Category Archives: Reflections

Forgotten Elements in American Christianity: Ecclesiastes

American Christianity is unbalanced, I believe. This is not a uniquely American problem though; no culture will ever have a perfectly balanced expression of Christianity. Cultures have a certain set of values and those values inevitably help shape their expression of Christianity, for good and bad.

In America we tend to value practicality. We focus on making things productive and efficient. We focus on things that get results; that help us accomplish our goals. We are a goal-oriented society. This naturally leads to an emphasis on work, which is good because God created us to work:

The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it. — Genesis 2.15

God expects us to work:

Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. — Exodus 20:8–10a

The Apostle Paul also expects us to work:

For even when we were with you, we would give you this command: If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat. For we hear that some among you walk in idleness, not busy at work, but busybodies. Now such persons we command and encourage in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. — 2 Thessalonians 3:10–12

We also tend to value idealism. We’re eternal optimists. We’re always envisioning and imagining a better life, a better country, a better world. We differ quite vastly over what that ideal world looks like, but we are always imagining it. When we combine this with our emphasis on work it naturally leads to the conclusion that we can make our ideal world a reality. And this also is not a bad thing. The single mother, for example, who wants to get out of her minimum wage job and earn more money so she can work less and spend more time with her children should try to make that ideal a reality; it’s a good thing.

What isn’t good is when a healthy dose of the futility of life is not injected into the marriage of these two values. I think this injection is missing in American Christianity and I think it is missing because we have neglected the perspective of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes. I suspect if I surveyed 100 American Christians and asked them what their favorite book of the Bible is that Ecclesiastes would have less than 5 votes, in fact it might not get any. It is a sad thing to think about, and I think also indicative of why American Christianity is the way it is.

It requires us to think and reflect on some of the cold hard truths about life, and we don’t like to do this. It isn’t productive. It doesn’t produce results. It doesn’t help us reach our goals. So why bother with it? Not only this, but it also undermines our idealism with fatalism. Consider the following:

I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind. — Ecclesiastes 1.14

Why would we want to acknowledge this? If this is true we reason, then why bother doing anything? Why bother standing up for the rights of the unborn? Why bother trying to eliminate racism? If it’s all useless then why bother? And so our thoughts stop there and we move on to the nice friendly passages that make us feel warm and fuzzy inside.

However once we come to grips with the perspective of the Preacher we can conclude along with him:

The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil. — Ecclesiastes 12.13-14

When we recognize that all our striving after the actualization of our ideals is useless and in the end doesn’t matter it frees us from carrying that unnecessary burden and allows us to focus on what does matter: keeping the commandments of God. We recognize that God will judge each of us individually. Were we covetous and never content with what we had? Were we adulterous and consistently involved in sexual promiscuity? Did we spread false lies about others for our own advantage? Did we love something more than God? How well we loved God and loved others is what we will be judged on.

The reason why I write this is because I have noticed a tendency over the past couple of years within the church to think that we need to solve the social injustices in our country and world. I think this is dangerous because it is placing an unnecessary burden on the church and I think it will eventually be too much for us to carry and will crush us. We are not called to solve all the problems and injustices of the world. We are called to be salt and light. Living testimonies of the love of God to all humanity. If we first look at the state of our own soul and work to purify and cleanse it, then the societal change we want to see will naturally flow from it. It does not work the other way around. This is what Christ taught us:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. — Matthew 23.25-28

 

 

 

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Empty Spaces

Christ is the light of the world, whoever follows him will not walk in darkness, but have the light of life

“I am the light of the world. He that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.”

I was offered a free desk yesterday afternoon while I was walking into my building after arriving home from church. I noticed the desk was an L-desk, something I had been looking for for a while, and so I quickly agreed to take it. When I moved my old desk out to make space for my new desk it occurred to me that I had a lot of space to play with. The question before me was, “What will I put in this empty space?”

The season of Trinity in the liturgical year poses the same question to us: “What will we put in this empty space?”  Will we put Christ in it? Will we allow Him to purge from us our sinful and evil ways? Will we do the things He commands us to do? Will we love Him more than the world?

Trinitytide is a season of growth, so let us allow Christ to grow in us, so that everyone may see His glory in us and be drawn into His kingdom. Amen.

 

Why Squirrels are Better

 

How to be happy: be a dog!

This just in from the stating the obvious department…

While I was still living in FL God provided me with a frequent image to consider: squirrels (don’t laugh! this is going somewhere serious I promise!). You see there is a tree in the backyard of my parent’s house that I would watch the squirrels play in every morning before I did my daily Scripture readings. I would often be jealous of them. They didn’t worry about their jobs, money, or many of the other things that I worried about. They simply ran around the tree chasing each other, gathered material for nests, and (after checking to make sure the dog was inside) hopped down to the ground to search for food. Their lives seemed so simple, happy and worry-free; I wondered why my life had to be so complex, sad, and worrisome.

I’m not sure that I truly learned the lesson God was teaching me back then (actually I’m not sure I’ve truly learned any lesson God has ever taught me), but it’s a lesson I am being taught again as I near the end of another semester of seminary. I even find myself worrying about the same things I did back then! What will I do after seminary? Am I currently pursuing the right path for after graduation? Will I have enough money? Actually I am even worrying about more things! Am I being called to marriage or singleness? Can I personally do ministry without the support of a wife? Will having a wife (and likely kids also) be a detriment to my ministry?

Squirrels have not been my only teachers regarding these concerns, but Scripture also. The Psalms address these concerns in numerous places I believe, but Psalm 95.1-7 has stood out to me in particular:

Oh come, let us sing to the LORD;
let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving;
let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
For the LORD is a great God,
and a great King above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth;
the heights of the mountains are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands formed the dry land.
Oh come, let us worship and bow down;
let us kneel before the LORD, our Maker!
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture,
and the sheep of his hand.
Psalm 95.1-7a ESV

These verses recount God’s creation of the world and everything in it, including humans. As a result of this we, along with the rest of creation, should recognize that we not only exist due solely to God’s decision to create, but that we are dependent on Him for our daily sustenance (e.g. food, water).

Jesus explicitly teaches this several times in the New Testament. First in Matthew 6.25-34:

“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’  For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

“Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.
Matthew 6.25-34 ESV

It doesn’t matter how much money we have or how big our house is, if God doesn’t send the rain to water the crops and fill the rivers and lakes, or the sunshine to grow the crops we won’t be alive for much longer. No matter how fit or healthy we are we will not live a moment longer than God has decided that we should live. So what should we do? God knows that we need food, water, and clothing, and He will give these things to us, just like he does to the birds (and squirrels!). And just like the birds (and squirrels!) are obedient to God and serve Him the way He intends for them, so we also should follow God and be obedient to His teachings and live the life he intends for us, a life of holiness. We should not be anxious about food, water, and clothing.

Jesus again teaches us not be anxious when He is in Martha’s house:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
Luke 10.38-42 ESV

Martha is busy with all the preparations* for Jesus and His disciples, but how does Jesus describe her? As anxious about many things! A rebuke! It is Mary who Jesus describes as having “chosen the good portion,” which is listening to the words of her God and Savior and following Him, rather than being worried about food and entertaining guests.

Even the Apostles struggled with being anxious! They were once worried that they had no food, even though they had already seen Jesus feed thousands of people with just a few fish and a few loaves of bread:

When the disciples reached the other side, they had forgotten to bring any bread. Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And they began discussing it among themselves, saying, “We brought no bread.” But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive? Do you not remember the five loaves for the five thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? Or the seven loaves for the four thousand, and how many baskets you gathered? How is it that you fail to understand that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Matthew 16.5-12 ESV

But why is it significant that we not worry about these things? Because they are symptomatic of what is in our heart. The passage I quoted above from Matthew 6.25-34 has a parallel account in Luke 12.22-31 and immediately following adds:

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Luke 12.32-34 ESV

I believe one of the fundamentals of the Christian life is to learn to set our hearts and desires on heavenly rewards rather than earthly rewards. This means learning to hear God’s voice and being obedient to what He calls you to do and trusting that He will provide for your needs along the way. The second part of Psalm 95 is instructive regarding this:

Today, if you hear his voice,
do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah,
as on the day at Massah in the wilderness,
when your fathers put me to the test
and put me to the proof, though they had seen my work.
For forty years I loathed that generation
and said, “They are a people who go astray in their heart,
and they have not known my ways.”
Therefore I swore in my wrath,
“They shall not enter my rest.”
Psalm 95.7b-11**

God has called us to follow Him and to trust Him to provide for our needs along the way. We should not be worried about whether we will have food, or water, or clothing, or whether we will be married because God knows what we need and will give us what we need. What we should be worried about is whether or not we are being obedient to Him, following Him where He is leading us, and trusting Him to provide for us. If we are not doing this it is a sign that we love the things of the world, such as money or power or prestige, more than the God who made us. It is a sign that Sin is ruling our lives.

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

 

*The word translated “serving” probably refers to the preparations for a social event, such as a meal. See BDAG, διακονία 2.b.

**The incident at Meribah and Massah is found in Exodus 17.1-7 where the Israelites grumbled against Moses and did not trust that God was with them and would provide for their needs on their journey to the land He had promised, even though they had already seen Him provide bread for them from heaven (Exodus 16). Also, Hebrew 3.7-4.13 has an excellent exposition of these verses which I highly recommend reading.

 

A Satire of Modern “Scholarship”

A major, and perhaps fully unrealized, consequence of the Internet is that information is proliferating faster than at any previous time in human history. The supporting narrative heralds this proliferation as a good thing that will further the ‘progress’ of humanity and make life better, but there is a dark underside to this proliferation that seems to often go unnoticed, or is at least not discussed.

It is certainly true that the Internet has improved life in many ways. For example, it has enabled businesses to communicate essential information to other businesses very quickly and easily, such as your insurance company setting up a car rental for you when yours is in the shop. Or as another example, it has enabled instant communication with people who might be across the world through instant messaging technologies such as Skype, Facebook Messenger, etc.

As a consequence of these technologies information now spreads faster than ever before, but without any checks as to the quality or accuracy of that information. Some sites in fact just want written content because it’s how they make money, whether or not it’s accurate information or not seems to be irrelevant [example: content mills]. This business model seems to have infiltrated some previously trusted industries, such as journalism, which results in more news sites publishing articles that will drive traffic to their site, regardless of accuracy or neutrality.

For me I notice this tendency for sensationalism in the area of theology [probably inevitable]. A fairly recent example of this is the Newsweek article published several months ago about how the Church hates gay people. My response to that article is here. The basic goal of such articles it seems is heap condemnation on the Church in response to the Church [allegedly, though perhaps accurate in some individual situations] heaping condemnation on some other group. In short they’re propaganda pieces, and in propaganda the only thing that matters is rallying people behind your cause, truth is irrelevant.

So all that to say that today I came across a piece that satirizes such articles and provides a good example of how they work and go about their argument: Miguel Ruiz: New light on the oldest profession. Usually these article involve sexual ethics, which is what this article uses in its satire. Let me break it down for you:

First, they usually start with saying that Christians, or the Church, has unjustly oppressed a certain group of people unjustly: “The history of Christianity is a twisted tale of conflict over sexuality and the suppression of those who dissent the party line on bedroom ethics.”

Then they will state that the view of the opposition is based upon a single interpretation of Scripture; “These days, it is commonly argued that there is only one correct approach, from sound exegesis of Scripture, to human sexuality and appropriate boundaries.” And then assert that whatever this teaching is it is on shaky ground and has changed throughout history: “However, we still must concede that what is commonly accepted as “right” today is not exactly how we have always taught.”

Then they will attempt, but usually fail, to substantiate their claim that the Church has changed its teaching in this area [usually sexual ethics], perhaps claiming that the interpretation of Scripture has changed as the culture changed and ultimately concluding that the teaching of Scripture is not clear: “Throughout the centuries, various sexual practices have gone in and out of favor with the church catholic at various times and in various cultures, as external influences have doubtlessly impacted how the relevant Scripture passages were read and understood. We’ve run the gamut from repressing to libertine, and everything in between.  It is nothing short of confounding how difficult it is to get the Bible to speak directly and consistently on these matters.” 

Then they will make their appeal to your emotions: “If we truly value and respect the Word of God, we would be wise to continue listening and respectfully consider alternate interpretations, especially those coming from fellow believers as a matter of conscience. We’ve all made mistakes in Biblical interpretation before, probably not for the last time.  So I challenge you to listen with an open mind as I explain how we’ve been largely wrong about a particular issue for a number of years:  Prostitution.” This statement here is the giveaway as to what is coming next in the article. They believe to have already demonstrated that the Church has changed its view regarding the issue [though they probably haven’t] and on this basis then appeal to your emotions by basically saying, “If you want to be a true Christian you need to recognize that in your own history teachings and interpretations have changed, and so you then have an obligation to listen to my own alternative interpretation which differs from the current accepted interpretation, and even more so because I am also a ‘Christian.'” Essentially, they’re guilt tripping you into listening to them.

This guilt trip will probably then continue by saying that Christians are unjustly persecuting this certain group, prostitutes in this case: “Prostitution gets a bad rap in our culture today, and as a result, women in this profession are grossly mistreated.  When we think of sex workers, the stereotype that comes to mind is a scantily clad woman, working a corner, wearing too much makeup.  She renders her plunder to a psychologically manipulative and physically abusive pimp who doesn’t take very good care of her.  It has truly become a dangerous profession in our day, largely because a judgmental spirit against it fosters a suppression of its legitimacy, resulting in occupational trauma.  Unfortunately, this is often done in the name of Christianity.  It doesn’t have to be so.”

From here then they proceed to make their point from Scripture: “The exegetical scholarship on this issue is no longer as conclusive as we once thought.  Let’s take a look at what the Bible really has to say about prostitution, from the beginning.” This is where things get really bad. Making claims and not even attempting to substantiate them, as they’ve done previously, is already bad enough. But revealing that you don’t have basic reading comprehension skills, nor that you have very little skill in the actual Biblical languages is really bad, especially when you’re making that claim.

This part of the article generally involves taking verses out of context, leaving important key elements out of the story, and just generally misunderstanding Scripture in order to support the author’s point. In this satire one of the stories used is the story of Judah and Tamar. It summarizes the story as follows: “The first recorded prostitute is Tamar.  She slept with Judah after his three sons died without knocking her up.  Oddly enough, Judah did not realize it was his three-time daughter in law.  When it was discovered that she was pregnant and she gave proof that it was at his doing, his response was (and I quote the ESV), “She is more righteous than I.”” There are several features of this summary that are useful to point out. First, the reference to where the story can be found in Scripture is missing [hint: it’s Genesis 38, or you could just Google ‘Judah and Tamar’], a reference that would be helpful if, you know, you actually wanted to read the story yourself and check the accuracy of the author’s summary. Second, Tamar was not even a prostitute. She was the wife of Judah’s eldest son Er [Gen. 38.6] and after Er died was given to Onan [Gen 38.8]. Judah merely thought she was a prostitute because she had a veil over her face, which is also why Judah didn’t recognize her [Gen 38.14-15, 21-22].

Third, only two of Judah’s sons died without ‘knocking her up,’ Er and Onan. The third, Shelah, is never recorded as having slept with her. In fact that she was not given to Shelah, as Judah promised to do [Gen. 38.11], is a crucial element in the story that is left out because it is Judah’s refusal to give Tamar to him that motivates Tamar’s actions. Furthermore the summary of ‘died without knocking her up’ overlooks the reason as to why they died: they were both wicked. We are not told the specifics of Er’s wickedness, just that he was wicked [Gen 38.7]. Onan was wicked because he refused to impregnate Tamar and thus give his brother descendants [Gen 38.8-10].

Even the concluding statement of the summary is misleading. Tamar was accused of being pregnant by immorality and in response to this Judah was going execute her [Gen. 38.24]. In order to defend herself she says that she is pregnant by the man to whom the signet, cord, and staff she has belongs to [Gen 38.25]. Then after Judah identifies them as belonging to him he says that Tamar is more righteous than he is because her actions were a result of his refusal to give her to Shelah [Gen 38.26]. It is a statement on the unrighteousness and wickedness of Judah, which was great considering that in the previous chapter he was jealous of his brother Joseph and sold him into slavery, and the fact that both Er and Onan were wicked as well also testifies to his own wickedness in my opinion. But all this is missed because usually the author apparently didn’t even bother to read the story and understand it.

However the madness will continue since it is apparently not sufficient to demonstrate lack of understanding regarding the Old Testament, it must also be shown with the New as well. In the satire the author proceeds to then interpret a saying of Jesus in light of an obviously faulty and wrong understanding of the story of Judah and Tamar: “Consider the significance of this.  Judah is not just one of the patriarchs of Israel.  Neither is he the firstborn, from whom the Messiah was expected to come.  Rather, the first three sons were passed up in favor of Judah!  The very father of the tribe of Jesus, an essential link in the genealogy of salvation, has declared a prostitute to be more righteous than him!  What does that say about how he viewed them?  It reminds me of something Jesus used to say;  “The tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.”  From the popular Christian sexual ethic of today, you would expect a much more sever evisceration of this demographic, but these words seem rather flattering.” Here, again, Scripture is taken out of context and interpreted to mean something that would seem absurd if read within its context. No reference is given for the saying of Jesus either, so I’ll assume it’s Matthew 21.31.

Here’s the context of the saying: the chief priests and elders of the people challenge Jesus and ask him by what authority he is doing and teaching the things he is [Matt 21.23]. In response Jesus asks them whether the baptism of John came from heaven or man [Matt 21.24]. They discussed it and realized that either way they answered came with consequences they did not want to accept, so they simply said they didn’t know [Matt. 21.25-26], to which response Jesus refuses to answer their question [Matt 21.27]. He does however tell them a parable:

28 “What do you think? A man had two sons. And he went to the first and said, ‘Son, go and work in the vineyard today.’ 29 And he answered, ‘I will not,’ but afterward he changed his mind and went. 30 And he went to the other son and said the same. And he answered, ‘I go, sir,’ but did not go.

At the end of the parable Jesus asks them:

31 Which of the two did the will of his father?”

To which they respond:

They said, “The first.”

Then Jesus responds:

Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. 32 For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him.

The article takes the saying of Jesus out of its context and interprets it to mean that Jesus said prostitution was an acceptable profession. However in its context it means that the prostitutes believed the repentance that John was preaching [Matt 3.1-12] and were baptized. Even though at first they refused to follow what John was preaching they later changed their minds and obeyed, and their obedience is why they are in the kingdom of God. The chief priests and elders however said they would do what John was preaching, but they never actually did it. Thus they were disobedient and their disobedience is what keeps them out of the kingdom of God. Much as what the case with Judah’s statement that Tamar was more righteous than he was, the saying “tax collectors and prostitutes go into the kingdom before you” is not a statement concerning the acceptability of the profession of prostitution, but rather points to the unrighteousness someone, in this case the unrighteousness of the chief priests and elders.

The article continues through several more equally bad and absurd uses of Scripture to make its point, but I won’t go into those.

Satire is wonderful art form and when executed well can bring absurdity to light. This article does a great job in highlighting how many articles written and published on various online news sites concerning Christianity are written. They start with the presumption that Christians are wrong because they do not affirm that a certain lifestyle is acceptable and in their effort to convince us that we are wrong to do so they try to use our own Scriptures. In the process they end up demonstrating that they in fact have absolutely no clue as to what our faith is about.

This satirical article does just that in what it says, but also in what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t finish the story of Judah! Remember when I mentioned that he sold his brother Joseph into slavery? Well guess what, neither Judah’s nor Joseph’s story ends there [the whole story is Genesis 37-50]. Joseph encountered several adverse and hostile situations in his life, but through them all he remained faithful and obedient to God and God preserved him through all of them and eventually made him a person of great authority in Egypt. Eventually the land where Judah and his brothers were living had a severe famine, but there was plenty of food in Egypt because God had warned Pharaoh through a dream, which Joseph interpreted and revealed the meaning of, that a famine was coming. So when they came down to Egypt to get food Joseph recognized them and decided to test them [remember his last interaction with them was their selling of him into slavery] by keeping Simeon in Egypt until they brought their youngest brother Benjamin down to Egypt with them. Well Jacob [Judah’s father] doesn’t want to lose another one of his sons [Simeon is now in Egypt and he assumes Joseph is dead] and is reluctant to let them go back.

However they eventually do have to go back and it is Judah who ultimately convinces his father to let them go and buy food by offering to take the all the blame should they fail to return with Benjamin. When they are preparing to leave Egypt Joseph orders his servants to put his cup in Benjamin’s sack and then to catch to his brothers before they leave and confront them about the “theft.” When they are then brought before Joseph and are being questioned about the incident it is Judah who speaks up and defends himself and his brothers [Gen. 44.13-44]! You should really go read that. I won’t quote it because it’s obnoxiously long. But seriously read it!

This is the full realization of the repentance that Judah began when he recognized his own wickedness after the incident with Tamar, and, I think, it is why the Messiah, Jesus, came from the lineage of Judah. It is the repentance that John preached in the wilderness and the repentance that the tax collectors and prostitutes practiced, but that the chief priests and elders refused to do. And it is this repentance that is the basis of the Christian life. We recognize and admit we are wicked people and confess our failings daily, and daily ask God to help us overcome them so that we may be like Christ. As Athanasius said, “God became man so that men might become gods.”

And I would further venture to say this failure to understand the Christian life also leads to a failure to understand the Christian God. It was God who chose Jacob’s descendants to be His people, but they were wicked and needed to recognize this and it took a famine in their land and nearly losing some of their brothers for them to realize how wicked they were. This was why God brought the famine on the land and Joseph to Egypt, so that his chosen people would repent and be preserved and be a blessing for all the world by giving birth to the Messiah, Jesus.

There are two things that are true about every single person on this planet: we are all loved by God because we are His creation, and we are all sinful, wicked, and evil. God calls us to recognize our own wickedness because it draws us away from Him and how we are made to live. We are made to live in harmony with God and our sin and wickedness gets in the way of this harmony, and so we must daily repent and daily ask God to help us overcome it.

May God grant us all the grace to live a life of repentance.

 

 

 

 

Response to Relevant’s “Why Don’t the Guys in my Church Ask Women on Dates?”

Recently Relevant Magazine published an article answering a question from a woman asking why Christian men are not asking Christian women on dates. The response to the question basically, from my POV, seems to place the majority of the blame on bad dating advice given in the 80’s and 90’s which seemed to have equated going on a date with someone with intending to marry them (I personally can’t comment on this issue as I did not grow up in such Christian circles). This is no doubt terrible advice and should certainly be discarded, as the response rightly advises people to do so in my opinion. However there a few other things related to this issue that the article did not touch on that I would like to address.

First, there is an assumption in the question which I believe is wrong. The question states, “Where are all the brave men? … This is why so many women date non-Christians; because Christian guys rarely can just keep it casual and go on a date…” The assumption here seems to be that many Christian women date non-Christian men because Christian men can rarely keep things casual (presumably because of the effects of the aforementioned bad dating advice), however I believe that this assumption is invalid. Assuming of course the assertion that many Christian women date non-Christian men is even true in the first place (and I’m not doubting that it is, though it certainly could be false), I propose instead the reason for this (many Christian women dating non-Christian men) is not primarily because of the inability of Christian men to keep things casual, but rather instead because there are significantly less Christian men than women (see here and here). The more important and significant question is, “Where are all the Christian men?”

Answering this question is a fairly complex endeavor, and I will not attempt to do so completely here, but I think the most likely reason is that generally men respond to challenge moreso than displays of affection. Growing up I consistently heard of how much Jesus loves me. And while I am certainly grateful that this is the case, this reality does not motivate me to live the Christian life. I get far more motivation from the challenge of holding onto my Faith in the midst of attacks from demons, secularism, atheism, scientism, pantheism, etc than I do from Christ’s displays of love.

Second, there is no single answer as to why the men in a certain church are not asking out the women in that church. It seems like what Erica (the one who posed the question) is wanting is more casual dates with men in her Church in order to get to know them better, presumably to see if there is enough to build a more serious relationship on, and the article rightly notes that there is nothing wrong with this. Personally I am in favor of more casual dating within the Church (e.g. the kind where you go get coffee) as I think it is a great (and efficient) way to get to know someone and gauge future relationship potential.

Why this lack of casual dating exists however is also a complex problem, and one that I will also not seek to completely address here. However I believe that to put the blame for this lack entirely on men is short sighted. From my POV it seems that the issue is, again generally speaking, that each gender has been so segregated from the other that they are mystified and confused by the other with the result being that they actually don’t know how to be just friends with the other gender.

In the end I am personally in favor of more casual dating, but I think more people need to get on board with it, both men and women (and also parents of youth). Having coffee and chatting with someone for a while is really not a big deal and is nothing to be afraid of, even when it involves teenagers in my opinion. The desire for romance is a natural and healthy one, a desire that we should be honoring and embracing in a healthy and godly way and teaching future generations to do so as well. Treating dating as essentially pre-marriage isn’t the way to do this.

Christianity is Not a Contract!

Diablo 3 - Tyrael

Tyrael of Diablo fame.

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state or the other.” — C.S. Lewis

A fairly common question I see asked regarding Christianity is, “Is it okay to do _________?” I recently saw such a question posed again and I thought to myself, “Why is this question even being asked? What theological framework allows for such a question to even be asked in the first place?” As I thought about the answer to these questions I realized that to ask if a certain behavior is “okay” is to approach Christianity with the assumption that it is a contract entered into between a person and God, an assumption I believe is invalid.

In a contract two parties agree to fulfill certain responsibilities and it remains in effect as long as the terms of the contract are not breached. Such an approach sets up the expectation that as long as we do not breach the “contract” God will still fulfill His side of the deal and give us a place in heaven. And since we are by nature sinful and evil beings we then try to seek out what the bounds of this contract are; we ask ourselves, “How far can I go? What sort of loopholes can I find that will allow me to do what I want and fulfill my desires without breaching this contract?” It is this mindset I believe that leads to the question, “Is it okay for a Christian to do _________?”

Such a mindset is, I believe, taught nowhere in Scripture. We are taught that we were created by God, in His image, and were commanded to multiply and fill the earth and subdue it (Gen. 1.26-28). In order to sustain us He gave us the plants and the trees and their fruits (Gen. 1.29) and of the trees the only prohibition was from eating of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and if we did so we would die (Gen. 2.17). So we see that one tree leads to death, while all the others (including the tree of life [Gen. 3.22]) lead to life. Thus we had two ways set before us, one of life and another of death, and we had to walk in one or the other, there were no alternatives. For if we ate of the trees that were allowed, we would live and fill the earth and subdue it; and if we ate of the tree of which eating was prohibited, we would die; and if we had tried to be “neutral” and not eaten of any of the trees we also would have died as we require sustenance by our nature.

Even though we chose the way leading to death, the way to life was not thereby made unavailable to us, for we were prevented from eating from the tree of life, which would have resulted in us living forever in our fallen state (Gen. 3.22). Thus God cast us out of the Garden in order to work the ground from which we were taken (Gen. 3.23-24) in order that we might learn that the way of life was now through repentance and trust (Isa. 30.15).

The Commandments given through Moses were given in order that we might know more clearly which way leads to life and which leads to death. For at the beginning of the list of blessings for following the commandments it is written, “Now it shall be, if you diligently obey the LORD your God, being careful to do all His commandments which I command you today, the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth.” – Deuteronomy 28.1. Or in other words, they would subdue the earth. But concerning the curses it is written, “So all these curses shall come on you and pursue you and overtake you until you are destroyed, because you would not obey the LORD your God by keeping His commandments and His statutes which He commanded you.” – Deuteronomy 28.45. Or in other words they would die.

The New Testament also presents two ways, one of death and another of life, and these two ways are opposed to each other. Representative of this are the words of the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians 5.16-26:

16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

Thus Scripture does not present us with a contract, but with a choice, a choice between two ways, one which leads to life and another which leads to death. In Advent we are called to recognize our sinfulness and repent as we await the coming of our Lord. Let us do this so that when He comes we will be found working as the wise servant and serving others (Matt. 24.45-47) and not as the unwise one and be found exploiting and beating them (Μatt. 24.48-51). Let us continue on the way of life. Let our prayer throughout this Advent season truly be:

ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.

 

 

The Problem of Death

Last Spring I started watching the show Vikings that airs on the History Channel, and one of the most striking things for me about the show is how there is no fear of death in Viking culture. An example of this can be found in an episode when an old man asks to go on the raid that is coming up in the spring so that he can die in battle and go to Valhalla and drink with the gods. This belief was so embedded in his mind that it affected his actions to the extent that he was trying to die in battle and considered himself cursed by the gods that this had not happened to him. And if you’re curious, he does indeed die in battle in the episode following his introduction into the series and the main character of the series, Ragnar Lothbrok, smiles, confident that his friend is indeed drinking with the gods.

I also recently re-watched the movie 300. The Spartans that marched out to meet the Persians also showed no fear of death. In fact, much like the aforementioned Viking, they too seemed to welcome death since Leonidas told his soldiers on the final day of the battle to eat a good breakfast because they were going to dine in Hell that night.

After watching these I began to think upon Christian culture, and more specifically the Christian culture of the past. In the days of the early Church many saints welcomed martyrdom at the hands of their persecutors. And when Christianity became legal and martyrdom was no longer an option the monastic movement began and offered a way for those who wished to be martyrs, but were not being persecuted, a way to “die” for their faith.

Then I began to think about my current American culture and I realized that instead of welcoming death, we fear death. In fact, this fear of death seems to be one of the things fueling our rising healthcare costs (see this 60 minutes clip: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/the-cost-of-dying/). How is it possible that ancient cultures seemed to have no fear of death, with some even welcoming it, while us modern day Americans are petrified of it?

My conclusion is rather simple: our culture does not teach us that death is the biggest problem in life. Our culture teaches us that pain is the biggest problem in life, and death is naturally the biggest pain of all. So we put much of our time and resources into trying to avoid any and all types of pain. We go to college so that we can have good paying jobs and be financially secure so that we can live comfortably and our family can live comfortably as well. When we get terminally ill we pull out all the stops in an effort to live as long as possible, even if it is only a few days longer at a cost of $10,000 or more. All this is done, I think, in an effort to avoid as much pain as possible. I disagree with my culture on many things, but this may perhaps be the biggest disagreement of all. This teaching focuses our energy and attention on avoiding something that we will never be able to avoid no matter how hard we try. Our culture should instead teach us that pain and death are things that will happen to us and teach us to embrace them.

The main problem that life produces for me is the problem of death. Nothing is quite as terrifying to me as thinking about my own inevitable death. Every other problem that life produces I think I could deal with without too much issue, but death is something that causes a major problem for me because there is no way that I can possibly avoid it.

Right now I am being pushed against my will towards the cliff of death. But I don’t want to be pushed. I want to run towards it as fast as I can and jump off and greet whatever awaits on the other side with open arms. Can I be a Viking? Can I be a Spartan? Can I be a Christian?