Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Touched by Faith

While Christmas is a time for many of rejoicing and basking in the love of their family, for others it is a very difficult time because of illnesses that cause them or a loved one to suffer. The following is a poem composed by a 17-year-old, Cedric Bond, whose mother is dealing with thyroid cancer this Christmas. He composed it the night before his mother went in for surgery. Although I have not met Cedric, I was touched by the faith he expresses in the face of difficulty and doubt. I decided to share this with all of you, dedicated to those who are facing similar difficulties this holiday season.

How frail is man, so quickly to forget
The mercies shower'd upon us all.
Though danger now approaches ever near,
Won't I, once free, Thy mercy ne'r recall?

Here now just as that fearful day is come,
I kneel and lift my plea up heavenward.
But why should You look favorably here,
When once she's healed, I will deny you heard?

Though fearful now, I fret away the night;
If healed, I'll think, "It never threatened much,"
And make these heartfelt prayers I lift to You
But sincere mock'ries of Thy healing touch.

O Lord, what psalm might make You hear my prayer,
"Protect and keep in you my mother dear"?
And by the temp'ring power of Thy word,
What verse will make my willful heart sincere?

If by my body's strength I could succeed,
Or by a day of fast Thy mercy see,
But these have not the surety I desire.
True answers rest alone with faith in Thee.

I do not ask for any sign, O Lord--
Not in the deep nor in the utmost height.
Just for Your matchless grace to rescue us,
And ever keep us children of your light.

O Holy Father, let Thy will be done,
And let us brace ourselves whate'r the cost,
To know that You possess the pow'r to save,
But still, if not, our faith will ne'r be lost.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

For the love of Murph, what is the "Christmas spirit" anyway?

Isn't it amazing how many "real meanings of Christmas" there are? You could get dozens of Christmas movies that are centered around discovering the true meaning of the season, and hear lots of songs on the radio about what the season is all about. But I would venture to say that we get ourselves pretty off-base on most of them. So why should I put out one more opinion in a blog post? Because I want to get it. The significance of this day that the Roman government set as tradition for western culture centuries ago surely isn't in the consumer-culture emphasis on buying stuff, stuff and more stuff for your family, friends, coworkers and cats. But lots of people recognize that - you don't have to be Christian to aspire to associate something more than covetousness with a holiday that brings us bright decorations, festive music, rich foods and celebrations with people we love. But for many the joy of the season and the festive feelings and happiness seem to be the substance (based on the Christmas music played in most business establishments anyway). But feeling without basis doesn't quite do it for me. Was Dickens right? Is it all about remembering the welfare of your fellow man and bringing joy to the poor? Well, I just saw A Christmas Carol performed live, and while I admire his concern for the plight of the poor and the blind misery of the rich and stingy, I think he's just seeing the shadow of the real meaning.
If this holiday is to commemorate the events of the nativity story, then we must catch the significance of Luke's account of Christ's birth among the humble and the poor, to a (probably) teenage mother who is caught off guard by her pregnancy, and the proclamation to lowly sheep farmers of his birth. His parents can only afford the poor person's sacrifice of two birds when they take him for his circumcision at the temple. But this is the glorious God who created all and possesses all. The glorious God stepped into his creation to express humble love.
The Christmas spirit, then, for believers, ought to be humble love. Isn't Philippians 2 a great Christmas passage, then? We celebrate the birth of Christ, the God-man, as a human baby. He enters into his creation, into a world where he will be surrounded by the corruption of sin which he hates, and voluntary takes human form to express his love.
When we remember the poor and needy at Christmas, as per Dickens' literary exhortation, we are not in the Christmas spirit if we do it for the sake of holiday sentimentality, but only if we do it to imitate the "Christmas spirit" of humble love.
The wonder of the incarnation, of what it means and how exactly it works can only be understood in part. How could he be fully God and fully man, without confusion or separation of the natures? It blows my mind! But he came in a very simple and practical way to incarnate God's love for the world. I really want to catch the Christmas spirit by humbly loving others. I really want to be a physical representation to my world that reflects the physical manifestation of God's love to the world. I really want to come with my metaphorical sheep on my metaphorical shoulders (i.e., out of my humble position with so little to offer people, and nothing to give God unless he gives it to me first) and look with adoration and amazement on the one who brings peace with God and makes possible the ongoing presence of God in our hearts through the Spirit. Let's catch the Christmas spirit by following the Spirit of Jesus, and, if Austin can accept this word, being spiritual.

“Loving humility is marvelously strong, the strongest of all things and there is nothing else like it.”

Father Zosima in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov

Friday, December 12, 2008

Being spiritual...and being postmodern

Sorry for the recent inactivity - finals week kept me kinda busy, but I know a lot of you reading were in the same boat. I want to include a little more on the "spiritual" conversation that Austin started. I was reading some Jonathan Edwards this summer and ran across his definition. The quote is from an updated version of his work (kind of the Message:Remix version of Edwards, or maybe the CEV), so you don't get the fun of wading through complicated sentence structures and archaic language like you normally would with Edwards. Sorry to disappoint. In "Religious Affections" (as edited by James R. Houston) he said:
"In the New Testament, persons or things are termed spiritual in relation to the Spirit of God. 'Spirit' is the word that is used to signify the third person in the Trinity. It is therefore substantive of what the Scriptures mean by spiritual...Thus, it is only in relationship to the Spirit of God and His influences that persons and things are called spiritual."

So I guess that we can look to fruit of the Spirit (in character) and expression of the gifts of the Spirit (in service) as well as the desire for and application of spiritual truth as things involved in growing spiritually. In speaking to those outside the church, this will need to be clearly defined, though. They may just as easily think you're going to Yelm to consult a medium or learning to connect with the environment when you talk about being spiritual.

Concerning postmodernism: I love how just saying this word makes us as evangelicals feel like we're relevant. I keep watching the youth culture of our country to see whether they are going to continue to progress in postmodern thinking or react against it. Probably just when the church learns to speak effectively to postmodernism, we'll realize that it's past and a new trend has taken it's place. But this is job security for Christian thinkers, eh?

But right now we have a culture using this system as a grid for interpreting reality. Or so they claim. In fact, I think the skepticism and subjectivity is applied to morals, religion and literature, but not to decisions of everyday life. If you want to see a postmodern thinker abandon his or her commitment to skepticism, try questioning evolutionary theory or the science that indicates global warming is in danger of wrecking the world and is man-caused. These things, which are based on extrapolations of data from the present into the past or future, don't seem to be questioned much in the secular, postmodern academic climate. To live everyday life requires making a large number of assumptions that show people operate not with a mindset of absolute uncertainty, but have a range of possibilities that they accept as plausible, and others they write off as ridiculous.
We ought to be advocates to the postmodern world of a range of plausible options for reality that allows us to eliminate others as implausible. There must be room for interpretive differences when we approach Scripture and religious matters in general, but within a certain range. There is room for warranted confidence, even if their isn't for objective certainty.
I'm not really responding to Austin's post above, but giving other thoughts on the topic, since he brought it up. If we take the good elements he mentioned in our approach to theology and combine them with an apologetic stance that refuse to deny the possibility of knowing God as revealed, not as we make him up according to our perspectives, and of being able to accept God's authority on moral matters, although we can't be very certain based on our own sin-tainted reasoning, then we are in good stead.
Historic orthodox Christianity is based on historical facts communicated in literary form, however, and we can't allow our theology to be divorced from facts, and thus we must be able to note our interpretive presuppositions so that we will not be ruled by them, but not allow the fact that people have presuppositions take away our right to claim warranted and reasoned belief that cannot be proved beyond a shadow of a doubt, but is certain enough to live our lives by.