Saturday, January 24, 2009

I Have a Dream (And sometimes that's my biggest problem).

Father, my dreams are too big.
I want to accomplish impressive goals and build big programs
I want to spread my reputation and make news
I want to accumulate honors and accrue benefits

I want to hand over vast sums to the treasurers of your kingdom
But you want me to think smaller.
You want me to do the simple acts of love required at each moment
To lay down my life one moment at a time for the few people I know
To pass out the last few coins in my pocket each day

Father, my dreams are too small.
I want to accomplish transitory things,
Which will be undone only years from now
I want to receive empty words of praise and flattery,
Which will be forgotten by their speakers tomorrow
I want to receive all my rewards now, tangibly,
Which reduces my supposed belief to no faith at all.
But you want me to think bigger.
You want to take the small ripples of love that spread from my life and push them
until they swell into waves that crash on the shore of Your everlasting kingdom.
You want me to trust defiantly in the Giver of hope
in the face of the stifling darkness of the world that overwhelms the unregenerate.
You want me to help fund the greatest movement in history,
As you make a dollar out of my fifteen cents.

Lord, help me to think smaller. And bigger.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Am I my neighbor's keeper?

It doesn't take long after sin enters the world for its effects to show. After Adam and Eve are expelled from the garden, Cain is overtaken with jealousy towards his brother, Abel. Cain allows sin to master him, despite God's explicit warning, and he murders Abel. When God asks Cain where Abel is, Cain's famous response is, "Am I my brother's keeper?" But perhaps being your "brother's keeper" is critical to living in a way that fits with how God wants society to look. Christ affirms that the second-greatest (or is it second, greatest?) command is to "love your neighbor as yourself," and gives a broad definition of "neighbor" in the parable of the Good Samaritan. Not only are we our brothers' keepers, but we are also responsible to be neighbors to many others who cross our paths.

Plantinga points out that there are two ways of sinning towards our neighbors in two chapters labelled "Attack" and "Flight." The attack side seems prominent in James 2:8-13

8If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing well. 9But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11For he who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not murder." If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. 12So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. 13For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

It's not too difficult to see that active partiality, adultery, murder, as well as other actions like gossip, lies and slander and the expression of attitudes like envy, jealousy and bitterness SCREW THINGS UP. To please God, we must not do these things.
But many people use the fact that they don't do these things to argue that they are good people, who are far enough away from the evil end of the scale that God must be pleased with them, and surely couldn't be angry. Is there something more to loving your neighbor? Plantinga explains in the next chapter how "Flight" disrupts shalom. When we are apathetic, or when we intentionally avoid or ignore situations where people are suffering from the consequences of sin, we're still in violation of the great command to love our neighbors. James hits on this concept as well on the next section of the papyrus:

14What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, "Go in peace, be warmed and filled," without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? 17So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

What does this mean for me and my neighbors? Does it mean that I should interrupt a peaceful evening walk on my day off to go see why those kids in the park are yelling and waving sticks at each other? Does it mean that when a teenager is breaking a glass bottle on the steps of the elementary school I should stop her and bring a broom so she can clean it up? Does it mean I can't just shake my head and condemn society because so many fathers neglect their kids, but I should take the time to be a male role model to a single mother's son? Does it mean I can't just bemoan how parents don't care about their kids education, so the kids fail, but I should take the time to ask a kid how school is going, volunteer to do tutoring, and take them out for ice cream when they get a good report card? Please give me more examples in your comments, my insightful readers. What do we complain about and do nothing about when it comes to the welfare of our neighbors?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Chattering in the blogosphere...

Everybody in my little world decided to read the Shack last month, and Richey and Austin devoted some blog space to it. I'm going to withhold comment because I haven't gotten past the foreword yet. And if I end up never getting around to reading it, I'll just label them liberal, new-age heretics for reading such an evil book, and then I'll feel self-righteous and pious instead of just feeling like a slow reader who can't keep up with the pace of others more intelligent than I.

But I thought chapter two of Richey's book was pretty hard-hitting. It really reminded me of James 5:1-6, with its condemnation of living in luxury while the righteous suffer. Richey's scene also makes us recognize that some of our supposed cultural superiority may well be propped up by peace and prosperity, so that if these crutches were taken away many who shake their heads at atrocities now would quickly sink to the same level of savagery. The amount of wealth and free time that we have been given by the socio-economic forces of history is amazing, and provides a tremendous opportunity. If we squander it on selfish pleasures and neglect compassion, these seemingly small and harmless sins condemn us. Thanks, Matt, for creative and thought-provoking content.

Now how about certainty of salvation? I really appreciated Richey's emphasis on God as the source of salvation. Faith and the gospel are the means he has established, and they bring us to God, the one "who is coming to be glorified in his saints, and marveled at among all who have believed" (1 Thess 1:10). I'd agree that we can have a warranted confidence, but probably won't be without doubt and certainly won't have empirical certainty. This doesn't mean we ought to question with every wrong action whether we have just failed to persevere. But it does mean that we ought to expect believers to show in the sum of their lives enduring fruits of regeneration. When someone starts down that path, then falls away, as it seems occurred with Bob Dylan in Richey's case study, what was the cause? Did God give them grace to express the fruit of the Spirit for a time, then withdraw it? Were they working out of the strength of their flesh and only appeared to have genuine fruits of godliness? Hmmm...

Friday, January 9, 2009

Disturbing the Peace

Whoa, I just realized that it's been awhile since I posted - probably long enough that 50 Cent could've produced two or three albums in the same amount of time.
I really liked reading Plantinga's Not the Way It's Supposed to Be for Dr. Jacobson's class. (Am I allowed to say that I enjoyed a book on sin?) There were a couple concepts in there that I wanted to bring up for more discussion. So here goes the first...
When Plantinga talks about the characteristics of sin, he devotes a section to talking about sin as actions that disturb "Shalom," that is, activities that disrupt the way God intends for things to work. If all people were to follow God's prescription for society, then the Hebrew concept of shalom would be realized, and people would live together in peace, security and well-being. However, when we defy God’s pattern for life, we disrupt shalom. Harm to others and society is characteristic of sin. Murder, slander, adultery, and stealing are clear examples of how this works, because their destructive effects on others are easily seen. These sins are against other people, because it harms them with its immediate, secondary and tertiary effects, and it is against God because it defies his instructions for life’s patterns. God created things the way they’re supposed to be; sin wrecked and continues to wreck things so that they’re not the way they’re supposed to be.

As we answer the questions of the segments of our culture who are very concerned with healing the world and want to know whether Christianity has anything to offer in this regard, I think this is an important concept to point out. Sinful actions cause suffering, injustice, oppression, emotional and physical pain – we could even argue environmental pollution, if we view short-sighted material gain as the cause. (Debatable, I know.) While we may not see how all commands/prohibitions fit into this paradigm, there is a general pattern that the things the Bible tells us to do usually improve the conditions in our sphere of influence, while the things the Bible tells us not to do tend to make conditions worse.

This generalizing causes me to think that this principle could be a good guide in matters of conscience. If something is not expressly spoken of in Scripture and I have to make a decision whether or not to do it, it is wise to ask the question “How will this affect shalom in my world? Will it add to or disturb the peace and well-being of those around me?”

With this concept in mind, we can see clearly that speaking truthfully about sin and exhorting people to stop sinning is an important and effective way of changing the world for the better. Although evangelicals take much criticism for their intolerance and close mindedness because of the sins they condemn, the reality is that pointing out the destructive power of sin is the first and most critical step towards building a better world. Sin disrupts shalom. Winking at sin means winking at the source of society’s problems.