Tag Archives: jesus

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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Christian Pastors Should Suffer

If you’ve stuck with me for a while, you know that I’ve been obsessing about the idea of suffering.  It’s a word that God put in my head a few months ago, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it since then.  But, I promise that this will be my last post about suffering for some time.  Maybe I’ll move on to some happier topic soon (ponies anyone?)

But today at the church office I was going through an old binder full of students’ medical release forms that have accumulated over the past few years.  As I flipped through the binder, I passed the names and medical details of numerous students who are pursuing Christ and are making great strides in their faith, and I found myself encouraged by the lives and faiths represented by those names, birthdates, and medical policy numbers.  But the longer I spent flipping through that binder, the more names I noticed that belong to students who I knew well, but who are no longer actively pursuing Christ in community.  I don’t speak out of an arrogant assumption that just because they don’t show up to church every week it must mean they are off worshiping the devil.  I speak from the knowledge I have through my passing interactions with them and their friends.  I speak as an observer, witnessing their lives unfold via social media (Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, YouTube, etc.)  I feel my heart ache a bit every time I see evidence against the Spirit of God guiding their decisions.  I want so badly to see them re-enter the fold of their faith; to return from a prodigal journey all the wiser to the rich love and grace they nearly walked away from.  I ache.  I hurt.  I suffer.

Now a confession, and a plea for forgiveness.  I have been accused (rightly so) of being too pushy at times.  My zeal to see students embrace the call of Christ has often taken on an unintentionally forceful tone, and my eyes are being opened to the fact that this may serve to push more people away than it draws in.  And so I ask for forgiveness from anyone who has felt cornered or harassed by me.  Please have grace with me.  I beg you to bless me with the room I need to grow.  And I beg you to try to see what is at the core of my “pushiness”: a desire to see the Church grow and Christ transform.

So, back to suffering.  Today, I suffered.  I experienced the suffering that is perhaps only shared by pastors and parents; the suffering that comes from seeing someone you have nurtured make a series of decisions that you believe will bring them harm.  It is an awful feeling.  I hate it.  I don’t wish it on anyone…

…Except for every Christian pastor in the world.

A little while back, I was having lunch with a pastor friend/mentor.  He imparted some important wisdom to me regarding the role of a pastor.  “A pastor,” he said, “must be comfortable feeling like a victim.  Being hurt.  Suffering.”  What a job description, huh?  Who in their right mind would sign up for this?  But as he expanded on the idea, my eyes were opened to the truth and beauty that exists within the call for a pastor to be constantly willing to suffer, and to expect it every day around every corner and in every situation.

There are two types of pastors out there, I suppose: those who are willing to suffer, and those who are not.  And within the subcategory of those who are not willing to suffer, I suspect that there are two reasons that pastors do not suffer:
1. Because their church community is made up of perfect people (never mind, this doesn’t exist).
2. Because their hearts are not willing to be hurt by the losses they must necessarily witness regularly in ministry.  They are either calloused or they are blind to the the people in their community who are attempting to wriggle free of the Father’s grasp. 

As our culture grows progressively…”flexible” (I suppose that’s a nice way to put it), I suspect that we will see more and more people walk away from Christ when it becomes boring, inconvenient, offensive, or difficult.  Any pastor who ministers in a church made up of human beings will experienced this from time to time, and will be forced to stand by and watch, feeling helpless, attempting to encourage and convict, but witnessing some people drift (or sometimes run) further and further from the God who loves them so deeply.  The time to suffer has arrived.

A suffering pastor is, paradoxically, a healthy pastor.  The moment I begin to feel completely content in the health of my ministry and my flock, I must be quick to check if my contentment is based on true health, or if it is a result of the fact that I have stopped caring for those who are lost, hiding, hurting, and/or escaping. 

I want every Christian pastor to suffer, because suffering means that they are tuned in to their community; they see how many people are forfeiting their lives to gods other than Christ, and they are unwilling to let them go without a fight.  And so they fight.  And they suffer.

So may our pastors suffer, suffer badly, suffer long, and suffer well.  But never stop suffering.  Because when pastors stop suffering, they have closed their eyes to those who most desperately need a pair of loving eyes to rest upon them.

-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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The Parable of the Youth Pastor

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Once upon a time there was a youth pastor who lived in a house that he had built atop a rock.  He had lived in the house for as long as he could recall.  The rock upon which the house was built was large and beautiful.  Although there were many rocks cut from the same stone, his was one-of-a-kind; worn and beaten by years of terrifying waves and winter storms, it had gained a unique luster and sheen that added to its beauty.  It was not perfect, and the youth pastor did not understand it completely, but it was his, and he loved it.

Young people from the surrounding area would come to inquire about the rock.  “Where did you get your rock?” they would ask.

“It was a gift,” the youth pastor would respond.

Many would ask about the rock and then go on their way.  But one day a boy came along and said, “I’m building a house.  Will you show me how to get a rock like yours?”

“I’m glad you asked!” the youth pastor responded.  Before either could utter another word, the youth pastor ran to his supply of stone and began carving away.  Chipping the brittle corners, sanding the rough edges, and carving out nooks.  After a time, he called the boy to come behold the rock he had shaped for him.

“What do you think?” the youth pastor asked proudly.  The boy surveyed the rock thoughtfully for a few moments.

“It looks just like yours,” the boy finally said.

“Of course!” The youth pastor responded.  “I’ve spent years watching my own rock get worn and shaped by the storms and waves of life.  I figured I’d save you the trouble of having to go through all of the long worrisome winters that I’ve endured.”

The boy apologized, “I’m sorry, but this isn’t what I’m looking for.  I’m not even sure my house will fit properly.  Thank you very much for all you’ve done, but I can’t use this rock.”

“I don’t understand,” the youth pastor said with dismay, “I thought this was what you wanted.”

“No,” the boy said.  “What I wanted was for you to show me how to get a rock like yours.  Instead you gave me a copy of your own rock, which I cannot use.  You have shown me nothing, and I have nowhere to build my house.”

The boy and the youth pastor were both very sad for neither got what they wanted.

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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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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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