Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Double Pierced

When you've spent as much time in church as I have, you learn that there are just as much politics in there as there is any other place where large groups of people get together and osetensibly work towards the same goal. It may take on a more spiritual tone (and then again, it might know), but the maneuvering and the special interest groups are the same.

Of course, a lot of political struggles center around doctrine - what a group is going to profess as the right course of action - and it is no different in the church. The most prominent struggle is centuries old - the emphasis on law versus grace. Even the Early Church fought this battle as evident in Acts 15. Some groups wanted to emphasize the importance of obeying the Hebraic Law while others wanted to focus on the new covenant. The same holds true today. Some churches focus on teaching adherents to follow the commandments of Christ, while others focus on demonstrating His limitless grace. Perhaps the strangest thing about this fight, is that both sides are right. Both God's law and His good news are needed. As Charles Spurgeon once wrote, "the law is for the self-righteous, to humble their pride: the gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair." Neither the gospel nor the law can accomplish the goal of the others. With only the Law, we would despair which is why the Gospel is needed. With only the Gospel, we may boast of our high place; the Law is needed to show our depravity. Every believer needs both to pierce the depths of their inmost being.

Political struggles will probably always be a part of the church on Earth. But we can rejoice, their place in heaven is nonexistent.


Come To Think Of It

If you're around me for any length of time, you'll probably notice that I'm a planner. My natural inclination is to think through the consequences of circumstances and to try to adjust my behavior accordingly. Although my proclivity towards planning even small circumstances has been the subject of much teasing, I have no real desire to change. I figure this ridiculous desire to plan has provided more good then bad. Plus, it makes me unique - anyone can be spontaneous.

As I mentioned, the plans I make are rooted in a desire to think things through to their logical conclusion. Unfortunately, a lot of my plans are about me and what's going on in my life. I don't take nearly the same level of care when I think about others. Others' lives tend to be more of a cursory concern.

Mother Teresa once said, " Thoughtfulness is the beginning of great sanctity. If you learn this art of being thoughtful, you will become more and more Christ-like, for his heart was meek and he always thought of others. Our vocation, to be beautiful, must be full of thought for others."

Although there is much depth to be explored in this quotation, there are two things in particular that caught my attention. First, is that Christ's thoughts were never of Himself. Many times in Scripture the Lord tried to get away and be refreshed only to see a need in the crowd and adjust His plans. Although He knew how to get what He wanted, and needed, namely rest, He choose instead to think of others and change His behavior. When our thoughts are of ourselves, we don't provide ourselves the opportunity to do the same.

Secondly, Mother Teresa said that thoughtfulness caused our vocation to be beautiful. Although we may be inclined to believe that she was talking about her particular vocation to be a nun, in reality each Christian shares the same calling to serve Christ. Whether we are a teacher, a businessperson, a doctor or a politician each of us have the chance to make our vocation beautiful through the act of thinking of others. It's this act that causes our vocation to be a ministry of Christ.

I may never think of others with the same great care that I plan for my own life. But someday, I hope to.


Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Divine Tension

One of the greatest gifts my parents gave me was this: I always knew that they loved me and I always knew that they would hold me to the standards that they had set. Somehow, I never saw any conflict between these two. When I was punished I always knew it was because I had done something wrong, not because my parents had suddenly stopped caring for me. When I was shown loved, I never believed it was because of who I was or what I had accomplished - it was simply given because I exist. These two facets of my relationship with my parents gave me both security and a desire to do good, and I believe they are a large reason for the person I am today.

In Christendom many people stumble over the thought that God is our Father because their relationship with their parents wasn't as healthy as mine. In fact, they usually vacillate between two extremes. They either believe that because God loves them, broken standards should not lead to consequences. In this view, love is devoid of any demonstration of unpleasantness and therefore punishment is not part of the equation. The other spectrum view God as simply the distributor and arbitrator of a moral code. In this scenario, God's primary role is that of a entire judicial system and opportunity for a reciprocating relationship is minimal. Just as Paris Hilton would have a difficult time becoming friends with her sentencing judge, so do we when we view God as merely the rule-giver.

However, neither of these extremes are right. God is not just a big teddy bear, nor is He solely a referee. Instead, He is both grace and justice. Each have their place and each accomplish their purpose. Spurgeon explains it like this, " The law is for the self-righteous, to humble their pride:the gospel is for the lost, to remove their despair." God is the distributor of both.

I was exceptionally blessed to receive the parents that I did. Not everyone has the same situation. But everyone has a Heavenly Father that loves them and He is the source and the perpetuator of this divine tension.

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I was reading the March 2007 issue of Real Simple today. (Yes, I'm a little behind in my subscription.) There was an article about how to reduce stress, and it talked about how some people are receivers and others are transmitters. The author's contention was that some people distribute their emotions to others while other people are receptors to those that surround them. It will come as no surprise to those who know me that I found myself squarely in the camp of the receptor. Any one who readily admits that they hate talking about themselves can never qualify for the tranmitter category.

The author suggested that receptors often take on the feelings of others and therefore increase their stress (again, not a surprise to people who know me.) The article further stated that one way to avoid this was to avoid the people who cause us stress. Through some carefully crafted techniques, people could minimize the amount of time that they committed to people who took more than they received. As someone who struggles with boundaries, this all sounded well and good to me.

However, one of the many things that I love about Christ is that He turned conventional wisdom on its head. While the Real Simple author's suggestions sounded great, I'm not sure they were Biblical. God's Word suggests that the problems start long before we categorize ourselves as a trasmitter or receiver. The problems start when we begin relying on our own ability to "love our neighbor as ourself" or to "turn the other cheek." God did not intend for us to receive other's problems on our own. We're to use His strength; we're just the vessels through which its poured. As Glenn Olds stated, "It is through dying to concern for self that we are born to new life with God and others; in such dying and rebirth, we find that life is lent to be spent; and in such spending of what we are lent, we find there is an infinite supply."

In other words, despite Real Simple's suggestions, we don't need to worry about how to deal with a dearth of capacity when it comes to God's goodness. We need to start worrying about how we are going to "manage" the overflow with which He fill our hearts.


The Coming Storm

Life tends to have cycles. If you are in a time of tumult, wait a bit and calm will come. If you are in a period of respite, don't get too comfortable, life will surely throw you a curve ball. There's an old saying that the only thing certain in life is that things won't remain the same. Change is inevitable. Just ask the man in Poland who recently woke up from a 19-year coma. When he went into the coma, the world's great struggle was between Communism and Democracy. Awaking 20 years later, he's faced with a world controlled by cell phones, accessed through the Internet and plagued with reality TV. Not only has his nation's government radically changed, but the concerns that were so prevalent then, or a mere memory today.

Change will inevitably have positive results. Oftentimes change brings us unexpected surprises and unwarranted favor. However, change can also cause us to throw our hands up in despair. At these times, we run towards God hoping that He can change our bad situation to good. And while He certainly can, that's not the greatest benefit of running to Him. More than the change in circumstance that He has the power to wrought, running towards God refreshes our spirit with Him. As George MacDonald says, "How often we look upon God as our last and feeblest
resource! We go to him because we have nowhere else to go. And then we learn that the storms of life have driven us, not upon the rocks, but into the desired haven." We go to God for respite from our struggles and find that true rest only comes in Him.

Captains of ships seek to anticipate storms and avoid them. However, when tides change and winds shift, they must make a decision about they'll adjust to the situation. Every captain's desire is to avoid being run aground. An unanticipated harbor provides sweet relief. That's what God is. Our harbor in every storm, as well as our lighthouse guiding us home.

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Better Things Ahead: June 2007

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Better Things Ahead