Friday, December 12, 2014

Incarnation -- Not Just for Messiahs

Here at onset of Christmas, let's get one thing straight: Christmas is fun. Songs are fun. Carols are a blast. Presents are fun. Remembering family and friends and spending time together is fun. The story of the birth of little baby Jesus is fun.

But that's not what Christmas celebrates.

Wait... What?!

I had you with me until that last part, didn't I? Well, I stand by my statement. Christmas isn't about the baby Jesus and no crying he makes and all of his visitors (some of whom may or may not be biblical, but that's an essay for another time).

"Okay, smarty-pants," I hear you saying. "If Christmas isn't about the birth of Christ, then what is it about?"

Challenge accepted.

Are you ready?

Christmas is about the incarnation of Christ into the world. It's about something way, way beyond mere humanity emptying itself ("it" because we only ascribe pronouns to something that cosmically powerful in order to help us keep it in a box we can open and shut and package and name) and putting what it could of itself in a tiny package of human flesh. Christmas is about incarnation, pure and simple.

And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, KJV)

Christ (somehow one of a triune God whose physical nature I can't even being to remotely comprehend) became human. The closest approximation I could make is that I might feel bad for cockroaches who are getting close to poison so I let my big, human body become so completely cockroach that I could help those vile creatures hope to avoid the poison. But even that pales in comparison to the bigness of the truth of what incarnation really is, and not just because Christ genuinely loves us and I couldn't care two figs about a bunch of gross cockroaches.

God loved us and loves us so much that he sent Christ as his son to become human and take on all our sins and then die in our place. If that sounds like mythology, it's because it is, but not just mere mythology. It's the best story that can be imagined. It's the greatest myth of all. It's Prometheus with redemption attached. But best of all, it's true. It's history. But that doesn't make it any less mythic.

(Having typed that, I do realize that to those outside my faith admitting something that sounds so ludicrous that can make me seem like a clueless idiot who would believe anything. After all, it's designed that way. The wisdom of God comes off as foolishness to men after all.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

[Link] Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids?

Several years ago I met with a woman distraught over her son’s rejection of Christianity.

She said, “I did everything I could to raise him right. I taught him to be like the ‘heroes of faith,’ with the faithfulness of Abraham, the goodness of Joseph, the pure heart of David, and the obedience of Esther.”

She wondered why he had rejected Christianity.

I wondered why it took him so long.

Here Is How We Destroy the Gospel Message

Look at almost any Sunday school curriculum and you’ll find the following:

  • Abraham was faithful, and God made him the father of a nation. So be faithful like Abraham.
  • Joseph was a good little boy (unlike his “bad” brothers), and God made him prime minister of Egypt. So be good like Joseph.
  • David had a pure heart (unlike his brothers), and God made him king of Israel. So have a pure heart like David.
  • Esther was an obedient girl. God made her queen of Persia, and she saved God’s people. So be obedient like Esther.
  • Finally, if we fail to be good, Jesus will forgive us. (This comes as a PS tacked onto the end.)
  • What’s so bad about these Sunday school lessons?

Nothing really. Except that they lie about God, they lie about these “heroes of the faith,” they lie about the Bible, and they lie about the gospel. Oh, and they create “younger brother” rebels and “older brother” Pharisees. Apart from that, they are pretty good.

Is the gospel our central theme, or is it a PS tacked onto the end?

The Gospel Is More Than Good Morals

We need moral people. In a world where darkness expresses itself in everything from petty theft to genocide, healthy morals enable us to peacefully coexist. And that is good. Essential, even. It just isn’t the gospel.

Continue reading:


Editor's Note: For me what this article gets right is that we focus too much on teaching children that God loves the good kids and is willing to forgive the bad ones, but don't be a bad one. Whereas, the truth of the gospel is that we're all bad, through and through. Filthy rags and all that.

It is also testament to the reigning maxim of cultural Christianity that we are far busier looking for outward signs of what we believe is morality rather than inward signs of true Christlike character. Just my thoughts though. Your mileage may differ.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Life mottos

Sometimes people ask what are the goals, rules, mottos, etc. by which I live, and I tend to fall in the following three:

1. "I was so much older then. I'm younger than that now." -- Bob Dylan

2. “If by setting one's heart right every morning and evening, one is able to live as though his body were already dead, he gains freedom in the Way. His whole life will be without blame, and he will succeed in his calling.” -- The Hage Kure

3. "Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends," and "I have called you my friends." -- Jesus of Nazareth

In short, live young, realize you could die any day, and always be ready to put the good of others ahead of yourself.

I figure if I can live this, I will have a full, satisfied life regardless of any situations that I may encounter.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fred Phelps is Dead

Fred Phelps did not represent my understanding of what it means to be a Christian. But if I treat his death like a holiday or rejoice in it (or Ted Bundy's or even Hitler's death) then I also  fail to represent my understanding of what it means to be a Christian.

As John Donne said so long ago, no man is an island, and every man's death diminishes me. We are all grains in the sand of humanity, and to encourage and be entertained by the death or destruction of another makes me less of a person in the long run. It's a tough line to walk because I want to hate Phelps. I want to despise him for his venomous statements and his hate-mongering and his propensity to showboating and grandstanding at what should have been personal, private occasions. But if I do, I fail as a member of my own faith, and I fail myself.

So, I'll let Donne sum up my thoughts with his own words:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main;
if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe
is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as
well as any manner of thy friends or of thine
own were; any man's death diminishes me,
because I am involved in mankind.
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

And besides, I'm lying if I even try to believe my filthy rags aren't just as dirty as Fred's or anybody else. I'm just better at hiding them behind civil behavior.

Friday, February 28, 2014

To hate is the devil's work

So, a friend of mine posted this: "If God is love then why do Christians spread so much hate? Rather than cast a stone, love and pray for the person. To hate is the devil's work."

Because he asked, I responded, and I figured I'd share it here too because I get asked this a great deal by people who know me, both my faith and my personality (and try to make sense of putting the two together).

Speaking as a Christian, by and large it's a cultural thing. Since Constantine, Christians have held the power to define morality for the rest of culture. And as we're starting to lose that, it has a lot of us in a sort of attack mode in order to safeguard our territory morally. That's it, I think, in a nutshell for the bulk of cultural Christians nowadays.

On the other hand, there are those who genuinely are trying to show their love by trying to encourage others to "turn from sin." And too often because the language used is "we're right, you're wrong" it comes off as hateful, when even in many cases, it's not hate, it's zeal to see their friends and love ones "get saved" or become "right."

However, in many times, even that seemingly hateful speech is coming from a heart that loves, but doesn't know how to get attention other than shouting rather than taking the time to get to know people as people first.

A friend of mine once compared it to this story, which I think really helped me have more patience for those folks...

A man drove along in a torrential downpour, and just barely missed driving off a cliff where a bridge had been washed away. He looked around for a "bridge out" sign but the rain was too heavy and no one could see it. So he started running through the street trying to stop the oncoming traffic and tell them that the bridge was out and they were rushing to their doom.

In doing so, though, some thought he was crazy, and others thought he was rude. I'll believe it when I see it, others thought.

A simplistic tale, I'll warrant, but it does help to explain the viewpoint of a person of faith and zeal. If someone truly believes he or she is doing a good and loving thing by shouting that the "bridge is out," it is an action done out of love, no matter how the hearer interprets the words or actions.

Now, that doesn't mean that the warn-er doesn't need to learn to speak with compassion and tact, and the onus should be on him or her to do so.

And then there are those who have redefined anything short of abject approval as hate. I only use gay rights here below because it's the most violently discussed among such topics, it seems.

There is the acceptance of a person as a person of value and worth, and then there is the full acceptance of everything that person believes and does -- and we currently live in a world that seems to be unable to realize (or value) the difference between those two things. To be able to value and love a gay person and yet not condone everything that person does should be one of the things that makes us human -- the ability to disapprove of someone's actions and still approve of him or her as a human being created in God's image. Telling someone you believe their actions are wrong isn't hate speech. Calling out violence against someone because you disagree with their lifestyle or actions, however, is hate speech. No matter the issue -- abortion, politics, gender rights, sexual preferences, religion, etc. -- we are each created in the image of God, and therefore we have the ability to form our own opinions. That also means we should be able to hold such opinions in a world where we will be disagreed with often, period.

And we need to all put on our big-boy and big-girl pants and deal with the fact that people will disagree with us.

Are you a religious person who bemoans the fact that the world is changing and that its idea of morality is different than yours? Get over it. Put on your big-boy pants.

Are you a non-religious person who wants people who do believe a faith to shut up and stop talking about it because it's infringing on your so-called rights to not have listen to opinions you disagree with? Get over it. Put on your big-girl pants.

Are you gay and hate it that there are people you will never win over to support you and believe as you do? Get over it. Put on your big-boy pants.

Are you straight and want to change the world so that the rest of the world goes back into the closet and doesn't rain on your parade? Get over it. Put on your big-girl pants.

How do I feel about the topic? I feel like regardless of what I think about it, that it shouldn't be able to come between us and keep us from being friends (or at the very least, friendly).

In other words, vote based on your worldview. Get involved in organizations that you believe in. Be pro. Be con. But be human. Don't wear your crap on your sleeve if it makes you an asshole. Believe what you will or what you won't, but don't let it keep you from all kinds of people. Don't let it build walls between you and the rest of humanity.

Then again, there are those from all viewpoints -- militant religionists, millitant non-religionists, militant genderists, militant non-genderists, militant racists, militant non-racists, militant pro-abortionists, militant anti-abortionists, militant pro-gay, militant anti-gay, etc. -- who seem to relish the hateful attitudes because it's easier to fight straw men than to honestly address the real issues of any subject. And to those who embrace hateful attitudes who still claim to be Christian and to be basing that on the fact that you're following Christ, well, I  have trouble believing any of those people truly Christian in any way, shape, or form.

But then, these are just my opinions. If you don't like 'em, you don't have to. Put on your big-boy pants. *grins*

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Mourning Romance?

When romance seems (operative word here is 'seems') to die, don't mourn it. Celebrate it. It means that there is a deeper love to experience beyond mere romance -- and that you've finally grown mature enough to see the wondrous truth of that fact. Then enjoy the surprise when youthful romance pops back into your life from time to time to pay a visit when you can relish it without becoming dependent on it it as the viable "proof" of a relationship.

It's like suddenly getting your full sight when you've been partially blind all your life. Suddenly you can see the sky and the stars but can't fully explain them to people who still just see spots and blurs and think that's the end-all, be-all of actual vision.

Just a little something I've been thinking about lately.