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Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Gospel and Microsoft Security Essentials

We are content owners of a Dell laptop running Vista. It was a free hand-me-down from my mother, who upgraded to a new laptop running 7. In fact I am typing on the Vista machine right now. We are enthusiastic iMac owners, but we don't sniff at free. But I had to protect this machine from the villains of the world wide web. I don't really worry about the wild web with my Mac, but with this Vista machine, I need to focus on defense. In fact, I had a dream this morning about getting a computer virus that took over our computer. I felt powerless and subject to the whims of someone who only wanted to use me. I didn't like that feeling.

Back in reality, when I received this machine, I got rid of the paid security software and downloaded the free one from the maker of the software, Microsoft's Security Essentials. It and the software check for updates regularly and keep it protected from my enemies. The regular happy operation of this machine is dependent on those regular updates.

My machine's updates and my bad dream this morning got me thinking about Jesus and me. Jesus wrote my operating system. He created me. He also knows how to keep me running. But there are several competing, yet inferior, programs that, for a price, claim to do a better job than the creator at keeping us at our optimum ability and protected from those things that would slow us down, use us against our wishes, or even crash us. They might do a pretty good job, or not deliver at all. But you know how people are. Once they make a large investment in something, they rarely ever admit their mistake and tend to find it hard to believe that any other choice won't be another mistake. But the Gospel is so different from every other religious/spiritual product out there. It costs the end user, us, nothing. The creator bore the full cost of product development. He worked on it to his death, but rose back to life to prove his product really works.

Ultimately, there is no other product that can do something about the end of our life except the Gospel. Only the good news of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins for an abundant and eternal life arrives complete. There are no beta versions or 2.0 updates. The manual was finished 2000 years ago. Reading the manual is important. Getting daily updates, via prayer, is important. I read this during breakfast, Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?--unless indeed you fail to meet the test! 2 Corinthians 13:5.

Malware creeps into our lives constantly. The good news of the grace of God, is what we need to be delivered from all that junk. No other product can deliver. No other product has been proven by resurrection from the dead. The best part of the resurrection is that we may die as windows machines, but we'll be raised up completely different, like Macs! Paul says this present body is corruptible, but we will be raised incorruptible, like my Mac. I'll let Paul have the last word, from 1 Corinthians 15, in King Jamesy English.

35But someone will say, "How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?"36Foolish one, what you sow is not made alive unless it dies.37And what you sow, you do not sow that body that shall be, but mere grain--perhaps wheat or some other grain.38But God gives it a body as He pleases, and to each seed its own body.39All flesh is not the same flesh, but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of animals, another of fish, and another of birds.40There are also celestial bodies and terrestrial bodies; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another.41There is one glory of the sun, another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differs from another star in glory.42So also is the resurrection of the dead. The body is sown in corruption, it is raised in incorruption.43It is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised in power.44It is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body.45And so it is written, "The first man Adam became a living being." The last Adam became a life-giving spirit.46However, the spiritual is not first, but the natural, and afterward the spiritual.47The first man was of the earth, made of dust; the second Man is the Lord from heaven.48As was the man of dust, so also are those who are made of dust; and as is the heavenly Man, so also are those who are heavenly.49And as we have borne the image of the man of dust, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly Man.50Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.51Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed--52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.53For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.54So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."55"O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?"56The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.57But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
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Monday, May 10, 2010

slave, son, friend

"Don't get your car repaired there." Those words carry different weights depending on who utters them. If a stranger tells me this, I might file that away in my memory. If my co-worker tells you this, I might heed it. If my good friend tells me this, I'll trust him. If my brother tells me this, I wouldn't doubt him. If my dad tells me this, I'd want more details. If my boss tells me this, I'd respectfully nod.

Sometimes, when temptation comes my way, I hear the Holy Spirit instruct me. Sometimes I receive it as a slave, and act resentfully, whether I obey or not. Sometimes I receive it as a son, and ask God why and spend a great deal of time whining. But I forget that Jesus calls me his friend, John 15:15. My friend and old college roommate, Geoff, still gets me to do things I would otherwise not consider or try. But if Geoff wants me to try something with him, I usually will give him the benefit of the doubt and join him. I think my choices might be simpler if I understood God in the more complete way that he gives, not just Lord (Master) or Father, but also as Friend.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Why turn the other cheek?

I don't consider myself a pacifist, but I do believe Jesus is sincere when he tells us to turn the other cheek. In Matthew 5:39, during the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says, "But I say, do not resist an evil person! If someone slaps you on the right cheek, offer the other cheek also." In Luke 6:29, during the Sermon on the Plain Jesus says, "If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer the other cheek also. If someone demands your coat, offer your shirt also." These are hard sayings. Are they even realistic?

Bonhoeffer contends that the point of non-resistance is to exhaust evil. Love prevails over evil because of its endurance. I think he is somewhat correct, but I think there is more to this. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we bear his resemblance in our lives. His example inspires us. But what was his example? When subjected to evil men, he received their beatings. When he was arrested in the garden and Peter pulled out his little sword to protect Jesus from the temple guard Jesus told him to cool his jets and stated he had his own ability to defend himself. He said, "Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly?" Matthew 26:53. Jesus was not demonstrating weakness by non-resistance, but faith, confidence in the plan of his Father. In the same way, we also are called to turn the other cheek.

But Jesus resisted evil. He did not participate in racism. He spoke with the Gentiles and the Samaritans. He also performed miracles among them. He did not participate in sexism. He treated every human he encountered with the dignity they were endowed by their creator, himself. He also resisted violently the exploitation of others, witness his thrashing of the greedy vultures in the temple, Matthew 21:12. But he didn't defend himself. If he didn't, why should I? Not only did he not defend himself, he turned the other cheek. That takes supernatural strength. I pray the Lord gives me such strength when I'm faced with the choice to retaliate. I want to resemble my savior and hope that kindness will bring repentance Romans 2:4 and Matthew 9:13.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

violent messengers

I wish I could say this happens infrequently in my house, but I can't, and if I did, I would be lying. Nevertheless, I will confess the imperfection of my household. On occasion, when I send one child to deliver a message to a sibling, they feel that the authority of the message deputizes them and gives them latitude to be enforcers of the message. I did not give the messenger such authority, but they assumed the mantle of my authority. This often leads to escalating wills and rising noise levels and even pushing, shoving and hitting. Yet, I only wanted a message delivered, with the hope that obedience would follow. I consider it my job to determine what the level of consequence will be if my message is disregarded. The self-deputized might only take it upon himself to give me a report on the disobedience. They never deem it important to tell me when someone does obey me.

As I've been reading Bonhoeffer's Discipleship, I can see why many consider him a pacifist. He writes like a pacifist in this book, though he didn't live like one. He partook in the conspiracy to assassinate Hitler. Certainly, he did many things right, and I appreciate Chuck Colson's commendation of those things in response to Metaxas's biography this week. However, I disagree strongly with Metaxas who, in a recent interview, thought Bonhoeffer was justified in conspiring to kill Hitler. Would the church be viewed differently if it had conspired to kill Nero? Did God want Daniel to assassinate Nebuchadnezzar? Both political leaders killed God's people with abandon. But God's people have historically let God deal with political leaders based on Paul's teaching in Romans 13 and Jesus' interaction with Rome, "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto God what is God's." Mark 12:17, as well as his submission to the injustice of Rome in permitting his execution, "like a sheep to the slaughter," Isaiah 53:7. In his book Discipleship, Bonhoeffer argues that turning the other cheek will exhaust the evil. Yet he wouldn't with Hitler. I think I understand how he could deny the words he read in the Bible with the decisions he made from the argument in Discipleship. He consistently leaves an escape hatch in every command, that if God wills otherwise, then no matter what, he must do what God wills him.

I think he is wrong in this argument, at least in it's unrefined state. I don't think God will contradict himself. I don't think God would tell us to submit to authorities, whom Paul tells us God appointed. Since I believe God is consistent, I can never join league or sympathize with any assassination attempts. This is not only for the sake of the victim, someone made in God's image, but for the sake of my Christian family around the world. If we are known as those likely to assassinate leaders we feel threatened by, then what would restrain those leaders from persecuting all of us, including those of us in already difficult countries, such as North Korea, India and Pakistan?

Likewise, how can theology like Bonhoeffer's be restrained? There are believers in my end of the spectrum who have viewed every president since Ronald Reagan as the antichrist who will lead the world against Christ's kingdom. In the Metaxas endorsed theology of Bonhoeffer, how can a believer who is convinced Obama is evil be dissuaded from conspiring to assassinate?

We have been given a message from heaven. We are ambassadors of Christ. But we are not deputized to take any violent action against those who do not heed the warnings we share. We have good news to bring. Death can be conquered. Sin can be forgiven. Peace has been made with God. We have the voiceless to speak for. We have the orphans to care for. We need to proclaim the gospel. We need to point to Jesus and his letter to the world, his word, the Bible. But we must leave judgment to God. Several assassination attempts against Hitler failed. Stalin answered to no one. Neither did Mao. But they all answered to God, as has Reagan, as will Obama, as will I, as we all will.

Bonhoeffer's execution was just. Hitler was evil, he was depraved, he was wrong, but plotting his murder was also wrong. Pre-meditated murder is always wrong. Bonhoeffer was a messenger who turned to violence and suffered the consequences. Just like my children, just as any child of God will. We take his name in vain when we behave as deputized messengers. We are mail carriers, not enforcers. God will accomplish what he wants without our muscle.
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Friday, May 07, 2010

sin and the transcendent

I took my youngest daughter out for a frozen custard from Rita's Ice this week. It was a renewed effort on my part to offer each child "daddy time," which I have done on and off for years. In the past, it used to be as simple as building something together. Nowadays, I take them out. I asked my little girl, who is now 10 about her future and about the daily Bible reading we've been doing. She proceeded to stump me with a Bible question. We are reading through the Old Testament together and we finished Isaiah last month. She wanted to know what Isaiah meant that all our good deeds are filthy rags, Isaiah 64:6. I never thought about it before. I just accepted it. So I took a swing. I told her that none of our deeds are done with purely unselfish motivations. We can't get ourselves out of any choice we make. Selfishness corrupts every action we make. She shrugged at my answer. Thanks for trying, dad.

I've been thinking about self-denial today. Many religions advocate some degree of it. Even Christ calls his followers to deny themselves, Matt. 16:24, Mark 8:34, Luke 9:23. Indulgence is an attempt at transcendence. And Jesus says it's a dead end. But denial itself is also a dead end. Because all other transcendence is temporal. Only Jesus offers a way to transcend death. Jesus requires a self-denial and a following of him. Only he has the way to a life after the grave. He demonstrated this in his own resurrection.

I was thinking about the 10 commandments and transcendence. God insists on a correct understanding of his priority and unity. Idolatry is an attempt to transcend with an improper form of God a, b, c, d, e, f. Misusing God's name is misrepresenting him. Sabbath skipping is denying God room to provide a, b, c, d, e, which misrepresents Him. Dishonoring our parents dishonors God, our ultimate parent. Murder, adultery, theft, perjury, lust, are all quick and dirty methods of indulgence to transcend our difficulties. Most religions cover the same ground for the last 5 or 6. But denying ourselves those things without Christ, bring a transcendence that won't cross over after death to eternal life. They help us get along with each other in the neighborhood, civilizing us, but it only takes one sociopath, who does not care if the rest of us believe in the rules, to destroy the community. If one of those behaviors is murder, then where is one who dies without Christ? Hell, a place Jesus describes as filled with darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth, Luke 13:28. Asceticism alone cannot transcend death. Indulgence now does not make the suffering of hell later any better. Sociopaths arise in any milieu religious or non-religious. But only Jesus provides hope.

Eating frozen custard with my youngest daughter and trying to answer her hard questions was an indulgence for me. I hope it was for her as well. I told her, only the righteousness of Jesus is good enough for God. That's why everything else is like a dirty rag.
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Monday, May 03, 2010

Grace at work in the Lord's Prayer

As I've been re-learning about the grace of God, yesterday and Friday, I'm more alert to those occasions when God's grace jumps out at me, like this morning while I walked the dog. Like every morning, I pray through Jesus's prayer from Matthew 6. I blogged through this prayer, link summary here, three years ago. But this morning, I was stopped in my tracks by the end of the prayer, after we ask for God to forgive us as we forgive others. After we repent, Jesus tells us to ask our heavenly Father to lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the evil one, Matt. 6:13. This prayer I have prayed for years says simply and profoundly what I'm relearning. Repent and ask for deliverance. The prayer is not, repent and try harder, but repent and ask Dad to protect us from the things that entangle us and the enemies who try to destroy us. I agree with the band Skillet, that sometimes the evil one is myself. They have a great song on their latest CD called Monster, video, lyrics follow.

The secret side of me, I never let you see
I keep it caged but I can't control it
So stay away from me, the beast is ugly
I feel the rage and I just can't hold it

It's scratching on the walls, in the closet, in the halls
It comes awake and I can't control it
Hiding under the bed, in my body, in my head
Why won't somebody come and save me from this, make it end?

I feel it deep within, it's just beneath the skin
I must confess that I feel like a monster
I hate what I've become, the nightmare's just begun
I must confess that I feel like a monster

I, I feel like a monster
I, I feel like a monster

My secret side I keep hid under lock and key
I keep it caged but I can't control it
'Cause if I let him out he'll tear me up, break me down
Why won't somebody come and save me from this, make it end?

I feel it deep within, it's just beneath the skin
I must confess that I feel like a monster
I hate what I've become, the nightmare's just begun
I must confess that I feel like a monster

I feel it deep within, it's just beneath the skin
I must confess that I feel like a monster
I, I feel like a monster
I, I feel like a monster

It's hiding in the dark, it's teeth are razor sharp
There's no escape for me, it wants my soul, it wants my heart
No one can hear me scream, maybe it's just a dream
Maybe it's inside of me, stop this monster

I feel it deep within, it's just beneath the skin
I must confess that I feel like a monster
I hate what I've become, the nightmare's just begun
I must confess that I feel like a monster

I feel it deep within, it's just beneath the skin
I must confess that I feel like a monster
I've gotta lose control, he something radical
I must confess that I feel like a monster

I, I feel like a monster
I, I feel like a monster
I, I feel like a monster
I, I feel like a monster
I'm not denying the reality of Satan, who "prowls about like a roaring lion seeking who he may devour", 1 Peter 5:8. The big deal for me this morning is realizing that Jesus models for us a prayer saturated with grace. He instructs us to say we are sorry and ask for help with all these things that get us into trouble. What a good God! What a perfect Dad!

Sunday, May 02, 2010

a Christian model for correction

2:1 So I made up my own mind not to pay you another painful visit. 2:2 For if I make you sad, who would be left to make me glad but the one I caused to be sad? 2:3 And I wrote this very thing to you, so that when I came I would not have sadness from those who ought to make me rejoice, since I am confident in you all that my joy would be yours. 2:4 For out of great distress and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears, not to make you sad, but to let you know the love that I have especially for you.
2 Corinthians

As I read Paul's 2nd letter to the church in Corinth this morning, I was taken aback by his compassion for this church that needed so much correction. It stands in sharp contrast to so much Christian bickering on the internet, including what I have contributed. But then, I am a legalist, see previous post, and legalists aren't known for their compassion. Literally, compassion means "to suffer with." I think Paul exemplifies this in his letter. He speaks forcefully in this letter, as in all his letter, but it's a letter of love. As a younger parent, I couldn't understand why my kids beastly behavior would provoke such strong reactions from me. A wise friend told me that the depth of my involvement, my love for them, makes my heart so vulnerable to their choices. Believe me, I speak forcefully and loudly to them, when they bicker and hurt each other. Paul writes like a parent. When they drift it breaks his heart like a wandering adolescent breaks a parent's heart.

I want to speak compassionately, with grace, on the internet. That last part might be the hardest.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Learning about Grace

I confess, I am legalistic. It's one of my favorite sins. It's not my favorite in that I'm unashamed of it, it's my favorite in that it's one of my "go to" sins. Rules are not squishy. They are hard and inflexible. They don't change. Perhaps that's why I like the rules, it's my favorite way to deal with change. However, the idol of legalism is cold. Living with it is like trying to snuggle an teddy bear made of polished marble. I can't put my head down on it and rest. There is no comfort in the rules. The rules also do nothing in helping me overcome those things that I'm doing wrong continually. Two recent posts on the blogs on grace revealed my legalism and then gave me hope.

The first post came a couple weeks ago from Jon Acuff, who writes about grace all the time, even though he claims to be making humorous observations about Stuff Christians Like. I will quote the end of it, then my reaction to it.

“Logic can beat sin.”

I wish that were true. I wish that in the battle of sin vs. logic or sin vs. rational action, sin always lost. That would make life so much easier. When faced with a dilemma, you could just pull out some algorithm and avoid sin altogether. “Should I gossip about my friend? That might get back to her and really hurt her feelings. Logically, I should avoid the drama that would come with that. I won’t gossip.” Or, “Should I cheat on my wife? The minutes of pleasure are certainly not going to be worth the possible years of hurt that causes. The value of cheating is far less than the value of growing my marriage over the long run, I’m not going to cheat.”

But life doesn’t work that way, does it? Men across the planet know their wives will be hurt by alcoholism. Dads around the world know ignoring their kids through workaholism is wounding them. People everywhere know that buying things they can’t afford with money they don’t have isn’t the smartest financial decision in the long run. But we still do it, don’t we?

Why? Because sin is bigger than logic.

I can’t think my way to a pure heart. I can’t logic my way toward sanctification. I can’t will myself to redemption. Sin is bigger and meaner and more powerful than everything in the world except one thing, grace. Only grace can beat sin. Only God’s love and power can defeat it. Porn or gossip or lying or anything else sin entices you with will crush you if you put your trust in your logic.

When we try to beat sin with logic, sin says “That’s adorable.” On the other hand, when we surrender, and admit like Paul that we keep doing the things we don’t want to do, grace has room to step in. And grace can win.

My response to this when I first read it was, "Logic can win too." God must have chuckled as I whispered that. I'm glad he is so kind to me though. A week before I read this blog post I was chatting with a friend who is a Christian psychologist. I told him how I would be a lousy pastor because I am not pastoral. In my hypothetical church office where people came for counseling, I predicted I would have 20 sessions in one day, because they would be no longer than 15 minutes. Tormented soul would walk in, tell me the sin which hinders them, and I would tell them, "Stop it." My friend found something positive in my confession and told me there is something redeemable in the Gestalt school, whatever that means.

But God kept pointing out to me that I wasn't able to convince myself to just stop it. He was letting me humiliate myself. Legalism is a cruel idol. It crushes. It suffocates. The more you try to appease it, the more it demands and the less it helps. It's like that plant in The Little Shop of Horrors. In the midst of this, comes a similar post, now that my heart is in pain and being squished. It's from the Exodus blog. It's written in the context of Christians who think the resistance to their sexual expression is impossible. But I find it applicable to any believer who despairs over their sinfulness.

To me, sin (homosexual, heterosexual, addictions, whatever) is like a 10,000 pound weight sitting in our living room with instructions that it must be moved out of the house. The sinner is thus given the notion that he or she must pick up that weight and move it. And, in my opinion, that’s exactly what so many of us try to do. We see the weight and know it must be moved and so we may spend years trying to pick it up and move it out. And naturally, when someone sees the weight still in our living room, they wonder that we haven’t moved it out and they call us to “repentance.” Even WE wonder why we haven’t been able to move it out yet.

The answer, of course, is that God never expects us to lift that 10,000 pound weight at all. He’s fully aware that we simply cannot lift 10,000 pounds. Not even an inch. He, in fact, designed us so that we can’t lift such a weight. So why then would He instruct us to move it out of the house? Of course, it’s so that we would simply turn to Him and acknowledge how utterly powerless we are to move it. We simply can’t. And at the point we fully grasp that fact, God Himself deals with the weight. We really don’t have to lift a finger. In fact, all our own efforts to lift it are counterproductive in that they just reinforce our own inability.

The blog post even has a picture of a living room bulit around a very large boulder.
It's not like this is new information for me. But I forget. I drift away from grace. I don't know why. I think I should just stop it. Oh, wait, I can't. I need God to save me from my sin. What was begun in the Spirit, can't be finished in the flesh, Galatians 3:3. And if I can't finish it in my flesh, I don't know why I expect that from my brothers and sisters.

Paul writes, For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8, 9.

I have nothing to boast in, except my savior, Jesus Christ.
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