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A Letter to My Children Regarding Same-Sex Marriage

Dear son(s) and/or daughter(s),

This weekend the Supreme Court of the United States ruled to expand the definition of marriage from one man and one woman to include two men who want to marry each other, or two women who want to marry each other.  This is an historic event, and I wanted to be sure you understood what I believe about this issue.  Hopefully, wherever you are in life, we have cultivated the type of relationship where you still care what your dad believes.  I will try to be as straightforward and clear as I can be.

First, though, I want to say that I realize that if our culture continues in the direction it has been, by the time you read this the whole topic may seem like a nonissue for most of our nation.  It will have been law for many years, and most people won’t see it as an issue worth reevaluating.  I want to encourage you to think for yourself.  No matter what anyone else believes, you are a free person and no one can tell you what to think.  I won’t try to control your thoughts.  I only want to tell you why I believe what I do.  If I’m honest with you, I hope you agree with me.  I have not come to my position on this issue haphazardly.  Many countless hours of thought, conversation, counsel, reading, and prayer have gone into my views.  And while it may be exceedingly unpopular when you read this, I believe it to be true.  Remember that our culture is only capable of exemplifying what is popular – not what is right or wrong.

So, with all of that out of the way, here is what I believe on the issue:

I do not think that it is good for two men to engage in sexual acts with each other.  I do not believe it is good for two women to engage in sexual acts with each other. I do not believe that it is good for two people who are not committed to one another in the life-long covenant of marriage to engage in sexual acts with one another.  I do not believe it is good for three or more people to engage in sexual acts together.  I do not believe that sex is bad, or wrong, or disgusting.  In fact, I like sex very much (you wouldn’t be here if I didn’t).  But like a fire, I believe that sex best serves us when it is contained within certain boundaries, and it becomes a danger to us and those around us when we take it outside of those boundaries.  I believe, more specifically, that those boundaries are a life-long committed covenant (look that word up; it’s important) relationship between a husband and a wife.

I believe that, as humans, our bodies and our sexes are gifts given to us by God and that they ought to be stewarded well.  I do not believe that this is a means of God placing unwarranted restrictions on us.  I believe it is God’s way of protecting us and preventing us from misusing our bodies and the bodies of others.

So, here is the core issue for me: I don’t think that sexual acts between two people of the same sex is a good thing.  I believe that there are good reasons for believing this, not the least of which being our very bodies and the nature of human reproduction.  (As an aside, I recognize that there are arguments and counter-arguments ad infinitum regarding these topics.  I would discourage you from overwhelming yourself with the incessant back-and-forth of these debates, as they rapidly degenerate into vitriolic attacks on people rather than meaningful dialog on ideas.  I would encourage you, rather, to examine the simplest evidences and arguments for both sides as you are making up your own mind.  The simplest arguments tend to be the strongest and least susceptible to the influence of the ever-fluctuating cultural milieu.  But I digress.)  Because I do not believe that sex between to people of the same sex is a good thing, I do not believe that it is good to legitimize those acts as right or proper or beautiful by applying the word “married” to individuals who wish to participate in those acts.

Now, all of this being said, I must make it clear that I do not believe it is right for me to legislate my morality on to others in issues that do not result in the unjust loss of life, liberty, or property.  I believe it is wrong for any government to require The People to affirm a moral, philosophical, or religious position that they disagree with, even if it happens to be something I agree with strongly.

On a more fundamental level, I do not believe that marriage ought to be legislated in any way. The more time I spend thinking about it, the more bizarre I find it that the government is involved in the relationships two people choose to have, or the level of commitment they choose to pledge to one another.  In a purely legal sense, I do not believe that any marriage ought to be legitimized or de-legitimized by the government, nor do I think anyone ought to be forced to recognize (or not recognize) anyone else’s relationships as legitimate.  Going one level deeper still, I believe that any marriage outside of God’s intended order (one man and one woman in a covenant commitment until death) is an illegitimate marriage, and I would not personally acknowledge anything other than that as a “marriage”.  But I would not support restricting others from doing so.

Additionally, I don’t believe in the words “gay,” “straight,” “bisexual,” “pansexual,” “demisexual,” “asexual,” or any other terms that humans may invent between the time I wrote this and when you may read it.  I believe that these words are used to place people into constituencies that can be easily categorized, controlled, manipulated, and marketed to.  I believe, and indeed have witnessed, that these words are used to draw lines between people where lines need not be drawn.  I suspect that if most people are honest, their sexual and relational desires (or lack of) do not fit nicely into one of these categories.  I believe it is a shame that anyone should ever hang their identity on one of these silly words.  Please don’t allow any of these words to be applied to you as a label, my child.  You are so much more than your sexual and relational desires, and so are those around you.  You must always treat others with the dignity of knowing them for who they are, and not for what labels they have had applied to them, or have applied to themselves.

I recognize, again, that by the time you read this, my views may seem closed-minded, outdated, and bigoted.  I promise you, my child, that I have done everything in my power to be none of those things.  I have, in my life, been called a “hater” and “homophobic”.  I am not these things.  And if I am in any way, I will set myself about the task of repenting for those sins.  I fear, and in some ways suspect very strongly, that I will not be able to sway you from the current of the culture.  Your mother and I will do our best to teach you what we believe to be the Truth, but in some ways we fear that we cannot compete with an entire nation who tells you otherwise.  If you do not agree with us on this (or nearly any other topic) please know that we still love you.  Disagreeing with someone, even on issues of great importance, does not mean that you do not love them.

Again, I do hope very much that you agree with me on this (and many other issues).  But regardless of what you end up believing about the nature of sex and marriage, I have some advice for you as you go forward.

First, I want to remind you to treat people with dignity and respect.  If you encounter people who disagree with you, listen to them.  You don’t have to change your mind, but you do have to respect them enough to hear them out.  Even if they do not return that dignity to you, you must extend it to them.

Second, regardless of what others do with their bodies, or how they allow themselves to be identified, or who they marry or have sex with, or even whether or not you agree with them, you must love them.  You must find ever more creative and compelling ways to exhibit that love to them and you must do so ceaselessly.  Remember that everyone has pain in their stories that only love can heal, and if you refuse to recognize their pain and sympathize with it, then you refuse to find the wounds that only love can heal.  Listen to people’s stories and take them seriously.  Remember that they too are made in God’s image.

And finally, do not become cynical.  Cynicism is a poison to your mind and soul.  It is unbecoming to men and women of good character.  It will rot you from the inside out.  Even if everyone you know disagrees with you, and you feel utterly alone in your views, do not let even a drop of cynicism enter your veins.  It will rob you of the faith, hope, and love that you will need to extend grace and forgiveness to others.

I don’t know what the world will be like when you read this.  But I suspect that it will be far more difficult to believe things the way that I do.  That’s ok.  As your grandfather used to tell me, “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.”  I believe that is a good thing to remember.

I love you, my child.

-Dad-

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Christians: Stop Making Crap

Alright, I try to keep a positive tone around here as a general rule, but I’m all flustered right now, so I might get a little…grrr…  Here’s why:

This afternoon I got home and opened my mailbox to be faced mostly with junk mail.  As I was tossing it in the trash, something caught my eye.  It was this little advertisement here:

If you know me, then you know that I’m a self-described technophile.  I have a particular fondness for Google’s Android operating system and its ecosystem.  So you’ll understand my surprise when I saw that this advertisement claimed that the MYeebo Christian Tablet E-reader was using Android 9.0.  Why would this surprise me, you ask?  Because at present, the latest version of Android is 4.2.  There is no such thing as Android 9.0.  In fact, if Google continues on its current trajectory, Android 9.0 will probably be available sometime around 2017.  I understand that this flub could be the result of a number of things ranging from a gross misunderstanding of the product, to a simple uncorrected typing error.  But that isn’t really the issue I’m concerned about.

Here’s what I’m concerned about: why does the world need a MYeebo Christian Table E-reader?  Are the existing tablets and e-readers not “Christian” enough?  Is it sinful to buy a tablet that doesn’t come pre-loaded with the Bible?  Is it better to patronize an explicitly “Christian” technology company even when they sell clearly inferior products? Why do Christians continue to make and do things that by all objective standards…suck?

Ok, calm down Timbo…let’s not say anything we’ll regret here…

 It would be easy for me to use this as a launching pad for a tirade against the Church and how we should all live in Jesus-centered communes eschewing corporations and consumerism thereby decommodifying Jesus.  And, I don’t know, maybe we should do all of that.  But let’s start with a simpler question.

Why does the MYeebo Christian Tablet E-reader exist?  Does it do something a “non-Christian” tablet or e-reader can’t do?  Are the iPad or the Nexus 7 somehow lacking because of their “unChrislikeness”?  If I buy a Christian tablet, what else do I need to make sure is “Christian”?  Do I need “Christian” headphones to plug into my “Christian” tablet?  Should I get a “Christian” case for my tablet?  Do they even make those?  (Answer: yes they do).  If I use my “Christian” tablet in my living room, should I be sure I’m sitting on a “Christian” sofa?  Ok, maybe the sofa is “Christian,” but I’m pretty sure the ottoman is Muslim!  What do I do now?!

We Christians seem to feel much safer when we take someone else’s idea and make it “Christian,” (which, unfortunately, almost always seems to mean making it worse somehow.)

What if we (the Church) stopped making second-rate imitations of what the world already has and then slapping the word “Christian” on it?  This happens all the time.  “Christian” musicians and filmmakers are probably the worst offenders.  “Christian” record labels and film companies make a business out of vampirically sucking the creative juices out of the world, sterilizing them, and then repackaging them as if they are authentic creations of those in communion with God.  And the worst part is that when we imitate what the world is doing, we almost always get it wrong (i.e. Android 9.0).

Genesis 1 accounts for us the fact that God is creative in nature.  He imagines things that once weren’t, and He calls them into being.  When Adam shows up on the scene, God gives him some creative tasks (create more people and name the animals; both creative in nature.)  And because Adam is in relationship with a creative God, he is able to achieve these tasks.

Where now exists this creativity in God’s Church?  Why have we settled for so much less?  Why have we become hucksters of cheap and shoddy imitations of the world’s goods and entertainment?  Where is the creativity?  If we find that we have trouble being genuinely creative, we must ask ourselves whether or not we are in communion with the most creative Being in existence.  Are the beauty of the Gospel and the wonder of grace bereft of their ability to stir up genuinely new creations?  Does Christ make us into “new creations” or simply repackaged goods?  If Christ is capable of new creations, and we know Christ, then why are we incapable of creating anything genuinely new?

Will I live to see the Church recapture its capacity for creativity?  I hope so.  Dear Lord, I do hope so.  In the meantime, I find myself unable to support those who make an industry out of plastering the name of Christ on someone else’s creation, and doing a poor job at it.

The Amazing Story of the 27-Year-Old Youth Pastor Who Lives a Perfectly Consistent Life

This might come as a shock to you, but I have never acted inconsistently with my beliefs.

EVER.

Never have I ever once done anything that goes against my core beliefs.

Want to hear something equally crazy?  Neither have you.

Now you might say to me, “Wait just a moment, Tim.  I’ve heard you describe yourself a conscientious consumer; someone who works hard to buy fair-trade items and avoids supporting sweatshop labor.  But aren’t you wearing a Hanes T-shirt?” (Hanes was listed in the 2010 “Sweatshop Hall of Shame” by the International Labor Rights Forum).

“Why, yes I am indeed.”  I would reply.

“Well, isn’t that inconsistent with your beliefs?” you might ask?

“Apparently not,” I would reply.

Because, you see, if I did believe that sweatshop labor was wrong, I would live differently, wouldn’t I?  So when you heard me describe myself as a conscientious consumer, evidently I was being dishonest.

You remember that old saying, “Actions speak louder than words”?  What if that was…you know…true?  Better yet, just imagine yourself living as a mute.  Add to that the inability to write, or sign, or pantomime, or otherwise convey your thoughts.  All you can do is live.  What will people conclude that you believe after watching you for a day?  A month?  A year?  A decade?  A lifetime?

Here is a list of shameful things you might conclude about me if you just watched me live for a while:

  • I don’t care much where products come from before they get to me.
  • I think my own leisure is more important than people.
  • It’s OK to say something hurtful, as long as the person you’re hurting isn’t listening.
  • I’d rather eat deliciously than eat ethically and healthfully.
  • I think most people are stupider than me.
  • Lust, anger, pride, and selfishness…really aren’t all that bad.

Apparently these are things I believe from time to time.  Someone might comfort me by saying, “Those aren’t things you believe, they’re just areas that you struggle to be consistent in.”  Well, I respectfully disagree.  I think I am consistent.  I think I live the way I believe.  Perhaps the only thing that is inconsistent in my life are the words I use to describe my beliefs.  Because when I call myself a “conscientious consumer,” yet buy sweatshop-produced items, I don’t live inconsistently; I describe myself inconsistently.  Let me give you an example from earlier in my life.

When I was in high school, I was punk-rock through-and-through.  Mowhawk, tattoos, piercings, chains and patches…the whole bit.  And of course, along with the punk-rock ethos, came the rallying cry of the punk-rocker: “I don’t care what people think about me.”

I used to love saying that, because it was “proof” that I was unaffected by mainstream society.  Only problem was that after making that statement, I would spend an hour (or more) in front of the mirror getting my hair to do this:

I wasn’t about to let the tuxedo take away my street cred.

But I wasn’t living inconsistently.  I was simply describing myself dishonestly.  I did care what people thought about me, and I lived in a way that proved that.  But I described myself as someone who didn’t. The inconsistency was in my description of myself.

Our actions will never be inconsistent with our beliefs.  Because our actions will always reflect what is going on in the depths of our hearts.  Consider what Jesus says:

“If you grow a healthy tree, you’ll pick healthy fruit.  If you grow a diseased tree, you’ll pick worm-eaten fruit.  The fruit tells you about the tree.

You have minds like a snake pit!  How do you suppose what you say is worth anything when you are so foul-minded?  It’s your heart, not the dictionary, that gives meaning to your words.  A good person produces good deeds and words season after season.  An evil person is a blight on the orchard.”

Matthew 12:33-35 (The Message)

Nobody lives inconsistently.  People only describe themselves inconsistently.  Jesus says here, in essence, that the things we say about ourselves don’t matter much when compared to the way we live our lives.

So, here’s where the rubber meets the road spiritually.  Watch this clip from thinker/theologian/activist/heretic Peter Rollins.  Skip straight to 1:41:

Make no mistake: your actions are your beliefs.  The way you live today will tell of your adherence to the doctrine of resurrection (among others).  Your words merely describe you either correctly or incorrectly.

Now, it could be easy for us to walk away from this devastated and hopelessly aware of our inability to reach any level of real holiness.  To this I say two things:

First of all, good!  It is only in these hopeless moments of clarity that we are made aware of the depth of our sin and our need for a savior.  Use the feeling of hopelessness to propel you into the arms of the One who offers hope!

Second of all, don’t get angry or discouraged without getting honest.

Live honestly.

Live your beliefs.

Let us become the people Christ calls us to be on the inside so that we no longer need to hide behind our faulty descriptions of ourselves; so that we no longer need to masquerade as people of good standing.  And, when our lives display that we believe counter to the Gospel, may we have the courage to say the words that will ring consistently with our brokenness.  Have the courage to say, “Today, I denied the resurrection.”

And then go out tomorrow, and refuse to deny it again.

-Tim-

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I Shall Not Want Want

The LORD is my shepherd,
I shall not want.

Behind John 3:16, this is likely the second most memorized verse in the Bible.  If not, it’s at least one of the most popular.  Just go to Google and type in “Psalm” and see which Psalm is suggested to you first.  (Spoiler: it’s this one.)

But if you would indulge me, I’d like you to consider how two words, appropriately affixed to this verse, can alter the way that we think about “wanting.”  Consider how your perspective changes when you read the verse like this:

If the LORD is my shepherd,
Then I shall not want.

If, in our mind’s eye, we allow this verse to become a conditional statement, it may challenge us to consider the relationship between our connection to God, and our desire for…desire.

Let me explain how this came about for me.

Last night I was laying on my couch, watching the news out of the corner of my eye, aimlessly fiddling with my cell phone, sitting next to my wife, and I slowly realized that I wanted something.  Food?  No, I had just eaten recently.  Water?  No, I wasn’t thirsty.  Did I have to go to the bathroom?  No, I just went.  Did I need to say something to my wife?  No, we had already debriefed our days with one another and were now winding down for the evening.  So what was it?  What did I want?  I looked at the TV, I looked at my phone, I looked at my wife, and it occurred to me that I was waiting for each of them to tell me what I wanted.  That’s what I wanted; something new to want.

I don’t think I’m alone in this.  Consider the annual announcement of the newest iPhone.  (By the way, I don’t own a single Apple product, something that has on occasion called into question my eligibility to youth pastorship. But I digress.)  Every year bloggers, news sources, and technophiles speculate and prophecy about the upgrades and updates that will come along with the next “revolutionary” device.  For those of you not paying attention, the iPhone 4 and the iPhone 4S are…pretty much the same thing.

(Primary difference? The letter “S”.)

 

Nevertheless, every year the press line up to get a glimpse of the latest piece of hardware.  But why?  There’s usually a considerable delay between the announcement and the actual release, so it’s not as if anyone is going to walk out of there with a new iPhone in hand.  It seems as if people aren’t  lining up to get what they want as much as they’re lining up to be told what to want.  The desire is no longer the desire for something, but a desire for desire itself.  Perhaps the best business model in the world is not to create a great product, but to create a great desire.  (On a side note, I find it highly bizarre that the late Steve Jobs was a practitioner of Zen Buddhism, which teaches that the desire for material things leads to suffering.  Ok, I’m done ripping on Apple now, I promise.)

It’s Pavlovian in a sense.  We like to hear the bell because we know that it means food is on the way.  But unlike dogs, we soon find ourselves more enamored with the sound of the bell than with the food itself.

But lest you think I’m unfairly critical of Apple fans, I readily and shamefully admit to my own ever insatiable maw of want.  So I as I’m laying on my couch analyzing the desire for desire I sense inside, I begin to question my standing before the LORD.  Is He my shepherd?  If He is, then why do I so often find myself wanting something new to want?  Why do I make it a part of my daily ritual to check certain blogs and websites that try to sell me the idea that I need something?  Why do I watch the Superbowl on mute only to turn the volume up when the commercials come on?  Why does my heart race during the “Coming Attractions” before a film?  Why do I wander aimlessly around Best Buy looking for something that I didn’t even know existed so that I can hope to own it?  Am I addicted to desire?

Lest my rejection of desire sound too spiritually “Eastern,” I want to pause to recognize the importance that desire plays in the Christian faith.  Understanding God’s desire for us is paramount to any type of Christ-centered spirituality.  And our desire for Him is central to a theology of worship.  Human desire for relationship is a key component to Christian community.  Other examples could be given as well, but these shall suffice to show that desire is not wholly evil.

But western culture at large is hardly in danger of eschewing desire to the point of calling these truths into question.  Quite the opposite.  We are in love with our desire.  We celebrate it at every turn.  We allow it to dictate our identity.  So what is the call to the Christ-follower in a culture oversaturated with manufactured need?

The call, as I see it stated in Psalm 23, is to allow our desire for desire to set off a warning signal that we may be wandering just beyond our Shepherd’s immediate reach.  He is making us lay in green pastures and leading us beside quiet waters (which, in keeping with the shepherd/sheep motif leads invariably to a full belly!)  If we are near Him, what else is there for us to want?

If the LORD is our shepherd, then I suspect that we will find ourselves wanting less.  And as we walk with our Shepherd, we will find our needs largely met (always spiritually, and often materially) and we will certainly find that we have a decreasing desire to desire desire or want want.

So let us frequently fast from our desires long enough to discern what desires lead us in the way of our Shepherd and which lead us to more meaningless wanting.  And may we find that desire has a role in our spirituality; but it is not as central a role as our culture might have us believe.

-Tim-

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I Logically Cannot Find God

I cringe every time I hear some well-meaning apologist attempt to “prove” that God exists.  It is my firm conviction, as a Bible-believing Evangelical that, no, in fact, they cannot prove that God exists.  If they could, there would be a planet full of logically minded theists, whereas in reality we see a rapidly growing contingent of atheists and agnostics, many of whom cite logical reasons for not believing.  So what is going on?  Does logic lead us away from God?

Maybe. Probably.

At very least, logic, when viewed as the exclusive claim-holder on Truth, will lead us away from a Chistocentric worldview.  I’d argue that logic (at least post-Enlightenment logic) will at best serve to inform us about God’s creation, and at worst will lead us away from Him. But it will never prove Him.

These are very hard words for me to write, as I have been described by many of my friends (and myself) as a logically-minded individual.  And I want very badly to hang on to the idea that if only I could acquire more empirical information, I would be left with no choice to worship the Lord! But it’s time for me to give up the ghost on my logical search for God.

As a teenager, I was terrified of discovering some damning evidence that would finally close the coffin on my faith in God.  (This was the beginning of my struggle with anxiety, mentioned in my first post.) As a result, I spent many hours pouring over well-meaning books that claimed to be able to logically bolster my faith in God or even prove God’s existence.  At that formative state in my life, these books did provide a service in that they gave me new perspective, albeit perspective that I would later largely come to disagree with.  But they most certainly did not prove that God exists.  And I’ve come to accept that I’m unlikely to find such proof.

So why am I not an atheist or an agnostic?  Why do I still believe that Christ is who Scripture claims He was?  For me, it seems to boil down to language.

When I visit a foreign country, I’m always reminded of how difficult it is to communicate with someone whose language you don’t share.  Something as simple as asking for an extra napkin can become a frustrating and humiliating game of charades. My mom once told me a story about a time when she was in Taiwan and a co-worker attempted to thank someone in Taiwanese, but instead he made a comment about “a little boy’s peepee.” Common language is pretty essential, especially when attempting to convey important ideas.

So what language do all humans share? Well, definitely not spoken language, as there are about 6,500 languages actively spoken today. And definitely not written language, as there are about 6,000 of those floating around. What about drawings or pictograms? These vary wildly based on culture, time, location, and origin. This would be a very poor method of universally conveying information.

Even some of the brightest minds of the previous century had a difficult time coming up with a method of communicating information in a universal manner. Take, for example, the Voyager Golden Record. Intended for an alien culture, the record is designed to convey simple information about life and culture on Earth. But considering we have no way of knowing the preferred method of communication of its intended recipients, the fact that it contains images, words, and sounds, is almost laughable. Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for space exploration, and if there is life out there, better we send something rather than nothing. But considering that we have no way of knowing if alien life forms have any means of processing visual or audio input, we can scarcely hope that they will be able to make heads or tails of our attempt to communicate.

Ok, back to Earth now. So what is the only common language that humanity shares? None, really. At least not any spoken, written, artistic, or cultural language. Humans, divided as we are by time, space, and culture, maintain no universality. With one important exception: we are all human. Humanity is the common language of humans. We might not “get” someone else’s spoken/written language or culture, but we understand what it means to be human. It is, perhaps, our only shared characteristic.

So what of God’s language then? Why, if God were out there somewhere, would He not have sent definitive and logically demonstrable proof that He is in fact God, thereby putting all speculation finally to rest? Why is God, at least as far as logic has shown, not discoverable? Perhaps we’re speaking the wrong language.

We must be humble enough to remember that logic (especially as it manifests itself in the scientific method) is not a universal language. It does not transcend culture and time. It has not been employed throughout history. It is not the preferable method for conveying information to all cultures. This is not in any way an attack on logic or the scientific method, both of which stand to do far more good than harm. It is simply a recognition of the fact that neither have been universally employed throughout human history.

Perhaps God chose not to reveal Himself through logic because it would not have been the most universally understood language through which He could have spoken. It is, possibly, arrogance on the part of the modernist Western mentality to believe that God is in any way obligated to be logically discoverable. Logic is wonderful and we are better off with it, but it’s simply not a language to which most of human history would be tuned. Perhaps God chose a more universal method. A method which reaches to all humanity without bias to education, location, time, gender, ability, etc. The method of humanity itself.

This, in part, is why I continue to believe that Christ is the incarnation of God; because above and beyond any other language God could have chosen to speak, He chose to speak the only language common to all humans.

Humanity.

I cannot conceive that such a perfectly orchestrated and beautifully consistent method of communication between the Divine and the human could have been concocted by the latter of the two. I believe it is too far-fetched.

And there’s the subjectivity; the reason that this blog post can’t be used to “prove” God’s existence. “I believe.” I cannot prove it, and I won’t attempt to. But neither can I reject it.

Christ the man is the language that God chose to speak. A beautifully human and perfectly intelligible way to speak. Finely tuned to be discernible to any human who has an ear to hear. The language of the Divine. The language of the human. God as a man.

And to think; I used to wonder why Scripture called Jesus, “The Word.”

-Tim-

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The Lost Art of Praying Angry

Lately I have found myself doing something new: praying with a soundtrack.  I like to pray with music in the background because it gives me something that helps to drown out some of the noise that I find otherwise distracting.  Here’s one of my favorite songs to pray to: Spoiler Alert: It’s just a dude screaming.

How can I feel comfortable praying to breakdowns and blast beats?  I found it difficult to understand myself at first.  Before I get to an explanation, let me back up a bit.

You see the first sentence in this post?  Allow me to truncate it to an equally true statement:

“Lately I have found myself doing something new: praying.”

Prayer is new to me.  Or at least it feels new.  The truth is, I’ve always hated praying.  It required me to slow my mind down to a submissive pace.  I hate that.  As such, I have grown to find prayer to be a nuisance to my otherwise busy and well-occupied spiritual life.  I even began to feel quite bad for the people who brought their prayer requests to me, knowing that my “lifting them up in prayer” would probably be something along the lines of: “Dear God, please help __________ with _________.  Amen.”  (And I’d usually be saying this in my head as they were talking to me just to get it over with).

Dear God, please tell these people to stop asking me to pray for them.

Recently I was encouraged by a local sage [read, “woman who works in my office”] to probe the reasons behind my aversion to prayer.  I had a long drive into LA recently, so I decided to dedicate that time to meeting her challenge by praying about…prayer.

My prayer began similarly to most prayers I’ve prayed in the past.  Praying about prayer, (or as I like to call it, “metaprayer”) is an interesting thing in that there really isn’t a formula for it like there is for so many other kinds of prayer.  And, as a subject that I rarely reflected on, it took a level of introspection on my part.  Following the direction of my office mate/spiritual director, I began to explain to God why I don’t like praying.  I tiptoed around the issue for a bit, still praying the way I’m used to, (i.e. “Dear Lord, I don’t understand why I don’t pray.  Please help me pray better.”)  But after a while I got frustrated.  Actually, I got angry.  After trying unsuccessfully to pray a proper prayer for a while, I just gave up.  That’s when I heard these words come out of my mouth:

“You know why I don’t like prayer, God?  Because I think it’s a huge waste of time!”

Suddenly, as if scales fell from my eyes spirit, I was…you know…actually praying.

Now I’m sure I’ve prayed real prayers before.  But this prayer seemed somehow different.  It was as if all of a sudden God was actually listening to me.  It was like the second I decided to take my “spiritual filter” off, God began to believe what I was saying.  This was the first time I could ever remember “praying angry.”

Let me pause because I’m sure that there are some who could misconstrue my attempt at honesty as irreverence.  In no way am I encouraging insolence or disrespect, especially to God.  In fact, if there’s something I’ve learned quickly in my journey of prayer, it’s that each prayer ought to begin with a humble recognition of God’s holiness (i.e. “hallowed be thy name“).  No, I feel quite strongly that I am endorsing exactly the opposite of irreverence.  When we pray, I contend that we show a lack of respect for God’s omniscience by muting our emotions, language, ideas, frustrations, etc as if He weren’t already aware of them.  When we run our lives through a filter before they reach God, we lose the ability to bring all things to God.  And yet this is what we do so often; attempt purify our prayers before bringing them to the God who purifies.  We scrub away any offensive ideas, harsh language, anger, bitterness, and then pray a spit-shined prayer, which, in my opinion, is no prayer at all.  How can we possibly “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2. Cor. 10:5) if we can’t bring Christ every thought?

If anyone is having trouble embracing this idea, I encourage you to read the Psalms.  You don’t have to look far to see people being brutally honest with God, even complaining (sometimes whining).  Some decent examples would be: Psalm 13; Psalm 22; and Psalm 74.

Sometimes the Psalmists even ask for things that we would consider immoral to pray for today like asking Him to break people’s jaws or kill people.  These are the “R Rated” uncensored prayers of imperfect people bringing themselves fully to God.

So why do we sanitize our prayers?  Probably through years of learning to “pray proper,” we have lost the art of praying angry.  But not just angry.  Praying happy!  Praying frustrated.  Praying tired.  Praying grumpy.  Praying hopeful.  Praying worshipfully.  Praying delighted.  Praying in anguish.  Praying scared.  Praying silly.  Praying imperfectly.  Praying clean.  Praying dirty.

Praying honest.

I’m not arguing against form.  So if you pray with the “thees” and “thous”, by all means keep it up!  As long as it’s real.  As long as you mean what you say.  As long as your prayers are uncensored.  Let God censor your prayers.  But if all of the dirty, grimy, day-to-day stuff that makes up our lives never makes it to God, then how can we expect Him to intervene?  How can we expect to show God to our world, when we’re afraid to show our world to God?

So I listen to aggressive music sometimes when I pray because it reminds me to be real.  It reminds me to be angry when I am angry, and to be at peace when I am at peace.  It reminds me to let my words be few, but be weighted with meaning.  And it reminds me to let God direct my words, thoughts, and emotions, but always as a result of bringing my words, thoughts, and emotions to God.

-Tim-

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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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