Christmas Wars: Return of theology

My bottom line is this: The focus of the First Advent should be on Jesus humbly being born in the likeness of human flesh and that at second advent is in the near future when Jesus returns to make all things new. Rather, this season is marked by what I call the Christmas Wars.

Xmas controversy
Christian_Chi_RhoAs a child I remember being scolded out of the blue because I wrote ‘xmas’ on my paper. I was following in the evil pathway of removing Christ from Christmas. Being the reader (nerd) that I was, I looked it up. (Note, this was before the advent of wikipedia, so I had to use this thing called a card catalog and books.) What I found was this: The X was from the greek letter Xsi which is the first initial of Christ’s name, Xristos in Greek. X marked with another letter or part of the word was an appropriate abbreviation for Christ. There is no grand conspiracy to remove Christ from Christmas.

Mas controversy
Jesus died once for all sin. In doing research I found another interesting aspect: I don’t celebrate Mass. Mass is the liturgy surrounding the celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharist views communion as becoming wholly the blood and body of Jesus. It’s a perpetual sacrifice. Hence, the symbol of the crucifix. While the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, it is through the resurrection that we’re saved. The Bible doesn’t teach a perpetual sacrifice but a single sacrifice at one point in time whereby the barrier between God and man is forever destroyed through the resurrection of Jesus. Communion then is a symbol where we proclaim the Lord’s death until he returns.

The First Advent
It is good to celebrate the First Advent. Why? Jesus demonstrated humility and a focus on people. My fear isn’t removing Christ from Christmas. My fear is not seeing Christ in Christians. Let’s be humble, friends. It’s what Jesus did.

The light of the World
It is good to celebrate Jesus as the light of the world. The real issue is whether we’ll accept by faith that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead. Jesus died once for all sin, the just for the unjust. My concern isn’t removing Christ from Christmas. It’s removing Mass from Christ. Theology matters. We do not need to continually dip into a pool of grace to merit salvation. We need to simply accept God’s gift in Jesus whereby God lavishes his grace upon us! We don’t celebrate Mass, we celebrate a risen savior.

The bottom line:
As the Christmas wars heat up, again, let’s remember our theology. Ignorance is no excuse anymore as information is freely available and easier to access. The focus of the first advent should be on Jesus humbly being born in the likeness of human flesh and that at second advent is in the near future when Jesus returns to make all things new. Let us pray for and look to the Second Advent as we celebrate the humbleness of the first.

Christianity is not a crutch, it’s a wheelchair

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Christianity is about God providing what you and I are incapable of providing. A frequent statement on religion is that it’s a crutch. As Christians we forget that without Jesus showing up, a crutch will not be enough. No, Christianity is a wheelchair because apart from Christ we’re broken.

The freedom of being broken
Christianity is about Jesus. Paul says in Ephesians how we were once dead but made alive in Christ. He further states that by nature we were children of wrath. The Bible also uses terms like enemies of God, unworthy, etc. Here is the key: Jesus showed up and did what we could not nor cannot do. Freedom results in being broken because we have no need to worry if we’re good enough or capable enough to earn God’s favor.

Big savior, not stingy one
God did not dispense grace with a teaspoon or an eye dropper. God poured it on. God demonstrated GREAT love, being RICH in mercy, LAVISHING grace upon those in Christ. God did this so you can show His IMMEASURABLE riches of grace in KINDNESS towards us in Jesus. This is not a God who is mad, reluctant or stingy. This is a God who is present, active and very willing.

A family for good
Jesus freed us to bless others. Because we don’t have to worry about being capable of earning Grace, because we don’t have to worry if God is willing enough to care for us, in Jesus you and I have the freedom to focus on serving others. We should serve because that is what God expects to do. Not as a “Jesus project,” but because loving God means loving the things He loves- people. A trophy of God’s grace is a vibrant Christian who serves.

Dirty boys are cool
Moms love it when their boys are clean. Dads love it when their boys are muddy. It’s time the church gets muddy. If we’re a family for good then we need to be willing to get messy. More people need the wheel chair of God’s grace because people cannot save themselves, they need Jesus. We need to love people because God loves people. We need to love people with no expectation of return, because that’s what Jesus did. If we’re willing to serve with no expectation of return that opens the opportunity share about Jesus. Let’s get dirty. There’ll be a time to clean up later.

The Bottom line:
When we realize that Christianity is a wheelchair not a crutch it frees us up to be what God created us to be. In being broken we can love humbly, seeing messy lives as us if it were not for Grace. In seeing a big savior we have full assurance that God is willingly and actively involved in our life. He is our life. In being a family for good we see purpose and intentionality. In getting into the messy things of life we see God gave us a mission.

One more thing…
I’m fine with Christianity being a wheelchair. Resting in God and having Him taking us to where He wants us to go is the most incredible experience of life. God doesn’t push the chair on clean streets. God wants to hit the mud puddles! We can clean up for the supper later.

The Tyranny of God’s Blessing

God’s blessing is not fragile. Too often we view God’s blessing as some delicate mist. If we make the slightest wrong move *p o o f* it vanishes away. Preachers and churches often craft statements like If you don’t do [insert topic de jour here] then you won’t get God’s blessing. Another way we see this tyranny is when making decisions. We struggle to figure out which choice God will bless. Why? Cause if we choose wrongly, *p o o f*… This view treats God’s blessing as a form of tyranny. This misses the point of the Gospel, and misunderstands God’s love.

The Rock
The last few weeks I’ve been reflecting on the life of Peter. Peter and I both have what I like to call “hoof in mouth disease.” Peter was passionate and full of life. This often got him into trouble. Yet, I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to say that God blessed Peter and his ministry. Peter denied Jesus. Three times, actually. This same Peter preached the first sermon of the church. Peter reached out to gentiles (Acts 10), was care-fronted by Paul for hypocrisy (Gal 2) and yet wrote to prolific letters (1&2 Peter). Peter died upside down on a cross. God blessed his ministry.

A Prostitute, A Foreigner, An Adulteress
Rahab was a prostitute. She’s in Jesus’ genealogy of Matthew. Hebrews 11 lists her as a women of faith. Ruth acted in faith and married Boaz. She’s also in Jesus genealogy. A book written about her faithfulness in pursuing God stands in contrast to the time of Judges when “everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Israel did not view foreigner’s well at that time. Bathsheba committed adultery with King David. She’s also in Jesus’ genealogy. David was still considered a man after God’s own heart. Glaring issues, still blessed by God.

The Gospel
God’s blessings is not fragile because the Gospel is not fragile! The grace and mercy of the Gospel overcomes the fragility of God’s blessings. To treat God’s blessing as something delicate is to fundamentally misunderstand the Gospel. Jesus died ONCE of ALL our sin. Jesus rose again, defeating sin and death. While we were yet sinners Christ died for the ungodly. Jesus acted before we were worthy of being blessed. God’s blessing isn’t connected to our actions as much as its connected to the Gospel.

Wisdom & Faith
Act based on wisdom and faith. Being in Christ doesn’t mean we should do anything what we want. Does God bless sin? No. Bible makes that pretty clear. Two key themes in Scripture point to how God desires for us to act: 1) acting based on wisdom and 2) acting based on faith. They are tired together. Make the best informed choice you can make and step out on faith. Seek wise counsel, search the Scripture, pray throughout the process and act in faith. That makes God happy.

What if I choose wrong?
John says that if we confess our sins Jesus is faithful and just to forgive. Why? The Gospel is the foundation of God blessings us. God even uses our mistakes to conform and sharpen us into the image of Christ. Be less worried about error and more concerned about gaining wisdom and acting in faith. God’s blessing isn’t that fragile. In fact, it’s His desire to bless those who are in Christ. Yes, we can squander God’s blessing. But, look at Peter, God can bless big messes. Some trophies of Grace just take more polishing than others.

The bottom line:
We shouldn’t use “God’s blessing” as a form of tyranny. Rather, God’s blessing should point us to the Gospel. God’s blessing and love are not fragile things. They produced for us a unwaivering relationship with Him through the death burial and resurrection of Jesus. If we make mistakes, the Cross covers it. Focus on gaining wisdom and walking in faith. God even uses our mistakes to form us more into

An important reminder…

It’s the Gospel plus nothing equals salvation & sanctification.

There is nothing you can do to earn a relationship with God. There is nothing you can do to earn more love from God. God already proved He loves you unconditionally. In Christ, He sees you white as snow. Ok, by now the “Yeah, but…” is starting to creep in. So, let me remind you once more…

It’s the Gospel plus nothing…

True Christian religion is about selfless service for others and not religious attainment of God’s favor. God focused on us and sent Jesus. Jesus focused and served us giving us a relationship with God. Because it’s the Gospel plus nothing we’re free to focus on others and not ourselves. The statement “religion is do, Christianity is done” is false because the focus is on self. If you’re in Christ and Christ is in you, it’s not about you. It’s about being a blessing to others. In Christ, that’s how we roll. Ok, another reminder…

It’s the Gospel plus nothing…

Christ is more interested with who you are that what you do. Right now the “yeah, but…” is starting to creep in. Let’s just admit that we don’t like having to humbly admit we can’t do something ourselves. We need to be in control and that’s why we’re quick to ask what should we do? Humbly thank God for doing what you could not. Let Him be God instead of you trying to be in control. Why? Ok, one more time…

It’s the Gospel plus nothing…

My guide to become a recovering fundamentalist: Part 2

“Someone asked me if I was a fundamentalist. I don’t know what to say.” ~Friend
“I resolve to make fun of fundamentalists for fundamental reasons.” ~Driscoll

Mr. Strawman, you’re dismissed…
In Part 1 I said that ‘fundamentalism’ is a bit of a strawman. It’s easy to couch a group of people under one term, then make that term dark a derogatory. Metaphorically speaking, we light the term on fire. Again, bash fundamentalists and you’ll get accolades. Here’s the problem with that. It’s not right, not gracious and I’d say not biblical. It’s time we stop with the strawman battles. Yes, we all do this.

The battle over words…
I give no loyalty to words, and few words I defend. I don’t defend the word baptist nor fundamentalism. I take seriously what Paul tells Timothy about false teaching that “has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil, suspicious, etc.” (1 Timothy 6:4) Attacking fundamentalism as a blanket category is much about attacking words. A key to being a recovering fundamentalist is to let go of the battle for words. Need a blueprint for this? Read 2 Timothy 2:22-26!

Civilian casualties…
In war people cringe at civilian deaths. Attacking broad categories is analogous. Bringing everyone under a broad category and then bashing that category, we create disdain for innocent people. People who are good, godly, and pursuing Christ with a loving and pure conscience. When we react out of emotion rather than act out of grace, we do what we claim ‘fundamentalists’ do. We become be the Holy Spirit. Yes, I’m saying many anti-‘fundamentalists’ act like fundamentalists.

It’s the heart…
Focus on the key heart issues. Like it or not, there are ‘fundamentalists’ who we can learn from, respect, emulate and even admire. Every person struggles with sin. It’s a matter of what sin a person struggles with. Let’s focus on the heart issues of arrogance, legalism, fear of man, “majoring on minors,” and bitterness. You and I struggle with these issues too! If you can’t stomach that, remember we’re all one church, and Jesus died for “their” sins as well as yours and mine.

The bottom line:
There is a key choice to become a recovering fundamentalist: Will I focus on bashing a category or on helping heal key heart issues. It’s easy to bash a categorical word because there isn’t a face attach to it, only negative emotions. Too many people have categorically rejected fundamentalists and treated such with putrid disdain. While for some it’s understandable, that doesn’t make it right. “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5 ESV) To rephrase our choice: Will I choose bitterness or love?

Civility, Civility, where art thou?

Last Thursday I wrote about my desire for my boys to live in a world of civility. The thought process started when Gavin said thank you to me after giving him a simple treat. I treasured the event. Given the grievous incident in Arizona, my wish for my boys grew even stronger.

Two wrongs don’t make a right
The Bible puts it this way: “A soft word takes away wrath.” I have no wish to take political sides on this blog. Even in irate anger, one can show the civility one so much desires. The political vitriol displayed lately is alarming. It is akin to fighting a fire with gasoline.

Evil and responsibility exist
There is evil and brokenness in life. Even with this, people are responsible for their own actions. Evil or brokenness is the root cause of tragedies such as happened in Arizona. Civility, compassion and graciousness are the greatest weapons against evil and brokenness. It’s what Jesus did.

Two prescriptions of civility:
1) Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger… Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. ~ Ephesians 4:26,29

2) This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. ~ James 1:19-20

The bottom line
We are responsible for our own actions. Anger is not wrong, but we must be prudent and thoughtful in how we exercise and work through our anger. For sure, in public discourse great restraint and gracious must be demonstrated. Truth can be declared without being inflammatory. Restraint isn’t a lack of authenticity or genuineness. Restraint  is an exercise of wisdom and humility. Our culture could use a large dose of both. These are skills I want my boys to have in abundance.

Do we beleive this?

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. ~Ephesians 4:29-32 NASB

God really is the answer:

Peace, harmony, and righteousness can only happen through submission, forgiveness, and humility at the cost of control, fairness and honor. As humans we crave and fight for control, fairness and honor to get peace, harmony and righteousness. Often this fight is couched in the terms of fairness or equality. God pursues peace, harmony and righteousness through submission, forgiveness, and humility. We demand our rights, God gave them up.

Equal and Distinct
Father, Son and Spirit are co-equal and co-eternal, yet they do not function that way. They are equally God, equally in power, equal in their knowledge, ability: they are God, and they are one. The mystery shouldn’t be all that difficult except for our distaste for one word: Submission.

We hate submission because we crave control. We hate submission because we crave and push for our equality. In various discussions on equality, I wonder how people can push for their equality and at the same time fully claim pursuing Christ? In such a pursuit, one is pursuing a right that Christ did not pursue. Christ submitted.

There can be no harmony without submission. I am not addressing one area, but this concept holds true for marriages, teacher-student relationships, teams, organizations, etc. Our demanding equality often comes at the cost of harmony.

Fair or Grace
Fair is Hell. Life is not fair. We so demand fairness, but it constantly alludes us. Good people can make stupid choices, while evil people succeed. It makes no sense, it is not fair. Viewed another way, was it fair to God for Adam and Eve to eat of the tree? Was it fair for Cain to kill Abel, even after God warned Cain not to? Is it fair to execute a perfectly just man?

We scream at (or ignore) God because being who He is, He allowed unfair things to happen. Some even think God gains some sick pleasure at watching people suffer. Does He? No and in turn gives graces. Grace and mercy are not fair. God would have been perfectly fair in destroying existence after the fall. He didn’t. God did what we value above nearly all virtues, He did not give up. God did not reject people, people reject God. As we demand, so often, fairness from God, we look in the mirror and find we, again so often, are not fair towards Him.

Grace, Mercy and Reconciliation by their very nature are not fair. You and I may wonder why God is taking so long to make things right, we must remember something: In waiting God gave you and I opportunity to reconcile with Him. The only fair thing is for all to suffer. God waits desiring non to suffer. God did what was most unfair: He forgave, He provided a way out by accepting what He most loathes and cannot tolerate.

Two conclusions:
1) It seems to me the total of human History is God proving without Him there is only pain, suffering and chaos.  After all our efforts, we cannot escape our own depravity. Put ourselves in God’s shoes: If we wanted to create something and have a relationship with it, but at the same time wanted to give our creation freedom of choice, would we allow the chance of rejection? If we didn’t, did we truly give freedom of choice? If rejected, what would our actions be? What would the result of our creation be?

2) We want all the goodness of God without the accountability. The greatest ‘crime’ for man to accept God’s existence is the accountability that results from it. For the God of the Bible to exist, there then also exits an external standard we are accountable to. We run from accountability because it destroys another thing we humans desperately crave: control. Ironic that God in creation gave up control and gave us choice.

The Bottom line:
Perhaps the Biblical God is right after all. Humans abuse religion in the name of God, government in the name of justice, and reason in the name of science. We cannot escape that we have a soul, that we are depraved, and that all our progress leaves us in the same plight. We really do want peace, harmony and righteousness. We just love control, fairness and honor more. Interesting Jesus’ words: “He who desires his life shall lose it” and “The meek shall inherit the Earth.”

God is not stupid

I understand the plight to focus on essentials and not have a hostile environment when it comes to theology or the deep questions of life. In these conversations I cannot help but sense an eerie feeling. Do we think God is stupid and or modern man is evolved and enlightened?

Creation:
Instead of creation described poetically, what if God poetically created?

The creation account is written poetically. Days 1-3 God creates spaces and Days 4-6 He fills them. Upon completion God creates rest on the 7th days, and hence our week. The debate over creation vs evolution within Christianity will likely not go away, and should always be congenial. I have to ask, why can’t God poetically create?

While we may not like the way some defend the young Earth view, creationists do show plausibility of a young Earth and catastrophism. Are all discussions sound, bulletproof and complete? No. Neither is evolutionary thinking, which has changed demonstrably since its inception. Early humans maybe naïve, but I don’t think God created humans as intellectually inept. Why do we often view earlier humans as incapable of clear or deep thought? Who is to say that God created in the way He did for no other reason than the discussions about origins today?

Bible:
If an all-etc being, can He not communicate both timelessly, accurately, and use man at the same time?

We act based on what we believe. I wonder if we truly believe God is all-powerful or all-knowing. I mention this because we don’t seem to apply that to the Bible. Why can’t God use fallen man to communicate accurately and sufficiently?

Words and language move people. How many movements start based on an idea? Putting ourselves in God’s shoes, if we wanted to communicate who we are with clarity, how would we do it? Based on history, it seems we prefer to write things down: narratively, poetically, playfully. We learn best through narrative, it gives context, tone, color, and a depth mere bullet points or technical writing cannot. Are not the best story tellers those who are both cunning and correct and the greatest of these stories true?

Grace:
Isn’t freedom of choice as much an act of grace as freedom from consequences?

In hard times we yell at God, asking why He could allow bad things to happen. He could have stopped tyranny, death, destruction, but He has not…yet. While Naive, knowing neither good nor evil, God gave Adam the ability of choice, much like a parent knowing what the outcome will be. There was revealed, demonstrable and verifiable evidence of God’s existence, and yet Adam chose pride. Would we do better?

We often think of grace covering the consequences of our actions, but grace also covers our choices. Even in good times we often forget where they come from or worse that we are deserving of them. God hates sin, but yet he allowed people to sin and create the mess we’re in today. Do we not value our freedom above all else?

Rights:
Why does pursuing our rights lead to so much frustration?

Over the course of human history we, both big and small, pushed for our rights. Wars and quarrels, pain and suffering resulted and resound over rights. We either vocally or deep down demand them. We feel entitled to them. We blame God for allowing the violation of them. If He is love and peace, then why…?

I sense we wish God was more like us. Maybe we should reverse that and look at how He wants us to be more like Him? God has the right to wipe us all out, but He patient. God has the right to shun accusations or anger towards Him, but He listens. God has the right of full worship, yet He came humbly and unjustly executed as a criminal. God has the right to make us all puppets, but He gave us a choice. Maybe the answer to much of our suffering isn’t for God to be like us, but for us to be like Him?

The bottom line:
God is not stupid. When discussing the deeper questions of life and theology, we must not forget that. Human depravity and naïvety is a variable, but truth and God are a constant. If God is truly who He claims to be, then perhaps He overcame people’s problems while still choosing to communicate through them. We may not like or understand how or why God chose the path He did, but we should remember that God is God and we are not.

Not Perfect is a Holy Thing: John Mark

Person: John Mark
Epic Fail: Desertion
God’s View: A useful man

Ever been unfaithful, quit or walked out and think God can no longer use you? STOP! God uses quitters. Being unfaithful creates significant consequences and fallout. The issue is not the sin, but in repentance. John Mark quit, but that’s not the last word.

God’s man of action
Mark wrote my favorite Gospel. As a boy I remember always being in and studying the Gospel of Mark. It described Jesus as a man of action. It’s the adventure Gospel. (As a college & seminary student Mark had a lot of action as well.) The Gospel was written to encourage and spur Christians to serving and pursuing Christ. Its abrupt ending (depending on one’s view of the last chapter) begs the question of what’s next.

John Mark served the apostolic community as well, and he contributed to the New Testament. His ministry still impacts people today. The Bible describes him as a fellow worker. He went on missionary journeys. Mark was a man of action.

Mark’s Failure
Mark was a deserter… On a missionary journey Mark deserted Paul at Pamphylia. Paul, also a passionate man of action, did not want to take John Mark on his second missions trip. This created tremendous tension between Paul and Barnabas. This caused the two great leaders to part company.

Barnabas gave Mark a second chance and took him. Paul took Silas. And, as history would have it, Mark demonstrated repentance and stood as a man of action. Quitting produces significant consequences, but it does not have to be the end.

God’s final view
Pick up Mark and bring him with you, for he is useful to me for service. ~2 Timothy 4:11

Paul, who wanted nothing to do with Mark, at the end of his ministry… when he was  at the end of his life… when all were abandoning him… requested the presence of John Mark because he was useful. That is change.

This week as we looked at Not Perfect is a Holy thing, remember this key point: imperfection and sin does not have to be the last word on your life! When we see Christ face to face we will be made perfect and lacking nothing in the realm of holiness because of Christ’s work on the cross. But today… right now… as you’re reading this… you are not perfect, but in Christ you are holy!

The bottom line of Not Perfect is a Holy Thing:
Do not pursue perfection, pursue repentance. Do not make sinless your goal, but actively serving Jesus Christ. You and I will fail, we may even fail in epic ways, but that does not mean God is done with us. The moment we stop pursuing God, the moment when we stop striving for repentance that’s when we cease being holy on Earth.

The Holy man is the one who pursues a life of repentance not perfection, a life of service, not a life of ‘I’m right you’re wrong.’ The holy man lives by grace, and grace covers a multitude of sins. Our Savior is that big!