Monday, March 7, 2016

Being Good, for Goodness Sake

If you would ask most people about their spiritual condition they would respond in a way that was related to the goodness they perceive within themselves.  Generally speaking, everyone ranks themselves as being a fairly good person.  On the grand measuring scales of "Walking Old Ladies Across the Street VS Tripping Old Ladies" most people feel that things are heavily weighted in favor of them being quite good people.  And SHOCKINGLY most people rarely would stack the cosmic karma scales of their life to be heavier on the "Not Good" side.

Now we all know someone(or many ones) who are themselves not in any way a "good person".  But when it comes to ourselves, we consider it a fairly cut and dry case of being quite good indeed.  Sure, we did that one thing that one time, but...there was a good reason for it...and we won't do it again.   And if God exists he must surely be measuring and evaluating us by the very standards we have accepted on our own behalf...and therefore....we are good to go!

This self-assured self-rigtheousness is a natural philosophical outflow of the moral autonomy of our age.  If WE are the final arbitrers of what is right and good then we can set the standards and provide the weights and measures of evaluation and however it is we set it we obviously will find ourselves on the good side of things.  How illogical would it be for us to create our own self-defined system of morality that we didn't personally agree with and line up with??  Our personal preferences rule the day.  And when we feel "righteous anger" at immoral people it is based upon the standards that we have agreed to as being what is and isn't morally appropriate.

But are we truly morally autonomous?  Is morality simply a constructed and flexible system that bends to the wills of the individuals and groups who seek to employ its paradigm for preferential reasons??

While other, much more smarterer people than I, have delved deep into this topic I will only simply say that if morality is self, or even culturally, constructed, than it is not an absolute morality in any meaningful sense.  What is good today is only perhaps going to be good tomorrow.  If morality is not an immaterial absolute that we can count on then we all just have little self-created kingdoms of preferences and opinions.

So back on the treadmill you go, running hard after that elusive ill defined concept of morality and being good for the sake of being "good" without any promise that it has any actual significance beyond the reach of your own experience.

Philosophically speaking one must hope to no small degree that there really isn't God out there.  If we honestly recognize that we are not able to self-discern absolute morality, yet feel driven to care about morality, we recognize that morality is a burden set upon us.  And the God who is Himself absolute(by definition) assuredly has more stringent standards of morality than that which you place upon yourself.

Recall how you easily recognize the moral failings of those who aren't you, how much more so will an infinite God recognize within yourself?

In response to that we have two popular forms of addressing this disconnect.

Secular Moralism and Religious Legalism

They are basically different sides of the same coin.  An attempt made by the effort and the will to jump through enough hoops to be "good enough".  We set forth tasks and rules by which we can rank how succesful we have been at accomplishing the important task of being as good as we need to be.  But even that "need to be" is hard to pin good really is good enough????

The easiest way we deal with this internal struggle is finding more and more faults in others.  Because, if we are obviously better in our moral choices, lifestyle, and religious practices, than THOSE people, then we must surely be "ok".

But is that really the whole story and our hope?

14 having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 When He had disarmed the rulers and authorities, He made a public display of them, having triumphed over them through Him.

16 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— 17 things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. 
  - Colossians 2:14-17

The message of the Good News is that there IS truth, morality, ethics, value in choices, etc.  AND that we are all falling short.  Now, instead of Jesus offering new and better ways to just be good enough to be good enough, He takes our sin and failures to the cross and nails them there.  The morality that yous sense, and the rules you try to follow, all exist to point to the hope that we have in the finished work of Christ.

Our hope is not found in how good we can be, but in Jesus.  God's love for you is not dependent on how honestly you try to be really good person.  But in Christ, and Christ Alone, you have been made Good for His Goodness' Sake!

Everything else is a promise of new ladders to climb and treadmills to run on.  Christ invites you to stop trying to make yourself good enough, but to rest in His goodness.  Everything flows out of that.

Are you good because you are trying to earn something, or, are you good because He was good to you?  It's a difference that makes all the difference.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

American Exceptionalism and Unexceptional Candidates

Americans love winning.  Second place is first place loser!  Even the way we look at the legacies of people is directly related to what and how they won.  If you are an athlete who retires without a championship we put you on a special list of "Great, but not All Time".  You just need to win!  We don't even care if the victory comes at the end of your career when you aren't even a significant factor(cough cough Peyton Manning).  All that matters is that you are a winner.

A big argument that we keep hearing during the primaries is that we have to support a candidate who will actually win.  And we want to be winners, right?  The opposition is so wrong that just being able to say that they "lost" is worth whatever compromise of conviction we have to make in order to be winners ourselves.  This leads us to a terribly frustrating reality;  We might choose the winning candidate, but we all lose.

When elections become gambling at the track, simply putting our money on the horse we think will win, instead of selecting the individual who deserves our support due to principles, convictions and history, we don't get closer to good leadership, we keep running farther away.  Everytime we have a high quality candidate who can't get off the starting blocks because we are more concerned with winning we move the system farther from where we should be.

"Of two evils, choose neither.  Christians must turn from the endless cycle of voting for the lesser of evils and expecting an unrighteous act to produce a righteous result.  From a communist to a cultist, choosing the lesser of evils is still evil, and never should we do evil so good may come" -Charles Spurgeon

I am no historian, but it seems strange that at some point we stopped voting for what we are convicted by, but by some sort of pragmatic winner takes all mentality.  Politicians know they can lie to us because we will still vote for them....because they will win!!!!!

What about us Christians, how should we approach all of this?  We know that compromise with evil is not God honoring.  Can God use evil rulers for His purposes??  Of course.  Do we deliberately allign ourselves with evil just because it might be useful in some way??  Of course not!!

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. -Philippians 4:8

Can you look at your chosen candidate through the lens of Philippians 4:8 and say, "Now this person fits into this paradigm"?  If not, move on.

But but but Adam(you say...).  The only people who can fit this passage will never win.  And if we don't stop "X" our country will be lost.  What about the children?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!

So, dear friend, are you saying that the only way you and I can save our children from Godlessnes and national destruction FOR the sake of God Himself is to collaborate with sinfulness????   What God are you reading about in the Bible....???

Isaiah 14:27 tells us that NOTHING God has planned will be thwarted.   So what if America burns to the ground and the crosses of the churches are pulled down?  Are the purposes and glory of God suddenly extinguished??  God doesn't need us to run around playing politics to "save" the nation through immoral compromise so that maybe, just maybe, one day, at some point in the future, we can make sure that Christian values win the day.

When the Gospel calls us Jesus doesn't say, "Come join the winning team, next election cycle Pilate is totally out!!".  The Gospel is to.... DIE to  yourself, to give up YOUR HONOR, to forgive your ENEMIES and proclaim that the Kingdom that will never End is marching forward and is not waiting on us getting our local politics straightened out.

If Trump wins the election....Jesus still wins.

If Hillary wins the election.....Jesus still wins.

If Chitalu wins the election.....Jesus still wins

The Gospel doesn't invite us to make sure we choose the most likely wordly winner, but to go and die with the King.  Do what is right, and trust that God is still God.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Do You Listen or Talk

There are two things about me that are very important to understand;  1-  I like to talk  2-  I like to be right.  This obviously can be the source of much difficulty.  If I was a talk radio host it would be the perfect combination of never pausing and never thinking to be a wild success......

But as a husband and someone who works vocationally in ministry this can be a terribly challenging problem.  And I think this is probably a problem with everyone, regardless of relationship status or vocational calling.

We are people who love to hear our own great thoughts and brilliant ponderings.  Disagreements are not to be understood, but to be defeated.  Have you ever felt like the point of a conversation is to win the conversation??

Let me be clear, there are RIGHT answers.  People CAN be wrong.  And where wrongness can lead to destructiveness, we SHOULD speak plainly and clearly.

But the problem is we are so interested in scoring a point, whether with a spouse or a friend, that we don't take the time to listen long enough to even know what the problem could even be.  We bring a loaded shotgun of presuppositions ready to pepper spray the conversation with silver pellet bullets.

To put some meat on the bones of that thought....your spouse calls and asks what time you are getting home.  You get defensive...don't they know how busy you are, give it a rest already....So you snap that you will be home when you get home.  Little did you know that they were planning a surprise dinner for you, they weren't lecturing you on being late.  But you never stopped to listen.

And your surpise dinner suprisingly falls into the disposal......

James 1:19-21 tells us;

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, 20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. 21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Are you quick to listen?  Slow to speak?  Slow to anger??  How does this all interact in one coherent thought?

When we don't listen we create tension and contention between us and others, and because this tension is an outflow of our unwillingness to listen(selfishness....aka,..sin) an expected outcome is anger.  So what are we encouraged to get rid of?   All MORAL FILTH.

Do you catch that?

Being someone who is slow to listen, quick to talk and quick to be angry is someone who has some moral filth and evil that they need to get rid of.

So what is the word James mentions that we ultimately need to be humbly listening to, the only word that can save us?  The Gospel of Jesus Christ.  The finished work on the Cross by God the Son.  When we don't listen and just talk and talk and talk, we are behaving as someone who is not living in light of the Gospel.

Recently I had a great lunch with a friend who doesn't believe in Christ as the Son of the Living God and is the only hope for all mankind.  There are probably a thousand points of contention we could have.  But he matters as a person who, like me, is made in the image of God, and therefore deserves to be heard and cared for.  He isn't just another person to argue with.

Getting to hear his thoughts, his life story, and how he thinks was great.  There are many things I could happily say, "Right on!"  And plenty of things I could say, "huh?" to.  But how many friends do you have that only want to tell you how stupid it is for you to like "that" sports team?  Probably not many.

He had a lot of great thoughts and if I hadn't listened I would never have known that he has shared his thoughts with others before who barely let him get out a thought before jumping at the chance to argue with every word and phrase he had used.  Who wants that?

Let me abundantly clear.  Christian, you ARE called to proclaim the hope that is in Christ, but you are not called to brow beat people into submission.  You will NEVER argue someone into saving faith.  Only the Holy Spirit can draw us towards the Father through the work of the Son.  Is every convesation you have simply an opportunity to win?  Or, is the point of the conversation to know and care for a person who is in the image of God because they matter?

One final warning/exhortation....Do not take this as a reason to not speak clearly about Christ and the Gospel.  But talking over people isn't the same as the Cross.  If they DO want to talk and ask your questions BE READY.  But let's try listening a bit more folks.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Suffering In UnSilence

There are two extremes when it comes to suffering that seem to be the most commonly observed reactions.  Either someone over dramatizes their "despair" and insists everyone look upon the great injustice that they have been subjected to, or, they stoicly and privately "grin and bear it".  The attention seeker and the hidden pain.

Hurt and pain, in these extremes, exists for personal gratification through attention, or, it is without point and so must be pushed down and hidden because who cares.....

What if neither response is a correct response to the meaning of suffering?

What if suffering is a beautiful purposeful experience that points to a greater hope than even a removal of that suffering??

Colossians 1:24 points suffering in a much different light than we often allow ourselves to believe;

Now I rejoice in what I am suffering for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ’s afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church. 

Paul, writing here, does not whine and ask for sympathy, neither does he pretend everything is ok.  Instead he rejoices!  And why does he rejoice?  Because it is in his suffering that he is fulfilling the message of Christ's hope to his readers in brilliant technicolor.  He IS NOT saying that Jesus didn't do enough on the cross, but that in Paul's joyful and hope centered response to suffering he is making tangible what the power of the Gospel is all about.

When suffering is about US, we gravitate to the unhealthy poles of extremism.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is that ALL suffering belongs to the finished work on the cross.   Earlier in this letter Paul makes it clear that from Eternity past to Eternity future all things are under the Lordship of Christ.  Even our suffering.  Even our pain.  Even our breath.  Even our death.

Starting with this truth, we see that what we are suffering through is not outside of the control of God, as if He has been rendered powerless and incompetent in the face of great tradgedy.  But that instead this, even this, is working towards a great weight of Glory in Eternity.  

The most powerful testimony to the Goodness of God is not that God lets you win the lottery, or your cancer is healed, or that your children come home, but that your heart can sing with a joy that is not defined by the momentary circumstances of our lives.

Paul understands something that I wish I(and others) would embrace more completely more often.  Offering the Cross to the lost, and freedom to the slave, is not an offer to money, health, and material blessing.  Instead, it is an offer to suffer for the sake of a hope that surpasses suffering.  The Colossians were not going to be encouraged in a lasting way by Paul saying, "look, I started following Christ and my pain in my side went away, my shorter leg grew longer and I found money in my couch".  Surely this would be enticing for a while, but when the brokeness of life caught up with them they would see the lie for what it is.  Paul did not offer quick fixes and temporary blessings, he said, "Look at how I suffer, and how even in my suffering I celebrate the goodness of a God who gave up Himself for my sake".

We often "sell" our church, our beliefs, our faith, on the premise of "look how great it is here!!! look how happy we are!!! look how much better off our lives are now that we are "in"!!!"  Instead, we should follow Paul's example.

To weep with each other.

To face difficulties with each other.

To be honests about our failures and imperfections.

And in the midst of it all point to the Cross that stands over it all and calls us to lie down along still waters!  To be joyful that even our very suffering declares the power of the Hope we have in Christ.

Even when it is good, we can be selfishly angry about it....

Friday, January 29, 2016

Do Politics Trump the Gospel?

Being an American is pretty great.  Beyond even language barriers I can't think of another country I would want to call my home.  And with that I have to say I like things "mostly" the way they are and have some strong opinions on ways we can improve things.

By improve things I mainly mean, "Make my life continually more and more comfortable".

One of the best parts about being a parent is that I get the daily conviction of my own sinful inclinations on full display visibly manifested in the lives of my kids.  I don't mean they are these terrible kids, but that the absurdity of children and their self-centered thought processess point to the  reality of my more subtle, yet still absurd, self-centeredness.

This morning.....wayyyyy toooo daughter woke me up and asked if she could watch something.  Like a loving father I replied, "Sure hunny, go downstairs and I will be right there......"

Cut to 20 minutes later as I continued to sleep.  "DADDDDDDYYYYYYY why did you forget me?!?!?"

I begrudgingly got up out of bed, annoyed that she was up so early and acting so darn selfishly.  She was inconveniencing me for something stupid.  Life, and especially my kids, needs to be thinking about what I want.

Selfishly her selfishness was annoying me......

Rarely do we see beyond our own nose.  What we want is what we want and we want it when we want it.  Those who get in the way of that are clearly; lazy, selfish, immature, wrong, evil, dangerous, jerks, idiots, etc.

As I came to grips with my own conviction and snuggled my sweetie on the coach while watching Octanauts and waiting for the rest of our family to wake up I thought how silly we "adults" can be sometimes.

And it is reflected in our politics.

Right now the front runner for the Republican Primary, Donald Trump, launched his campaign by promising to build a wall to keep out Mexicans and wants to stop all Middle Eastern Muslims from entering from any border at all.

Let me be clear.  There is an argument that can be made that America can be more economically prosperous and physically safer by following Donald Trumps populist rhetoric.  If we build a wall and stop all immigration there will be more for the rest of us.  Pragmatically speaking we can make a stronger Nation with such policies.

But why do you want to have a stronger America?

Because YOUR life will be better.

Now, don't get me wrong, I am not trying to argue that we shouldn't want a healthier economy, or, that we should get rid of all borders.  What I am saying is that what we don't often want to admit is that at the heart of our political grandstanding is a self-centered goal of selfishness.

Where in the Bible are we ever commanded to build a really awesome country that has a high standard of living where there will be low unemployment and physical safety?

Still looking????

Find a passage yet??????


You won't find one.  But you will find plenty of statements about how this is NOT OUR home.  Or, we are supposed to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel.  Or, we must give up everything to follow after Christ.

None of those concepts fit very neatly into a political campaign about making America great again.

One of the concerns with unfettered third world immigration is that the tone and culture of America will be forever changed.  So what?!  Even if we never vote republican ever again what does that have to do with the Gospel?  Some people make a strong case that letting people immigrate won't actually solve any economic problems.  So what?! Even if our immigration policies don't help the immigrants, our citizens, or the countries of origin, what does that have to do with the responsibility of the Gospel.

And to be clear.  What is the Gospel?  That we are sinners, seperated from God.  Jesus has died as your subsitution for the penalty of sin and through  faith in Christ and Christ alone we will be saved. That is it.  That is the work we are supposed to be about.

Ask yourself this.  One day you stand before God and He asks you what you are most proud of.  Is your answer going to be, "I kept the Republican party in power for 50 more years!!"

I hope that for me, and for you, the answer will be, "I declared hope to the captives that Jesus was King"!

If you find the Gospel message aligned with this one, you're reading the Bible wrong