Joy Before Him

Oh, there is joy beyond.
Jesus saw it, knew it, fixed his eyes upon it
He kept his jaw clenched, his face flint and his mind locked on the above…

His flesh was bound but his eye was free
And through the blur of pain it strained to see
His Father’s gift – that there was joy beyond.

See how he stands, easy at his father’s side
Confident, radiant, free in soul and body
The LORD eternal, clothed in glory
Laughing with the King and Spirit
Bathed in joy, beyond.

Posted in poetry, theology | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

The days are evil

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil.

Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.

Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

— Ephesians 5:15-20

A friend of mine started exercising recently. I told her, “Good for you!”[you]

She said, “It’s strange. I’ve been trying to carve out daily time to pray and read my Bible for a long time now, and it’s been hard to do. But I managed to find 30 minutes each day to exercise.”

I know exactly what she’s talking about. How can we exercise for 30 minutes a day but not pray? It’s bizarre… but it’s the truth.[wicked]

Still, how does it make any sense that the one which should be easy is hard, and that the “hard” one is easy?

One the face of it, it should just be a scheduling question, right? Can we free a half hour in our day? If we free the time, it shouldn’t matter what we put in it, should it?

Of course, we all know that things don’t work that way – even ordinary life things. Consider Terry Crews[terry]advice on going to the gym


Yes. It has to feel good. I tell people this a lot – go to the gym, and just sit there, and read a magazine, and then go home. And do this every day.

Go to the gym, don’t even work out. Just GO. Because the habit of going to the gym is more important than the work out. Because it doesn’t matter what you do. You can have fun – but as long as you’re having fun, you continue to do it.

But what happens is you get a trainer, your whole body is sore, you can’t feel your legs, and you’re not coming back the next day – you might not come back for a year!”

[Let’s pause for a moment and enjoy this advice. This advice is so good. Every time I reread this, I am blown away… “Of course! Build the *habit*…” Why don’t I do this??? God bless Terry Crews! Ok, back to the article…]

We treat different places differently. There are places we like to be and places we don’t like to be. Terry says that if we build up a happy space at our gym, we will enjoy going there, and will build a habit. Times and places have emotional qualities to them.

One of the pieces of study advice that professor John Stackhouse gives is to have a separate desk for work, where you do no goofing off at all. When you go to the library, he says, have one seat where you goof off, and have another that is pure work. Keep the spaces separate.  It’s a question of habit, of conditioning yourself, and the space develops a quality to it for you that puts you into work mode.

John Cleese, talking on creativity,[excellent] describes how he carves out a protected space and time that is free from interruption. This protection of time and space enables a mode of play where we can be free and creative.

Time and space have a quality. This quality is physical, emotional and spiritual (which is why Christian discussion about the presence of God has real meaning). All the earth is the LORD’s… but different times and places can have different qualities depending on what fills them.[qual]

I was recently talking with a missionary from Argentina. She had come from a place of blazing revival where prayer would go on nightly for hours on end. “I find it very hard to pray here,” she said, “it’s very difficult and I struggle to find the motivation.” My city of Vancouver is a beautiful city, but my missionary friend is not the first person to remark on spiritual dryness, darkness or desolation here.

Modern western evangelicals tend to disregard this quality of time and space. Part of the reason is because we are evangelicals with an evangelical history. To talk about holy places or holy things feels disturbingly catholic. It makes us think about statues of saints and of the worship of pictures – graven images of the worst sort, surely.

The greater reason though, is because we are modern western people. We don’t have the language to talk about the spiritual qualities of space-time. We have intentionally and systematically focused so exclusively, for so long, on the physical nature of space-time (electrons and other spinny things) that we struggle to understand things any other way.

At the school I attend, Regent College, lots of people are attracted to older forms of Christianity, such as Celtic Christianity. Those Celts had prayers for every common thing – for cooking breakfast in the morning, for going out, for turning into a deer so your enemies wouldn’t kill you[deer]

I might describe this fascination with Celtic Christianity as a bizarre flirtation[flirt], except that it’s not really bizarre. It makes sense. The Celtic Christians, bless them, were not moderns – they were converted from a pagan world! They believed in thin places and spiritual powers and they really believed there was a difference if you prayed over your breakfast and if you didn’t.

You see, if you ask a modern western Christian what the difference is if we bless our morning meal and if we don’t, we will defend to the death that there is a difference, but bless us if we can understand or describe it! We know that nourishment comes from calories and protein and vitamin content, and we’re pretty sure that those don’t change, regardless of the prayer. The food is just as nourishing either way, unless we’re asking God to change the physical nature of the world, which is crazy, because we’re confident he doesn’t usually do that. So… we just give thanks.

Because we don’t understand how a blessing could do something…

we struggle to believe that it does do anything…

and as a consequence… we hardly bless anything at all.

But… the Bible says Christians are a holy priesthood! Are priests supposed to bless stuff?[bless]

What is the Ephesians passage quoted at the start of this post really saying? In part, how we read it depends on what our worldview allows it to say.

“Instead, be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Is it an exhortation to good moral behaviour, a call to encourage one another?

Is it a charge to change the quality of the time and space around us? Is it instructing us to  fill places with worship from God’s own Holy Spirit, and to manifest the quality of heaven in the physical earthly places we live? Are we charged to do this because the days are evil and we are to bring holiness into an evil world?

Is it sane to suggest that the most practical step to having our devotions is to sing worship songs and to bless the place where we want to read and pray? Could that be the most practical scheduling activity we could take?

Here’s the truth. If I went on youtube and hunted up a TED talk on productivity that talked about psychological patterns and why creating good spaces for being productive was important, I would believe it. (I probably wouldn’t do it, but I would believe it.) If a young, intelligent person with the right haircut stood up and told me that we were complex chemical and emotional beings and could alter our psychology by altering our spaces, I would believe it. It would give me joy, hope that I could be more productive. So why am I so reluctant to believe about the spiritual what I would believe in an instant about the psychological?

When I try and consider what Ephesians talks about, it’s harder for me to understand, and it’s harder for me to accept. I can’t think of days being evil because I don’t understand how days can be evil. What is our prerogative as Spirit-filled priests of God living in evil days? It’s tough to say, because the theological language of the western evangelical church tends to be bad at this kind of stuff. We’re not exactly sure where our prerogative begins and ends which, all too often, keeps us from doing our job.

Is it strange that it’s harder to pray than to exercise? Well, it depends. If I see myself, (as the Apostle Paul certainly did) as being in a battle with spiritual rulers and authorities of physical places (in which I dwell), then it’s not at all strange that different activities should find different resistances.

But if this is the case, and if our days are as evil as those of the Ephesians, then perhaps the most important thing we can do is to do our job and change the world around us.

Bless you all.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. I don’t exercise.
  2. It also can lead very quickly to evangelical angst and self loathing. We are all wicked and so we don’t want to pray. Why am I not better? Why don’t I love Jesus more? How am I so wicked?
  3. Terry Crews is an amazing guy. Portrait artist, NFL player, actor… plus he can flex his pecs independently. Amazing.
  4. This talk is excellent and you should listen to all of it.
  5. Some sharp or skeptical readers may note that perhaps we develop a quality within ourselves which makes us react one way to one place and another way to another place. This is what Crews and Cleese are talking about. We certainly do experience a quality to time and space, but what makes us so certain this quality is only internal to ourselves?
  6. It’s not a prayer for this, per se. But legend has it that when St. Patrick’s enemies tried to kill him on the road, all they saw was a herd of deer.
  7. I say ‘flirtation’ because intellectually, we wouldn’t touch this worldview with a 10-foot pole. The Celts died from smallpox and didn’t have clean water and believed in ghosts – we don’t want to go back in our thinking. Their view of the world feels horribly crude and pagan –  naive, misguided and simplistic. Spiritually, however, we are so dry from the secularization of our thought that we’re looking to drink from any source that offers itself.
  8. Again, this sounds awfully catholic. Is it awfully Biblical?
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Cecil the Lion

In case you haven’t heard, Cecil got shot.

Let’s have a moment of silence for Cecil…

Okay, now that the moment’s over, I’d like to know: are you in the “Why are we still talking about this?” camp or the “We always knew dentists were evil[evil]…” camp?

I’ve been struck by the reaction to the Cecil story. Protesters picketing the guilty hunter’s (closed) office, airlines refusing to ship trophy animals… On the face of it, it seems disproportional. But the more I think about it, the more I think there are reasons for the drama.

The bottom line is that Cecil was innocent, and it is wrong to slay the innocent.[cat]

We’re fed up. We’re sick of a world full of violence. We can’t take any more mindless cruelty, bombings, beheadings, burnings, bigotry… all of the garbage that fills the front page day after day after day. And it never stops. It just. doesn’t. stop.

We can’t solve these problems. They’re complicated. They’re political. They’re social. They’re environmental. They’re a web of conflicting global forces and interests that we can’t untangle and we can’t solve. These problems are complicated; these problems have a certain greyness, an ugliness to them.

If we feel sorry for those who get beheaded, or those who don’t have enough to eat, all of a sudden, we’re taking sides. We’ve become political as well, and we find ourselves sucked right in, waist deep right in the middle of the garbage. How can we say who’s wrong without pointing fingers in a political debate? And isn’t pointing fingers the problem? But now we’re the problem, and how do we handle that?

Cecil wasn’t political. He was a beautiful big cat that I can imagine stretching out on my living room sofa.[eat] Cecil wasn’t a part of any of it. He was a beautiful, innocent cat, a bystander who got killed by the garbage and the twisted world. Isn’t it right to get angry about the death of the innocent?

The thing is, we can flip through our digital newspapers and see ugly grey story after ugly grey story, but when we run into Cecil’s story, it’s black and white. It’s a simple case of right and wrong, and we long for that. Everyone can be on Cecil’s side, because he was innocent, and it’s wrong to slay the innocent.

Cecil is the one innocent we can actually stand up for without feeling morally grey and unclean ourselves. This is a rare thing! It’s such a relief and such a restful thing that to not do it is unthinkable and makes us the wrong kind of people.

It’s a mistake to trivialise the debate. Those who plea that, “There are more important things to be thinking about,” wind up politicising Cecil and using him to flog their own agenda of what is important. Isn’t this is the worst kind of behaviour, the sort that made the world that killed Cecil to begin with? Why make those who are simply feeling compassion for a beautiful innocent cat feel guilty about simple compassion? Why be so negative? I think I understand the anger.

What am I really trying to say about Cecil here? It was wrong and senseless that Cecil got shot, and I understand the uproar. But the uproar shines a disturbing light upon ourselves. It demonstrates that we live in a world of ambiguity and relativism, and we are starving for simple right and wrong. We can’t go two Facebook posts on the internet without finding someone who radically disagrees with us, in a way that we can’t bridge or solve. We are thoroughly convinced that we are right, yet we are bound to uphold the sacred principle that they are also equally right for their own selves. How are we supposed to live in a world this divided?

When Cecil was alive, he posed for photos and probably bossed about other lions and ate other animals and had six kids that are now going to get eaten themselves… Cecil was a lion. Maybe he was a nice lion. Maybe he was a jerk. I don’t know. But once Cecil got shot, he stopped being a lion. Cecil became a symbol of innocence – a post-modern martyr – who has a chance to bring a shred of unity into a divided world. Symbols are worth protecting, and so the outrage makes perfect sense.

Is it worth condemning a visceral reaction against evil? Well, yes and no. One of the moral principles that Jesus teaches, and that I believe in (as a Christian) is that we have a choice in how we react to evil. A visceral reaction, however visceral it is, can either be a good reaction or a bad reaction.

I’m encouraged by the compassion shown and the lengths people will go to defend what’s right, but I’m troubled by the internet hatred (and how easy it is to hate on the internet) . I’m worried by the shallowness of tolerance once people are convinced they are right. I’m concerned that people feel more affinity towards Cecil than towards our dentist friend, because it highlights just how dehumanising our media and our secular philosophies are.

Most of all, I’m sad that the world is a big bloody mess, and that Cecil, fuzzy though he may be, is not a sufficiently powerful symbol to clean up this mess.

We need to look elsewhere. Cecil had the misfortune to die because of the world’s sins, but he never died for them. I guess I’m in both camps, sort of. We really don’t need to be talking about Cecil, but it would be wrong to brush him away, because if he is a symbol, he needs to be understood and not ignored. And I’m sorry he’s dead.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Or that Americans were evil. Or that hunters were evil. Or that rich people were evil. Or that Rich American Hunter Dentists whose teeth are unnaturally white and who seem privileged are evil.
  2. Some of you may have a moral stance that animals are incapable of right or wrong and so they can’t be innocent, by definition. Maybe you are right. But in the eyes of the general public, people are animals too, and so Cecil is innocent.
  3. In my imagination, big cats don’t ever eat me. That’s why it’s my imagination.
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Kids in school

Living a Christian Life is a big job; in Canada, where I live, I think most people would look at you strangely (and perhaps with a little bit of pity) for trying. Jesus isn’t really popular here; he’s sort of like the kid it’s popular to hate on in school. Nobody really knows much about him because it’s not cool to be seen around him. People who know him well don’t really talk about him all that much when they’re with their other friends.

Everyone knows that Secularism is the kid who has all the connections and will get you to the right parties. And that’s great, because Secularism is a lot of fun to be around, especially when there’s plenty of money to make everything seem okay. Things are great just as long as no-one stops to ask the question whether things are the way they should be.

Everybody knows that there’s a way things should be and that they aren’t that way. The terrible quiet secret that everybody is running from is that we’re all lost; nobody knows how to get to the way things should be..

Secularism is a rich kid, though, and every week he’s promising to bring a solution to school, some great technical gizmo he ordered online, or some big master plan that he’s working on over the weekend. It’s going to solve all the problems.

But the solutions don’t come through. There’s always another epic party that weekend, or a ‘must-see’ film that manages to distract him, and somehow at school on Monday the solutions never seem to appear – or they do, but they’re that cheap plastic that kinda sorta does what it claims, but not really.

Jesus is a funny kid; not funny ‘ha-ha’ but funny in that other way. If you ever make eye contact with him you either have to turn away very quickly or you wind up looking at him for a very long time. And he doesn’t look away, either. He’s happy to look and smile at you for as long as you are willing to stare at him. If you stare too long, though, he’ll come up to you and start up a conversation.

I was sitting at lunch once when I caught Jesus’ eye and he came over to my table. But as I saw him coming I started to get nervous. When he came close, I looked around quick and muttered, “Sorry, I gotta go, I’m late.” and I left, leaving him standing there with his tray. I felt bad, after. Now that I know him a little better I understand that it was not only rude but a really stupid thing to do.

Posted in curios | Tagged | 2 Comments

Deep Thoughts, Deep Language

Many of my friends don’t speak English as a first language. Often when talking with them, I’m forced to think about what I’m saying, why I’m saying it that way, and where idiomatic speech comes from.

Any ESL teachers out there?

I’ve been thinking a lot (okay, a little) and I’ve come to the conclusion that there is such a thing as Deep Language.

Deep Language betrays Deep Culture – the hidden, unspoken ways of thinking and feeling that make a particular people group tick. I remember my father talking about the old, traditional vocabulary of an African people group – words not often known by the youth, dealing with ancient ritual and tradition, revealing the history of the people.

Deep Language signifies mastery. To master Deep Language is not an act of learning but of becoming, of stepping into a new culture and a new identity. When we know and intuitively use Deep Language, we are living differently. We have truly become.

The English phrase for me that is the the pinnacle of Deep Language, that represents this becoming most profoundly, is that wonderful (in the sense of wonder) and marvelous (in the sense of marvel) phrase, ‘to hock a loogie’.

Think about it.

It is the absolute embodiment of language that is lived. You will never find it in a textbook. Its etymology is an absolute mystery. The ‘hock’ is surely onomatopoeic, but the ‘loogie’… where does that come from? Some archaic or regional form of ‘boogie,’ which itself is a derivative term? Who even knows? How do you even explain it to someone who doesn’t already know?

Using ‘hock a loogie’ requires absolute cultural mastery.

Because it is almost never the correct or proper phrase, knowing when it should be used requires a deft social touch and an intuitive grasp of culture. In fact, finding those few and proper moments to bring it out of the arsenal (an idiom) is such a tricky task that we universally advise newcomers ‘just not to go there’ (another idiom). We give up entirely because it’s just. that. hard. and we don’t know how to teach it. It is Deep Language.

The fact that it is deep, however, does not make it insurmountable, and even though it is not easy to teach, that does not mean it should be lost. As we celebrate this cold and flu season, please take a moment to remember the newcomers among us. Reach out and usher someone into a new realm of cultural knowledge. Happy sniffling. Happy snuffling. Happy hocking.

Yes, I have a cold. And I am miserable. And I want to share this misery :-) Thank you for supporting my in my time of weakness.

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Groping after God

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place,that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, for

“ ‘In him we live and move and have our being’;[Acts 17:26-28]  (emphasis mine)

One of the annoying facts of life is that God is invisible. All of us who have cried out, “God, where are you? Why can’t I see you?” know this truth: the most important Reality is something – someone –  we can’t see. Crucially, life also holds drastic times when the ‘annoying fact’ becomes a desperate reality.

There is someone without whose constant sustaining, we would fall into dust… and we can’t see him. He keeps gravity going and electrons spinning… and we can’t see him. He is right beside us, and yet we pay less attention to him than to our coffee tables, our socks , our walls and every other physical object we interact with, treating as unquestionably real and obviously present.

But, by his decision, God is invisible to us. And yet… we need him, and so we grope for him.

We are the groping blind, feeling our way for God. If only we could touch him! If only we could see him! As much as anything else, it is this reaching out, this groping that describes our lives. We want to know the truth. We want to know what is real. Why is God hiding from us?

Samson, the Israelite judge and military hero, knew what groping was. Once colossally strong, he was reduced to helplessness by his own foolishness, pride and disobedience. His enemies captured him and gouged his eyes out. Blind and stripped of all his power, he stood in derision in their temple, feeling about, groping around for the temple pillars.

He wanted to feel the dusty pillars under his palms – the solid stone that gave him assurance. His hands told him the truth. He was in a hostile land, a sideshow in a foreign temple, surrounded by a enemy crowd whom he could only hear. But his hands told the truth. The pillars were real, they were there, and if God gave him strength, he could bring them down.

Isaac, the father of Jacob, also knew what groping was, because he was also blind. His devious wife and his conniving son Jacob tricked him, taking advantage of his blindness – his weakness – to steal a blessing from him. When Jacob approached Isaac, pretending to be his older brother Esau, Isaac groped. He needed his hands to tell him the truth, to grasp the hairy arms thrust before him. He had to feel what he could not see.

When we can’t see, we grope. And who can see God?

As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. And he said to them,

“Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see.” [Luke 24:36–39]

There was a moment when God was felt. Jesus brought his wounds forward and invited his disciples to feel the wounds of God, suffered on their behalf. The wounds were flesh and blood and after centuries of groping, hands could finally feel what no hand had ever felt before.

The Greek word for this is pselaphao. It is the word used[lxx] for Isaac, for Samson, the word spoken by Paul for the whole world, the invitation from Jesus… it means to feel about for, to handle, to grope after, to touch… to know with our hands in the middle of our blindness.

It is the word that John uses when he tries to tell people of that stunning moment, that moment when he and his friends experienced what all people in history have been longing for:

That which was from the beginning,
which we have heard,
which we have seen with our eyes,
which we looked upon
and have touched with our hands,
concerning the word of life – [1 John 1:1]

John’s witness, what he wants to tell us, is that that moment was real. It actually happened. It wasn’t a dream or a myth or a hallucination. Flesh met on flesh and neurons fired and God was felt in the flesh. It was a hallmark of human history because God had been felt. John knew with his hands.[hands]

So for all those moments when I’m tempted to think God is distant or removed – or not observing my behaviour – I have to remember: I may not have felt him… but John did. God was groped after – and found.

And I do feel. I feel the satisfaction of his Holy Spirit. I hear him inspiring my thoughts… when I ask. What I feel is not always complete, or overwhelming (although sometimes it is), but I do feel. It is the condition of my life to grope after God… but I have found him – or rather, he has found me. Sometimes I forget him, sometimes I ignore him, but he is still with me.

I am reminded that one of these days, I am going to see what I can’t see now. God was touched before, and he will be seen again. One day I will get to touch him.

God is not far away from me now, and if my physical eyes and hands are just that – physical and finite – then I’m going to have to wait a bit. The fact that I can’t see or run through walls just makes me human. Some days I feel more like the blind Samson or Isaac than I do like John. But the fact that I am human means I struggle and grope in the middle of my limitations, and so I give thanks to God for John and his witness.

God has been felt.


Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Ac 17:26–28 (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).
  2. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, Lk 24:36–39 (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).
  3. Used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament – the Septuagint, or LXX. It is used only four times in the NT.
  4. The Holy Bible: English Standard Version, 1 Jn 1:1 (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001).
  5. … and his ears, and his eyes. John knew in every way it can be known. It just couldn’t have been more proven to him.
Posted in thehumancondition, theology | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Thinking Kingdom

The other day I ran across this fascinating piece from BBC Magazine, and it brought a couple thoughts into focus for me in new ways. The article is a discussion of the Islamic idea of a caliphate, or unified state. The author of the piece, writing from a secular viewpoint, struggles to come to grips with the idea of a religious state, and why anyone would try and establish one.

The article puts me in, shall we say, a curious position. On the one hand, I live in a beautiful, peaceful, prosperous nation characterized in part by high levels of secularism, horrible moral decay, increasing loneliness and materialism. On the other hand, there is a religious state performing atrocities on the other side of the world.[relig]

Let’s just say I look at the glass houses on both sides of the ocean and question “Why are we throwing stones again?” And then I look at the shambles of my own endeavours and think, “It’s time for me be quiet.”

But I want to talk about this article, because there’s some interesting stuff here.  Take for example, the idea of the caliphate.

“Why do so many Muslims subscribe to this apparently unrealisable dream? The answer lies in the caliphate’s history.

“The Arabic khalifa means a representative or successor, and in the Koran it is linked to the idea of just government – Adam, and then David and Solomon, are each said to be God’s khalifa on earth.”

Does this sound familiar?[fam] I find it ironic that what is sought after – just government – is a common goal that no one can figure out how to get to. After all, isn’t that the charge leveled against ISIS by Western parties? That their governance is not just – that it murders children, abuses women, turns people from their homes, oppresses innocents and breaches the sovereignty of nations?[just] It’s the devil’s hand at work.

Of course, let’s not probe too carefully at the moral fabric our own society and the fruits of our own governance, which leaves us largely to do what is right in our own eyes.[rhet] Doing your own thing regardless of social or governmental pressure is the North American way, at least since the 1960s. The bedrooms of our nations have been off limits to any manner of societal/institutional pressure for quite some time. How’s that working for us?

Just ask anyone how much they enjoyed their parents’ divorce. Ask any disillusioned young adult how much they enjoy the idea that a non-committal relationship is the best that they can hope for. (Actually, don’t ask. We don’t like to talk about this stuff much. For whatever reason, it has to stay under the carpet.)[rhet1]

People half a world away look at our society and say things like “Boko Haram – Western learning is forbidden, [because it’s the devil’s hand at work]”. Of course, when they call us the devil, it’s just because they’re crazy and the devil made them say it, right?

So where does the devil live? Here, or there? In thinking about this question, I’m indebted to my friend Mark, who pointed me to this article from Al Jazeera – a sobering read. Where does the devil live, again? There’s a relatively straightforward theological answer to this question[ans]… but we don’t like it. I don’t like it.

So… I find it interesting that we’re all looking for just government[lie], but have arrived at opposing conclusions to how it is established. What works? (One of the interesting observations of the article was that logistically, a Single World Leader model has challenges, because he just gets too busy and needs to delegate :-) )

This is a tricky spot to be. The question of “How do we get there?” is pretty much the whole arena of disagreement, and yet questions of “Whose method is more evil?” or “Where does the devil spend more time?” are deceptive and themselves diabolical distractions. We have to reframe. A child’s life can destroyed by a divorce just as surely as by a knife, and there’s one destroyer equally familiar with both.[distract]

There is one kingdom that offers a path to just government. However, its citizens are required to die, hate their lives, not love the world and become slaves to righteousness – which constitutes blasphemy on both sides of the pond. Until we renew our thinking to accept that there’s only one kingdom that will push out the devil (wherever he may be found), we will keep on building our own kingdoms and getting our own results.

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. I have an intense personal frustration with the prevalent myth that religion is the source of violence and war. It’s just so… wrong. It ignores the question of evil entirely, that men and women chronically kill, steal and abuse for money, power, acceptance and countless other reasons, regardless of religious profession. And the belief system that gets blamed for this, is (bizarrely) the one that suggests you will be judged and held accountable for all your intents and actions by an impartial judge who loves your victim as much as he loves you.
  2. The Greek word “Christ” is a translation of the Jewish word “Messiah”. The word itself means “Anointed One”, and is understood to refer to a Jewish king (chosen by God and representing him – this is shown by an anointing of oil).

    This king, being a descendent of David (and, paradoxically, his Lord), will establish righteousness and justice over the whole earth. He will break all the rebellious nations and judge all the wicked, subjecting all who rebel. God will place everything under his feet.

    (I was reading Bruce Waltke recently – he observes that the Psalm most quoted by Jesus and the Apostles is Psalm 110. How often do *I* read that one?) One really big deal in Israel’s theology is that they were hauled off into exile… and this king never seemed to appear.

  3. Ironically, it’s not hard to see similar charges being laid against North American society on issues such as abortion, glamour magazines, corporate behaviour and the like… But of course it is monstrous to compare our government with theirs, because ours is just and theirs isn’t.
  4. See what beautiful rhetoric I use :-)  This phrase has a particular meaning found in the book of Judges. It means that people have lost touch with the knowledge and fear of the LORD and, as a consequence, unspeakable things are happening.
  5. See what beautiful rhetoric I use :-) Unspeakable things are happening. Observe the… ah… ‘careful’ treatment the media are giving the Jian Ghomeshi story. The allegations involved are so perverted and shameful that they cannot be discussed in public, even by the CBC, which, as my sister observes, has never embraced prudery.
  6. Eph 2:1-10
  7. This is a lie. We all partially want just government, but we mostly want our own government, one that indulges our own selfishness and pride. Evil is like this. We do want good things, but sadly we all want evil things more. Welcome to being human. John 3:19-21, 1 John 1:15-17 and James 4:1-3 are handy for shining light here.
  8. In Christian theology, these questions are barely sensical. Do we really want to engage in a giant measuring match of righteousness? Scripture addresses this kind of attitude and activity, quite unfavourably…
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What does it mean to have faith?

… welcome to a question I’ve been mulling over (struggling with?) for a while now. If anyone has any light to shine or stories to share, I’m all ears. I’d really like some feedback on this one…

There’s something that has always confused (bothered? disturbed?) me about how Christians talk about “believing” in Jesus. I’ve been wrestling with what it means to “believe” something for, oh, probably about ten years by now. But… it’s foggy in my mind, and I need help with it.

On the one hand, it’s never seemed quite right to me for ‘belief’ to mean “just professing something”… but, then again, it’s never seemed quite right for ‘belief’ to mean “100% doubt-free”. Otherwise, that means that if you have any doubt ever, you don’t believe.[want] But, doesn’t having faith, or believing, mean not doubting by definition?

If you pushed me to come down one way or the other, I think I would have to say that the belief that Jesus asks us for is absolute knowledge that he is Lord over all that is, the maker of all things and the judge of all men. Jesus wants us to take him as seriously as – nomore seriously than – the food we eat and the walls we walk around and the illnesses and deaths we face.

Of course, if I have this absolute knowledge, it means there’s just no room for any kind of fear, anxiety or rebellion… or any kind of garbage behaviour. Since I have all these in spades, what does it say about my belief? Can I rightly live in peace, knowing my belief falls as far short as it does?

One piece in the puzzle is that, if I reduce ‘belief’ to mentally agreeing with something, I can get away with both believing in Jesus and feeling afraid and rebellious all the time. After all, there’s no reasonable expectation that mental agreement with something should extend to my emotional life.[4] After all, isn’t faith letting your mind agree to something when you don’t feel like it?

This is tough like a rubber cookie.  The more I chew, the more my jaw hurts, but it still. won’t. crumble.

One way I’ve been trying to make sense of this is through the Old Testament. It seems to have a different perspective on the question of belief.

Reading the Old Testament, it makes sense that, while Jesus, Paul and others talk about ‘believing’, what they mean extends far, far beyond mental agreement. They are Hebrews, and what they are talking about has as much to do with faith and faithfulness as it does anything else. The Old Testament talks about faithfulness a lot, mostly with respect to God.

When the Old Testament talks about God as faithful it presents God as being unchangeable. Being dependable… established… trustworthy… stable… solid… always there. To be faithful, one must be not only gracious in character, but also established and permanent. Faithful things – large rocks… oak trees… God… are not easily blown over or moved because they have permanence and solidity.

To be a faithful person, then, means to demonstrate that same tenacity with regards to God – permanent belief regardless of circumstance.

Faith then becomes constant, repeated, obedience. Faith is faithful action – action that takes place because of belief. Those who are saved are those who, in the lives they live, demonstrate this faith. It doesn’t matter whether they lived before Abraham, (Abel? Enoch? Noah?) before Moses (Abraham? Isaac? Jacob? Joseph?), before Jesus (David?) or at any time after (Paul?).

In this picture of faith, faith is rightly measured over a long period of time (a life!), and it doesn’t make sense to measure faith in just a moment. We may act faithfully within a moment, but if faith has an enduring quality, then faith can only be fully demonstrated through endurance. And… at the end, after the full distance, we will be judged.

In my mind there is a picture of a criminal, hanging in agony next to Jesus. He cries out, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Is his faith false just because he is about to die? No! If he were given another day to live, would he spend it with Jesus? Yes… he would. Jesus looks at him and says, “You will spend your next day with me in Paradise.” It is not the length of time that proves his faith but rather the quality of it. Long or short is not the question. Enduring quality is the question, and if it is built in a single moment, its enduring quality is true nonetheless.

Now I take this picture of what it means to be faithful, what it means to have faith in Jesus Christ… my thinking changes.

It means that, for better or for worse, a single moment of belief does not necessarily constitute faith.

One disturbing thought is that even those who have really believed can fall away – if faith is enduring, then what does not endure is not real faith, even if there were moments or times of genuine belief. I am torn on this thought. If I reject it, it becomes very difficult to make sense of passages like 2 Peter 2:17-22[pet] or Philippians 3:8-16[phil], which seem quite clear in their intent. It also seems to clarify Hebrews 10 and the entire book of James. I would love to whitewash these passages and say, “They never really believed to begin with”, but these passages don’t seem to be saying that. They seem to be saying that there are those who both believed and fell away.

Scripture is quite clear that we are saved by our faith and judged according to our works.[sort]The faith that saves us is a faithful life lived out – which is rightly assessed when our lives are finished. This leaves us, like Paul, striving for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. We are running to finish the race we started and receive our reward. We are aware of the fact that if we don’t keep running, we will not finish , and so, we keep our eyes on God Who is Our Strength and who will carry us, with power beyond ourselves, to the end… if we act in faith and submit to him.

Of course, this thinking doesn’t really explain a “moment of salvation” or assurance of salvation well at all. But then a “moment of salvation” doesn’t really address some of the Scriptures listed above.

I am attracted to this thinking because it makes sense of how doubt can co-exist with faith in a real person’s life. It doesn’t have problems with the truth that, in every race, we can take steps back as well as forward. There are moments of doubt as well as moments of faith, and in the same way that a single moment of belief does not justify everything, a single moment of doubt does not wipe away everything.

Like I said, I’m really struggling on this one. Thoughts?

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)
  1. Of course, what I want more than anything is for there to be a place of no doubt whatsoever… and for me to be there.
  2. I know two plus two equals four, regardless of feeling. Most of the time.
  3. 17 These are waterless springs and mists driven by a storm. For them the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved. 18 For, speaking loud boasts of folly, they entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves[a] of corruption. For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved. 20 For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. 21 For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. 22 What the true proverb says has happened to them: “The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.” —ESV
  4. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

    12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained. —ESV

  5. Sort this one out!!
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Confessions of a Gospel Tract Writer

Eat your heart out, Jack Chick.

A friend gave me a gospel tract the other day. We were at church; he was showing me some of the Christian materials he was using. He held the tract out for my perusal and I glanced over it. It was a pretty standard gospel tract with a simple gospel message, a sinner’s prayer, and a selection of well known verses. It seemed a little funny to me, though, and I allowed myself a little smile. Of course, the tract ought to be familiar to me – I wrote it.

About a year earlier, our church had held out an evangelism evening and I’d put together a one page reference to help a prayer counselor lead someone through the gospel.

My friend apparently had stumbled across a copy of this and taken it to a local mission organization, who had slapped a picture with a caption on the front (“There is more mercy in God than there are sins in us”) and a copy of the apostles creed on the back and voila! One Gospel tract.

I was now a proud tract author.

My first act as a published author was to cringe at the glaring typo on Step 6 of “The Simple Gospel”. The second was to frown at how jargony and cliched the language of the tract was. I had never asked where these gospel tracts came from or how they got written… but I guess now I know. They come from unsuspecting seminary students.

But most of all, I was greatly encouraged… which is the entire point of this post. I didn’t even know that I had written a tract, and yet here it was before me. A little thing I did had grown into a bigger thing and I realized that what we do can be important, even if we can’t see how or why. Of course, I wish I had written a perfect document with better language and no typos, but it was an encouragement to think that maybe, just maybe, the time I spent laying out God’s message in a simple, readable format might touch someone, somewhere, somehow.

This means, of course, that I have to be prudent in choosing when to mock gospel tracts and their authors. Oh, well. I guess fame has its costs. Thanks be to God.

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Andy Gullahorn

I am drowning in Real Life Busyness right now and all my wonderful blogdreams are not materializing. But I thought I’d throw something nice up.

I just found out about Andy Gullahorn – a tremendous songwriter. Maybe I like him so much because other (more famous) people sing his songs and he seems so humble about it. Maybe because his songs are great. How can you not love a songwriter who adapts Walt Wangerin Jr.?

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