Random Thoughts for the Weekend

paris

1.“The little satisfactions in daily life – a cup of tea, the swirling snow, Christmas lights on a dim afternoon, a bird singing at the end of summer – can be unavailing if they take place within a crown failure.”

As soon as I read the above sentence in Helprin’s book, I stopped and read it again and really could not move past those words until I read them aloud to my wife. I think we were listening to the Cello Suites played by Yo-Yo Ma. I could not get over that sentence. There were two reasons. First, I know that reality all to well. When I worked at the bank I struggled to enjoy even the simplest joys, for even those simple joys were colored by the specter of going to back to a job in which I was failing. Second, I now counsel this kind of person. It may not be a job. Could be a marriage. But that sense of failure colors everything in the dark hues of 4 am. It is wise to understand how fundamental our vocations and relationships are in God’s economy and our machinery.

2. There are no easy answers on how to do schooling in a pandemic. There are too many variables involved for easy answers. Part of the discussion is the effect all this will have on a child’s mental health. I have one very serious question about this – why do we assume school as it has been done as of late is good for a child’s mental health? Surely, we cannot assume this is true for every child. And what do you mean by “mental health” anyway? What of bullying and peer pressure and the consistent (epidemic?) rise of anxiety with school-age children being reported and studied before the pandemic?

For Christians, the way we understand mental health is radically different than the way unbelievers do. Or should be. They will look at mental health as conformity to a standard that excludes the person of Jesus. We cannot do that. Jesus is the standard of mental health by which we should guide all our vessels. So when the prognosticators tell you not being in school could damage your child’s mental health, raise your eyebrow a little bit and think about why they assume this. It is not a given.

3. I keep seeing people post something to the effect of “How come social media can remove a video on Hydroxychloroquine but can’t remove all the porn?” This sounds like a good question. But it’s not. It’s like asking, “Why are you able to eat an apple but not all Italian food?” An apple is one thing. Italian food describes dozens upon dozens of foods. A video about a drug is one video. Or maybe even twenty videos. But when you talk about pornography, you are talking about millions of pictures and videos. My guess is that much pornography is removed from social media on a regular basis and if there is one in particular that gets traction, that video gets removed quickly. I was not a fan of Facebook removing that video from a couple of weeks ago, but the above question is like comparing oranges and Cadillacs. It’s just not a good question.

4. When I see people protesting the police, which usually by force of logic requires a police presence, then complain about the behavior of the police at said protest, I get confused. I know police officers can often abuse their power. But this all reminds me of teenagers complaining to their parents about how they are being treated and then asking for the keys so they can go be with their friends and continue to complain about their parents. Maybe this is why the early Christians neither sided with Rome nor saw Rome’s actions as an obstacle. Maybe this is why they honored the Emperor and also called Jesus “Lord,” which got them imprisoned and killed. The picture of the first disciples’ interactions with the authorities looks almost nothing like ours. Ours is all about rights and privileges and done with anger, whereas theirs was all about Christ and even love of their enemy. And speaking of Christ, when a Roman official came to him for help, Jesus lovingly helped him and did not lecture him about the injustice he was a symbol of.

5. I know the prevailing wisdom is that when the world is talking about “X,” the church and its leaders should also talk about “X.” But I kind of wonder if wisdom would be found in talking about “Y” or maybe even “A” instead.

6. Last night we were with some friends and one of them pointed out that it seems as if we are all going to be voting against a candidate (or candidates) rather than voting for one. And even when we spout our slogans, even that is a sign of what we are against and not what we are for. It’s a perceptive realization and one we need to think long and hard about.

7. I think we underestimate the power of beauty to do good. I’m not talking about “pretty.” I’m talking about beauty that transcends the tastes and the fads of the day. What if just like we have medicine, which can heal by coursing through our bodies, what if all that is beautiful can course through our spirits and heal us in the unseen places. Beauty quieter than the falling of a leaf in October and louder than the marches of a thousand armies. I’m talking about Mascagni’s “Intermezzo” and the smile of a old man who refused to grow grumpy because there is glory everywhere the light shines and sometimes even in the dark if you have eyes to see.

8. Trust seems to be at premium these days.

9. I hope someone writes a book about all the small wonders we have rediscovered and begun to appreciate again during the pandemic: good books, libraries, a quiet evening, home-cooked meals, dinner as a family around the table, sunsets, summer dusks, hugs from friends, laughter with friends. I am sure you have your own.

10. Question Everything.

Be like the Bereans. Read your Bible like them and watch and read the news like them and listen to the experts like them. Listen to your friends and enemies like them. Question everything. Not as a jerk. But as one so committed to the truth you do not make snap judgments with easy answers. Don’t buy it just because the people on your side said it. Don’t discount it just because the people on the other side said it. Question everything.

Even this post.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

john

1. Moms, do you remember when almost every other post on Facebook was some novel variation on how to be a better mom? Do you remember how it destroyed all your confidence and joy? Do you remember how it often made you want to give up? Do you remember how debilitating it was and how it affected every part of your life because the guilt felt like an anvil on your soul?

That is what is happening with racism.

2. The gospel according to John is an inexhaustible mine of precious gems.

3. Not only is money deadly, the dream of money is too.

4. From now on, when I talk to men about going in to the ministry, I am going to ask them how comfortable they are at funerals and hospitals.

5. I am consistently amazed at the wisdom of Dallas Willard.

6. My prediction is we will see a mass exit from the church due to the pandemic. Those who were on the periphery or only attended because of programs and children’s events will fall away. They were not animated by a desire to follow Jesus so much as by tradition and convenience. They can get community at the ball field and the country club. Cultural Christianity may very soon be a thing of the past.

7. Obedience and joy are inextricably linked for the Christian.

8. I did the funeral of a friend I have known for over 40 years. That was a first and was bittersweet. Trying to comfort family and friends you have known that long is something very different. Beautiful but different.

9. The irony of fasting is how it not only helps you pray but causes feasting to be a help in prayer also.

10. The value of books and music outside of your current context is they give you perspective outside of your current social media feeds.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

screwtape-letters-by-izabela-wojcik1

1. Unlike our culture, Jesus does not define the members of his kingdom by their sins.

2. Just in case no one told you, change is possible. And I’m not talking about changing the world. I’m talking about changing from a life of fear and frustration, anxiety and anger…death, to a life of peace and joy. If that is not true, then Jesus, our King is a liar.

3. Having access to the internet makes it possible for you to find what you need to be critical of the people you already did not like.

4. What do you dream of? Do you dream of walking with God or just a better and newer version of the American dream without any troubles? Do you dream of walking with God now or only later as a sort of consolation prize after this life is done with? We should assume our dreams are forming us.

5. The Screwtape Letters is a uniquely brilliant piece of writing.

6. If you never read books and listen to music that is hundreds (or thousands) of years old, it will be hard for you to see how many of modernity’s assumptions you hold. But of course, because those books and pieces of music have stood the test of time, they can help us understand this cultural moment.

7. I had an old friend go on ahead of us a couple of days ago. I didn’t find out about it till last night. Hit me like a brick in the chest. We were the same age, though now she stands outside of such notions.

8. I can find no evidence of Paul’s anger at the Empire, even while he was in prison. He doesn’t ridicule them or complain or rail against them. It’s weird.

9. Maybe what we are seeing in our cultural moment is not the problem. Maybe we are now seeing on the outside what has always been the problem on the inside.

10. What is happening in the kingdom of God is never in the news. But it is the best news imaginable.

Nature and Grace in Malick, Dostoevsky, and Thomas à Kempis

tree of life

“The nuns taught us there are two ways through life, the way of Nature and the way of Grace. You have to choose which one you’ll follow.

Grace doesn’t try to please itself. Accepts being slighted, forgotten, disliked. Accepts insults and injuries.

Nature only wants to please itself. Get others to please it too. Likes to lord it over them. To have its own way. It finds reasons to be unhappy when all the world is shining around it. And love is smiling through all things.”

–– Terrence Malick, The Tree of Life

I thought about the above lines from Malick’s masterpiece, The Tree of Life, as I read through chapter 54 from book 3 of The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. Supposedly, this classic devotional work forms the philosophical underpinnings of the film. Chapter 54 is actually one of the longer chapters but it is worth quoting so you can read the whole thing.

It is titled, “The Different Motions of Nature and Grace.”

MY CHILD, pay careful attention to the movements of nature and of grace, for they move in very contrary and subtle ways, and can scarcely be distinguished by anyone except a man who is spiritual and inwardly enlightened. All men, indeed, desire what is good, and strive for what is good in their words and deeds. For this reason the appearance of good deceives many.

Nature is crafty and attracts many, ensnaring and deceiving them while ever seeking itself. But grace walks in simplicity, turns away from all appearance of evil, offers no deceits, and does all purely for God in whom she rests as her last end.

Nature is not willing to die, or to be kept down, or to be overcome. Nor will it subdue itself or be made subject. Grace, on the contrary, strives for mortification of self. She resists sensuality, seeks to be in subjection, longs to be conquered, has no wish to use her own liberty, loves to be held under discipline, and does not desire to rule over anyone, but wishes rather to live, to stand, and to be always under God for Whose sake she is willing to bow humbly to every human creature.

Nature works for its own interest and looks to the profit it can reap from another. Grace does not consider what is useful and advantageous to herself, but rather what is profitable to many. Nature likes to receive honor and reverence, but grace faithfully attributes all honor and glory to God. Nature fears shame and contempt, but grace is happy to suffer reproach for the name of Jesus. Nature loves ease and physical rest. Grace, however, cannot bear to be idle and embraces labor willingly. Nature seeks to possess what is rare and beautiful, abhorring things that are cheap and coarse. Grace, on the contrary, delights in simple, humble things, not despising those that are rough, nor refusing to be clothed in old garments.

Nature has regard for temporal wealth and rejoices in earthly gains. It is sad over a loss and irritated by a slight, injurious word. But grace looks to eternal things and does not cling to those which are temporal, being neither disturbed at loss nor angered by hard words, because she has placed her treasure and joy in heaven where nothing is lost.

Nature is covetous, and receives more willingly than it gives. It loves to have its own private possessions. Grace, however, is kind and openhearted. Grace shuns private interest, is contented with little, and judges it more blessed to give than to receive.

Nature is inclined toward creatures, toward its own flesh, toward vanities, and toward running about. But grace draws near to God and to virtue, renounces creatures, hates the desires of the flesh, restrains her wanderings and blushes at being seen in public.

Nature likes to have some external comfort in which it can take sensual delight, but grace seeks consolation only in God, to find her delight in the highest Good, above all visible things.

Nature does everything for its own gain and interest. It can do nothing without pay and hopes for its good deeds to receive their equal or better, or else praise and favor. It is very desirous of having its deeds and gifts highly regarded. Grace, however, seeks nothing temporal, nor does she ask any recompense but God alone. Of temporal necessities she asks no more than will serve to obtain eternity.

Nature rejoices in many friends and kinsfolk, glories in noble position and birth, fawns on the powerful, flatters the rich, and applauds those who are like itself. But grace loves even her enemies and is not puffed up at having many friends. She does not think highly of either position or birth unless there is also virtue there. She favors the poor in preference to the rich. She sympathizes with the innocent rather than with the powerful. She rejoices with the true man rather than with the deceitful, and is always exhorting the good to strive for better gifts, to become like the Son of God by practicing the virtues.

Nature is quick to complain of need and trouble; grace is stanch in suffering want. Nature turns all things back to self. It fights and argues for self. Grace brings all things back to God in Whom they have their source. To herself she ascribes no good, nor is she arrogant or presumptuous. She is not contentious. She does not prefer her own opinion to the opinion of others, but in every matter of sense and thought submits herself to eternal wisdom and the divine judgment.

Nature has a relish for knowing secrets and hearing news. It wishes to appear abroad and to have many sense experiences. It wishes to be known and to do things for which it will be praised and admired. But grace does not care to hear news or curious matters, because all this arises from the old corruption of man, since there is nothing new, nothing lasting on earth. Grace teaches, therefore, restraint of the senses, avoidance of vain self-satisfaction and show, the humble hiding of deeds worthy of praise and admiration, and the seeking in every thing and in every knowledge the fruit of usefulness, the praise and honor of God. She will not have herself or hers exalted, but desires that God Who bestows all simply out of love should be blessed in His gifts.

This grace is a supernatural light, a certain special gift of God, the proper mark of the elect and the pledge of everlasting salvation. It raises man up from earthly things to love the things of heaven. It makes a spiritual man of a carnal one. The more, then, nature is held in check and conquered, the more grace is given. Every day the interior man is reformed by new visitations according to the image of God.

This is stunning wisdom. Rare. Unique in it’s penetration of our innermost and outermost selves.

Feel free to go back and read it again…

I thought about three other writings as I read this and reflected on my own life and the lives of others I know. First, I thought of how much this sounds like 1 Corinthians 13 and Paul’s exquisite descriptions of love, which even the most hardened pagan would find themselves agreeing with. And it also reminded me of what I am memorizing in Romans 8 about walking in Spirit in opposition to walking in the flesh.

But then I thought about Prince Myshkin.

Prince Myshkin is the hero of Dostoevsky’s novel, The Idiot, which I am reading again. In this book he sought to portray the life of “a truly beautiful soul.” And he did this through the epileptic, Prince Myshkin. And he is beautiful in his innocence and generosity and how he loves freely, even those who deserve none of this love. Though I cannot find proof anywhere that The Imitation of Christ was an influence on his hero, I did find where Dostoevsky’s mother read Thomas à Kempis to the family at mealtimes. He knew the work from a young age.

What is interesting and why I find this worth writing about is how much the Tree of Life, The Idiot, and The Imitation of Christ make me want to be a new kind of person. The kind of person swallowed up in grace and and who resists nature…the kind of person who walks according to the Spirit and not according to the flesh.

Now go back and read that chapter from The Imitation of Christ again.

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

my-plans

1. What if God does not look at 2020 like we do and does not think it is a bad year but a year in which his purposes for his people are being furthered?

2. The problem with slogans is they are propaganda. They are meant to do something besides say what you believe. They are more marketing than anything else. And because they are terse, they can be used to mean many things by a variety of people. And that can cause confusion. And what do you think about the ones who will not use the slogan you think is needed? Will you assume the best of them? Also, slogans are usually for a moment or a movement and not for the long haul over a lifetime. We ought to be very cautious with them.

3. To not hold Jesus up as a picture of spiritual, emotional, and mental health would be irresponsible.

4. Most people yearn for the life of the first century church they see in the Scriptures until someone points out the first century Christians lived and taught as if the Empire was a non-issue in their mission.

5. It is possible you can have spiritual health without starting your day with the Scriptures and prayer and instead reading the news and social media first thing in the morning. But I don’t how.

6. If you want to love like Jesus loved when he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” I recommend starting with the cars that cut you off as you drive to and from work.

7. Anger at the Empire is almost entirely absent from the NT, except when we see how the disciples did not understand what Jesus was doing. It is possible the great majority of the American Church does not see what Jesus is doing, either.

8. You will have to dig for beauty in this world that prizes clever and cute and ugliness.

9. The primary political question of those who are citizens of the Kingdom of God is, “How do I love the King and other people?” This does not mean it is wrong to have any concern about the economy and the other concerns of earthly kingdoms. But those concerns are swallowed up in the love of God and neighbor. As soon as we look at the “other side” and scorn them and have no desire to love them, we have slid back into the operating according to the kingdoms of this world.

10. In setting up Redmond Christian Counseling, it is easy to think the important work is done by me and forget all the truly important work is done in places I cannot see.

 

Random Thoughts for the Weekend

franz

1. Most every action and statement prescribed by the culture-makers (believer and unbeliever) assumes the highest realities are the seen realities. Think of how different things would be if we all took Paul seriously when he told us to keep our eyes on what is unseen. Not only would it make us more kind, it would make us more patient, and gentle. And loving.

2. Be so enraptured with the kingdom of God that the toppling of the kingdoms of this world are as nothing.

3. Arguments on social media seem to lead to more extreme positions taken by each person and they rarely seem to lead to more moderation or understanding of the other person’s conviction. They only escalate. So if you started at level 3, the argument leaves you at level 6. The next day something else happens and now you are at level 7. That is until someone else argues with you, and now you are at a 9 or 10. Then you “cancel” that person or write them off as a bad person, irredeemable. Though just a few days earlier you would have been far more willing to engage them. Our convictions are not becoming more firm. Our anger is becoming inflamed.

4. There is a moment In A Hidden Life when Franz is in prison and he is being asked to say he will support the Nazi Regime. He is asked, “Don’t you want to be free?” And he responds with, “I am free already.”

5. The news is rarely new.

6. A “canceling” culture cannot separate you from the love of God in Christ.

7. In my theological world, there is not much good news. One group is trying to decide who is Reformed enough and the other is trying out woke everyone. Again, there is not much good news among them.

8. I have twice recently seen someone wearing a shirt with “Change the World” on it. One was a boy who was about 8 years old. The other was a middle-aged woman. What are the assumptions behind such a statement? Do we have a responsibility to approach the world this way? Where does such an idea come from? Is this a command and from whom?

9. They will not stop with toppling statues.

10. I can find no teaching in the NT calling the church to fight anything except their own personal temptations and unbelief. Not the empire. Not the culture around them. Not the Gentiles. Not the Jews. Modernity has blinded us to this reality. It has told us there is always a fight to fight outside of ourselves. Modernity has blinded us to the ever-present need to fight for confidence in the King and his Kingdom.

Random Thoughts for the Week Ahead

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1. Whatever you think about furnishes the “room” of your mind. So, if you watch a lot of the news, that will be what you think about. It will not only be the furniture in your head but will become what you find comfortable to think about. It’s where your mind will go when at rest. This is critical knowledge for those who want to follow Jesus.

2. “I want to develop discernments that say an unapologetic “no” to ways that violate the gospel of Jesus Christ.” – Eugene Peterson, The Jesus Way

3. The Apostle Paul seems to have seen every move by the state against him as an opportunity to display the glory of Christ.

4. You were not created to bear the emotional weight of daily tragedies throughout the whole of space and time. Social media and the news will try to convince you otherwise. But what if just as we are to focus on the present day’s troubles, we are also meant to focus on the troubles surrounding us? Sufficient are the griefs in our own sphere.

5. We live in a world dominated by entertainment. It was not always like this. Entertainment as we know it and experience it is new on the historical scene. This is why no one stops to think about its effects on us as individuals, families, and a culture. It is neither a right nor should we assume it is good. Even how we evaluate it needs to be thought through. To evaluate entertainment by assessing its entertainment value, assumes it ought to be done for that reason, to entertain. But that ignores God, wholly. Think about it, we are so accustomed to watching TV as a culture, the decision to watch something is made based on its quality. And that quality usually has no reference to God whatsoever.

6. Anxiety is addictive.

7. Silence is not violence. But the statement that says otherwise, by definition is.

8. Nothing in our culture is an aid to contentment. Everything leans into “more” and “better.” Outside of the Scriptures, I would have nothing to convince me of that need.

9. I love that Paul says in Romans 8 that setting our minds on the things of the Spirit is “life and peace.” It would be easy to rush past those words. But that’s important teaching.

10. What if God created us and the world in a such way that not worrying about tomorrow is the healthiest way to live: spiritually, biologically, physiologically, physically, emotionally, and financially?

“What’s Going On?” She Asked.

riot

Last night a friend of mine, in a text group, wondered out loud what was going on in response to the protests happening around the country and literally just down the road from us.

I responded with Paul’s words from Ephesians 6:

10 Finally, be strengthened by the Lord and by his vast strength. 11 Put on the full armor of God so that you can stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens. 13 For this reason take up the full armor of God, so that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and having prepared everything, to take your stand. 14 Stand, therefore, with truth like a belt around your waist, righteousness like armor on your chest, 15 and your feet sandaled with readiness for the gospel of peace.

And I made clear that no one really believes this anymore. That is an obvious exaggeration. But my point was that if you see the violence and destruction as necessary and excusable, we have lost the worldview of the New Testament. The liberal and the conservative both now see the kingdom of the heavens as an afterthought. There is no focus on the unseen. The highest realities are the seen realities in the modern world and the church is really no different.

But really a better answer to my friend would be this essay, “The Violence of Modernity” by Stephen Freeman. Some of you may get lost in some of the language and philosophy of the piece, but I think it would be fair to sum it up with the following quote:

“Changing the world,” under a variety of slogans, is the essence of the modern project. Modernity is not about how to live rightly in the world, but about how to make the world itself live rightly. The difference could hardly be greater.

In other words, Modernity asks “How do I change the world?” But that is not the right question. The answer to that question requires a violence and control foreign to the Kingdom of the Heavens.

The question we should be asking and answering is, “How do I live rightly in this world?”

A few more quotes:

Modernity has as its goal the creation of a better world with no particular reference to God – it is a secular concept. As such, that which constitutes “better” is, or can be, a shifting definition. In Soviet Russia it was one thing, in Nazi Germany another, in Consumer-Capitalist societies yet another still. Indeed, that which is “better” is often the subject of the political sphere. But there is no inherent content to the “better,” nor any inherent limits on the measures taken to achieve it. The pursuit of the better (“progress”) becomes its own morality.

The approach of classical Christianity does not oppose change (there is always change), nor does it deny that one thing might be better than another. But the “good” which gives every action its meaning is God Himself, as made known in Christ. In classical terms, this is expressed as “keeping the commandments.” Those commandments are summarized in the love of God and the love of neighbor. There are other elements within the commandments of Christ that minimize and restrict the use of violence.

There is, for example, no commandment to make the world a better place, nor even to make progress towards a better world. The “better world” concept is, historically, a heretical borrowing from Christianity, a secularization of the notion of the Kingdom of God, translated into terms of progressive technology and laws (violence). But, in truth, the management of history’s outcomes is idolatrous. Only God controls the outcome of history.

We now live in a time in which the call to love your enemies and the oppressed is seen as nonsensical. And the reason why is because we assume the mindset of modernity that requires rage and fear. The call to be angry and support other people’s rage is now ubiquitous (Romans 8:32). And if you question the right and righteousness of rage, you are obviously part of the problem.

Rage and the resultant violence are now a virtue.

And if you say nothing or do nothing, then you are doing nothing to change the awful world we live in. He addresses that too.

My experience is that questioning our responsibility for history’s outcome will always be met with anxious objections that we would be agreeing “to do nothing” and the results would be terrible. Keeping the commandments of Christ is not doing nothing. It is, however, the refusal to use violence to force the world into ever-changing imaginary versions of the good.

Think with me for a moment and ask yourself this question – “Have you so rationalized the world around you that prayer and obedience to Christ and his teachings now feels like doing nothing?”

Is that because of what you read in the Scriptures and see in the life of Jesus and his Apostles and their teaching? Or is it because you cannot put your phone down for long periods of time without picking it up to look at social media?

Hopefully you are truly asking yourself these questions and not just blowing them off, because blowing off such questions may just be the ember of the very violence we are talking about.

But after asking these questions, you can then ask, “How should I now live?” Freeman answers the question beautifully:

How should we live?

  • First, live as though in the coming of Jesus Christ, the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated into the world and the outcome of history has already been determined. (Quit worrying)
  • Second, love people as the very image of God and resist the temptation to improve them.
  • Third, refuse to make economics the basis of your life. Your job is not even of secondary importance.
  • Fourth, quit arguing about politics as though the political realm were the answer to the world’s problems. It gives it power that is not legitimate and enables a project that is anti-God.
  • Fifth, learn to love your enemies. God did not place them in the world for us to fix or eliminate. If possible, refrain from violence.
  • Sixth, raise the taking of human life to a matter of prime importance and refuse to accept violence as a means to peace. Every single life is a vast and irreplaceable treasure.
  • Seventh, cultivate contentment rather than pleasure. It will help you consume less and free you from slavery to your economic masters.
  • Eighth, as much as possible, think small. You are not in charge of the world. Love what is local, at hand, personal, intimate, unique, and natural. It’s a preference that matters.
  • Ninth, learn another language. Very few things are better at teaching you about who you are not.
  • Tenth, be thankful for everything, remembering that the world we live in and everything in it belongs to God.

I cannot recommend this essay too highly. If you find it hard to read, then dig into it. We live in a world that accepts simplistic clichés and bumper stickers slogans without blinking. This essay is worth the hard work.

U2, a Worldwide Pandemic, Streets on Fire, and a Need for Grace

bono

I try not to do any social media on Sundays if I can help it so I most likely will not see any comments till later tonight but I wanted to post this, well…post-haste.

We, as a family, were listening to U2 in the car because, well it’s a day that ends in “y” and we heard the following lyrics:

Sixteen of June, Chinese stocks are going up
And I’m coming down with some new Asian virus
JuJu man, JuJu man
Doc says you’re fine, or dying
Please
Nine-oh-nine, St. John Divine on the line, my pulse is fine
But I’m running down the road like loose electricity
While the band in my head plays a striptease
The roar that lies on the other side of silence
The forest fire that is fear so deny it
Walk out into the street
With your arms out
The people we meet
Will not be drowned out
There’s nothing you have that I need
I can breathe
Breathe now
We are people borne of sound
The songs are in our eyes
Gonna wear them like a crown
Walk out, into the sunburst street
Sing your heart out, sing my heart out
I’ve found grace inside a sound
I found grace, it’s all that I found
And I can breathe
Breathe now

Jesus and the Usual Gospels

willard

Normally on Saturday mornings I post some random thoughts. But as I prepare to teach a class on Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, I thought it would be better for you to hear from him.

It is almost impossible these days for people to “focus on what is unseen.” We are tethered to the news and various modes of entertainment. And these mediums of the seen spur intense emotional reactions. And we lead our lives with those emotions. And this is why we believe other gospels. Take your pick: conservative or liberal. There are many gospels for you to choose from.

There is another way.


 

Jesus offers himself as God’s doorway into the life that is truly life. Confidence in him leads us today, as in other times, to become his apprentices in eternal living. “Those who come through me will be safe,” he said. “They will go in and out and find all they need. I have come into their world that they may have life, and life to the limit.

But. intelligent, effectual entry into this life is currently obstructed by clouds of well-intentioned information. The “gospels that predominate where he is most frequently invoked speak only of preparing to die or else of correcting social practices and conditions. These are both, obviously, matters of great importance. Who would deny it? But neither one touches the quick of individual experience or taps the depths of reality of Christ. Our usual “gospels” are in their effects–dare we say it–nothing less than a standing invitation to omit God from the course of our daily existence.

Does Jesus only enable me to “make the cut” when I die? Or to know what to protest, or how to vote or agitate and organize? It is good to know that when I die all will be well, but is there any good news for life? If I had to choose, I would rather have a car that runs than good insurance on one that doesn’t. Can I not have both?

And what of social or political arrangements–however important in their own right–can guide and empower me to be the person I know I ought to be? Can anyone now seriously believe that if a people are only permitted or enabled to do what they want, they will then be happy or more disposed to do what is “right?”

Jaroslav Pelikan remarks that “Jesus of Nazareth has been the dominant figure in the history of Western culture for almost twenty centuries. If it were possible, with some sort of super magnet, to pull up out of that history every scrap of metal bearing at least a trace of his name, how much would be left?”

But just think how unlikely it would be that this great world-historical force, Jesus called “Christ,” could have left the depths of moment-to-moment human existence untouched while accomplishing what he has! More likely, we currently do not understand who he is and what he brings.

And what is it, really that explains the enduring relevance of Jesus to human life? Why has he mattered so much? Why does he matter now? Why does he appear on the front covers of news magazines two millennia later? Why, even, is his name invoked in cursing more than that of any other person who has lived on earth? Why do more people self-identify as Christians–by some estimates 33.6 percent of the world population–than any other world religion? How is that multitudes today credit him with their life and well-being?

I think we finally have to say that Jesus’ enduring relevance is based on his historically proven ability to speak to, to heal, and empower the individual human condition. He matters because of what he brought and what he still brings to ordinary human beings, living their ordinary human lives, and coping daily with their surroundings. He promises wholeness for their lives. In sharing our weakness he gives us strength and imparts through his companionship a life that has the quality of eternity.

He comes where we are, and he brings us the life we hunger for. An early report reads, “Life was in him, life that made sense of human existence” (John 1:4). To be the light of life, and to deliver God’s life to women and men where they are and as they are, is the secret of the enduring relevance of Jesus. Suddenly they are flying right-side up, in a world that makes sense.

The Divine Conspiracy, 12-13