Memorial Day

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Gentle Reader,

I find myself in an uncomfortable position every time this day and the 4th of July roll around. I know my history. As an American citizen, I know that many wars have been fought by the United States Armed Forces in the name of justice and freedom (whether they were really about those things or not). I know that, in general, there is a long tradition of granting a certain level of respect and honor to those who have served in the military. There are people in my own family who have served.

While I would never go so far as to be disrespectful to someone who has been or is currently in the military, I struggle with knowing how to honor them, particularly if they ascribe to Christian faith. On the one hand, this issue is something that each believer must grapple with on his or her own. I recognize the fact that, as much as I don’t understand it, one can be genuinely and sincerely committed to God and find military service to be compatible with such faith. On the other hand, I absolutely do not agree with the actions that such people have engaged in. Violence, in any form and by any name, is simply wrong to me.

As I glance over at the television, the Stars and Stripes is waving proudly in a gentle breeze before some sporting match commences. I wonder: how far should the allegiance to that flag go? Am I Christian, or an American? Can I be both? Which one comes first? I have always felt, based on years of studying and prayer, that my Christian faith must always be the overriding factor of my life. I don’t always get that right, but it is my conviction. My nationality is of secondary importance.

This is where the conflict arises. In a strange and subtle way, the military and the Church here in America are quite intertwined. So much for our fabled separation of church and state. How could this be denied, when time is taken in services across the country to honor men and women who have engaged in such service? When are teachers honored before a sermon? Nurses? Stay-at-home mothers? Gas station clerks?

American. Christian.

I can’t say that I’m not thankful to live in this country. I know that I enjoy great liberties. I am simply not convinced that the course this nation has taken has been God-ordained. In the Old Testament, covenant promises were directly linked to a physical, earthly place. In the New Testament, covenant promises are specifically NOT linked to any piece of land. Therefore, I don’t believe that Christians in America have some sort of blessed status. We just happen to live here.

We who have been set free by the Lord, what is our obligation to this country? What depth of thankfulness do we owe to those who fight? I wonder. For a good many years at the time of the Roman Empire, our faith was illegal. I have yet to read anything in which an early Christian person finds this inexplicable or petitions the government for “fairness.” To be an outcast in society, to be willing to accept the consequences for adhering to such faith, to suffer loss and torment, all of this was expected. Jesus Himself warned against it. Yet we today complain that our government doesn’t protect our religious rights as it should. Who has the unrealistic view?

There are so many questions related to this topic. What is freedom, and who secures it? Is it possible to be truly free in a land of horrible oppression? Must we take up arms to ensure that we continue to posses this freedom? For someone who is submitted to Christ as Lord, is it appropriate to ever put another human being in such a position as to be unable to say “no,” as is often the case with military commanders?

This is a touchy subject, I know. Some may accuse me of being passive in my pacifism. This is not the case. I believe in fighting for truth and justice, but I do not think that anyone on this planet, regardless of who they are, is my enemy. That’s not the battle I’m engaged in.  I don’t think freedom has anything to do with who your government leaders  are or what country you happen to live in. I made the decision long ago that my faith is worth suffering and dying for. I will not protest any consequences that might come my way for continuing to live as I do now, regardless of whether or not that life contravenes what the government deems fit.

Do I have such an attitude because of my indebtedness to men and women in the military and what they have fought for? Do I think thusly simply because I have the freedom to think it? Would I think differently if I had been born in the midst of a totalitarian regime? I don’t know that I can rightly untangle that.

I think what I can say on this Memorial Day is that I respect those men and women of the Armed Forces who, based on their convictions, have gone forth to do what they believe is right for their families and their country. I may disagree with those convictions, but I can admire the courage it takes to follow something through to its logical conclusion. I appreciate the heart of love that you have for your fellow countrymen and women. I admire your desire to serve and the acts of compassion you engage in within the context of terror.

My own convictions lead me to stop there, but I truly hope that it is enough. I also hope that it is evident that I do not wish to tear anyone down. My true impetus in writing this is to further sort out my own thoughts, and to encourage the Church to grapple with these issues, which are not as black and white as they might seem. Pacifists like me must accept that there are genuine brothers and sisters on the opposite side of the fence on this one, and that they are not indiscriminately violent. By the same token, those who do find military service to be compatible with faith must accept that their pacifist brothers and sisters are not cowardly or inconsistent with historic faith.

Christian. American.

Freedom?

My journey to faith. (15)

 

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Broken, but Not Erased: What Are The Implications?

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Gentle Reader,

Here is something that I categorically did NOT enjoy writing, because I found my own conclusions to be terribly convicting. That’s always something, isn’t it?

Every Christian walks an ethical tightrope in today’s world. On the one hand, believers have a certain set of notions, a Biblically proscribed worldview, which is to govern each and every thought, action, belief, etc. On the other hand, the bulk of Scripture makes it very clear that those without a saving faith in God cannot be expected to have the same worldview; “they are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts.” 1 A view of life shaped by the God of the Bible and a view of life shaped by world and self are inevitably going to clash.

Contrary to most popular teaching, Christians ascribe to the view that “not only the natural world but our existence as humans points toward God. . .For our ultimate identity  we are dependent on a transcendent reality, the divine Creator.” 2 The creation account in Genesis takes this notion one step farther, illuminating that humans are, in fact, “made in the imago Dei (‘image of God’).” 3 Thus, Christian belief necessitates that each and every life has value, purpose and meaning. Though man has sinned, and that grievously, nothing in Scripture implies that this divine image, that this specific significance, has been stripped of humanity. People may be dead in their sins 4 before coming to a saving faith in God, but this does not mean that they do not bear something of His mark.

In general, these considerations have led most Christians to oppose “whether and when people have the right to choose abortion,” 5 and many to take the pacifistic stance of opposing war. While these are important points for each believer to wrestle with, those about whom Jesus had much to say may well end up being lost in the shuffle: the poor. “For I was hungry and you gave Me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave Me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited Me in, I needed clothes and you clothed Me, I was sick and you looked after Me, I was in prison and you came to visit Me. . .I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.” 6

Nothing in these verses suggests that believers are to extend such care only to those who know the Lord. Who are the least in neighborhoods around the country? Even in the world? Perhaps they are Muslims – even Muslims who hate Americans. Perhaps they are Satanists. Does such diametric opposition to the faith of a Christian give those Christians leave to ignore their plight? Absolutely not. In recognizing that all human beings are made in the image of God, and are therefore possessed of inherent worth and dignity, the arms of any Christian person must be open to embrace and help anyone, just as the arms of Jesus were. This does not mean that truth must be compromised, but rather that truth is given real life and applicability. Believers need “spiritual wisdom given by the Holy Spirit that both humbles and enlightens, enabling [them] to see with new clarity” 7 in dealing with and extending help to broken people. After all, it was not so long ago that any believer was in the same state.

My journey to faith. (15)

 

References:

1 Eph. 4:18.

2 Stanley J. Grenz. Theology for the Community of God. (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994) 139.

3 Gregory A. Boyd. Across the Spectrum: Understanding Issues in Evangelical Theology. (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 2009), 97.

4 Eph. 2:1.

5 Boyd, 98.

6 Matt. 25:35, 40.

7 Art Lindsley. True Truth: Defending Absolute Truth in a Relativistic World. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 173.

The Jesus for All

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Gentle Reader,

What follows is a little composition that I wrote for school today. I’ve always loved the Gospel of Luke, mostly because of its anally chronological and detailed nature. In giving this account deeper consideration, however, I have come to see that Luke offers a lot more than just a reliable timeline. To my knowledge, he was the only Gentile author in the entire New Testament. He saw something in this Jewish Messiah, this light that burned for all the nations. It changed him, made him part of a long and lasting faith-tradition, both within and without Judaism. This Jewish Messiah? He was not just for the Jews.

Week Three Discussion Question: Choose one of the Gospels, using Blomberg’s analysis summarize that particular Gospel’s portrait of Jesus and the important features of this Gospel. What should we learn from this portrait of Jesus and from the important features of this Gospel?

* * * * * * * *

In Genesis 12, the Lord tells Abram to get out of his native city and travel to an unknown land that would be revealed in His timing. This startling command was not without promises of blessing, however, and couched within those promises is this key statement: “. . .all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.” 1 The story that follows is generally familiar to Jewish and Christian people alike; what may not be so familiar is the deep significance of the idea “all peoples.”

This is the main thrust of the Luke’s Gospel. Luke, as a Gentile, provides a unique “outsider” portrait of Jesus. He “attaches. . .Jesus’ career [to] the events of secular history. . .Jesus is a ‘light. . .to the Gentiles’. . .” 2 Differing from Mark and Matthew, who each placed Jesus’ genealogy specifically within a Jewish context, Luke’s genealogy reaches back “to Adam, father of the whole human race, and ultimately to God Himself.” 3 Not only does Luke draw a portrait of Jesus as the Gentile Savior, he also pays special attention to Jesus’ interactions with social outcasts and with women. 4 This is the infinitely relatable Jesus, still the God-Man, but a God and a Man who will reach out to anyone.

While John’s Gospel is particularly concerned with establishing the divinity of Jesus, 5 Luke’s emphasis lies in Jesus’ as a human, again “in His association with and compassion for numerous categories of social outcasts.” 6 Only Luke records the parable of the Good Samaritan; pays particular attention to Jesus interacting with tax collectors (collaborators with Roman oppressors) and sinners (those who definitely thumbed their noses at Jewish laws and conventions); discusses Jesus’ numerous encounters with women; shows Jesus’ concern for the poor and oppressed. 7 (This doesn’t mean that the other Gospel authors were unconcerned with these aspects of Jesus’ life, but only that Luke was inspired to write the story of Jesus from this angle). Other unique emphases in Luke’s Gospel are found in Jesus as Savior, prophet and teacher of parables. 8

From this special portrait of Jesus flow several dominate themes. Linked to Jesus’ concern for the poor comes teaching on proper stewardship of material goods. 9 The role of the Holy Spirit in enabling believers for such righteous living becomes a major factor 10. From this comes teaching on “the Holy Spirit[‘s] empower[ment] of Jesus and His followers. . .[for] prayer. . .joy. . .[and] God’s wooing us back to Himself [through] repentance and conversion.” 11 Perhaps most crucial for believers today in Luke’s record of early Christian history 12 is his concern with showing Jesus’ as the fulfillment of all Messianic hope within Judaism; therefore, a “law-free Christianity was the desired goal to which God was ultimately guiding first-century events,” 13 thus rendering the ritual laws of Old Testament worship null and void. (It is important to note, however, that “Jesus. . .excerpts some Old Testament laws, giving them new applicability. . .redefining them in terms of love for neighbor rather than simply as prohibitions to be ‘kept’.” 14 Thus, the ethical laws of the Old Covenant are carried over into the New.)

What is to be gleaned from all this? Perhaps Luke himself sums it up best in this opening question of one of Jesus’ parables: “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?” 15 While this verse has meaning on many levels, its greatest applicability for today’s believers lies in the idea of the Gentile world being that lost sheep. Though Jesus came and lived in a Jewish context, He did not turn a blind eye to all others. His salvation was (and is) available to everyone who places belief in and  stands upon His grace.

My journey to faith. (15)

 

References:

1 Gen. 12:3b.

2 Gundry, Robert H. A Survey of the New Testament. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003), 210.

3 Ibid, 210.

4 Ibid, 210.

5 Blomberg, Craig L. Jesus and the Gospels: an Introduction and Survey. (Nasvhille: B&H Publishing, 2009), 186.

6 Ibid, 163.

7 Ibid, 164-165.

8 Ibid, 165.

9 Ibid, 166.

10 Ibid, 169.

11 Ibid, 169-170.

12 Ibid, 167.

13 Ibid, 168.

14 Fee, Gordon D. and Douglas Stuart. How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2003),168.

15 Lk. 15:4.

I Need, You Need

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Gentle Reader,

I am a needy person.

Guess what?

So are you.

I daresay that discussing this topic ranks right up there with listening to nails screecing across a chalkboard. Nobody I know actually wants to admit that they need anything. In our Western mindset, to ask for help or confess a need is tantamount to declaring total defeat. You might as well plop a paper bag over your head and scrawl the word, “LOSER” across it in big, bold letters. We want to be known as independent, competent, together. Not a hair out of place, not a speck in the house, no mistakes at work. Ever smiling perfection, ready to lend a hand to anyone –

– but never able to take one.

Let us examine a very simple passage of Scripture which has enormous implications for our daily lives:

My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:19 (NKJV)

This post tonight is not about the Problem of Pain. I’m not going to try and sort out why bad things happen, why some people go hungry, why disaster strikes. Frankly, I don’t think that there will ever be an answer that fully satisfies anyone. This is not about what needs are met and what needs are not met. This is about having needs in the first place.

To place this verse in context, Paul is writing to the believing community in Philippi, Greece. He is sitting in prison, traditionally thought to have been his first incarceration in Rome, but I am more convinced by the evidence of those who attest to an Ephesian setting. Either way, he’s locked up. Yet, Philippians is perhaps one of the most joyful and hopeful letters of the New Testament. In it the audience reads that Paul is content to be where he is (1:12), that they should not be frightened by anyone who opposes them (1:28), that their conduct should be such that they may be as stars shining in the heavens (2:15), that they must press forever onward and upward toward Jesus (3:14), and that they can do anything by the strength of Christ (4:13).

My eyes well up at the sight of all that encouragement, and it cannot be said that I am much of a crier. Something stirs within me, though. To think that this man, thrown into a dark hole, hoping that friends might remember to take care of him (Roman prisoners were not fed or clothed by the state), could write such stirring words is a depth of confidence that I have not yet grasped. Add to that the delightful bit of theology contained within the kenosis passage of 2:5-11, and this remarkable letter is signed, sealed and delivered straight to the heart of the reader.

I have to think that Paul had arrived at a place in his life, long before this prison sentence, where he could freely admit that he had needs. Though it is in this very same letter in which he writes that he has learned to be content in every circumstance (4:11), I believe that it would be very wrong for us to link contentment with stoically facing life with a stony face. Such an attitude is nothing more than falsehood. Where is the solution, then? How is it possible to be content and needy all at once?

I think that the key lies in being able to refer to the Lord as “my God.”

Paul was not the first to write about God in such a way. Ample precedent was available to him in the Psalms. The shepherd-turned-king David wrote:

The LORD is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. – Psalm 18:2 (NKJV)

The LORD is my shepherd. – Psalm 23:1 (NKJV)

In you I trust, O my God. – Psalm 25:2 (NKJV)

The LORD is my light and my salvation.- Psalm 27:1 (NKJV)

Think about it. To be able to say that “the LORD is my rock” is admit that you need a rock. To be able to say that He is your deliverer is to admit that you need one. A shepherd? You need guidance. A light? You’re walking in darkness. The depth of need exposed in these and countless other verses is astounding. Do we really understand this? Are we simply mouthing platitudes?

Is the Lord “my God” or is He just God?

There’s a vast difference between the two.

So, we have needs. We wake up with them strapped to our chests and don’t bother to take them off and night. Our needs are an intrinsic part of who we are. This neediness is not a result of our fallen state, though sin certainly magnifies and exacerbates the needs. Even in Heaven, however, when all is peace and light, we will continue to need. That is blatantly obvious.

Isn’t it?

In Heaven, won’t we continue to need God? Life? Beauty? Joy?

I’m a needy person. I need unconditional acceptance and love. I need personal space and lots of quiet time to think. I need more rest than the average person. I need to eat in a much healthier way then I currently do. I need to be able to say “no”. I need friends. Family. Stimulating conversation. A roof over my head. Romance. Puppies. Laughter. Is it possible to be truly content in the midst of this ocean of need?

Yes. I have come to think that contentedness lies wholly in flinging my broken, bleeding, needing self at the feet of the Father. My God will meet all these needs and more. Perhaps He will intervene in a miraculous way. Perhaps He will work through the hands of another person. Perhaps, in a stamp of divine mystery, He will appear to not meet a need. As I said before, this I cannot explain. All I know is that any “no” always leads to a much grander “yes”. God desires to give! (James 1:17) And give He does, whether in these outward ways or in a quiet, inward manner; the manner of pouring out His own love and strength upon me.

This is all fine and dandy, well and good. If pressed, I think we can admit that we need God. What about each other, though? Can we really admit that it stings to be left out? That it’s draining to be constantly in the position of rescuing others? That we need people in our lives who are wholly safe and who can and will accept us for who we are, as we are, as much as they are able to do so?

I very hesitantly pat that need on the back, stopping short of a full embrace. I need to stop trying to be the Messiah and leave that job up to the One who is far better qualified. I can’t be everything that everyone wants me to be. It’s just not possible. For I, the “together” one, am not together. Not really. On the surface, I can look pretty good. Inside? I need just as much healing and comfort and support as anyone else.

That’s where contentment comes from. It’s not just blithely accepting whatever comes your way. It’s admitting to the need and keeping your eyes open for the answer which comes from on high. It is having confidence that He is taking care of you, even if you can’t fully understand it. Contentment isn’t ignoring things. We are left in bondage to discontentment and masking our neediness in doing that.

I want something different. I want to be free. Free to admit that I need, free to seek out real contentment, free to be a broken, messed-up, hurting, imperfect, desperately-needing-Jesus person. That’s who I really am. Anything else is just a game.

Think about it.

If you can’t admit that you’re needy, then can you really claim that you need Jesus for anything?

My journey to faith. (15)