Monthly Archives: April 2012

Jesus and This Dad at the Seafood Restaurant

ImageYou see that picture right there?  Let me tell you about that picture.

The other day, my wife and I went to a seafood restaurant on the coast to enjoy some clam chowder and shrimp tacos.  It’s a pretty casual restaurant, but nice enough that you wouldn’t, say, dump an entire bottle of hot sauce on the floor.  But that’s exactly what the camo-clad little boy on the right goaded his little sister (not pictured) into doing.  An entire bottle.  On the floor.

Now, they’re just kids, and boys will be boys, and blah blah blah, but at exactly the moment where the parent should have stepped in and said, “YOU FREAKING CLEAN THAT UP RIGHT NOW!” the dad (and the woman who I presumed to be his girlfriend, as I saw no rings, and she was about 20 years younger than him and looked nothing like either of the two children) said exactly nothing and simply chuckled.  And they continued to chuckle as one of the restaurant employees came out and made a meager attempt to clean up the  mess.

This is where things get frustrating.  The boy, who all along is yelling at a volume that I can only describe as “meal-ruining,” grabs his dads sunglasses (visible in his dad’s breast pocket in the image) and runs away with them.  The dad, without taking his arm off of his lady friend, asks for the glasses back.  The boy dangles them in front of his dad.  Dad tries to grab them.  Boy yanks them away.  This continues ad nauseum until the boy demands payment for the safe return of the sunglasses.  To my amazement and disgust, the dad reaches in his pocket, pulls out a wad of cash, fishes out a $1 bill, and offers it to his son in exchange for his glasses.

Yes.

That’s right.

The dad paid his son to give him his sunglasses back.

Ok, first of all, let me acknowledge the fact that I am not a parent yet, and I’m certain I have a lot to learn about being a parent.  But I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t learn much from watching this dude.

Second of all, let me address a more theological issue: judgment.  Jesus reminds us not to judge.  I don’t have that whole thing worked out, and I’ve read a lot of poorly contrived (in my opinion) arguments concerning how Jesus really meant something other than, “Do not judge,”  which does’t necessarily jive with the fact that, you know, Jesus says, “Do not judge.”  But that is neither here nor there.  The point is that I may very well be judging this man.  I don’t know his situation.  Maybe it’s a situation that, if I understood it, would cause me to look at him with pity and declare that he gets a “pass” in this situation.  Maybe there is something so deep and underlying that it would completely turn my understanding of the situation upside down.  I am fully open to that possibility.  But as the situation sits, from my limited perspective, I am left with no reasonable option other than to question this guy’s ability as a parent and to be in fear for his children’s futures.

Ok, now let’s get spiritual:

The other day, during a student Bible study meeting, one of the students brought up the question of why Jesus often refused to perform miracles for some of the people who asked to see them (see especially Matthew 12:38-45 among other similar accounts).  Why, we all wondered, did Jesus refuse an opportunity to make some sure converts out of these Pharisees.  Surely if He had all the power of God, He could have made a little fire or turned dust into Skittles or something like that.  But He didn’t.  I asked my students if they could perform a miracle whether or not they would take the opportunity to make some insta-converts.  We all agreed that we would.  So what, exactly, was Jesus thinking here?  Why keep people out of the Kingdom on account of their desire to see a little magic show?

After the meeting, my wife and I discussed it a bit.  She reminded me of the family we had encountered at the seafood restaurant.  How frustrating it was to watch the little boy demand some money in exchange for the sunglasses, and to watch the dad comply.  There was no struggle, no dialogue, no challenge from father to son, no discussion on the nature of authority; nothing.  Just pure frustrating power wielded by the son.  My wife, brilliant as she is, said, “Both of us watched that situation and realized that the power in that family was completely inverted from how it ought to be.  The kids call the shots.  The parents were at their command.  And we both knew instinctively that something was wrong.”

“What if,” she said, “this is what Jesus was trying to prevent by not performing tricks for people.”

Woah.

Wow.

Gotta love that lady I married.  She completely blew that piece of Scripture wide open for me.

Imagine a Jesus who traveled the countryside performing parlor tricks.  Every time someone says, “Hey Jesus, we’re running out of wine over here…wink wink…” Jesus brews up a batch (or whatever.  I don’t know how wine is made).  Or when someone says, “Hey Jesus, my cousin Barney doesn’t believe that you’re the real deal.  Show him some magic to prove it!” and Jesus flicks his wrist and makes a bird turn into a roll of duct tape or something.  When Jesus starts taking orders, the power is flipped around.  Something is fundamentally backwards when Jesus starts kowtowing to our whims and demands.  In a world where Jesus responds in the affirmative to our every desire, He begins to look a whole heckuvalot like this guy:

(And he only grants 3 wishes!) 

Maybe a cool friend to have for a little while.  But definitely not deserving of allegiance or worship.  Hopefully this can help give us some perspective on why Jesus doesn’t always perform every miracle we ask of Him.  It’s not a hard-and-fast rule about when Jesus will or won’t do something.  But it makes you think about where the power lies.  Eventually, as people who have a desire to follow Jesus, we have to develop a two-party hierarchy.  Who’s the boss?  One of us is going to be the leader, and the other is going to follow orders.  And based on what I see in Scripture, Jesus doesn’t follow orders so well.

Just a thought.

-Tim-

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How Small is Our God?

ImageThere’s a car in my neighborhood with this sticker on the back of it.  I don’t know who drives the car, but I know that the sentiment expressed on the sticker causes me to think every time I see it.

I suspect that the phrase, “God is too big for any one religion,” is used to convey the idea that organized religion is small-minded.  Certainly if God is as big as our religions claim He (or She) is, then He/She must be far too large to fit into the ever-encroaching framework of our organized religions.  I would guess that there are even some “progressive Christians” (a term that I find redundant) who would revel in this idea as it indicates a perceived attack on the stuffy, small-minded, traditionalism of conservative evangelicalism.

It’s certainly an interesting idea.  God is too big for our religions.  How big He must be!  He is overflowing the boundaries of our religions, and (if this concept is taken to its logical extreme) He is pouring into and overflowing the boundaries of all religions.  This is an attractive concept.  But it is one that I can not ascribe to, as I find it distinctively counter to Christ.

Some might read that last statement and make up their mind that I am just one of the small-minded individuals to whom the sticker’s sentiment is directed.  And they’re free to believe so.  But I would propose that the idea of God being “too big for any one religion” represents a paradigm that is not particularly constructive, and is, in Christian terms, called into question by the nature of the Gospel.

When I was younger, I worked at a hotel with a Moslem fellow who would often allow me to provoke him into theological conversation.  One dialogue I recall in particular included my attempt to explain the incarnation, and his subsequent rejection of it.  He said that he could not believe that God became man, because God is too big to become man; too holy to become man; too good to become man.  God was “too big” for the Christian religion.  I have to admit, his logic was hard to argue against.  Allah had never become man, and therefore was not as small as my God, who had lowered Himself to the human form.  In this instance, I engaged in the battle over whose God was bigger, and (so far as my co-worker was concerned) I lost.

Now consider Christ.  Consider the way He taught.  Consider the backwardness of His teachings about the nature of the Kingdom.  Consider the fact that in Acts 17, his followers were described as those who “have turned the world upside down,” (ESV).  And consider for a moment that in Christ, God is rejecting the ever-present bickering between religions about whose God is “bigger.”  In a world where the best faith is presumably the one that can shout the loudest to prove that their god is the biggest, Christ comes to quietly cull a minority of individuals simple-minded enough to believe that God could be like them, even if for a moment in history.

While much of the world was pointing out their gods in the stars and constellations and mountain tops and the sun and moon,  Jesus spoke in terms of seeds, fish, coins, bread and soil; things we can hold.  Small things.  Big gods exist elsewhere.  Jesus exists here, making first things last and big things small.

Is God too big for any one religion?  I have no idea.  I don’t put much stock in religion as it exists today anyhow.  But I know that I am not compelled to belief by an enormous religion-devouring God in the same way that I am compelled to belief in a God who rejects our concept of how big He ought to be so that He can be as small as we need Him to be.  So allow the religions of the world to argue about whose god(s) are bigger.  It’s an argument that I, by the grace of Christ, don’t find compelling.

-Tim-

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Lies This Christian Tells Himself

I was tempted to title this, “Lies Christians Tell Ourselves,” but I’ve read too many Christians who seem far too interested in defaming the Church for whatever reason, and I have no interest in that.  But I don’t mind a little self-deprecation if it serves to make a point.

Here are some lies I’ve told myself recently:

“Worship is about the way I live.”

“I practice friendship evangelism.”

“My prayer is a constant conversation with God.”

If you’ve been in/around the Church for any extended period of time, these are probably statements you are familiar with.  I must confess that these statements are lies (at least when they are coming from my mouth).

I don’t worship with the way I live.

I don’t practice friendship evangelism.

My prayer is not a constant conversation with God.

So why do I bother to tell lies like this?  Probably the reasons are twofold.

First, to say such things paints myself in a powerfully spiritual light (as if those who are powerfully spiritual have any interest in painting themselves to appear so).  With these statements draped over me, I can feel comfortable in my spiritual intentions.  I begin to appear to be a real spiritual soldier who has surrendered every waking moment of my life to the noble pursuits of worship, evangelism, and prayer.  The type of man any Christian damsel would throw herself at in the hope that I am not so pious as to reject her affections in the name of asceticism.

Second, to say such things allows me the freedom of never actually following through on my intentions.  If I say that I worship with the way I live, there is no obligation to actually set aside time designated for worship.  Same goes for evangelism and prayer.  Nobody can hold me accountable on these items because they are no longer items; they are a “part of who I am.”  This creates a tremendous barrier of subjectivity through which I can hardly be called to account.  Were someone to ask, “How do you evangelize?” I can simply respond with the nebulous, “With the way I live my life.”  This deflects the question while throwing an impressive “flash-bang” of meta-evangelism in their direction which serves to confuse and astound.

Now, for clarification’s sake:

I do believe that worship ought to be a lifestyle.

I do believe that evangelism is most fruitful in the context of a relationship.

And I do believe that prayer ought to be constant.

In that respect, these statements are not lies.  But when I personalize these statements to refer to myself, they become untrue.  Because they do not (even on a highly subjective level) reflect the reality of my life.  The problem does not exist in these statements.  The problem exists in the infrequency in which these statements are followed up with intentional action:

Actively seeking out moments of worship.

Creating spaces in which the Gospel can be conveyed.

Practicing the discipline of frequent purposeful prayer.

What is the point of all of this?  I don’t know.  Perhaps the point is that I am ashamed of myself for claiming to so many things that I do not adhere to.  Or maybe I find myself frustrated in the comfort I find in painting my own spirituality as it is not.  Or, it could be that I wanted to write a blog post about how ashamed and frustrated I am with myself so that you would see me as spiritual without requiring anything of me.

Hmm…

-Tim-

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Why having a blog terrifies me.

Hello.  This is my blog.  This blog is called Faith Seeking Explosions.   The reason is because both “Faith Seeking Understanding” and “Understanding Seeking Faith” were taken.  And the next best thing beyond understanding, I suppose, is explosions.  But if you’re interested in that concept, read this book.

Now, on to something else.

What I am doing now is pretty scary for me.

Since I was 17, I have struggled with anxiety.  I’m 27 now, and I’ve grown a lot, but I’ve yet to outgrow it.  And nothing makes me more anxious than harsh, angry, unmovable opinions.  And I know that by putting my thoughts into writing and allowing people to read them, I am opening myself up to such criticisms.  It scares me.

But I guess we’re supposed to face our fears.  Or at least to continue moving in spite of them.  Or to spite them.  Or whatever.

So, here’s a place where my pounding heart and racing mind will tell my shaking hands what buttons to press in order to make my thoughts appear on the interwebs.

Hopefully you’ll be blessed as a result.

-Tim-

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