Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life….”
—John 6:68 ESV
One of the oddities I’ve encountered in talking with Christians who have been walking with Jesus for decades is that many of them are asking the question Simon Peter asked of Jesus. There’s a sense that many are looking around, wondering if this Christian “thing” is it.
I find this odd because this renewed asking of Peter’s question is starkly opposite the intent of the original. Context should help:
“I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”
The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”
So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him. As the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever feeds on me, he also will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like the bread the fathers ate, and died. Whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.”
Jesus said these things in the synagogue, as he taught at Capernaum. When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?”
But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
—John 6:48-69 ESV
The context here is that Jesus laid out such a Christ-centric statement that the challenge of it blew his followers’ theology to pieces, and they could not accept it, which led to only the core group of followers remaining with Him.
What strikes me is that mature Christians today are asking, “Lord, to whom shall we go?” not because what they are facing is too challenging because it is too Christ-centric, but the opposite: Christian faith in the 2010’s has become too facile and not nearly Christ-centric enough.
This reversal in what is stimulating the question amazes me.
What you have are mature believers frustrated to death with dog and pony show churchianity that talks about everything BUT Jesus, and they are going to Jesus and asking, “To whom shall we go?”
Of course, there is nowhere to go but to Jesus, but the problem for those older believers isn’t with Jesus; it’s with the dead religious show that is foisted on them in churches across our country.
Where do you go to get away from that and to the real thing?
A recent study showed that the apparent decline in church attendance isn’t what it appears to be. Yes, on any given Sunday, fewer Christians are in church. But the real reason is that more and more Christians don’t feel obligated to attend church every week. They may skip a dozen Sundays or more in a year, where once that kind of “mostly there” attendance was unthinkable. In short, the number on the church rolls hasn’t changed, just how many of them attend on any given Sunday.
I wonder how many of those folks are struggling because they feel that need to be in church, but they can’t take week after week the inautheticness of the packaged religious experience that passes for church in America 2014. So, they skip now and then.
Perhaps it should be: “Lord, to where should we go?”
If anyone can answer that question, please let the rest of the country know.
This feed is from Cerulean Sanctum (http://ceruleansanctum.com), a blog by Dan Edelen that covers issues facing the American Church.
I’ve come to the point that I no longer care about what happens in cultural evangelicalism. I walked away from evangelicalism years ago, frustrated with the direction of the movement. I guess this is the natural end point of that walking away.
My leaving, however, is not even a blip on the radar. No one cares. And why should they?
Since I’m pushing rapidly toward geezerdom, I remember the ’70s-era TV show All in the Family. Opinionated loudmouth Archie Bunker would shoot down wife Edith’s insights by telling her to “stifle it.” And people would laugh.
But as I look around the Internet, I see plenty of indicators that evangelicals need to take Archie’s advice and stifle it lest they become Archie Bunkers themselves. The Internet has become a gossip-fest, where too many Christians feel compelled to blather on about the latest scandal in the Christian community, whether it’s a real scandal or not. We must let others know just how a mature Christian views such goings on. We must.
I’ve been casually noticing the neo-Calvs cannibalize each other this past summer, culminating in one of their most famous members torn to pieces recently by former friends and supporters. The talk and speculation are crazed. It’s a nonstop train wreck, all of it, and we’re fooling ourselves if we think it makes us stronger.
We’ve become obsessed with celebrity Christians on the national stage, especially pastors, and their rightness or wrongness. We jump into cultural and racial conversations to inject supposedly Christian ideals, only they’re not all that Christian, and their lack of winsomeness makes us look horrible. We comment without facts. We talk without sense. We go on and on spouting myths. half-truths, and outright stupidity. We spew words about situations we know absolutely nothing about, and yet we think we’re worthy of enshrining on a panel for Meet the Press, Christian Edition, because we are so “wise.”
It’s foolishness writ large and in public. And nearly all of it does nothing but dishonor the Lord.
More than at any time in recent memory, I think we American Christians need a real self-check about how opinionated we’ve become. I know that’s an opinion in itself, but nonetheless, I think we would all be better off if we pulled out of all the online discourse and took a couple months off from making sure everyone knows what we think about _______.
One of the reasons that Cerulean Sanctum has been quiet goes beyond just my change in work. A good chunk of it is because I’m disgusted by online discourse. Everyone talks past everyone else, and there is little reasoned discussion. Worse, we seem to be investing huge amounts of emotional energy into conversations that have no Kingdom benefit—none. It’s just windbagdom, and it’s cruel, without love, and pompous to the nth degree.
Did you catch the title of this post? It’s SEO gold—at least the theory of it is. We’re sucked into this kind of thing on the Web, and it doesn’t help the situation. We feel we must comment. If a celebrity Christian’s name is attached, all the better.
Can we stifle it? Please? Does anyone else see how pathetic our discourse has become? Is my expressing my golden words the reason Jesus died? Is it critical to for everyone to know what you or I think about Pastor ________? Or about our government? Or about race relations in some town we’ve never visited? Or who is liberal and who is not? Or our thoughts on the sex lives of celebrities? Or why some actor killed himself? Or? Or? Or…?
Honestly, I’m at a point where I’ve stopped caring. We’re becoming blowhards talking our own smack. Time for all of us to wake up and get a life.
This feed is from Cerulean Sanctum (http://ceruleansanctum.com), a blog by Dan Edelen that covers issues facing the American Church.
A true story, with some parts tweaked to protect others…
When the economy cratered a few years back, resulting in an unforeseen layoff, Barry spent day after day looking for work. Turned it into a job like everyone said he should. But if Barry’s new job of looking for a job was any indication, he would have enjoyed a more lucrative career selling water on the moon.
Barry was a Christian, as was his wife, Karen, and their daughter, Krysta. None of them understood why God would make it so hard for a humble, talented man like Barry to support his family.
In time, the job hunt was supplemented with plenty of book-reading and music-listening. Barry fell in love with the bravura passages of little-known author Guy Ames. In fact, that admiration for Ames convinced Barry to try his own hand at writing a novel. He entitled it Unfinished Business.
After five years of unemployment, in which Barry did anything he could find to bring in money, he hit the motherload. A high school buddy he had not talked with in over 20 years called him out of the blue after Googling him. Jim, who owned a growing company, had just become a Christian, and after praying one night, felt compelled to ask what had happened to Barry. The Internet told Jim what he wanted to know, and he wanted the esoteric skills Barry had. In fact, he offered his old friend twice as much money as Barry had ever made.
But the job wouldn’t start for six weeks. Having been miserly for years, Barry decided to do something to celebrate. Guy Ames was speaking at a small writing conference in San Diego. Barry thought he’d kill a bunch of birds with one small stone, so he called the conference leaders and found that a few spaces still existed. Barry snapped up one, bought a plane ticket, reserved a hotel room, and worked up an elevator pitch for Unfinished Business.
When he announced that he was making this small personal pilgrimage, his wife was happy for him. She had a fear of flying, so she wasn’t interested in going, but Krysta read a brochure on the conference and saw one of her favorite authors was attending too. Soon, the trip was a dad and daughter thing. Given that Krysta was getting married in a few months, both she and her dad considered it one last dad-daughter event before another man became more important in her life.
The night before their departure, Krysta heard a voice. Over the past six months, she had increasingly heard what sounded like a voice, but this time the voice said something that sounded like real words: Don’t go on that trip. Krysta was terrified. The feeling of dread was so strong, she barely slept a wink all night in her apartment–except when she finally dropped off an hour before she was supposed to get up for her flight.
Barry forgot to call over to Krysta’s place just before he left, and when he arrived at the airport, he found he had also forgotten to charge his cell phone AND he left the charger back on the counter in the kitchen. Still, Krysta’s roommates, some of her old sorority sisters from college, were ultradependable, so Barry knew Krysta wouldn’t be too late because the girls wouldn’t allow it.
But when an elderly lady on standby looked like she was going to be bumped, Barry thought he’d be a gentleman and let her take his place. Krysta was obviously delayed, and catching the later flight made sense. Barry surrendered his seat. The airlines promised they’d move him up to first class, Krysta too.
Krysta never made it to the airport, though. She missed an exit, and ended up stuck in the aftermath gridlock caused by a semi rollover on the highway.
Barry wasn’t sure what was happening with Krysta, but hearing one of his favorite bands blaring from the headphones of the young man sitting next to him told he should get on that plane and let Krysta figure it out. She was a big girl and could fix her own problems.
Fly like an eagle, to the sea.
Fly like an eagle, let my spirit carry me.
Barry was going to see that band when he got back. He already had the tickets; a second gift, but this time one Karen would like too.
Just 12 minutes before it was to land, Barry’s plane took a lightning strike to an engine. Normally, the lightning arrestor worked fine, but it had been replaced and reattached incorrectly by a mechanic. At the inquest, it came out that the mechanic had been up late partying after attending a rock concert, one given by the band Barry would never live to hear. The engine caught fire, and the wing of the plane lost integrity. The plane went down just off the coast of California, all 113 aboard perishing.
In the aftermath, Krysta told her mother about the voice, and they both held each other for a long time, stunned. Krysta’s fiancé called it a miracle. Karen and Kyrsta didn’t feel that was the best choice of words. Still, when she spoke at her father’s memorial service, Krysta found herself using that word too.
Guy Ames had to cancel his appearance at the workshop due to a ruptured appendix. He later felt that brush with death was a wake-up call. Four months of healing later, he took his meager book earnings and launched a small software firm that Google bought, ensuring he never had to worry about money again. He never wrote anything else.
Just 11 days before her wedding, Krysta came down with what felt like the flu. At least that’s what the doctor told her. She stayed in bed to try to rest up, and that was where her roommates found her, dead. The autopsy showed a large, fast-growing brain tumor. She was 23.
One of Krysta’s roommates was so touched by what happened, the only way she could deal with it was through song. She and the other roommates formed a band and recorded the song. “Then She Was Gone” was a minor hit online, and the band Scarlet Queens, enjoyed the peculiarity of being an all-female death metal band, though they never made it big and folded a couple years later.
Life wasn’t good for the survivor. Like her daughter, Karen crawled into bed and stayed there. During her self-imposed beddedness, she could not keep her eyes off a pile of paper on Barry’s dresser. It was the manuscript for Unfinished Business–unfinished. Karen had never read one word of it.
On the 29th day of her exile, she took the manuscript down and spent the rest of the day lost in it. She admitted that this was a side of Barry she had never seen. The novel was actually superb, with deft characterizations and a killer story about an author who burns his writing career to the ground to start a software company that eventually grosses him a fortune. The novel had all the trappings of one of those mystical crossovers into the business book genre, filled with down-homey aphorisms about life, the corporate world, and spirituality. And Karen smelled money. Heaven knows Barry didn’t leave her anything.
Karen, who had not even an iota of creative authoring skill, was nonetheless a sharp-eyed editor. She tightened the narrative and found a publisher on just her fourth query letter.
Unfinished Business became a publishing phenomenon, with some claiming it changed their lives, and Karen became a wealthy woman.
She also became the target of every guy who could get her number. After one lothario took her for a couple million, she withdrew from public life. Money didn’t buy happiness, and loneliness ate at her soul. She missed her daughter and husband dreadfully. That weight turned to bitterness, and somewhere along the way, Karen and God parted ways. So much so, that when she died of lupus a few years later, she left the estate to American Atheists for a Better Tomorrow.
Now, what does that story say about God? About his sovereignty? About the work of the Enemy? About the mysteries of life?
How is it that the good fortune Barry received set in motion events that led to his death? Did God cause the lightning strike? Or the Enemy? Or dumb luck? Why did Barry’s act of kindness end in his death? And wouldn’t it have been more “fair” for the elderly woman to die instead? And what about the pointlessness of it all, with the writer Barry flew to see canceling? How is it that Barry wrote a book that mirrored that writer’s future life? What is the point of Krysta avoiding the plane crash only to die a few weeks later? And how can God allow all this to end in a huge wad of cash going to an atheist organization?
If you’re a Christian reading that story, no doubt you started to make connections. You tried to find some redemptive thread in it all, because that’s what we seem obsessed with: Making sense of life.
But what if there is no sense to be had in that story?
In the American Church today, we fall prey to a compulsion to find meaning in everything. If something doesn’t make sense on the surface, we have to make it make sense.
I think this is dangerous; it borders on divination.
That divination danger does scare some Christians, so much so that they flee in the opposite direction. To avoid being seen as crystal-ball gazers, even remotely, they chicken out of showing any faith.
Over at the normally reliable Parchment & Pen blog, C. Michael Patton shows us what happens when Christians blanch in the face of dealing with the vicissitudes of life and how we view God. In “Will God Protect My Children?” Patton has patiently nursed a redemptive relationship with a lost soul, but when that man asks the eponymous question, Patton rolls over and plays dead.
We have a case here of conflating the mistake of trying to scry sense out of life’s odd twists and turns with giving into the fear that we might be forced to explain God’s seeming lack of love for us when something goes wrong.
Can we make sense of everything in life? No. But can we trust God to make sense in Himself? We must. Anything else is not faith. At some point we must be able to say to that lost man that God does in fact protect our children and we must trust Him for that. Patton says the Scriptures don’t promise anything, but is that true?
Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress,
my God, in whom I trust.”
Surely he will save you
from the fowler’s snare
and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
and under his wings you will find refuge;
his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
ten thousand at your right hand,
but it will not come near you.
You will only observe with your eyes
and see the punishment of the wicked.
If you say, “The Lord is my refuge,”
and you make the Most High your dwelling,
no harm will overtake you,
no disaster will come near your tent.
For he will command his angels concerning you
to guard you in all your ways;
they will lift you up in their hands,
so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.
You will tread on the lion and the cobra;
you will trample the great lion and the serpent.
“Because he loves me,” says the Lord, “I will rescue him;
I will protect him, for he acknowledges my name.
He will call on me, and I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble,
I will deliver him and honor him.
With long life I will satisfy him
and show him my salvation.”
–Psalm 91 NIV
That’s either true or it isn’t. If you’re a Christian, you know which it must be.
The story of Barry, his family, and the others who swirl around them told above is true–in a way. It contains bits and pieces of stories cobbled together. Regardless of its truth as a whole, the fact remains that it could be anyone’s story. We all have stories of strange coincidences and odd events that happen in life, sometimes lengthy ones. Our issue is when we attempt to draw any conclusions from those events and to create a supernatural narrative from them. The fact is, we just can’t. Unless we have some direct revelation from God that explains everything, 99.99% of the time we’re going to get the explanation wrong. We’re not God, and we are too limited to know how every piece fits together and for what reason.
However, what we must never do in the face of reality is to abdicate saying anything positive about how God operates. We know what His promises are. We have to be able to cling to those or else all of life goes off the rails. We can’t try to explain everything that happens in life, but neither should we deny that He is faithful just because we can’t guarantee understanding the fallout of a situation that may go horribly wrong. If we do, we might as well chuck the whole thing. Patton might as well just tell his lost friend, “You know what? Like you, I got nothin’.”
God help us if that’s where we’re heading in the American Church today.
This feed is from Cerulean Sanctum (http://ceruleansanctum.com), a blog by Dan Edelen that covers issues facing the American Church.
Readers have written to ask when we might be seeing new Cerulean Sanctum posts and to check if I’m doing OK.
One of the commonplace elements you will find in charismatic and Pentecostal churches is a tendency to “give a word.” Now, this is meant to refer to the charismatic gifts of word of knowledge and word of wisdom, but some people take that too literally. In other words, those word gifts become a literal word, as in singular. It’s not unusual to hear someone say, “God has this word for you: plenty.” Or “I keep hearing Sacramento. Does that word mean anything to you?”
Yeah, sometimes that gets a little weird.
Anyway, if there were one word that encapsulates the last few months for me, it would be frenzy.
That’s not a word I enjoy. At all. But there you go.
Life has been a nonstop frenzy. Because I tend to be a slow, considered thinker, frenzy is about as outside of my comfort zone as it gets. And the more stuff gets added to that frenzy…
I’ve been wanting to write about the state of our world, where frenzy is embraced as normal and even welcome, but I’ve been cowed by the depth of the topic and potential unintended consequences. Since unintended consequences only add to the frenzy, well…
The old aphorism says that the devil is in the details, and I think that saying says more than we understand on surface glance. Details can magnify frenzy. A frenzied life may even be the result of the devil, since nothing drowns out the voice of God like the siren of frenzy. Remember how God spoke to Elijah in a whisper? I think most Americans, Christians or not, cannot hear God for all the frenzy, no matter how many minutes we carve out of our day to devote to (or to search for) Him. I think we lie to ourselves when we look at the story of Mary and Martha and proclaim in a haughty tone that we are nothing like that clueless Martha. Hah! The finest Mary of today would make Martha of the Bible look like Han Solo frozen in carbonite. Let’s not deceive ourselves about the level of modern frenzy and how deeply it is entrenched in each of us.
I want to get back to Cerulean Sanctum, but I also need for life to calm down substantially. For that concern, I covet your prayers.
Thank you for being a reader. There’s more than 10 years of material here on Cerulean Sanctum, and I believe the majority of it is just as good for today as it may have been 10 years ago. I’ll get back to more regular blogging when I can get a few more things wrangled and under control.
Have you ever noticed that your attempt to place safe distance between you and a car ahead of you while driving on the highway is viewed as an invitation by some to squeeze their vehicle into that space? Yes, nature abhors a vacuum, but so does the average motorist. Especially if that “vacuum” happens to be the space you create to avoid a crash.
We have become people who fill every precious space with something. Every moment of every day is filled. Now, instead of being alone with our thoughts, to be contemplative people, we are like meerkats staring in one unified direction toward what most draws our attention, usually a cell phone.
If we have no spaces left, we have no space left for God. And if we have no space left for Him, we have no way to avoid a crash, one that may be even worse than the kind found on a packed highway.
The old, French aphorism goes Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. Translation: The more things change, the more they stay the same.
While that has been the case since I started writing Cerulean Sanctum, I can’t say it’s the case now.
For the next few months, posts will be sparse due to changes in my work and some other big changes due to that change. You know that old, American saying I’m as busy as a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest? Well, I may have both my lower limbs, but the level of activity is commensurate. I’m just hoping the old, American saying of Live fast and die young doesn’t apply, because the speed of everything right now is cranked up to ridonculous levels.
I hope to get back to some level of normality, but it may take a while for me to find a life balance. Prayers for that goal are appreciated!
But most of all, if I have prayer requests, they follow:
For excellent health
For favor and success in my new work
For a greater ability to abide in Christ and find peace and strength in Him amid all the activity around me
Thanks for being a reader. Please keep checking in. You never know what may be posted here. Just know that whatever is will be sparser than normal until life settles down, probably after summer.
I’m part of a closed group of Vineyard and ex-Vineyard folks who discuss theology on a Facebook page. Someone there raised the age-old question:
How do we measure spiritual growth?
For too long this simple question has baffled evangelical Christians. I think there’s a reason for that, but it’s not what it appears on the surface. But then, this is Cerulean Sanctum, so when do I ever approach things from a surface perspective?
Measuring anything demands we agree on what we are measuring and the tools and terms we use in the measurement. Talking measuring spiritual growth in an evangelical church immediately runs into a wall because we make poor assumptions about those bedrock criteria. Ask the wrong questions and get the wrong answers.
For me, the elusiveness of measuring spiritual growth occurs because the focus has always been on the individual Christian in the individual church. It’s a bedrock principle that what we’re measuring is how a lone Christian in a lone Church grows.
But I wonder if we’re getting this all wrong from the first step.
I go back to two posts from 2013:
What if we commit a fundamental error in checking for spiritual growth by focusing on the individual rather than on the collective church?
The language of the New Testament, again and again, is the collective you, not the singular. And the New Jerusalem at the close of the age isn’t a loose collection of people, but a unified Body—or more appropriately, a complete city.
I think one reason that leaders on the local church level burn out on growth issues is because all the emphasis is on the individual Christian. But shouldn’t successful growth be centered on what that local church is accomplishing?
Even more, the tendency to focus on the individual removes the collective church from its role as Body. Paul’s metaphor depicts health not as one organ functioning alone but as the organs in the body working in harmony, which has a secondary effect of wholeness for each part. In other words, when the eye is doing what an eye does, the foot and hand don’t end up falling off a cliff along with it.
For too long the assumption has been…
IF the individual is functioning well, THEN the church will be well.
That thinking puts everything on the back of the individual, though. The onus is on him or her to perform. Legalism and moralism can be the only result.
What if we reverse that assumption?
IF the church is functioning well, THEN the individual will be well.
I think that second equation has gone unexplored for too long. And because it has not been explored, it’s not at the forefront of how we think about church, the individual, and spiritual growth. I believe that second statement, though, is closer to the heart of the Gospel.
Shifting toward measuring church growth rather than individual growth makes it far easier to gauge genuine growth overall. The Body metaphor makes more sense and lends a better basis for measuring growth.
We can chart some growth elements from the perspective of an organic Body or organism. Two obvious aspects of a living organism that we can then examine:
How well is the organism feeding itself?
How well is the organism reproducing?
Starting at the second question also answers the first. Healthy organisms reproduce, while unhealthy ones do not. If disciples are not being made and the church is not growing itself, then it is not healthy. At this point, examining reasons for ill health can take us back to the first question and to others associated with it.
Here’s the thing: Measuring the growth of individuals will always have periods of mixed analysis. If you wish to measure an individual’s activity but do so while he is sleeping, bad analysis may result. What may look like slacking off may actually be recovery from a day’s strenuous work. This analytical mistake is why charting individual growth is so hard in the church and may not be a viable source for an accurate assessment. Our results depend on something that is too variable. Stepping up to a broader measure may be a better way of charting the real growth info we need to examine, and it provides us a way to work backwards and make general statements about the growth in the individual.
The main problem is that we’re not used to thinking that way, so many of our tools, questions, and interpretations will need to be recast to look more at the collective church rather than the individual Christian. Once we start thinking differently, I think we’ll have better results for making accurate statements about spiritual growth in American churches.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.
—Psalms 14:1 ESV
The English Standard Version translation shows 202 verses in the Bible that contain some variation of the root word fool. Reading those verses makes it evident that the world is filled with fools and folly.
Indeed, we are all fools in wisdom and knowledge when compared against God.
But some don’t get this. And they don’t comprehend it because they have no humility. If anything, they exult in their foolishness:
Whoever trusts in his own mind is a fool, but he who walks in wisdom will be delivered.
—Proverbs 28:26 ESV
Claiming to be wise, they became fools…
—Romans 1:22 ESV
I’m tired of foolish talk. Sadly, we live in an age when the people babbling on like fools are most likely viewed as wise by most of the world. I see a lot of scientists who get face time in the media prattling on with foolish and desperate theories about this and that, and it’s clear after a while that the one thing you can say most assuredly about their views is that they desperately want God to vanish. Fact is, God doesn’t care what they think because such people are fools, no matter how many letters and titles they stack before and after their names.
The really sad part about that is almost all of Western science is based on the ideas of scientists who were Christians, or at least who ascribed to a Christian worldview. In fact, because the Christian faith is one of the only ones that contends that God is both knowable and understandable and the creator of an ordered world that reflects His knowability and understandability, science is even made possible. What would be the point of examining a capricious world built on the whims of an unknowable God or on the ruthlessness of a random world? No, that science exists at all is because God Is, God Was, and God Will Ever Be.
But then, the fool can’t begin to comprehend that truth. Somehow, the fool thinks that faith and science can’t co-exist or that science alone can answer all the questions of life. Which forces us to ask, in the end, who then is the truly close-minded?
I listen to a lot of discussions between atheists and theists, and the one thing that never fails to strike me is that for all their learning, the atheists never seem to know all that much. Their arguments are remarkably simpleminded, and when people of faith bring up the slightest aspect of what it means to live by faith, the atheist seems baffled by such reasoning.
But then, atheists are just people who are unable to admit they are sinners and that their thoughts are futile and packed with one sinful idea after another, and isn’t it easier to justify all that mental futility and wickedness by erasing God? For intellectual cowards, yes, that may be true, but not for sober people who look at life with any seriousness.
I’m not surprised that people try to erase God as a means to justify their immoral lifestyles, though. A recent scientific study shows that many people are unable to morally reason from the perspective of someone whose beliefs differ from theirs. In most cases it is people who hold more “liberal” attitudes about life who cannot grasp the thinking of more conservative people, though the reverse is demonstrably not the case. While this is not intended as a political statement, it nonetheless shows that an incapacity to grasp some moral truths does exist in people, especially those who proclaim their “enlightenment.” In that same way, the Bible says that issues of faith are foolishness to many. Things of the Spirit are incomprehensible to them:
Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.
—1 Corinthians 2:12-14 ESV
We live in an age when spiritual discernment is at an all-time low. Our leaders talk all sorts of lofty ideas, but they cannot bring themselves to talk about God or anything related to Him because they don’t know Him. In the end, their wisdom is actually foolishness, and that foolishness is blasted out for everyone to see and hear and receive as “wisdom” when it is anything but.
Sadly, some who self-identify as faithful are just as foolish. Many people who parade themselves as Christians are peddling fear instead of faith. That’s foolishness, too, and yet those hucksters are able to gather around them a sycophantic horde and sell millions of books that do nothing but stir the pot of fear.
In the midst of all these fools, what does God ask of us? It’s pretty simple actually:
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
—Micah 6:8 ESV
Fools can do none of those things. Only the wise can acknowledge that, without Jesus Christ, we are all fools.
With Holy Week now concluded, I was pondering what appears to be the demise of the local Good Friday service in my community. It used to be that the local churches near my little town would combine to host a Good Friday service, but I heard nothing about it this year. The large (for our area) Pentecostal church of which I am a member does not hold its own Good Friday service, but we did host the traveling community service now and then.
Having grown up in the Lutheran Church, which firmly places Good Friday among the most “holy” dates of the year, the day retains great meaning for me. Since leaving that denomination, I’ve wandered through more traditionally evangelical churches. Almost universally, those evangelical churches have had an indifferent relationship with Good Friday. Scant few held their own Good Friday meeting, and if they did, it always felt more haphazard than those I was used to in the Lutheran Church.
Over the years, even those evangelical churches that DID have a Good Friday meeting seem to have let it slide into oblivion.
I talked with a Roman Catholic last Good Friday evening and we tried to come up with some reason for the evangelical burying of Good Friday, but we came to no good conclusions.
As much as some evangelicals talk about the cross, Good Friday for them is a curious nonevent. And I have no idea why.
Do you have an answer as to why Good Friday has gone missing? What are your thoughts on the downgrade of Good Friday among evangelicals? Have you noticed the date sliding into oblivion in your church or community? Why do think this may be happening (or not happening, depending on your local situation)?
I miss celebrating Good Friday together with other believers. Though I no longer consider myself an evangelical, the majority of my Christian life has been spent in evangelical churches, and I don’t see that changing. I hope someone in evangelicalism starts working to place Good Friday in its proper context for the 21st century.
Toward the finale of The Return of the King, after Frodo and Samwise have cast the evil ring into the molten core of Mount Doom, an exhausted Sam, recovering from his ordeal, awakes to the face of Gandalf.
“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”
A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.”
Yesterday, I attended the visitation of an old neighbor from an old neighborhood, the one in which I experienced some of the sweetest days of my life. Joe had suffered through dementia for years, and the family of six boys with whom we played football in our backyards felt a sense of relief for their dad. Shirley, his wife, did too. She said it was a blessing that all this happened during Holy Week. Even in that sad time, there remained hope that everything sad is going to come untrue.
The passion of Jesus marks the high, holy days of the Christian Church. And they are holy because they mark the beginning of the answer asked by a beloved fictional character.
In the cross of Jesus, everything sad begins its journey toward untruth. The lie of who we were in sin is replaced by the truth of who we are in Christ. The great shadow over us has been removed.
In the resurrection of Jesus, sadness takes a further step toward being untrue. Death no longer holds the victory. Christ triumphed over it. When we are in Christ, so will we be victorious. And there will be no second death.
In the ascension of Jesus, sadness declines yet again, as the promise is of Christ’s return. In that return, we understand that sadness will be swallowed up in truth, and that tear-filled eyes will no longer be so, that no one will want for anything, and that all our crushed dreams will live again.
And sadness will be untrue forever.
In this week of recalling Jesus’ betrayal, death, and resurrection, we understand that the world has changed, because Jesus made it so.
Jesus can change your world, if you lay aside your life and let Him give you His. All you have to do is ask Him.
Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!
—Psalms 27:14 ESV
The LORD is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD.
—Lamentations 3:25-26 ESV
Then they believed his words; they sang his praise. But they soon forgot his works; they did not wait for his counsel.
—Psalms 106:12-13 ESV
I’d like to believe that the American Church is filled coast to coast with people who wait patiently on the Lord. I’d like to believe that.
I know better, though. The part of American Church that causes problems is the American part. In America, we don’t want to wait for anyone or anything. To wait is to waste time when something can be done. Doing is all that matters. Or as it is in many cases, talking about doing, even if the doing never happens.
Here’s a line you never hear from the pulpit in America: “We’re not moving ahead on this until God gives us the OK. Until then, we wait.”
For the Christian, waiting doesn’t mean doing nothing. Prayer and faith together make a difference. In fact, prayer and faith might just be what God is waiting to experience from us before the awaited result comes. Two little practices, yet how we forget to do them.
Whatever it is that we’re forgetting, our porous memory hurts our waiting.
The Psalm 106 passage quoted above shows that forgetfulness and impatience go together. We know what the Bible says, and we sing about God’s care for us, but we forget what He has done nonetheless, and therefore we charge forward, as if THIS time is the time in which He will not come through in his perfect timing. So, we grease the rails and proceed full steam ahead anyway.
Regular readers will recognize this familiar lament: The good is the enemy of the best. In the American Church, that should be engraved on every church doorway lintel.
Impatience yields not only bad results but good. The problem is that we get satisfied with good results and never give God the opportunity to deliver mind-blowing results. All because we could not wait on Him. All because we had to make something happen.
None of that is of faith, though. And sometimes, the result is devastating.
I wonder how much we miss as a Church in the United States due to impatience. I wonder how many once-vibrant churches no longer meet because they didn’t wait on God.
Or perhaps they did and were so enamored of one type of answer that they missed God’s answer when it finally came. Either way, the best didn’t happen for them. So they grumble and blame God for not coming through on their timing. Except He did; they just weren’t attuned to Him.
Impatience and an inability to hear God when He does speak in His timing are epidemic in today’s noisy, “make something happen” churches. Will it take an ethereal hand writing on the wall to get us to pay attention and listen?
I’d say that’s something worth waiting for, except we all know how it turned out.
Elijah didn’t die but ascended to God in a flaming chariot. Most of us know the story. Elijah was certainly a man of God.
Elijah was also something of a depressed prophet. He was always complaining about apparent circumstances, what he believed to be true about his situation. No matter the case, though, God never abandoned Elijah—far from it—and yet Elijah kept up the doom-saying.
One of Elijah’s “personal doom scripts” that kept running through his head was that the bad guys had killed all the other prophets and he alone was left. You read the life of Elijah in 1 Kings, and he repeated that script a lot.
God finally had enough of it:
[Elijah] said, “I have been very jealous for the LORD, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.” And the LORD said to him, “Go, return on your way to the wilderness of Damascus. And when you arrive, you shall anoint Hazael to be king over Syria. And Jehu the son of Nimshi you shall anoint to be king over Israel, and Elisha the son of Shaphat of Abel-meholah you shall anoint to be prophet in your place. And the one who escapes from the sword of Hazael shall Jehu put to death, and the one who escapes from the sword of Jehu shall Elisha put to death. Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”
—1 Kings 19:14-18 ESV
And Elijah never again beefed about being the last one left.
God had His 7,000. God even had a successor to Elijah lined up. Despite Elijah’s office as prophet, he seemed blind to those possibilities. All he could focus on was the doom.
God has his 7,000 at all times. In your life and in mine, God has a form of that 7,000 on-hand and ready to supply.
Even if you don’t see it, that reserve exists. God had fed Elijah by ravens, but the prophet, so stuck in his doom, was unable to understand that provision or believe that God might have preserved other faithful followers to stand with him. All Elijah could see was his personal circumstance. God had to enlarge his vision.
Funny thing is, the prophet who followed in Elijah’s footsteps inherited nothing of his mentor’s doom and shortsightedness. A classic instance of how Elisha did better than his predecessor is found in 2 Kings 6. The king of Syria was frustrated because someone seemed to be telling all his plans to the king of Israel. Eventually, a servant told the Syrian king that Elisha was receiving this info supernaturally. The enraged king decided to put an end to that:
So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, “Alas, my master! What shall we do?” [Elisha] said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” Then Elisha prayed and said, “O LORD, please open his eyes that he may see.” So the LORD opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha. And when the Syrians came down against him, Elisha prayed to the LORD and said, “Please strike this people with blindness.” So he struck them with blindness in accordance with the prayer of Elisha.
—2 Kings 6:14-18 ESV
Elisha understood that even in the midst of apparent doom, the apparency was an illusion. Something greater from God was present, and all it took was a greater vision of what God was doing. Elisha knew and could see what Elijah failed to: God frustrates doom.
Doom will never win because God is greater. Today, make that your personal script.
I was ill late last week with an annoying head cold, so I decided to take Saturday off and heal.
Lately, I’ve been listening to the weekly Phil Vischer Podcast, which talks from a Christian perspective on issues facing American culture and Christianity. Vischer, best known as the creator of VeggieTales, offers the comic relief and pushes the conversation forward, but his co-hosts, Christian Taylor and Skye Jethani, offer the more serious insights.
Jethani, in particular, gets me thinking. I was familiar with his writings at “Out of Ur” (now called Parse) and have read them occasionally, but he comes across better in recordings than in print. Also intriguing to me: He graduated from a college in my area and now lives in Wheaton, Ill., and routinely interacts with students from my alma mater and examines those interactions.
Jethani is a pastor and current editor for Leadership Journal, which is a satellite magazine of Christianity Today intended for Christian leaders. I watched several videos featuring Jethani on Saturday and was blown away by how good they are, not only in their spiritual content but in their conciseness in teaching. Jethani gets to the point and makes it live.
Below are three video links from Jethani that I think everyone should watch. I can’t stress enough how excellent they are. And again, he gets right to the point.
Jethani wrote a book called With: Reimagining the Way You Relate to God, and in the following video, unpacks the main points in 19 minutes. This video was so good, I sat down with my 13-year-old son to watch it together. He was touched by it in a way I’ve never seen.
This second video, about 50 minutes long, is aimed more at church leaders and talks about how ministry models must change to better present Jesus to people who are dissatisfied with current church programming and intent. It’s dead on and reflects many of the themes I’ve discussed here.
Finally, in 45 minutes, Jethani cuts through all the noise and confusion and gets to the heart of life: What is the Gospel? (Unfortunately, this video link can’t be embedded, so you’ll have to go to YouTube to watch it.)
I hope you have an opportunity to watch these videos. I think you’ll be remarkably blessed.
Lastly, I want to recommend an exceptional book that is not by Jethani but further expands his thoughts on vocation in the second video above:
The Other Six Days: Vocation, Work, and Ministry in Biblical Perspective by R. Paul Stevens.
It’s not only a fantastic look at how the modern Church has totally misunderstood genuine community but also how Christian ideals of community give meaning to people’s vocations, especially those careers that are NOT in “full-time Christian ministry.” This is one of the best Christian books I’ve read in the last five years. A little more academic, but it’s powerful nonetheless.
Have a blessed week.
They’ve been calling 2014 the Year of the Faith Film. I know that in the evangelical community I tend to find myself thrust into, people were pumped about that. Perhaps Hollywood was waking up from its superhero love fest and rediscovering that the Good Book has its own caped crusaders (well, toga-ed, or whatever it is that they wore—you get the point) that can teach us about life.
So far, I’m not sure the Year of the Faith Film is delivering on its promise. And I wonder what that says about our understanding of what faith really is.
Three of those films have hit the cineplexes in recent weeks. I haven’t seen any of them. I’m not sure I would ever want to.
Noah has been called by its director “the least biblical biblical film ever made,” and at achieving this he seems to have succeeded, pulling from just about any ancient text outside the Bible that even hints at a flood narrative. He then offers us a man of “faith” whose righteousness appears to derive from despising anything that isn’t a fuzzy bunny, himself included. Rather than the LSD Methuselah slipped into Noah’s tea, Prozac may have been a better choice. Some have wondered if the director culled more from the works of J.R.R Tolkien and Timothy Leary than from the Jews.
God’s Not Dead is evangelicalism’s answer to Noah, pitting its faithful-to-a-fault, Christian-American, teen apologist against the evil college professor in a battle of hermeneutics, which everyone knows is the most gripping plotline any moviegoer could possibly hope for. And yes, there are other subplots, but they all add up to what amounts to an evangelical snuff film, where the most anyone can long for in life is to get one’s “fire insurance” and avoid hell. Should have titled this God’s Not Dead, But You Will Be.
Son of God purports to be about the life of Jesus. I heard a rumor that Justin Beiber plays Jesus. Or is it Zach Efron? Being a wizened curmudgeon, I get my teen heartthrobs mixed up. I also hear they cut out the devil because he looked too much like our current president. Also purportedly, the filmmakers saved time and cash by filming this movie alongside the making of their made-for-TV pseudo-epic The Bible. I think from what I’ve written, you get an idea of how unchallenging this film is. That I can’t recall anyone from my church claiming to have seen it may be the most damning statement I can make about it.
What these three films tells us about the state of faith in America 2014 is that no one, especially Hollywood, has one lick of an idea what it means to be faithful in the every day. God exists at the periphery of life, relegated to weirdos or to the moment of death or to some milquetoast interpretation of “faith” that has nothing to do with the guy who wakes up in the morning and hopes to connect to God amid the daily commute, a pile of unpaid bills, and the American Dream. Perhaps the superhero love fest does have more say to us (heck, even God Is Not Dead features the actors who played Hercules and Superman).
The reality of faith in God that the Bible holds out to each one of us is that it IS relevant to the mundane day-to-day. No sacred/secular divide exists, and Christianity is filled to the brim with truth that suffuses every part of life, which is what makes it worth living. God isn’t just there in the flood. He’s not just there when we die. He’s not a cleverly marketed and filmed made-for-TV-but-shown-in-the-theaters side project. God intends to be there in everything we do and to give those activities meaning.
Henry David Thoreau said that the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. If these three “faith” movies were the only gauge to what faith in God is all about, I can understand that desperation.
Perhaps it’s not possible to encompass the richness of a life found in Christ and jam it into a two hours of screen time. Filmmakers will keep trying, though. And I suspect they will keep failing.
Perhaps we don’t know what a genuinely Christian life looks like in America 2014. Certainly, a lack of models is one reason. We’ve made strange alliances with worldliness and can no longer extricate that worldliness from truth. Sometimes, we even call evil good and good evil.
The God of the Bible offers abundant life. His word speaks to all parts of human existence. He is our God both when we are kneeling in church and when we’re sitting on the john. All of life, especially the middle we can’t seem to ascribe to Him, is filled with His Life.
How we make that true and real to most of us has yet to be filmed. Or in America 2014, lived.
So Jesus answered them, “My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me. If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”
—John 7:16-17 ESV
The above passage has been stirring in me all weekend. It bothers me. A lot.
Jesus had a validity issue. When He tried to teach in the temple, the learned questioned how He knew what He knew. Jesus sought to tell them, but they weren’t responsive.
We live in an age that has made the mind the arbiter of all truth. We are rabid rationalists. Even when someone tries to stick a label of “emotional” on us, it peels off soon enough.
For many people, Christianity is all in their head or it is nowhere at all.
Clever arguments, a Ph.D. in biblical hermeneutics, and an iPod filled with Ravi Zacharias podcasts are the base material needed for being an apologist for Jesus today. The person who cannot tie together every last passage is seen as not qualified to talk Bible with anyone. An inability to look at Paul’s Letter to Philemon in light of the Hebrew captivity in Egypt or to spout every last occurrence of the concept of a hardened heart or to detail the finer points of New Testament infralapsarianism proves a person is not up to the task of living as a Christian and certainly cannot be trusted to be an evangelist or teacher.
But what does Jesus say will prove His words true in a person’s life?
Doing them. Not thinking. Doing.
Perhaps the reason we live in such a godless age is not because people don’t know the words of God but because so few do them. Jesus said that if people do the things God wills through His word, the validity will be self-evident.
Imagine if our evangelism of the lost and teaching to the found consisted more of telling people, “Here are the words of Jesus. Do them and you will know Him.” Imagine if our measure of the maturity of the believer was not how many Bible passages he or she had memorized but how many he or she actually practiced in real life.
We think we must construct systems of biblical logic to make a cage that cannot be escaped, a sort of ultra-secure fortress of rationalistic thought. But Jesus said that our proof is in doing what He says. That’s how the words are justified, because they are life and truth when lived.
All this teaching yet the proof is in the doing.
What if our Sunday Schools were more about doing the words of God? Would our understanding and retention of truth improve? Jesus says it will. Do we trust Him in this?
I don’t know when the Faith migrated from all parts of the whole person to reside solely in the head, with a trickle down into the heart when we’re really “feeling it.” But Jesus Himself says that’s not the way we should be. Instead, truth is in the living out of what He says.
That’s a paradigm shift of the highest order. I hope to see more of it in my lifetime.
If I were to poll 100 people about what they most need in their lives, I don’t think peace would be in their top responses. But if I suggested peace as an answer, I think everyone would nod and agree it’s a huge need.
Peace seems so unfamiliar to people today that I think few consider it. Peace is like that wonderful, gifted, older second cousin you saw 25 years ago at a reunion. In the family, yes, but nebulously distant. Not someone you think about except when someone else reminds you of that side of the family, and then a positive memory or three comes back. Yes, now I remember. Really nice person. Would be good to see again.
What we don’t realize is how essential it is never to lose track of peace—until peace is telling in its absence. Can’t put our finger on what is out of whack, but something is not right.
More often than not, that “not right” is missing peace.
Without Jesus, there is no peace. In the silent moments of our days, the disquiet enters, and we do what we must to mute it. A million mute buttons exist, and us forever pressing the nearest one. Because the disquiet shouts to us its lack of peace. Screams that something is wrong, is off, is askew, or is missing.
Jesus, come, and be near us now.
Jesus, still our frenzy.
Jesus, quiet our distress.
Jesus, let us rest in You.
Jesus, be our peace.
I don’t know what your situation is, but I can tell you this: You could use more peace in your life. May Jesus be that peace. May you rediscover a depth of trust in Him that helps you enter rest and find renewal and refreshing for your soul.
More than anything else, I believe the cry of the human heart is to see and know Jesus. People may not be able to come to that conclusion on their own, but when put in the right perspective, the need becomes glaring.
Sadly, people have short memories and loyalties. Some have encountered Jesus only to lose Him somehow.
Protestants lost Jesus somewhere in the 16th century and seem curiously content to have consigned Him there.
Roman Catholics lost Jesus by focusing on everything related to Christianity that ISN’T Him.
The Orthodox lost Jesus amid a clutter of artwork intended to remind people of Him, as if He is no longer anywhere else to be found.
Charismatics lost Jesus by shifting their focus to the Holy Spirit, as if Jesus isn’t the one the Spirit points to relentlessly.
Cessationists lost Jesus because they stopped listening to what the Holy Spirit was saying about Him today.
Christian bloggers lost Jesus amid a cascade of words intended to prove how doctrinally correct they are 24/7/365.
Liberal Christians lost Jesus because they picked and chose what they liked about Him and rejected the rest.
Conservative Christians lost Jesus because they were conservatives first and followers of Jesus second.
It isn’t just some Christians who seem to have lost Jesus…
Jews lost Jesus because they didn’t seem aware that they had Him in the first place.
Hindus lost Jesus amid all the other deities they seem to keep creating daily.
Muslims lost Jesus by being the Roman Catholics of the non-Christian world and getting caught up in all the religious trappings that distract from Him.
Buddhists lost Jesus because they tossed out everything.
Pagans lost Jesus because they wanted everything but Him.
Communists lost Jesus because they couldn’t stop fighting over which of them would sit on His throne.
Socialists lost Jesus because they confused Him with bureaucratic government.
Atheists lost Jesus by making all of existence out to be this tiny, tiny box into which nothing can fit except for the hubris of atheism.
Here’s the thing: Jesus isn’t lost. The world’s people are.
Jesus said to His follower Thomas, who became known for doubting, just like us:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
—John 14:6 ESV
Only Jesus knows the way—because He IS the Way. Don’t lose hold of Him. And if you don’t have that hold on Him yet, ask and believe Him for it, and know that He will never lose you.
Keith had seen Franklin Fastener, his great-great-great-grandfather’s company, through many trials in his tenure since taking over from his dad at the tender age of 30. The company made the best nuts and bolts in America. Which is why it pained Keith to think that he might have to close it down on his watch. Too little business coupled with too much competition from China. So when ConHugeCo asked for a bid on a massive project that would keep Franklin rolling in dough for another decade or more, Keith was ecstatic. He spent three months working hand in hand with ConHugeCo’s people to ensure the bidding went smoothly and the multinational got everything it asked for—both immediately and in spades. So it came as a terrible shock when the winning bid went to Shin Dao Manufacturing. Keith went home an hour later and cried for the first time in as long as he could remember.
Kendra first spotted Zach when he prayed for an elderly couple after the service. She was new to the church then, but it was impossible for her not to notice the tall, handsome, young man. Something clicked inside her when their eyes first met. It took Zach almost a year to ask her out, but when he did, she was convinced that this was finally The One. Zach was loved by many and could not be more respected. He had a job in banking and seemed to do no wrong. After a couple months of “by the book Christian dating,” Kendra thought she might finally hear the three words every gal longs for, but instead, Zach said he didn’t think that the relationship was working for him, and he walked away.
Rebecca had the house, the means, and the love of children to start a daycare in her home. Her husband, Rick, encouraged her to go for it, especially since many in their neighborhood were struggling to find good daycare. Though Rick has a solid job as a security specialist for a large computer company, he and Rebecca were planning to give her daycare income to some friends who were missionaries working in an orphanage in Uganda. But Rebecca’s elation and godly hope soon turned to despair. There would be no daycare in her home because the state would not license her. Why? Because in Rick’s youth he had been convicted of felony computer hacking before he turned his life around, and the state would not issue a daycare license if a convicted felon lived in the home.
Keith, Kendra, and Rebecca. Three burned people.
Then Peter came up and said to him, “Lord, how often will my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you seven times, but seventy-seven times. “Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.”
—Matthew 18:21-35 ESV
We know well this passage about the unjust steward who received forgiveness for his massive debt but would not forgive another for a much smaller one. My pastor preached on it yesterday and talked about forgiving those who sin against you as a bedrock discipline for true disciples.
I wondered about those cases when no sin is involved, though. That comes up often enough to merit some discussion. In fact, I discussed these same cases with three friends after the service.
In the examples above, ConHugeCo simply chose another winner for their bid, while Zach decided that his relationship with Kelly was not going to lead to marriage. Keith and Kelly felt the brunt of those decisions, and ultimately felt terrible and suffered for the decisions, but again, no one sinned, so by the Bible’s standard, there was nothing or no one to forgive. In Rebecca’s situation, Rick had been forgiven years ago. And the state was just abiding by its own laws in an attempt to protect children.
In these three cases, each person feels wronged. But is forgiveness merited? And to whom?
What do you think? Why?
Yesterday, I switched the wallpaper on my computer. It shows lighthouses now.
I didn’t know a computer desktop wallpaper could be prophetic, but this morning, while praying, God showed me something, and when I looked up, I saw the lighthouse on the screen.
I am fully convinced that we as a Church are running out of time to get things right. We haven’t reached the end yet, but it’s nearer than ever.
We Christians in America have put ourselves in a place where we are like toddlers splashing in the water’s edge at the beach. Oh, look! A starfish. Oh, over there! A sand dollar. The water is warm. Mom waves to us. Look how clear the sky is. The water comes up to our knees.
That’s how we may think of shallow water.
But while that may be a comforting place for the small, it’s disastrous for anything larger—like the American Church.
I didn’t set out to think about lighthouses. It was only after prayer that the lighthouse made sense.
The Bible says that “deep calls to deep.” Out in the deep is where the unknown lurks. The deep is off limits to anyone but the experienced. The line of transition from the toddler splashing in the shallows to the salt-encrusted face of the grizzled sea captain extends from the shore to that great emptiness that stretches from horizon to horizon, where the land goes missing, and all points of reference vanish.
We use the lighthouse as a symbol of Christ guiding us home, but that’s a mistake. The lighthouse exists to warns of the shallows, to force us to head out to deeper water. The real danger is not in the great emptiness out at sea, it’s from being dashed to pieces in the shallows when the conditions turn against us.
As a Body of Christian Believers, the American Church needs to steer away from the shallows. We’ve been in them for far too long. We see them as safety, but that’s where the rocks are, and when the surf rises, and the winds along with them, the shallows are the most dangerous place to be.
God wants us deeper. We have to move away from our natural home on land. We must familiarize ourselves with the denizens of the deep in their natural environment and know their sonorous callings. We must become comfortable navigating by the stars and their dim, often difficult to read, guidance. We must see the lighthouse not as an inviting light, but as a warning to drive us to the real place of safety, even if that place doesn’t look safe on the surface.
Church, we must move out of the shallows. We must learn to navigate the ocean and its depths. We must know how to be at peace, even when no land is in sight. The times demand it.
In closing, this came to mind:
Many Christians are talking about what it means to be radical for Jesus. You’re either caught in the hellbound grip of the comfortable American Dream, or you give it all up to follow the Lord and therefore gain eternal life as a true disciple.
Alex and Bree are a young couple who read David Platt’s book Radical and decided they could no longer live the complacent hipster lifestyle they’d adopted. They sold their townhouse, quit their jobs as a videogame designer and a florist, and moved to Uganda, where they now serve as missionaries, working in an orphanage.
Rob and Tiffani, on the other hand, go to the same church as Alex and Bree once did. Tiffani works as a paralegal but is saving money to attend law school one day. After work, she holds down a second job as a waitress at an upscale restaurant, where Rob is one of the cooks and has a small vested interest in the restaurant as a limited partner. Both spend most of their day working, collapsing into bed at 10 p.m. each night. Neither has much time for church activities, but they are there in the seats every Sunday morning.
Alex and Bree versus Rob and Tiffani. Which couple is truly radical for Jesus?
What if you knew that Rob and Tiffani are the major dollar donors that make it possible for Alex and Bree to stay in Uganda? What if you knew that Tiffani works her second job solely to ensure that money keeps going to Alex and Bree?
Who is radical for Jesus now?
I don’t know about you, but I’m bored with facile arguments from within the Christian community. Most of the situations we set up to illustrate “Bible truths” are so disconnected from most people’s lives as to be utterly useless. No one can argue against them because they are so simplistic and obvious.
But people’s lives are not so easily measured. And what folks do with those lives is more complex than the simplistic bins we want to file them in.
I think that one reason that Christianity is suffering some losses in the United States is that smart people can see through the oversimplifications we sometimes hold out as “truth” on Sunday mornings. We attempt to take Scripture and shoehorn it into our perception of “genuine Christian living” only to find out that result leaves something to be desired—at least it does for those folks who think hard about implications.
The problem is that not enough Christian leaders think about implications. Doesn’t matter what the topic is, they stay on the surface and then try to sell their biblical solution as the only way.
In the case of Rob and Tiffani, I think a lot of Christian leaders who ascribe to the new radicalism would condemn them as not being radical enough. But what those leaders never consider is how folks like Rob and Tiffani are the ones who make it possible for others to pursue the kind of radical faith that the leaders hold up as necessary. Such is true in a lot of cases. People living a supposedly “self-centered, American Dream life” wind up funding big chunks of ministry because of the fact they ARE living according to the system. Take away the Robs and Tiffanis of the world, and you get a lot fewer Alexes and Brees as a result.
It’s not just that illustration I raise, either. Thousands of other cases exist that don’t fit our facile arguments of what genuine discipleship and commitment look like in real life.
More than ever, we need Christian leaders who go deeper. Not just deeper in Jesus, but deeper into the complex problems that face modern America.
Because I have to say that we are doing a terrible job communicating the essence of real discipleship to real people. Our answers are too simpleminded and not well considered. Living for Jesus doesn’t just mean handing out food to the homeless. Sometimes it means tackling entire systems of thought and redeeming them in Jesus name. Sadly, because we avoid the tougher problems in favor of the easy ones, our efforts are a figurative Band-Aid on a severed limb, and we pat ourselves on the back for what we label “radical ministry.”
Church, we have to do better. And doing better is going to ask more of us. And what is asked of us is going to be more complex than what we’re hearing from the pulpit on Sundays IF Christian leaders start examining what goes on beneath the veneer of real discipleship.
What is the radical Christian life? It’s not always the Alex and Bree response. Sometimes, it’s asking the harder question and then doing something about it.