Hear, Obey, & Be Blessed

When you get a chance to do something that you know is obedient to God, how do you feel? When you approach a time that's set aside specifically for expressing gratitude to God, worshipping Him, are you resentful because it's intruding on or interfering with your time? Or are you thankful for the opportunity? Some of both?

The psalmist in Psalm 122 is overjoyed when he is told that the time has come to go to Jerusalem, the city built just for giving thanks to and worshipping God. What makes him so happy? Why is the thought of worship the trigger for that happiness?

In Ezra 6 we see both King Darius and Cyrus acknowledging that Jerusalem is where "the god of heaven" is to be worshipped. We don't know that they actually revered or worshipped the God who led Israel out of Egypt, but they did give up resources to support the effort of the Israelites' descendants' efforts to build the city where that God was meant to be worshipped.

In the last passage today (Luke 8:19-21), Jesus says, "My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it." Another way of putting this is that those who promptly and practically respond when they hear God speaking are closest to Jesus, are becoming more like Jesus, are blessed.

The challenge for us is to daily remember who God is, in all His beauty, power, and grace, which He generously and graciously offers to us every day. As we grow more deeply in the habit of remembering this, the more naturally we will feel the psalmist's joy when we hear an opportunity to worship and give thanks to God, obey God, and thus become a little more like Jesus.

Progressivism: Coercion over Competition

Progressives prefer coercion over competition. They believe better outcomes will be achieved by a stronger central government forcing everyone to do what that government says is "right" than by a wide variety of solutions being attempted by many different groups to see which ones are more effective.


Progressives generally do not prefer a strong central government because they are truly enamored of strength or strong man, per se. They prefer centralized solutions for society's  problems because they genuinely believe that is the best route to a solution to those problems.


Conservatives, on the other hand, do not believe that centralized strength is the most effective way to solve problems. Instead, they assume that solutions will not be obvious, even to well-educated experts. They believe that the shortest and most effective route to effective solutions for societies problems is competition among a large number of potential solutions.

Today is Training for Tomorrow

When the time for action comes, when you finally get the opportunity to serve God the way you've always wanted and dreamed, the way you have responded to past temptations will have set the pattern, created the inertia, for how you respond to temptations in this time of opportunity. If you have always given in to temptations that wasted your time, drew your focus into fantasy, and required you to hide those parts of your life from what you share with God, then when you finally have the chance to pour yourself into the work you're called to do, you will carry the inertia of those distractions, those time-wasters, those sins, into the opportunity. And instead of pouring a purified, intensely focused and trained self into the work, you will pour your polluted, distracted self into the work. Your contribution to the work will be less than it might have been; the work will, very likely, be less than it might have been.

Today is practice for tomorrow. What you do in the small trains you for what you do in the large. 

Politics

If I comment about politics, it is from the belief that, at its best, politics (which is the pursuit and management of positions of power) gives us a chance to connect or reconcile with other people, to coordinate my efforts with the efforts of others to work towards worthy goals. Politics ideally balances solidarity (standing with and in support of others) and subsidiarity (I don't leverage power to impose a solution to a problem at such a high level of organization and logistics that the dignity of those being helped is lost in the process). It is my intention that Christian/biblical concepts of human dignity guide my opinions on public policy. 

Limitations of the Physicalist Worldview

Assuming a physical-only universe, presented with a phenomenon that doesn't seem explainable from within that worldview, we downplay or otherwise explain away the aspects that don't fit in. The assumption is that *everything* has to be explained, everything has to have a physical cause and effect explanation.


The mature spiritual worldview instead expects that there will be phenomena that can't fit within the finite explanatory framework that we are within. Not frustrated by the requirement that everything has to fit within the arbitrarily bounded worldview we're capable of, we can play within the universe.  We know that further explanations may arise in time, but we're not less because we don't know everything.

Our Identity, Every Day

God tells us who we really are. He gives us our identity. The world has many ways of determining and shaping our identity. They assault us throughout the day, every day, telling us who they think we should be. And so, we need to be hearing that statement of affirmation and identity from God every single morning of every single day and throughout every day. We need to nail down that foundation of all we do and everything we are before we go out and have the world tell us other things, which are not true, about ourselves.

The Movement of Culture

I think about people who habitually listen to the radio. And they just keep listening to it, no matter what the lyrics say, no matter what direction culture moves in. And they themselves are changed by the movement of culture, the changing of the culture. And I want to ask them, is there a stopping point? Is there a static place where things will not change anymore? And of course, the answer is no. The culture will always be changing, because we are alive. But which direction will it be changing in? The current state of our culture and the direction it is moving in do not indicate that there is any appetite for moving in the direction of greater honor or dignity or deep meaning and purpose. Instead, there are always people who are trying to "push the envelope" and move in the direction of deeper transgression, deeper malpurpose, ever deeper commitments to being led around by one's desires. 

God Knows You

Your feelings are a broken, poor barometer

For who you are and who you've always been

 

The Creator of orgasm and laughter

Knows you better than anyone you've ever met

 

He bows down to serve you in every moment

Keeps every subatomic particle going

Holds out the world for you to savor

Present in every grief and each celebration

 

So you shouldn't be surprised that He knows you

Knows who you are, what you've done, where you've been

He was right there with you, allowed it to come to pass

He grieved when you turned away, rejoiced when you returned

But He enables it all to happen. He was never not there

Risking Reconciliation Among the "Deconciled"

The world, especially this culture in this era, calls us to creature comforts, to please ourselves and focus on maximizing our own pleasure. God, in contrast, does not give us His presence and power to retreat into pleasure seeking. It is woven into the definition of following Christ that we absolutely will be in situations of discomfort and difficulty. We absolutely will be placed in situations of brokenness and conflict, where the risk of betrayal is real.

It should be natural, is to be expected, that in a fallen world, our own congregation should be divided and conflicted. We live in a "deconciled" world, of which any congregation is a part. Living in Christ means building bridges, reconciliation, being in the chasms of division, in the deep valleys where relationships are dissolved and loneliness rules. God longs to bring life to those valleys, bring connection between the distant and divided. He has not chosen to build those bridges by His disruptive miracles alone. It is inherent to the nature of salvation that the saved, those who have been bridged and reconciled to God, would be the seeds of further bridging, further reconciliation. The work of reconciliation is not a happy hand-holding around a kumbaya campfire. It is more like going into the fires of disagreement and disconnection, bitterness and enmity, and letting God's miracles disrupting division somehow work through our broken, cracked pottery.

If you're a Christian, you can't avoid the stress and strain of being in the middle of conflict without denying the movement and call of God in this broken world.

Building Bridges and the Poor

I am fascinated with boundaries, with the point where something stops and another thing starts.  If you and I disagree on an issue, I want to try and go back to figure out exactly why.  We agree here and here and here, but right here is the point where we diverge—why?  Most of the time I think we can pin down the reason for the divergence, even though it’s often not obvious at first just why we disagree.  Many disagreements arise because of a disagreement about an underlying principle, not so much in the points above or below that point.  If I believed as you did at that crucial juncture, then I would agree with you about the final apparent disagreement, and vice versa.  I find there is value in determining that critical divergence point.  Usually it helps people stop seeing the one they disagree with as less than human.

For instance (as I hope to elaborate upon later), many people who care about the poor find satisfying political expression of that caring by voting for Democrats, progressives, liberals.  I’ve never voted for a Democrat.  Once a progressive knows this about me, if they don’t know anything else about me, they are liable to write me off as a shill for rich businessmen who cares nothing for the plight of the less-fortunate.  But I care a great deal about the poor, and hope my work in the world is some small contribution to benefiting them.  To many progressives, this makes no sense. In their minds, the only reasonable course of action to combat poverty is to join political progressives to shape society to make it more just for the less fortunate.  People who don’t do this can’t be very serious about combating poverty, they believe.

I hope that my writing here can help explain some of these conundrums, and dispel some caricatures.  Perhaps I might change a mind or two along the way, but I’m not holding my breath.  I’d be happy to build understanding, to create a few more human connections between different people and groups of people.

Reality is the Bridge

I want to speak and write the truth. I want to see how the reality of things can be a bridge between the imperfect way that one person sees things and the imperfect way that another person sees things. If we believe that each person has their own truth, then we are islands, irreconcilable, disconnected islands. The reality of the way things really are is the bridge between us. But if we believe that somehow the true nature of things is permanently and completely hidden from our comprehension, then we won't look for that bridge.

Harmony Among the Branches

When I try to think clearly about God, I start from assumptions similar to Thomas Oden. His systematic theology (originally in three volumes constructed on a trinitarian framework, but more recently combined into a single volume titled “Classic Christianity”) handles its sources in a pyramidal fashion.  It relies most heavily on, includes the most references to, Scripture itself.  Then it draws on the church fathers—less than it does Scripture, but more than succeeding generations.  So you will find fewer references to 20th century theologians than you will to the earliest centuries’ theological sources.

Another assumption of mine is that, because God loves all people and is always at work, we will find fingerprints of the Holy Spirit in all societies throughout history.  That doesn’t mean that all claims are true, or that all people are or will be saved (I don’t know that one—only God judges).  But (for example) one of my long-term goals is to evaluate the Tao Te Ching for evidence of the work of the Holy Spirit.  Because I also observe that, even among devoted Christians, different cultures and eras emphasize different aspects of biblical theology and worldviews, I expect to find that the work of the Holy Spirit in other cultures and eras will emphasize things we underemphasize or ignore completely.  I would hope that, by looking through the Tao Te Ching for resonances with Scripture and orthodox theology, I would see highlighted for me not ideas that are opposed to Christianity or a biblical worldview, but themes that I might otherwise skip over in our own theology.  I would hope that the Holy Spirit would take that work that He initiated in ancient Asian cultures and let it be planted and bloom in my own life and theology.

So, when I try to think and pray through an area of theological and/or spiritual inquiry, I expect that (for example):

  1. Eastern Orthodox sources will have different emphases and details from Roman Catholic and other orthodox theological streams.
  2. Sometimes one branch of Christianity will “get it right,” while all the others are off base on a particular point.  But I expect that to be the exception, and not the rule.  I expect that the Holy Spirit will guide us primarily via (among other ways) the agreement, or at least harmony, between the branches.

These expectations shape my interpretive filter.  Thus, where a partisan of one of the branches might be more likely to read another branch’s work and focus on or see mainly differences, I’m looking for the ways the different branches are in agreement.  For example, I try to respect the definitions intended by the users of various pertinent terms, but given those definitions, I’m looking for the ways their ideas might legitimately at least rest side by side, if not be wholly in agreement, with other branches’ ideas in that area of inquiry.

Building Bridges Between Black Boxes

We have all put together in our head the way we think the world works. If x goes into Process A, then y will come out of it. But if we all have a different understanding of how the black box of mystery that is Process A (that is, some slice of life) actually works, we will come to very different conclusions.

For example, if one person's life experiences and the explanation for the world that they received growing up said that guns are powerful but necessary tools that help keep safe the people we love, then it's natural for us to say that people at a mass shooting would be safer if a few responsible people with guns were there. 

But if you were raised only seeing guns in the movies, only as tools of violence and destruction, if you've never seen a need for one in your own direct experience, and no one has explained to you the legitimate uses for guns and how they can be a natural, even reassuring and comforting thing, then the idea that a chaotic scene of carnage would be limited or even stopped by private citizens with guns would seem ludicrous. You're likely instead to think that more guns would have only led to more chaos, more madness and death.

The difference I want to focus on between these two perspectives is not that one is necessarily more accurate about the world than the other, but that certain observations and concepts have been emphasized and explained more in one than the other, and vice versa. One perspective might be more accurate than the other about the world, but that's not my point here. Both people in the above example might feel totally justified in thinking their view was accurate about the world, but both people have a need to listen to the other, if for no other reason than to have a broader and more accurate understanding of what other people actually believe and why. That kind of understanding is of immense value in building bridges between people, building peace among a people, and maintaining a stable civilization.

Disappointment in Movements

I have seen repeatedly as I've grown older that movements arise around causes and goals whose core I agree with, but then the movement takes the sentiment a step or five further, into territory that, at the very least, I don't know enough about to know whether I agree with or not. It's this accretion of ideas, this complication of simple ideas, that I find frustrating. And, in the end, even though I might desperately want to support that core of agreement, I can't support the movement, either because I know I disagree with the accretions, or because I don't know, but have circumstantial evidence that I probably will.