hopefully, we will arrive at the correct destination. They are all inventions of a man or a woman who had not yet arrived at their destination. They are all the claims of people who have died trying.

Jesus did not do this. Yes, He came and lived the life as we were meant to live it. He had a true relationship with His Father, the Creator of the Universe. However, He never said that the solution to our problem was to imitate Him. He claimed that He was the way. We do not achieve salvation by being as good as Jesus. We are saved by trusting in Jesus.

The Bible tells us that Jesus has already reconnected creation and Creator. He did this by taking the punishment of sin and rebellion upon Himself even though He did not earn that punishment. He died for the sins of the world and then He rose again. He is not offering us a hope of a path, He is offering us immediate restoration; relationship with the Creator. And His teaching is not a collection of theories. His claims are of a done deal. And they are the claims of someone who has conquered death.

Pride: Christians are often accused of being proud in their beliefs. True followers of Jesus can never be proud in their relationship with God. Because the Gospel reminds us all of who we actually are. We are all terrible sinners deserving of death. It is only in the Grace and Love of God that we have been forgiven and restored. And God has that same love and grace for anyone who wants to have it.

True Christianity is unique in that those who follow it can never see themselves as better than anyone else. The most faithful of Christians are the ones who are most aware of their shortcomings and weaknesses. They are most aware of their need for a savior. And they are also the most aware that the “worst” in society are loved by God in the same way as the “best.” There is no room for pride in Christianity. In fact, it is considered the primary sin.

Conclusion:

So, Christianity is exclusive in its claims, but it can and should never be intolerant, arrogant, or prideful. If Christianity ever becomes any of those things it has ceased to be the Christianity that the Bible tells us about.

On the other hand, Christianity is unique amongst all the other systems and cultural means of solving our problem of sin and death.

It does not offer change produced by ethical standards, but rather ethical standards that result from a material change.

It does not propose a theory about the universe and life constructed within the system, but rather a reconnection with truth from the One who created the system.

It does not suggest a path back to God that we must attempt to traverse, but rather a restored relationship with the Creator who has made His way to us.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Unique Claims of Christianity (2: Truth)

We find the core of Christianity’s uniqueness in John 14:

“LET NOT YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED. BELIEVE IN GOD; BELIEVE ALSO IN ME. IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE ARE MANY ROOMS. IF IT WERE NOT SO, WOULD I HAVE TOLD YOU THAT I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU? AND IF I GO AND PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU, I WILL COME AGAIN AND WILL TAKE YOU TO MYSELF, THAT WHERE I AM YOU MAY BE ALSO. AND YOU KNOW THE WAY TO WHERE I AM GOING.” THOMAS SAID TO HIM, “LORD, WE DO NOT KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. HOW CAN WE KNOW THE WAY?” JESUS SAID TO HIM, “I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME. 

Jesus makes claims here that He is the only answer to our problem of sin and death. Let’s look at His three claims in reverse order:

The Truth 

The Bible teaches that truth is not just a collection of facts. Truth is a person. The God and Creator of everything that exists, is outside of the Creation He created. He is the ultimate source of Truth in the universe because He has made this universe. It operates according to rules and laws because it was created by a Creator who has a consistent and true character. And Truth, therefore, is not just the reality we experience in Creation, Truth is the person of God.

When we rebelled against the Creator, we lost our relationship with the Truth. When we sinned and experienced death, that is when we started inventing religions as ways of denying death. We started telling ourselves lies.

The Bible is where Truth has revealed Himself to us. It presents the only system that makes consistent sense of the world that we live in—of the problem we have with sin and death—and that offers us a solution to that problem. Jesus is God. Jesus is Truth embodied in a man. Jesus is our only hope at reconnecting with God. What Jesus offered us was not another in a long line of religious solutions to our problem. He gives us back the relationship that we lost in our rebellion.

Arrogance: Another objection raised against Christianity, or more specifically here in John 14:6, is that it is arrogant. Once again, we sadly do find that a lot of Christians are arrogant. However, it does not have to be that way. Being right and being arrogant are two different things.

I can be right in saying that 2+2=4 without being rude. In the same way, I can point out the problems we have in society due to our rebellion against God without coming across and holier than thou. After all, we are all in the same boat. We all have the same problem of sin and are all dependent on God’s gracious forgiveness to experience the Life that He has for us.

And exclusivity is not arrogance. Truth is truth. It is not something that one group possesses or controls. As Believers, we do not have a monopoly on truth. It exists for all to see who are willing to look. However, truth, by its nature, is exclusive. Saying 2+2=4 is not an arrogance over someone who wants it to be 5. It is 4 and not 5, not because someone decides for it to be, but because it is simply so.

To say that Christianity is arrogant because it believes its truth over others’ is silly. All religious systems propose differing and exclusive claims on reality. To say they are all valid is, once again a ridiculous assertion that only works if they are all false. They are either indeed all false, or one of them is true. And when we look at the claims of Christianity, it is the most internally consistent worldview and the one that makes the most sense in the reality in which we live.

Monday, January 9, 2017

The Unique Claims of Christianity (1: Life)

We find the core of Christianity’s uniqueness in John 14:

“LET NOT YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED. BELIEVE IN GOD; BELIEVE ALSO IN ME. IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE ARE MANY ROOMS. IF IT WERE NOT SO, WOULD I HAVE TOLD YOU THAT I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU? AND IF I GO AND PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU, I WILL COME AGAIN AND WILL TAKE YOU TO MYSELF, THAT WHERE I AM YOU MAY BE ALSO. AND YOU KNOW THE WAY TO WHERE I AM GOING.” THOMAS SAID TO HIM, “LORD, WE DO NOT KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. HOW CAN WE KNOW THE WAY?” JESUS SAID TO HIM, “I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME.

Jesus makes claims here that He is the only answer to our problem of sin and death. Let’s look at His three claims in reverse order:

The Life

Jesus, unlike all other religious leaders in history, did not just teach us about right living, He showed us life as it was supposed to be lived. And He showed us a glimpse of what He called the Kingdom of God. A World where things would be the way that they were supposed to be. That is the hope that Jesus offered us. Here He tells His disciples that He will be preparing them a place in the eternal Kingdom of God. A restored creation where Heaven and Earth are together and man again has a relationship with the Creator and where purpose is experienced. And, His followers live life here in this sinful, fallen world where death rules with that Kingdom already in them. We are to be a continuing taste of real life.

Many other religious systems, especially since Christ, have also taught about such a life. Secular Humanism today tries to teach the sort of ethical, loving life that Jesus offered, only they try to offer such a life without Christ and without God. In their case, such a life is inconsistent with their worldview. There is no convincing motivation to live a selfless life without eternity or God. In fact, many Secular Humanists try to offer reasons for love, selflessness, and sacrifice by appealing to selfish motivations. But these inconsistent arguments all fall apart when examined closely.

Intolerance: One argument often raised against Christianity when we read John 14:6 is that Christianity and Jesus are Intolerant. This is far from true. In fact, the idea of tolerance the way it is taught today is intolerant.

Today tolerance is taken to mean an acceptance of everything. However, the way that it is practiced, demeans everything that is “tolerated.” We don’t give differing viewpoints the respect of meaning anything. Once again, when everything is equally valid it just means everything is equally invalid.

What Jesus modeled was true tolerance. He demonstrated and taught real life. He also gave people a real choice to embrace that life or to reject it. He loved everyone and He interacted with everyone. He ate with the sinners that the religious people of His day rejected. He did not tell people that they were fine the way that they were. He called for repentance and change, but He respected people enough to allow them to reject His calling. Admittedly, sometimes Christians are intolerant. But Jesus was not our example of this. We need to be tolerant the way that He was tolerant.

That truer form of tolerance is for people to believe what they believe and respect other beliefs enough to acknowledge that they are different. What is more respectful to difference: To say that everything is basically the same ignoring what they are saying or living? Or to say that people are different, perhaps even wrong, but respect their right to be different and wrong? In truly tolerant society there would be animated but respectful debate. There would be an acknowledgement of difference and a respect for the rights of people to think differently without kidding ourselves into thinking we are all saying the same thing.

In fact, tolerance implies disagreement. We accept things that we agree with. We can only tolerate things we disagree with. (And then there are ideas so wrong that we do not tolerate them, and no one should.)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

The Unique Claims of Christianity (Introduction)

All human culture is an attempt to deny mortality. Ernest Becker first came to this conclusion in his Pulitzer Prize winning book “The Denial of Death.” Religions have existed ever since humanity sinned to get back to the life we had before sin and death entered the picture. We know deep inside of us that death is wrong, but since we all face certain mortality we have created systems to overcome death.

However, every culture has developed different answers and symbols to deny death. When these different cultures encounter each other it creates conflict. When we are confronted with a different idea of how to overcome death, it threatens our belief and we want to destroy that other system.

The problem in our modern age is that people have seen the wide variety of religions and, with our modern scientific understanding of the world, religions no longer offer convincing solutions to our problem. Becker stated in his book however, that science is no helpful system in this case either.

Even today we encounter this reality. Psychologists have proven again and again that, when we are reminded of our own mortality and then exposed to belief systems other than our own, we react quite negatively.

We occasionally do surveys here in Dresden where we ask people whether they find a single word positive or negative. Things like Religion, Politics, Jesus, Church, etc. When we ask them about death, we were surprised to find a strong tendency for that to be seen as positive. It seems that in post-Christian materialism, part of the “myth” has been to try to convince us that death is a good thing.

Another aspect of our current, modern, cultural denial of death has been to say that all the different systems are equally good. All religions and philosophies are ultimately equally valid and good.

The only way for that to be possible is for them to all be equally false. If every cultural idea is merely a humanly created lie to make us feel better, then yes, they are right. And, in most cases I think they are such untruths. When we compare all religions, we find vastly divergent ideas about God, the World, and how to solve our problem. And they all also have internal inconsistencies and obvious shortcomings that make us realize that they are all equally good in that they are equally false.

That is until you come to the answer that the Bible gives us in Jesus Christ; what has come to be known as Christianity. (Although we have to be careful because not everything that calls itself Christianity really follows the teachings of Christ and the Bible.) Christianity is unique.

We find the core of Christianity’s uniqueness in John 14:

“LET NOT YOUR HEARTS BE TROUBLED. BELIEVE IN GOD; BELIEVE ALSO IN ME. IN MY FATHER'S HOUSE ARE MANY ROOMS. IF IT WERE NOT SO, WOULD I HAVE TOLD YOU THAT I GO TO PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU? AND IF I GO AND PREPARE A PLACE FOR YOU, I WILL COME AGAIN AND WILL TAKE YOU TO MYSELF, THAT WHERE I AM YOU MAY BE ALSO. AND YOU KNOW THE WAY TO WHERE I AM GOING.” THOMAS SAID TO HIM, “LORD, WE DO NOT KNOW WHERE YOU ARE GOING. HOW CAN WE KNOW THE WAY?” JESUS SAID TO HIM, “I AM THE WAY, AND THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE. NO ONE COMES TO THE FATHER EXCEPT THROUGH ME.

Jesus makes claims here that He is the only answer to our problem of sin and death. Let’s look at His three claims in reverse order:

Saturday, January 7, 2017

"Dirk Gently" (Season One)

2016 was a great year for American Television. A large part of the reason for that was the way that American producers discovered the British manner of doing shorter seasons of shows that tell a story and then get out, not trying to artificially fill 22 or more episodes whether the plot calls for it or not. Things like “Stranger Things” and even “The X Files” to a lesser extent are shows that I relished in 2016.

One of the real gems was “Dirk Gently.”

Now, I must acknowledge right up front that the show was tailor made for someone like me, and it is likely not for everyone. It is based on the writings of Douglas Adams, more well-known for his Hitchhiker to the Galaxy series of novels. If you aren’t into his absurdist take on things, this very strange plot will likely drive you crazy. Also, it is a bit irreverent in humor and comically extreme in its violence, so again, not everyone’s cup of tea.

However, for those who do like this sort of abstract intellectualism, there are treasures to be found. In particular, I love the way this story explores the nature of faith. It is truly a presentation of the idea that often truth is something we simply accept without understanding. In fact, if you are too insistent on understanding reality you are often driven to throwing your hands up and calling the universe absurd. That is, ironically, the position that Adams took in his real life. Too bad he couldn’t embrace the sort of leap of faith that his stories called for.

Without giving too much away, Dirk Gently is a strange man who claims to be a “holistic detective.” He claims that everything happens for a reason and that all events in the universe are tied together. His special talent lies in the fact that he is able to “ride the current” of the universal cause and effect to his advantage. His purpose is to set things right by being in the right place at the right time. The audience is slowly convinced of the truth of his claims as we follow Tod, another character whom Dirk coerces into helping him on his quest.

It is no mere fatalism that we are dealing with in Dirk Gently. Choices still need to be made, and courage and danger are still required. But, since the story being told is being orchestrated by a story-teller (Adams) the free will and decisions made by characters in this story serve the overall plot. There is purpose and meaning to life in the Dirk Gently universe.

And in that way, this serves as a rough parable for the way that free will and divine sovereignty work. People have free will and make choices, yet the storyteller of the universe is in control and works things out to His purposes. For those with the ability to trust the creator, we have assurance of purpose and meaning in life.




Wednesday, January 4, 2017

More About Trust (Genesis 13)

Chapter thirteen of Genesis is one of the more well-known secondary stories from Genesis. It is definitely a Sunday School story. Probably because it is a G rated story amidst a lot of R rated material. But also, because it is an easy story to adapt and pervert for good, ethically driven, child-safe, Christianity.

Here is the typical interpretation: Abram and Lot have prospered a lot. So much that they are straining resources to stay together. Their success is pushing the limits of what is possible. They won’t be able to stay together and continue to prosper. So Abram does the good Christian thing and lets Lot have the pick of the land. Whichever direction Lot choses to go, Abram will head in the opposite direction. Lot chooses the best for himself. Abram was nice so God blesses him, while Lot’s selfishness sends him into a bad situation.

The problems with the above reading are:

The misunderstanding of blessing and prosperity. Abram and Lot are blessed because God is blessing them as He promised to do. They are blessed because they are where God wants them. It is God who has prospered them, in spite of every possible negative circumstance, so the lack of resources are not going to be the problem.

A misunderstanding of Lot’s error. Lot is not the “bad guy” because he chooses the better looking land and leaves Abram with the lesser option. Lot is not just being selfish. He is turning his back on God’s blessing. There is no way that Lot does not know about God’s instruction to Abram. Lot’s grandfather, Terah, was already on the path to the promised land when he gave up. And when Abram left his father, Lot went with him. Lot had seen the land and had experienced the blessing. When given the choice to split up from Abram, he could have stayed in the promised land and lived in God’s blessing. What he saw in the land beyond Canaan was security: good land and plenty of water. Instead of trusting in God’s provision, he turned to the land that would sustain him.

Finally, there is a misunderstanding of Abram’s success. Abram is not blessed or rewarded for being the “bigger man.” He is blessed because he has trusted in God’s word. God is going to work things out for him, even in spite of himself at times as we have already seen in the Egypt episode.

It is in that knowledge and trust of God’s blessing that Abram is able to be so generous to Lot. Abram does not have to look out for his own self-interest because God has his back. So, he can be generous and loving to Lot. Even when it looks like Lot’s choice will hurt Abram.

And that may be the biggest lesson learned here. As people of God, we need to develop a theology of trust towards God and love towards others that is seriously lacking in modern Christianity. Too often today Christianity is a system of belief that feeds fear and paranoia. It is us against the world. That should never be a position in which the people of the Gospel find themselves. We trust God to work things out for His purposes which involve our ultimate good. That should free us up to love those who don’t yet know His blessing. We should love and not fear. We should be all about proclamation and not protectionism.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Working Outline of 1 John

This is the working outline I will be using as I read through 1 John.

I. Prologue: The Word of Life 1:1-4 
II. Walking in the Light 1:5-2:29 
 A. The Character of God: God is Light 1:5-10
 B. Walk in the Light by Renouncing Sin 2:1-2
 C. Walk in the Light by Being Obedient 2:3-6
 D. The Test of Love 2:7-11
 E. Walk in the Light by Rejecting Worldliness 2:12-17
 F. Live in the Light by Keeping the Faith 2:18-29
III. Children of God 3:1-5:12 
 A. The Character of God: God is Father 3:1-3
 B. Live as God’s Children by Renouncing Sin 3:4-10
 C. Live as God’s Children by Being Obedient 3:11-24
 D. Live as God’s Children by Rejecting Worldliness 4:1-6
 E. The Test of Love 4:7-5:4
 F. Live as God’s Children by Keeping the Faith 5:5-13
IV. Epilogue 5:13-21
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