Wednesday, May 30, 2012

RE: Psalm 39 The Measure Of My Days

Photo by Anna Fox
This rather macabre psalm gets referenced in one of my very favourite pieces of music ever: Brahms Requiem. Without the music I don't know if I'd understand the poem; I highly recommend taking a listen. What is astounding to me about the love of God is the context of that love. God is not just head over heals in love with us, but he is head over heals in love with us in spite of a myriad of obstacles. We were sinners, we were insignificant, we were even God's enemies, and still, with total determination God has pursued us, and never stops pursing us. Our lover is incredible and relentless, the Hero of whom all great lovers are only a pale imitation.

May you rest in the loving hand of the God who loves you and has measured out your days.

You have have a listen to the Requiem verse on Grooveshark.
If you really like it you can buy it on Amazon.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

RE: A Call To Conscience Chapter Nine

This chapter is substantially more challenging that those that preceded it. Dr. King's call to racial reconciliation and brotherhood is not only morally right, and in agreement with scripture, it is now also now a rather popular idea. However, the radically ideas which gave birth to King's demand for civil rights are unpopular as ever. There remains much work to be done.

Photo by Dick DeMarsico
The fact that many Americans can now recognize and disprove of racism is good, but not good enough. Too often we move beyond our duty to care for the marginalized (James 1:27), and we chose to pass judgment and even pronounce condemnation over persons who perpetrate injustice. In all of A Call To Conscience I've not once read Dr. King call for the punishment of his enemies; this is his most Christlike attribute (Luke 23:34).

In obedience to the words of Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:43-47), King called for people of all races and nationalities to love not only their kin, but their enemies as well. He encouraged dialogue; he preached forgiveness. When his enemies would not submit themselves to an ideology of peace and equality, he did not throw up his hands and say that diplomacy had failed. He employed no secondary strategy after love. He did not preach the unconditional love of God as a means to an end, or a tactic to use before resorting to violence. Instead, King rightly taught that the work of God's unconditional love was the very purpose of human existence (2 Corinthians 16:21).

I know that opinions on the wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq are intensely divided, and tempers can flare up quickly when they are discussed. I don't intend to discuss them here. There are some who may find such fault with King's speech in this chapter, that they cannot listen to the good word it does contain. For this reason I've excerpted what I believe to be essential, true, and worthy of Christian consideration. If you find yourself enraged by the idea of objecting to any of these wars, please know that King spoke respectfully of our soldiers; however, please spare yourself undo excitement, and do not read this speech in it's entirety. I will leave you to apply the following excerpt as wisely as you may.

“But even if it were not present, I would yet have to live with the meaning of my commitment to the ministry of Jesus Christ. To me, the relationship of this ministry to the making of peace is so obvious that I sometimes marvel at those who ask me why I am speaking against the war. Could it be that they do not know that the Good News was meant for all men—for communist and capitalist, for their children and ours, for black and for white, for revolutionary and conservative? Have they forgotten that my ministry is in obedience to the one who loved his enemies so fully that he died for them? What then can I say to the Vietcong or to Castro or to Mao as a faithful minister of this one?Can I threaten them with death or must I not share with them my life?

Finally, as I try to explain for you and for myself the road that leads from Montgomery to this place, I would have offered all that was most valid if I simply said that I must be true to my conviction that I share with all men the calling to be a son of the living God. Beyond the calling of race or nation or creed is this vocation of sonship and brotherhood. Because I believe that the Father is deeply concerned, especially for His suffering and helpless and outcast children, I come tonight to speak for them. This I believe to be the privilege and the burden of all of us who deem ourselves bound by allegiances and loyalties which are broader and deeper than nationalism and which go beyond our nation’s self-defined goals and positions. We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for the victims of our nation, for those it calls "enemy," for no document from human hands can make these humans any less our brothers.


A true revolution of values will lay hand on the world order and say of war, "This way of settling differences is not just." This business of burning human beings with napalm, of filling our nation’s homes with orphans and widows, of injecting poisonous drugs of hate into the veins of peoples normally humane, of sending men home from dark and bloody battlefields physically handicapped and psychologically deranged, cannot be reconciled with wisdom, justice, and love. A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death. [sustained applause] America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war. There is nothing to keep us from molding a recalcitrant status quo with bruised hands until we have fashioned it into a brotherhood. This kind of positive revolution of values is our best defense against communism. [applause] ” - Beyond Vietnam, King 1967

Monday, May 21, 2012

Coveting My Neighbour's Light

I'm not especially prone to coveting my neighbour's possessions, but I am still fatally prone to coveting. When I look around me I am flabbergasted by the glorious beauty that God has put in people and in the world. When I speak with poets, when I see dancers, when I hear music, or when taste the cooking of a talented friend, in theses circumstances I feel overwhelmed by the the image of God as it is emblazoned on my friends and my world. This is almost a wonderful way to view the world, but let me explain how I ruin it.

Instead of enjoying the talents, success, beauty, or wit of others with gratitude, I am too often envious. I see people laughing and I wish I was laughing; I see people dance and I wish I was not afraid to dance. In short I see the face of God in others and I wish that it was in me too. It is in me, but at times, instead of being encouraged by the light that is in them, I covet. I wish my light was like their light, and I hide my own gifts.

I think this is actually pretty common. In some sad places the attitude that says, “Others are beautiful but I am awful.” is encouraged, and treated as though it were real attitude of humility. Self effacement is not humble; it is entirely self centered. True humility doesn't focus in on one's own talents or inadequacies; humility makes one looks outside oneself.  True humility fixes your eyes on Jesus.

The fact is that the image of God is on you. You reflect the light of God in a way no one else can. When you see the image of God displayed on another's face, or God's artistry exhibited in another's work, know that the same God who's glory you admire in others lives in you also. God designed you and dwells in you. God doesn't make spare people to just fill up space, he created you specifically and intentionally. Please, for the love of God, let your light shine (Matthew 5:16).

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” -Marianne Williamson

We Three by Matt Reinbold

I have been advised that some of Williamson's other writings range from insipid to heretical. I'm not an expert on the subject, and can make no comment. I like this excerpt and find it to be tremendously uplifting. You're free to investigate or ignore Williamson at your own discretion.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

RE: Psalm 38

This is a difficult psalm to read. David is pained, ashamed and acutely aware of his insufficiencies. As disturbing and sad as it is, David's not wrong. He's not wrong about himself, and he's not wrong about us. We are messed up people.

I read on the internet that everyone deserves to be loved. This idea comes close to the truth, but comes up short. We should be loved; we were designed to love and to be loved, but we do not deserve to be loved. We embarrass ourselves daily by judging and hating our neighbours; we deserve as bad as we give. The fact is that if our hearts and secrets were laid bare to the world, we'd see that no one deserves love. If you know love, you'll know that this suits love just fine. Although we each make inexcusable mistakes, we are loved anyway.

It would be a fine thing if we deserved to be loved and God loved us. It is an abundantly greater thing that we don't deserve love, and God still loves us. The psalmist, David, the murderer and adulterer, deserves death; according to Matthew 5 so do I. We all do; however, the Bible tells us that so that it can tell us this:

Photo by Dirk Hartung
You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! -Romans 5:6-10

Dear Sinner-Saints, may you grasp the passionate and compassionate love God has for you, which can never be earned, but is available freely to all who don't deserve it.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

RE: Psalm 37

I struggle with whether or not to read the news. It is of course best to be as informed as possible so one can make wise decisions, but on the other hand I don't trust the information, almost as a matter of principle. I grew up reading 1984 and Brave New World; I learned psychology, sociology, and statistics in college. As a result I know a lot of compelling reasons to not trust politicians, reporters, first hand accounts, surveys, or even my self. Trusting no one, when I do read the news I'm left with the vague awareness that much in the world is horribly wrong, worse even than I'm being told, and yet I have no idea what to believe when it comes to assigning blame or approaching a solution. If ignorance is bliss, it is also irresponsible, but what can I do to help this world if I cannot know what is true?

I needed this psalm today. I needed to be reminded of what I do know is true: God prevails; love wins. There is incredible evil in the world today; people die of hunger, thirst, and many other preventable causes, and my skin crawls with rage because I don't know what to do about it. I don't know who to punish, and I don't know who to trust to help the poor and afflicted. In this moment of feeling powerless, God speaks through this Psalm:

Photo by Alex Proimos
Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when people succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes. Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret —it leads only to evil. For those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land. -Psalm 37:7-9

May you take heart today, whatever your situation is. Hope in the Lord and be renewed because God can and will use you to accomplish his eternal purposes.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Self Exam

Take a second to examine your life. Don't examine your material success, but how lovingly you've chosen to live each day. This is not always a fun activity, but it is wise to make a habit of it anyways. The first pastor I ever knew taught my communion class to read through each of the ten commandments and consider how we've failed to keep each one. This practice is called self-examination, and like a physical self exam, it helps you to catch problems early.

Photo By Cea.
Initially though, it was pretty depressing. Taken alone self-examination is a discouraging activity because, if we are honest, we inevitably discover that we are worse than we thought. Try it anyway; remember that God doesn't intend for us to live with guilt (2 Cor 7:10). If we follow up our examinations by confessing our shortcoming, then we get to soak in Jesus' forgiveness, and that is a very rejuvenating activity.

Remembering our own sins puts Jesus' sacrifice and free gift of forgiveness into context for us. Although we were created to love and to be loved, considering how we behave, we don't deserve either.  Regardless of what we deserve, however, Jesus loves all of us relentlessly. 

Self-examination is valuable for two reasons. First it remind us, if we've become proud and intolerant, that we are each sinners who deserve punishment. Second, and more importantly, it reminds those of us who mistakenly dwell on our failings that God cares for us with immeasurable love, and in spite of all we've done he delights in us and forgives us freely.

Give yourself a self-exam today. Early detection saves lives.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Did Gandhi Go To Hell?

This month's Psychology Today contained the story of man who asked an elder at his church a very loaded question: “Did Gandhi go to hell?”

The elder tried to be gentle in his answer, “According to the church's official doctrine's” the elder qualified, “I'm afraid he did.” And with their short conversation concluded, the questioning man left the church forever.

I'm not deluded. The questioning man was baiting the elder. He expected the answer he got; he was seeking a reason to walk out, and he found one. I'd like to focus on the Christian elder's response. This blog, after all, is meant for Christians, so it would be a waste of my time and yours to focus on criticizing the actions of an antagonist. Lets see if we can answer the question any better: Did Gandhi go to hell? How would you answer?

Photo by Chris Reynolds
I don't think we should be wishy washy about telling how salvation comes to us. I do, however think we are out of line to judge the state of another man's soul. A human is only ever redeemed by the grace of God when the Holy Spirit works faith in Christ's redeeming sacrifice within their heart. Salvation is God's to determine as it is God's to accomplish.

Only Christ saves anyone, and since he does so through faith, this is a rather tricky thing to quantify. By tricky I mean impossible. When I walk the street, I don't see faith in some people but not in others. I just see people. It is beyond my authority to see anything more or less than that. Scripture says that though man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:7). Judging others is not only not our job, it is actually impossible for us to do.

So if we cannot determine Gandhi's salvation, how do we answer the questioning man?  He deserves an answer.  Questions of all kind should be welcome in church, and I think we can answer intelligently without falling into the questioning man's trap.

Gandhi did great and excellent works in this world, but that we do not believe that works can earn God's favor or forgiveness. Gandhi's good works will not make his redemption easier on the last day. With that said they certainly won't make it harder; God is slow to anger, and abounding in love (Numbers 14:18), and willing that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9). God can redeem Gandhi just as easily as God can redeem anyone. Gandhi was human, and a sinner, and will stand before God's judgment exactly as we all will, for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory God (Romans 3:23).

This answer does not give a yes or a no, but that doesn't make it a cop-out. This is the gospel itself. When a person asks if so-and-so went to hell; they are asking a deeper question. They are asking if you will pass judgment if given the opportunity. They're asking if you are loving and merciful. The correct response to this questioning man is, and can only be, the gospel. Please share it eagerly.

Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
-Luke 18:26-27

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Concerning Demons

The forces of hell are a real thing. Scripture is not ambiguous about the existence of the devil and his devils. They exist today and I want to be exquisitely clear on one point in regards to these devils: They are unimportant. Faith in Christ is necessary for salvation; faith in devils is not. I have not observed that faith in devils is even beneficial. Those friends of mine who pay particular attention to scripture that concerns demons, usually have done so to their own detriment. I hope to briefly show here that no special study of demons is ever necessary.

This devil is so unimportant that a bird pooped on it.  Photo by eisenbahner
Imagine two young Christians are being demonically harangued in identical ways. What happens is this: when they retire to their bedrooms they are bombarded with anxieties about work and school, and they have no peace in mind or in body. At times they even hyperventilate and succumb to anxiety attacks. Lets say that between these two Christians, one believes in demons, and one of them does not. There is no compelling reason they need to behave differently in response to their problem.

The Christian who has faith in Christ but none in demons, if he or she is wise, ought to place each anxiety before the Lord in prayer (Philippians 4:6-7), and meditate on God's word (Psalm 1:2-3) so that he or she can take each thought captive (2 Corinthians 2:5). It may also be wise to read a pleasant book or decorate the room with a serene theme (Philippians 4:8). This first Christian, by acting in godly faith, and by putting the word into practice, will create an intolerable environment for hell's messenger. The unwelcome roommate will leave. 

The second person, believing in and recognizing a devil, should do everything the first Christian did. This second person, wise or not, may address the demon directly to declare Christ's lordship. If they do all that the first Christian did then it makes no difference, but if they neglect engaging with God through prayer and the word, then their exorcism will fail. A verbal declaration isn't necessary, and in some cases it may even be detrimental. If it is done without faith it is ineffective (Acts 19:13-15). If done with faith, but the Christan doesn't fill their heart with the things of God, then it will again be ineffective (Luke 11:24-26). An exorcism is either a reassuring but unnecessary addition, or it is a destructive distraction.

Scripture promises that if we resist the devil he will flee us (James 4:7). Resisting the devil comes quite naturally to a practicing Christian. Any pursuit of God is resistance to the devil. According to James 4:7, a thankful prayer should be as effective as an exorcism. A simple act of submitting to God will either be as effective as, or more effective than, a verbal “casting-out.”

Verbal exorcisms are carried out in a myriad of reasons, many of which are bad. In my experience exorcisms tend to be sensational and dramatic, inflating the importance of utterly insubstantial spirits instead of directing attention and glory to the Spirit of God. “Resisting the devil” is a natural byproduct of what we call, “following Jesus.” No special procedure is necessary to “cast out” a devil; all devils, real and imagined, readily flee from simple Christian living.

There is no reason to avoid exorcisms. Exorcisms, like demons, are not important. If it seems prudent, and you have faith, verbally declare God's dominion. We oughtn't hesitate to verbally declare God's dominion, whether or not we have a demonic audience. If, however, you have announced God's truth and power, but a devil persists in its pestering, it is silly to just make another speech. 

No one's speeches are effective if their works aren't convincing. Put God's word into practice. Praise your God. Think about something excellent and praiseworthy. Practice hospitality. Thank Jesus for something. Read the Bible, and mediate on it. Honor your parents. Consider the lilies of the field. Each of these is as or more effective in defeating the kingdom of hell. Having this thorough education on the subject, please go read something else today. Like demons and like exorcisms, this post is not important. Have a nice day.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

RE: The Great Divorce

Reading The Great Divorce is like walking through a garden of beautiful dreams.  Lewis is a master of senses and setting and can write heavenly bliss as no one else can.  Sadly I have made the terrible mistake of finishing the book this morning, and I now have no treat awaiting me at the end of my day.  Perhaps I will read it again.
            Read this book.  It is in the best interest of your soul and imagination that you read this book.  It is like an extra chapter from my favorite parts of The Chronicles of Narnia, but it is even better.  It’s better for two reasons.  First it is written to adults, and second it is much shorter.
            The content is as mature as it is beautiful.  Lewis explores many of his delicious ideas from Mere Christianity, but here does so through rich characters and conversations instead of through dry abstractions.  It is more readable than Mere Christianity, and more substantive than the Chronicles.
            You should read this masterful book.  It is reminiscent of Dante in its arc and of Plato in its method.  It is a work of art anyone can enjoy in a single afternoon.  I mistakenly believed that it was a dry theological tome, and so I deprived myself of enjoying its garden of delights until now.  I was mistaken, but you can learn from my error; you need not deprive yourself.  Read this book.