Saturday, April 5, 2014

Christian Humility

Humility doesn't require that we deny our God-given abilities, rights, or needs. It is a posture of the heart that sees ourselves from God's perspective, as servants created and empowered to glorify him through all our gifts and opportunities. It is a desire to love God as God alone deserves, and our neighbors as ourselves. Sometimes, however, loving others as ourselves cuts against our present self-interest. Then we must deny ourselves and embrace the cross with humble submission. 

From where do we find strength to do this? Not in our natural powers, which are corrupt with conceit. Instead, we look to the Spirit, through whom we have received the mind of Christ. Our holiness, our humility, is upheld by hope that we are called to a certain glorious end, exceeding temporal honor and pleasure. Humility is the hand by which we trade the pyrite of the present age for the gold of future glory. Hope is the means by which we bear the burden of this world, with the power of the life to come. The mystery of humility is that when we cease grasping at momentary privileges to lay hold of eternal promises, we receive far better treasures in heavenly places.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Comfort of Ascension

Beyond the great comfort which believers have through the sacrificial death of Jesus, we are further assured by the continual intercession which he makes on our behalf. The Shepherd not only died for his sheep, but "ever lives" to reunite them with their God.  That Christ sits as supreme judge on heaven's throne does not frighten us, for he is our Advocate. His very loftiness makes for a more glorious streak of flame as he casts Satan's accusations back down to hell, from where they came.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Why Youth Drive Off Cliffs, and Other Presuppositional Problems

Most of us have known children raised in the church who went off to college, only to come back several years later with little or no profession of Christian faith. It's tragic every time, but not necessarily surprising. We seek to nurture youthful confessions but the reality of belief is between them and God. Still, why does it happen? Why do people leave after continuing for so long? Here's one reason.

All of us have beliefs and patterns of thought so foundational or familiar to us that we may act on them without realizing it. For instance, if you see a piano falling from a balcony, you don't stop to ponder—you get out of the way. What we call "instincts" in many cases reveal deeply held ideas about how the world works. In this case, basic beliefs about gravity, mass, and human mortality tell you, "run!" We call these underlying beliefs "presuppositions". 

Presuppositions work like the alignment of a car. They determine the direction we naturally drift when we aren't actively steering another way. If you presuppose certain races are inferior, or that the universe has no meaning, your decisions will eventually follow those tracks. Likewise, when your presuppositions align with God's Word, it's much easier to track with the church. Is the Bible true? Is Jesus the only way? Is public worship necessary?

Many people who gather with the church outwardly are "misaligned" inwardly. They disagree with basic Christian convictions about God, Scripture, sin, and human nature, perhaps more than they realize. As long as they are under their parents' roof, or have spouses and friends who make strong professions, they keep a firm hand on the wheel making sure they don't drift off the "straight and narrow." When those controls come off, though, their inward alignment begins to show. They start to veer another way.

We can't "give faith" to our youth, or anyone. One of the best things we can do, however, is address underlying issues that reveal where people are really pointed. By inspecting the presuppositions of those who profess Christ, we can address doubts and issues before people drive into a ditch. If we check the alignment, by God's grace we can try to correct it.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Skate-Trick Theologians

There's one kind of person in the world: the kind who makes hasty, inaccurate generalizations (see what I did there?). Then there are three other kinds of people:
  1. Those who come to staircases and see functional devices for ascending and descending heights. 
  2. Die-hard skaters. When they come to architectural features, their eye is foremost upon the potential for tricks. The fact that handrails are installed to assist the balance of people with weak bodies may not occur to them—railing is God's gift to skaters, a trick waiting to happen. 
  3. Skate aficionados and spectators. They just enjoy watching a good kick flip in a public place, laws be damned.
Similarly, there are three ways of approaching God's truth. The first is to see theology for what it is: a functional, if somewhat precarious device for entering God's presence more fully. Biblical discussion serves as a staircase, a means for advancing Christian sanctification and making the heights of God's Word more accessible to others. Or, secondly, we can come to the discussion looking for opportunities to ollie. We can examine everything we read and hear, not to survey its true function and discern its safety, but to find gaps and angles to exploit. Then we secretly (or openly) rejoice at the chance to wow everyone with an effortless Fakie Pivot Big Spin right over it. Third, while we may not be guilty of seeking chances to showboat our theological skills, we might be prone to take juvenile pleasure watching those who do. (Which one of us hasn't?)

The apostle Paul warned Titus to “avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless” (Tit 3:9) The law is certainly not the only issue that can be exploited for foolish controversy. Paul was dealing with a particular violation of a general principle: don't look for places to needlessly bicker and dispute God's truth. If you discover a structural flaw in someone's presentation, have it repaired or put a sign on it, but don't draw needless attention to yourself. Definitely don't treat it like a game.

The fact is, it's easier to do tricks than to make unimpeachable structures. Tricks get lots of instant high-fives while good staircases go unnoticed. Worse, bad ones get people get hurt, so there are few willing to do the labor. To be serviceable, our theological language sometimes has to accommodate more limited capacities. We use less precise terms or leave off excessive details to help those who would otherwise struggle to climb. But doing so opens us to critics who can find double meanings and questionable implications behind every word. We risk being made a trick of. The thing is, those simplifications are handrails. They are put there to assist weaker brothers, not to be the most systematic definition of theology. And that staircase was never meant to be jumped over recklessly. Every step has its place. But you can't expect skaters to walk where they can grind.

Of course we should guard our language. As theologians building on behalf of Christ, we should make the best possible staircases. But doing so shouldn't require us to glue an infinite number of unsightly little pucks to every curb and coping to prevent all possibility that someone might take us wrong. If there is one thing skating has taught me, everything is trickable. Some pro will find a gap in your words and draw attention to it, and that's part of ministry in a fallen world. Get used to it because some people will never grow up enough to know when to restrain their impulse to skate theology. Because of them, there will always be pressure to refine every discussion and over-state every Sunday school lesson, until they all resemble perfect planes of technical precision, something only skate wizards can ascend. As for those who see theology for its true function, to bring God's truth down to a manageable level and raise believers up in the knowledge of Christ, keep building. We appreciate your work.

VAIN PHILOSOPHY

From babies to butchers everyone has a philosophy. It may be stated or unsaid, but it is everything we think about God, the world, ourselves; about the origins and ends of things. There is nothing inherently wrong with philosophy as it is simply “love of wisdom,” a passion for truth and its application to living. However, the Bible warns against “vain philosophy” which departs from the way of wisdom in three ways:

  1. It seeks to know that which God has not revealed. 
  2. It seeks to know things contrary to truth. 
  3. It's supreme interest is not to know and glorify the living God, but to know and glory in creatures. 
The toddler who studies the art of a well-feigned cry and the butcher who masters his craft to fatten his ego are alike vain philosophers.

Monday, February 10, 2014

THORNS IN THE FLESH — 2 COR 12:7

What exactly does the writer of 2 Corinthians refer to when he describes struggling with “a thorn in the flesh”? Unchecked curiosity has lead some to speculate about what is implied. Everything from poor eyesight to sexual impulses have been claimed as the source of his grief. Prying into the nature of Paul's “thorn in the flesh,” however, is to miss the very purpose of the obscure phrase. The apostle is not trying to hide his shame behind a leaf. After all, his point is to boast in human weakness and thereby underscore the sufficiency of grace.

The obscurity of Paul’s language here is inspired by the Spirit to speak equally to every believer. From the most privileged apostle to the lowly thief on the cross, God sees fit to preserve certain weaknesses that remain until our final breath. Our circumstances are diverse yet we each struggle with lasting, painful effects of the fall. Sinful habits and inclinations stick deeply in us with bitter barbs. They are not altogether a curse. In fact they serve a blessed purpose. Like thistles in a foot or hand, indwelling weakness makes us limp to heaven leaning on Christ. They loosen our grip on this passing age and cause us to reach out for grace. Above all, as annoying and excruciating as they are, fleshly thorns force us to boast not in ourselves but in the mercy and might of our God who uses fallen, thorn-ridden people to accomplish his will.

Monday, February 3, 2014

THE HOLINESS OF GOD

The holiness of God applies to more than his moral goodness. It refers to the "otherliness", the categorical solitude enfolding the whole divine being. God is different from everything else. He is other, he is holy. Humanity's grandest conceptions do no more justice to the living God than can a child's painted sun capture the magnitude of our nearest star. His righteousness is more radiant than any eye can stand to see. It is a stellar inferno emitting vast, violent flares into the cosmic darkness. Flaming tongues of moral zeal lick out from his burning presence to consume all impurity.

His grace is also holy, otherly. God's unqualified favor is more unbounded than any creature can comprehend, more inexhaustible for our needs than the sun. It falls on Mars and Mercury, regardless of which seems nearer to the source. It is a ray speeding across unfathomable distances with light and warmth in its arms. His grace fans life where there were only barren fields of ice, making winter into spring. The holiness of God means he is as otherly in his generosity as he is in his justice. He is good to the point of inducing fear, and his goodwill leads to peace surpassing all understanding.