Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Putting Words in the Mouth of God

My friend Stan Bohall raises a sobering point about the use of theophany in Christian literature - particularly as it relates to The Shack.

He begins with:

Since writing a recent blog about The Shack, I have read several reviews including one by Katherine Jeffrey in the January/February 2010 issue of Books&Culture titled "I Am Not Who You Think I Am." Here is a statement from the review that struck a chord with me: "Theophany is strictly circumscribed in Christian literary tradition." That means that, throughout Christian history, authors have not been allowed to include speeches by God in literary works. Jeffrey goes on to discuss a few minor exceptions to that rule in Medieval literature and to bring to light some egregious violations in recent films such as O, God!, Dogma and Evan Almighty.

You can read the rest here - go to October 14.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 12

In last Monday’s post, as I was reflecting on Michael Daily’s message on Romans 12, I pointed out that Michael views the admonition not to be overcome by evil, but to overcome evil with good¸ in the context of the Body of Christ. Until I listened to Michael’s message I saw verses 14 – 21 primarily leaning toward 13:1ff, in relation to a persecuting government and by extension the world. When listening to Michael’s message I saw that the context certainly does include the professing Church; and as I mentioned in last Monday’s post I now see 12:14 – 21 as looking both toward the Church and toward persecuting government and the world.

The more I thought about Michael’s message in the context of the Western church, the more I recognized that in contemporary Western experience, and certainly in North American experience, the primary point of obedience with respect to these verses is indeed vis-à-vis other Christians. Now I will also say that among many in the professing church the glaring problem is also among those engaged in the political arena – they can be most uncharitable and downright vitriolic toward those with whom they disagree – a distasteful witness before a watching world.

People fail to understand that we can be devoted to Biblical truth and be gracious and loving at the same time. I think we fail to understand that this is exactly what God looks like when He walks on this planet – the Word is made flesh, and the glory we behold, the glory of Jesus Christ, is Truth, and Love, and Mercy, and Holiness, without the least contradiction or the least tension – for those attributes, as well as many more, reside in the true and living God. There is no internal conflict in God with regard to mercy and truth, or love and justice, or graciousness and righteousness – I suppose this is a reminder that He is God and we ain’t.

Another Biblical passage we explain away quite often, and which Michael ties into Romans Chapter 12, is 1 Corinthians Chapter 13. That is the great “yeah but” chapter; for every attribute or manifestation of love that Paul writes about, most of us have a “yeah but” exception which justifies our thinking and behavior. Paul leads into 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 with the words, And I show you a still more excellent way – and we think to ourselves, “yeah but”. Of course that is the chapter that holds chapters 12 – 14 together, without which the Body of Christ cannot truly function…but we would rather say, “yeah but”.

We may talk about offering our bodies as living sacrifices and the renewal of the mind; but until we travel through the entire passage of Romans 12 and beyond, until loving our enemies is our nature – which indeed is the nature of Christ – until 1 Corinthians Chapter 13 permeates the fabric of our lives, until these things become our testimony before a watching world – I don’t think we know what we are talking about.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 11

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse…Never pay back evil for evil…Romans 12.

But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. Whoever hits you on the cheek, offer him the other also; and whoever takes away your coat, do not withhold your shirt from him either…but love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for He Himself is kind to ungrateful and evil men. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. Jesus Christ in Luke Chapter 6.

I don’t think we qualify any Biblical teaching to the extent that we qualify the teaching on loving and blessing our enemies. Even to the point of saying, “Well, so and so is not an enemy, we just differ politically, or in economic philosophy, or in terms of Biblical doctrine.” It seems we think that if we can establish that the opposition is not really an enemy that we can treat them however we please.

The other qualification is that, “Well, I’m not really attacking the person, I’m attacking his ideas, I’m attacking what he believes.” We think that relieves us of taking the teaching of Christ about loving and blessing our enemies seriously.

Perhaps if our rhetorical engagement with our opposition were clothed with blessing and love our protestations of qualification would carry a measure of truth. That is, “Show me your love and blessing toward your opposition and then I’ll listen to your rhetoric; then I’ll ponder what you have to say.”

We think and act as if neither Christ nor Paul lived in such circumstances as do we; as if they didn’t know political, or economic, or military, or religious opposition. We are fools – and I put myself at the front of the class. Those of our generation who are not fools – well, we tend to look at them as quaint curiosities at best, as embarrassments at worst.  

We pat ourselves on the back when we don’t retaliate. Yes, we are not to return evil for evil, that is the passive part of the commandment – loving and blessing are the active elements of our mandate.

This is such a core element of the nature of Christ, and yet I have seldom heard a word about it in church and seldom seen it played out in life.

We give lip service to not wrestling against flesh and blood when we use the same tactics as the opposition. Better yet, we engage in debates over elements that are transitory, that often have little or nothing to do with the souls of men. Could it be that displaying the nature of God to our generation is more important than winning earth-bound battles?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Romans Chapter 12 – Listening In On Michael Daily

My friend, Michael Daily, preached a message on Romans Chapter 12 worthy of consideration. A while back, while listening to Michael, I got to thinking about what I call “pastoral preaching”. Pastoral preaching is the shepherd speaking to his people, guiding them, loving them, correcting them, leading them to Christ and into His Kingdom. I don’t know any better example of pastoral preaching than Michael.

Michael points out that the term “sacrifice” carries with it the idea of being “smoked”. As one who cooks on a smoker that speaks to me – smoke permeates meat or fish; you can tell when something has been smoked. I wonder if folks can tell that we are living “smoked” sacrifices to Christ? Does Christ permeate our lives?

Michael brings out a great point in applying the “Bless those who persecute you” to life within the Body of Christ. Because of its proximity to the governmental passage beginning in Romans Chapter 13 I have tended to relate that command to those outside the Body of Christ, but Michael’s point is well taken and I now see 12:14 – 21 as a hinge that is connected to both those in the Church and those outside the Church. The fact is that most of our conflict is within the Church.

Note Michael’s explanation of “peace/shalom”. Do we really want that for others?

I heartily agree with his approach to 12:20 and I’ll no doubt quote him.

The image Michael uses of the Body of Christ as a people of kindness and blessing is one of those images we tend to explain away and qualify – and yet it is the image that Christ gives us of who we should be; John 13:34 – 35 and John 17:13 – 26.

And the conclusion to the message? Well – it’s worth listening to!!!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Shack or The Cross?

I have a friend reading The Shack who is looking for reviews. A while back I wrote a piece on The Shack and have posted it on my CompassDynamics website; however, I'm also putting it here just in case anyone is interested.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 10

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep. Be of the same mind toward one another; do not be haughty in mind, but associate with the lowly. Do not be wise in your own estimation. Never pay back evil for evil to anyone, Romans 12:14 – 17a.

Why doesn’t Paul go from Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse, to verse 19, Never take your own revenge…? Surely verses 15 and 16 are a digression; or are they? Surely they are out of place, a wandering of the mind of the great apostle? But perhaps not.

If my estimation of myself is critical to my response toward evil then verses 15 and 16 are not a digression. If I seek to preserve my life, if my life is the center of my universe, if all the planets revolve around me, then I will respond to evil defensively at best, aggressively at worst – and in either case I will lose, and in the worse case I will be transformed into the evil I seek to resist – or at least be fooled into acting out the evil that I resist.

Rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep is a reorientation of my universe; from a universe of self to a universe of one another. Verse 16 brings us back to verse 3; don’t think more highly of yourself than you should; do not be haughty in mind…don’t be wise in your own estimation. Once again, the renewing of the mind challenges us to have a realistic view of ourselves and a loving view of others.

If Betsy ten Boom had been self-centered her heart would not have ached over the souls of the concentration camp guards; if Solzhenitsyn had been an egotistic black hole pulling everything and everyone into himself he would not have known compassion toward his torturers in the Gulag. The egotistic self is the most vulnerable to evil, and it is that element within us which evil seeks out – if evil can evoke a response from the self then evil will propagate itself. It is the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life whose seed was sown in the hearts of our first parents, and they are what the Apostle John warns us against in his first letter. 

And so in the Body of Christ we are to have the same mind toward one another; as Paul expresses this elsewhere:

And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it, 1 Corinthians 12:26

Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others, Philippians 2:3 – 4.

Forgive my redundancy, but do we see that this is what it means to be transformed by the renewing of our minds? As long as my mind is a fortress of myself, as long as I relate life to me rather than to Christ and others, then I have yet to enter into incarnational renewal as envisioned in Romans Chapter 12. What are the words of Christ to those who would follow Him?

Let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me. Whoever seeks to save his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the Gospel’s, the same shall save it.

We mitigate the image of the cross when we make it anything other than an instrument of execution – the execution of me in order that I might live in Christ – Galatians 2:20.

Only a people thus oriented are a people who can bless those who persecute them.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 9

Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good, 12:9

Evil resurfaces in verses 17 – 21. Note the context of the word in verse 9; let love be without hypocrisy. Hypocrisy is evil. As much as I want to justify hypocrisy as having social or religious utility it is evil, and as such I am to abhor it. But do I abhor it? The truth is that I rationalize it. I am to cling to what is good, in this context what is good is seen in verse 10, Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor, or as an alternate rendering, outdo one another in showing honor.

The evil of hypocrisy is the antithesis of brotherly love; it is opposed to preferring others and it is dedicated to preserving the “self-centered self”. I wonder if we shall ever escape the invisible prison of hypocrisy?

I want to transition into the final movement of this chapter in Part 10, so let me close this by asking us to reflect on the incarnational organic Body of Christ as seen in verses  3 – 13. We ought to be hearing messages about “us” and not about “me”; we ought to be reading books about “us” and not about “me”. Our heart’s desire should be focused on one another as opposed to ourselves – this is how presenting our bodies as living sacrifices plays out in life, this is how our minds are renewed – they experience a Copernican revolution from “me” to “you”; from the “I” to the one another. After all, it is the fellowship of the Trinity to which we are called – and there is no selfishness to be found in that fellowship, and to be certain there is no hypocrisy. 

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 8

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor, 12: 9- 10.

Let love be without hypocrisy; could it be that this is the most difficult challenge in the Bible? Certainly it ranks somewhere near the top. If we understand that hypocrisy speaks of putting on a mask, of pretending to be something we aren’t, then who is not guilty of some measure of hypocrisy in some relationship?

What is required to have loving relationships devoid of hypocrisy? A commitment to Jesus Christ, a commitment to one another, the centrality of the Cross…and time…to name what first comes to my mind. What comes to your mind? What would you add to the list?

I would also add the scope of chapters 13 – 16 with their incarnational relational nature.

Hypocrisy is often a substitute for relationship; relationship with God and relationship with one another. Code words, jargon, behavior, routines can all be substitutes for relationship, short cuts for getting things done, timesavers so that we’re not slowed down by conversation, by listening, by getting to know one another.

I am not speaking of hypocrisy in the sense it is used in the Gospels of legalistic scribes and Pharisees; though that can be one element of this context – see Chapter 14 and the issues of eating, drinking, and holy days. No, I am not speaking of that overt hypocrisy, I am considering the subtle internal hypocrisies we are prone to engage it – the dance of hypocrisy that our society at large and our churches promote as religious and social conventions.

If my love is to be without hypocrisy then it requires me not only to know myself in the light of Christ; it also requires me to know my neighbor in the light of Christ, to be “other centered” rather than self-centered. And this, among other things, requires time, time that most of us are not willing to invest.

I have seen folks take Paul’s words about speaking the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15) and not understand what either true truth or love means – for if true truth is Christ then we should speak as Christ, and if love is Christ then our words should be clothed with His love – being “right” is not the issue. That verse has been used in more harsh ways than I care to imagine.

Consider Ephesians 4:25; Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.  We are to have relationships without hypocrisy, truthful relationships, because we are members of one another. This is part of our bodies being living sacrifices, this is part of the renewing of our minds. But do we see this as such? Do we see that it is essential to learn to live in honest and loving relationships in the City of God, the City of light? And make no mistake, for most of us this is a learning process, it is a journey. Is it a journey on which we are willing to embark?

We have made it acceptable to wear masks; so much so that it is considered unacceptable to remove our masks. We carry a wardrobe of masks for almost every conceivable situation – how shall we ever learn to love without  hypocrisy?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 7

…so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another, Romans 12:5

I suggest that this image of the Body of Christ, along with verses 9 and 10, form the basis for 13:8 – 15:13.

Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honor…12:9 – 10.

In 13:8 we read, Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another

In 13:10, Love does no wrong to a neighbor

In Chapter 14 Paul deals with the issues of eating and drinking, of regarding particular holy days, and of judging others. Consider 14:13, Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this – not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother’s way.

In 15:1-3, Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, and to his edification. For even Christ did not please Himself; but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me”.

15:5, Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus…

This way of living, this living in koinonia, is a significant element in the renewing of the mind. Hence, the renewing of the mind is not individualistic, it cannot be individualistic, it cannot occur in a vacuum – it occurs in relationship to others. It is in relationships that I learn not to think too highly of myself. It is in bearing the weaknesses of others that I learn not to think too highly of myself. (To truly bear the weaknesses of others requires some measure of identification with others and such identification will disabuse us of thinking too highly of ourselves.)

It is when I let go of my preferences that I learn to escape the gravitational pull of “self” and enter into the koinonia of the Body of Christ which is rooted in the Trinity. When it is more important to me not to put a stumbling block in front of my brother then perhaps I’ve embarked on the renewing of the mind.

I want to make an observation here about Paul’s emphasis on bearing with the weak. I don’t think there is much room for the weak in our churches. Whether they are weak in body, weak in learning, weak in doctrine, weak in faith, or weak economically; I don’t see much room for them. In some churches I don’t perceive any room.

I’ve heard pastors say in effect, “This church is not for everyone. This is our program and if you don’t feel you can get behind our program and support it then maybe this church isn’t for you.” And whether we say it or not, I think it is often true. Churches can be like Interstate highways, they are not for pedestrians – you will be run over, I guess we could call it road kill in the church.

In many churches there is little room for reflection, little room for working things out internally or relationally over time, little room for questions that require more than pat answers. If pastors and other leaders were winemakers most would be out of business for we seldom permit fermentation, we seldom let things age within our congregations. I write as one who has produced some hasty wine.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Reflections on Romans Chapter 12 – Part 6

For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith, Romans 12:3.

I’ve read in verse 2 that I need my mind renewed and I’m ready to get with the program. I drop my Bible and run to the bookstore returning with titles such as; The Power of Positive Thinking; Your Best Life Now; Be All You Can Be; God Saw The Best In Me; How To Enhance Your Self-Esteem. I am ready to go! Rocket fuel for me! I’m going to renew my mind!

Then my eyes drift to verse 3 in the Bible I dropped in my rush to the bookstore: …I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think…

I just wasted $105.00 at the bookstore. But I don’t get it. Verse 2 tells me to renew my mind and then verse 3 tells me not to think more highly of myself than I ought to – what gives? I thought self-esteem was what this was all about? Isn’t it about “Who I am in Jesus”?

While chapters 1 – 8 portray our justification, sanctification, and glorification; chapters 12 – 16 remind us that we are part of the Body of Christ and members one of another.

Can we imagine a pastor saying to his congregation, “Don’t think too much of yourself.” Oh yeah, that sure is going to build attendance. What’s the likelihood of seeing a book in your local Christian bookstore titled, “How not to think too much of yourself – the secret of using sound judgment when thinking about yourself”?

Paul begins unpacking what it means to present our bodies as living sacrifices and what it means to have renewed minds that are not conformed to the world by striking at the heart of the way the world thinks – the world and the individuals in the world think too much of themselves, they think too highly of themselves – and consequently not highly of God and not highly enough of others.

If two of the most important words in Paul’s writings are “in Christ”, close behind them are the words “one another”. In Christ we are members of one another. We are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another. As Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 12:12, “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.”

The renewal of the mind entails the way I think about myself and the way I think about others; and the way I think about others incorporates the understanding that we are members one of another. But do we actually think like this? Do I think like this? Do you think like this? Is this our default mode? Is this our nature? Do the actions of our bodies indicate that this is the way we think and that this is what we believe?

Much popular Christian teaching is focused on strengthening our opinions of ourselves; self-esteem on steroids. This is not the path of renewal in Christ. For one thing it really doesn’t matter what I think about myself; what matters is what Christ thinks about me. Secondly, as we learn to be His disciples and as we know the all sufficiency of the Cross of Christ and the Christ of the Cross – then we live lives with consciences that have been cleansed by Christ – and we also live lives that are under no illusion of the depth of our pride and vanity and capacity to sin outside of Christ. The more secure I am in Christ; the more He is able to reveal the depth of my pride and vanity.

Thirdly, the renewal of the mind means that I recognize that we all have a measure of faith that God has allotted. As verses 6ff teach, we are to be good stewards of the grace and gifts that God has given us – stewards in the context of members of the body of Christ.