Tag Archives: god

Learning How to Hate

Alright, get ready to witness a conversion…of sorts.

If you know me at all, or if you’ve read this previous blog, you are probably aware of my longstanding hatred for all things Apple.  I could try to persuade  you to agree with me, as I have so many times in the past, but that would be counter productive to the intent of this post.  Because I am hereby renouncing my hatred of Apple.

Snicker if you must.  For you, this might seem kind of goofy.  But if you know me, you’ll know that this is actually kind of a big deal.  It comes as the result of some soul searching and conviction by the Holy Spirit; and it goes beyond my preference for consumer electronics vendors.

Here’s the story:

The other day I was reading this article about people who are beaten, raped, and killed as they attempt to escape sub-Saharan Africa to find freedom in Israel.  I got about half-way through the article and…I don’t know…maybe I got bored.  Maybe I just didn’t want to make my mind go there.  Maybe the whole issue was just too real for me.  Whatever the reason, I closed that tab, and opened this one, which is a video making fun of the iPhone.  Because, man do I hate the iPhone!

Ok.  Let’s think about this for a second…what do I hate?  I hate a cell phone.  I hate a brand.  I hate a consumer electronics corporation.  This is where I  chose to expend my hatred.  Because let’s be honest, you can’t hate everything.  We’ve only got so much hate to give.  And I use much of mine up on this:

Why does this logo get my hatred, while people being bought and sold, abused, raped, objectified, and murdered in their pursuit of freedom gets…me to close a tab on my browser?

Hatred, I think, gets a bad wrap.  Because it is so frequently used improperly, people assume that hatred is always a bad thing.  But it’s not.  In fact, hatred is commended in Scripture (see Proverbs 13:5 and Romans 12:9, for example), but only when we hate the right things.  When we hate injustice, we hate well.  When we hate wickedness, we hate properly.  When we hate pride and lust and greed and selfishness and deceit and murder and malice and slander and objectification and all forms of evil, we use hate the way God intended us to.

But when I hate Apple, I substitute something ultimately neutral for the things that are crying out for my hatred; the things that the Holy Spirit is demanding I turn my wrath against.

And so, I repent.

I repent of the hours I have spent bickering with people about their digital choices.  I repent of the times I have self-righteously explained to someone why they should not patronize Apple Inc.  I repent of my upturned nose at my brothers and sisters who have made different, albeit ultimately insignificant choices.  I repent.  And I move on to hate the things I am called to hate.  The great injustices in the world and the small injustices in my world.  The sins of mankind and my own sins.  I will be a better steward of my time, my energy, and my hatred.

Let us not swear off hatred itself.  But let us swear off hatred of the things which matter so little.  And let us turn our hatred toward the things that stand against the Kingdom of Love.

-Tim-

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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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Airplanes and God’s Unwillingness

I don’t like airplanes.  Call me crazy, but there’s something about 400 tons of steel, suitcases, and human flesh that leads me to believe that it doesn’t belong in the sky.  Even though I’m growing gradually more willing to fly (thanks in large part to this book) it’s still difficult for me to feel comfortable on an airplane.  The door swings shut, my ears pop, and scenes from countless films involving air disasters flood my mind.  Remember that Uruguayan rugby team that had to eat each other to survive after their plane crashed?  That’s the kind of stuff I think about when I get in an airplane.

Pictured: My worst nightmare.
Suspiciously not pictured: People freaking the hell out.

I just returned from an 11 day trip to Chile with the high school students from our church, and I somehow survived the twelve-hour flights (each way, plus an hour layover in Lima, Peru.  It was a long freaking time to be in an airplane.)  But as is my ritual, I spent some time with God the day before our flight left.  I asked Him humbly to protect our flight and to bless our trip, and to get us to and from our destination safely.  As I was wrapping up my time of prayer, I snuck in a request, hoping to receive a quick response to put my uneasy spirit at rest.  “God,” I asked, “Can you please give me the assurance that the flights will be safe, and that I will return home in one piece?”  I shuffled from my seat, ready to wrap up my prayer time, when suddenly the voice in my head that I frequently attribute to God came back to me clear as day.

“No,” it said.

Wait.  What?  Why not?

Lately I’ve been asking God this question a lot: “God, if you’re so big and powerful, then why won’t you just _______?”  It sounds like a childish question for a pastor to ask, but it’s a question that rings in my head every time something doesn’t happen the way I want it to.  So, if God is so big and powerful, then why wouldn’t He just tell me things would be ok?  Looking at this situation retrospectively, I see now that I am indeed alive and well, and that my plane did not go down in a horrifying ball of flames like I had feared.

So why wouldn’t God just let me in on that?  All I needed was a little, “You’ll be fine,” and I would have been content.

But I got no such thing.

I thought about this for a while that night, and I pondered the possibility that I might die on tomorrow’s flight (statistically laughable, I know.  But a lingering fear for many nonetheless).  Why does it seem like God rarely gives me the assurance that I am looking for?

If you’ve been following me blog (or talking with me face-to-face) lately, you’ll know that I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the idea of suffering.  It’s an infuriating mystery to me.  Why must we suffer and, perhaps more importantly, why are followers of Christ called to suffer?  If we are called to suffer, you’d hope that God would at least give us a heads-up when we’re not going to suffer so that we can have peace of mind.

But maybe there’s something to learn about God here.

It came to my attention, in asking God for assurance, that He was unwilling to give me any.  I don’t mean this to say that God was arbitrarily opposed to giving me information or comfort.  I mean that my having this specific information and comfort was counter to His will.  He did not desire that I should have it.  His desire was that I face uncertainty head-on.

One of my favorite songs of all time is The Self-Employed Chemist by Norma Jean.  Towards the end of the song, there is a haunting refrain in which vocalist Cory Putman asks, “What if I have to lose?  What if I have to suffer?”  This is a question I return to often, and the very question God forces us to ask when He refuses to give us the assurance we so desire.

Anxiety is a longing to avoid uncertainty.  Perhaps herein lies our love affair with logically repeatable experiments and predictable outcomes.  While certainly not altogether bad, such desires for the repeatable are perhaps symptomatic of a deeper fear of the unknown.  We want to see the same sort of predictable outcomes in our lives.  But it doesn’t always work that way.  And apparently God doesn’t want it to.

We face uncertainty everyday, provided we chose to go on living for one more day.  Will I slip and fall in the shower?  Will I experience something embarrassing today?  Will I lose my job?  Will a loved one die unexpectedly?  Will I die unexpectedly?  Will I go to heaven when I die?  Is there a heaven at all?  Is there a God at all?  Do I really exist?

What do we chose to do in the face of the necessary uncertainty of life?  This is the question that defines the type of people we are; the type of Christians we are.  God’s desire, it seems, is not that we be certain about anything, but that we be faithful in everything.

I was forced to answer whether or not I would heed the call to lead students to serve God in Chile even if it meant that I may die en route.  I asked God, “Will I die in a plane crash on the way to Chile?”  God responded, “What if you do?”

What if I have to lose?

What if I have to suffer?

Every day is an agonizing opportunity to answer these questions.  Do we continue to progress, to move, to wake up, to love, and to hope in the face of potential loss?  If we truly want to live, we must.  And, perhaps, the more uncertainty we face, the more we truly live.

-Tim-

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Go To Heaven and Suffer for All Eternity

For the past week or so, the word “suffering” has been on my mind.  If ever a paradox existed in the Christian worldview, “suffering” is its name.

Suffering is something that Jesus seems equally set on removing from some and promising for others.  It’s something that we’re called to address and correct, and something that we’re called to embrace.  It’s something that is an integral part of the life of a Christ-follower, and something we’re promised ultimate escape from.  How are we, as Christians, supposed to make sense of this?

While Scripture provides a number of paradoxical ideas concerning suffering, perhaps the most troubling conflict for me involves questions of suffering’s place in the Kingdom of God.  I am of the theological persuasion that the Kingdom of God is not only to be found in the life after this one (i.e. “Heaven”) but is also present in what God is doing here and now. And our role as followers of Christ is to prepare ourselves and the earth for the eternal reign of Christ. Essentially, we’re called to bring Heaven to earth as best we can.

In light of this, many of the things we are called to do as heralds of the Kingdom make perfect sense. We are called to make peace, which is something that we would hope to see for eternity in Christ’s kingdom. We are called to live a life of love which is something else we would hope to see exist eternally in the Kingdom. We are called to rejoice and worship which we would expect to see play huge roles in the Kingdom. And then, among the list of things that we would expect to be present in an eternal utopia, we find the peculiar call to suffer. It is relatively simple for us to see the purpose that suffering has on this side of the grave (Romans 5:3-4 makes the benefits of earthly suffering explicit ).  But what role does suffering play in the eternal Kingdom? More precisely, why are we being trained to suffer if we are promised ultimate and eternal escape from it?

These questions have weighed heavily on me recently as I have reflected on the call to suffer. I only barely understand what that means and how it ought to affect the direction my life takes. I have quite a ways to go in terms of comprehending the role and purpose of suffering. But, if you will indulge me, I have a theory concerning the role suffering plays in the eternal destiny of Christ-followers.

Let me reiterate that this is a theory. It is not something that I can explicitly back up with Scripture, and I’m not sure that it’s even something that fits well with God’s nature. I recognize the possibility probability that I am wrong, and I am open to correction and dialogue. But so far this is the best way I can figure to reconcile our call to suffer with the promise of the eternal Kingdom. So consider this an exercise in theoretical theology. Here goes…

Consider the following statement: “To be in the presence of God is to suffer.” Is that statement true? I have no idea. But what if it was? What if God is so excruciatingly holy and righteous and good that we could not stand to be in His presence without encountering unfathomable suffering? Consider God’s comment to Moses that no one can see Him and live (Exodus 22:30). This is the same God who reigns in the Kingdom. If to merely experience Him by sight is to face certain death, then what would it be like to exist fully in His presence? I imagine it to be unimaginable.

Could we someday find ourselves on the shores of eternity anticipating an island getaway only to be faced with a raging volcano? And could we learn to be content with this situation? Could we discover that the volcano is ever more beautiful and worthy of our eternity than any beach-front paradise could have promised to be? To enter into the full presence of God will be a beautiful thing, but I suspect it will be a difficult transition. The rusty and raw cog of humanity grinding up against a grand and glorious gear of God. I suspect that there will be friction. And how much more there would be, were the whole beautiful machine not lubricated with the blood of Christ!

Lest you think that I have neglected the role of the Spotless Lamb in all of this, Christ plays two large and indispensable roles in this theoretical framework. First, it is by His righteousness alone that we are even welcomed into the presence of God. Without His work, we would find ourselves hopelessly unwelcome in this eternal Kingdom. Second, Christ serves as our guide and our advocate as we experience the suffering that is necessitated by the collision of a holy God with a most unholy people. Without His taking our hand and leading us into the presence of God, we would find it unbearable and ultimately un-beautiful. But by His leadership we find a way to understand this suffering for what it truly is: an incredible intersection between God and ourselves. Until, perhaps, the day arrives when we become so overwhelmed by the presence of God that we learn to experience the suffering in a new way – in a way that draws us closer to God. And just as a deep tissue massage hurts in the beginning only to become enjoyable in the end, we may find that, by Christ’s guidance, we begin to appreciate what we would have first described as suffering. The sensation has not changed, but our perception of it has; in the same way that we are called to reimagine suffering on earth and see it as the refining tool that it is, we may come to reimagine the suffering that we experience in God’s presence. We may come to appreciate it. We may come to enjoy it. We may wish to spend eternity in it.

So, if Heaven is suffering, what then is Hell? Eternal bliss? In a way. But a bliss that people are not willing to embrace. In C.S. Lewis’s wonderful parable The Great Divorce, Lewis gives us a picture of Heaven as a place where the grass is too real for some people to walk on; it cuts their feet like razor blades because they are unprepared to engage the reality of Heaven. It is common to hear people say that Hell is the absence of God. But what if it was the opposite? What if Hell was the full presence of God without the welcoming embrace of Christ and without His guidance and advocacy? What if Hell is to attempt to experience the full suffering that God’s presence brings about, but to attempt to do so without the help and hope of Christ? Surely, this would be hellish. I imagine we might describe God’s presence here as “wrath.”

Parenthetically, I recognize that 2 Thessalonians 1:9 defines eternal punishment as exile from God’s presence, but I also take into account verses like Romans 2:8 (among others) that define punishment as the presence of God’s wrath. How is it that God can manifest His wrath without being present? I do not say this to disregard the verse in 2 Thessalonians, rather I say it to suggest that we not formulate an entire theology based on one description among many.

So then, what role does suffering play in preparing us for an eternal Kingdom? Perhaps it serves to ready us for our encounter with the divine. An encounter so real that it causes us to experience unparalleled suffering as we are overcome by its unparalleled beauty. An experience so unfamiliar and uncomfortable that can only be endured by the power of Christ, and to attempt to do so without Him would be…hellish.

-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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