Minor Thoughts from me to you

Archives for Christian Living (page 1 / 1)

Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson

Christ, the Church, and Pat Robertson →

It is past time for Christians around the U.S. to make it abundantly clear that Pat Robertson is not one of us and does not speak for us.

When my wife and I married, we were very consciously thinking of these types of scenarios when we promised fidelity "in sickness and in health".

This week on his television show Christian broadcaster Pat Robertson said a man would be morally justified to divorce his wife with Alzheimer’s disease in order to marry another woman. The dementia-riddled wife is, Robertson said, “not there” anymore. This is more than an embarrassment. This is more than cruelty. This is a repudiation of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

...

Sadly, many of our neighbors assume that when they hear the parade of cartoon characters we allow to speak for us, that they are hearing the gospel. They assume that when they see the giggling evangelist on the television screen, that they see Jesus. They assume that when they see the stadium political rallies to “take back America for Christ,” that they see Jesus. But Jesus isn’t there.

Jesus tells us he is present in the weak, the vulnerable, the useless. He is there in the least of these (Matt. 25:31-46). Somewhere out there right now, a man is wiping the drool from an 85 year-old woman who flinches because she think he’s a stranger. No television cameras are around. No politicians are seeking a meeting with them.

My Haul from Amazon’s “Big Deal” eBook Sale

Amazon is running a Big Deal sale on Kindle books. It includes about 970 books and ends today.

Like most sales, there is quite a lot of dreck in there. But I waded through it all and I did manage to find a few good bargains.

Not a bad haul for $21.00.

Can I Thank God for That?

Can I Thank God for That? →

Kevin DeYoung posits an interesting question and a different way of thinking about Biblical “grey areas”.

I’ve learned over the years that the simplest way to judge gray areas in the Christian life like movies, television, and music is to ask one simple question: can I thank God for this? (We are to give thanks in all circumstances, right? )Not too long ago my wife and I went to the movie theater to watch one of the summer blockbusters. It was a fun PG-13 movie, and you’d probably say it didn’t really have any bad parts. But it was very sensual and suggestive in several places. I got done with the movie (yes, I watched the whole thing) and thought, “Can I really thank God for this?” Now, I’m not a total kill-joy. I like to laugh and enjoy life. I can thank God for the Chicago Bears, Hot N’ Readys, and Brian Regan. But I wonder if after most of our entertainment we could sincerely get down on our knees and say, “Thank you God for this good gift.” Something to think about.

This entry was tagged. Christian Living

Re: Is Joe Wasting His Life?

Adam is right, of course. The crucial question about whether or not I'm wasting my life -- about whether or not anyone is wasting his life -- is "what exactly [is] a good Christian supposed to do with his or her new life in Christ?" I posed the original question (am I wasting my life) as a result of reading and listening to John Piper. Adam answered the question from his own perspective, I'll start by answering it from Pastor John's perspective.

Pastor John has written a short pamphlet entitled, appropriately enough, "Don't Waste Your Life". His intro to the book provides a succinct answer to the question:

God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work, not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.

Later in the second chapter, he expands on that a bit more:

God created me--and you--to live with a single, all-embracing, all-transforming passion--namely, a passion to glorify God by enjoying and displaying his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. Enjoying and displaying are both crucial. If we try to display the excellence of God without joy in it, we will display a shell of hypocrisy and create scorn or legalism. But if we claim to enjoy his excellence and do not display it for others to see and admire, we deceive ourselves, because the mark of God-enthralled joy is to overflow and expand by extending itself into the hearts of others. The wasted life is the life without a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples.

The book itself attempts to answer the question "What does this mean I should do?" He says:

It has become clearer that God being glorified and God being enjoyed are not separate categories. They relate to each other not like fruit and animals, but like fruit and apples. Apples are one kind of fruit. Enjoying God supremely is one way to glorify him. Enjoying God makes him look supremely valuable.

And, later:

Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me" (Luke 9:23). Daily Christian living is daily Christian dying. The dying I have in mind is the dying of comfort and security and reputation and health and family and friends and wealth and homeland. These may be taken from us at any time in the path of Christ-exalting obedience. To die daily the way Paul did, and to take up our cross daily the way Jesus commanded, is to embrace this life of loss for Christ's sake and count it gain. In other words, the way we honor Christ in death is to treasure Jesus above the gift of life, and the way we honor Christ in life is to treasure Jesus above life's gifts.

... But what I know even more surely is that the greatest joy in God comes from giving his gifts away, not in hoarding them for ourselves. It is good to work and have. It is better to work and have in order to give. God's glory shines more brightly when he satisfies us in times of loss than when he provides for us in times of plenty. The health, wealth, and prosperity "gospel" swallows up the beauty of Christ in the beauty of his gifts and turns the gifts into idols. The world is not impressed when Christians get rich and say thanks to God. They are impressed when God is so satisfying that we give our riches away for Christ's sake and count it gain.

This was part of what gave rise to my original question. By this definition, am I wasting my life? I'm rich. Historically speaking (as we've previously discussed, Adam) I'm ridiculously, fabulously wealthy. I can listen to almost anything I want -- spoken or musical -- at any time. I can watch nearly any form of any entertainment at any time. I have access to thousands of books within days or minutes. Most of the world's knowledge is at my fingertips, thanks to the Internet.

I'm pretty well-off by American standards as well. Our household owns 3 computers, 2 iPods, 2 completely paid off cars, 18% of a house, lots of nice clothes, and plenty of food. We can eat out nearly anytime we want to, we can and do fly around the U.S., we rent nice cars and stay in nice hotels on vacation. I have a beautiful, helpful wife who loves me. We have two beautiful daughters. All four of us are in perfect health. In short, I'm doing pretty well at doing as Voltaire's Candide said: "', i.e. enjoy your work, wife, and life - in short, function as you were made to function - and leave the rest up to God."

But, so what? Is that really all there is? Just be thankful that I'm one of the lucky ones and enjoy my wealth? Most days, I'm very tempted to say "yes". God gave it to me, why should I complain about it? But other days I wonder -- am I wasting His gifts? Am I wasting my life?

If, tomorrow, everything were to disappear in a Job-like orgy of destruction, how would I react? Would I praise God and say "Naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord" (Job 1:21)? Put differently, is God the most important thing in my life or are my things the most important thing in my life?

My original post also referenced the Rwandan genocide. Many Rwandan Christians reacted as violently and savagely as non-Christians when everything was stripped away from them. I'd like to think I wouldn't do the same thing in the same situation. I'd like to think that my reaction would show that God is the most important thing in my life -- even more important than my family.

God willing, I'll never have to go through that situation and I'll never have to find out the hard way. But it's something I think about as I examine my own priorities and how I react to my stuff.

Now, you also mentioned Luther's solution of passive righteousness to the dilemma of how to improve yourself -- how to become more like God and less like a sinner. And, Luther is right. The two opposite extremes are excessive pride in your accomplishments and excessive despair at your failures.

Personally, I've found Tim Keller to be a big help in understanding how this works. I'll quote from his book The Reason for God. He says:

Religion operates on the principle "I obey--therefore I am accepted by God." But the operating principle of the gospel is "I am accepted by God through what Christ has done--therefore I obey." Two people living their lives on the basis of these two different principles may sit next to each other in the church pew. They both pray, give money generously, and are loyal and faithful to their family and church, trying to live decent lives. However, they do so out of radically different motivations in two radically different spiritual identities, and the result is two radically different kinds of lives.

The primary difference is that of motivation. In religion, we try to obey the divine standards out of fear. We believe that if we don't obey we are going to lose God's blessing in this world and the next. In the gospel, the motivation is one of gratitude for the blessing we have already received because of Christ. While the moralist is forced into obedience, motivated by fear of rejection, a Christian rushes into obedience, motivated by a desire to please and resemble the one who gave his life for us.

I've long lived my life with a constant fear of failure. I'm afraid to try new things because I'm afraid of the consequences of failing at them. That's carried over into my Christian life. I've been afraid to do things for God because I've been afraid of lousing them up and making a bigger mess. Keller (along with C.J. Mahaney and John Piper) has taught me that I can't possibly be any worse than I am. I don't have to worry about God's unhappiness if I fail to live up to his standards and I don't have to bend myself into a pretzel trying to be perfect. Jesus already paid for every single one of my rebellions and moral failures.

I am free to live out my life without endless agonizing over every decision. I'm free to go out and "just do it". I don't have to figure out how to be perfect before doing "it". Whatever I decide I want "it" to be. In a way, I feel like my options are opening up for the first time ever.

Will I do it? Will I step out and do something for God? Will I prove that God is more important than my stuff? Or will I still refuse to take risks, because I don't want to endanger my stuff? Will I use my life profitably or will I waste it?

Is Joe Wasting His Life?

joe

"Something I’ve been thinking lately," our dear webmaster Joe has recently written. "Am I different as a Christian than I would be if I wasn’t a Christian? Am I just wasting my life?"

Then he linked to a rap video appearing to strenously urge its viewers not to knock over convenience stores. DON'T WASTE YOUR LIFE, it demanded at its end via big white letters.

It probably goes without saying (but here it is anyway) that I've been worrying for Joe ever since. I had no idea he was knocking over convenience stores. And what's worse, I still don't know what's driven him to it. Does he need the money for crack?

Here's the worst of it: Separated as we are by just under 900 miles of amber waves of grain and purple mountains' majesty, I'm practically powerless to help the guy - except perhaps to wire him a little green, and wouldn't that just be enabling? My budget says yes, yes it would be, which means all I have left are my words.

And here they are, Joe - and on a public blog, no less, because the best antidote for darkness is the bright beam of posterity.

Joe, your dilemma highlights another problem with modern-day Christian theology: that is, what exactly a good Christian is supposed to do with his or her new life in Christ. Many (even most) Christians will of course scoff at the idea that this is any sort of quandary at all. "What does the Bible say?" they might respond. But my opinion stands that 'tis truly a tad tricky.

Here's why: the Christian New Testament of the Bible is an extremely apocalypse-focused collection of texts. Many scholars in fact agree that early followers of Jesus expected the end of the world to occur within their lifetimes or shortly thereafter, possibly because Jesus told them so (Matthew 24:34 - and no, He's not referring to the Transfiguration). Thus the overriding directive for Christians was to go forth and create new Christians, occupying yourself with as little else as possible - indeed, relinquishing the gift of marriage unless you just couldn't resist your sexual urges, and living as if you weren't married if you were.*

(*And as an aside, boy has that advice from our dear apostle Paul resulted in headaches for young Christians since; many are the Bible-believing boys and girls who have had to struggle with the idea that they're settling for serving their beloved God less by exchanging vows. Would that Paul had never written the stupid part - if he actually did. Anyway:)

If you desire to compare your accomplishments to that original standard, Joe, simply ask yourself how many people you've recruited for the Christ, and deduct points for all the time you've spent married when you could've been SAVING SOMEONE FROM ETERNAL TORMENT IN THE SNAKE PITS OF HELL.

Ahem.

There are other yardsticks available with which to measure your faithfulness, though, since as you are probably aware we are now well past those early, heady days, and we must now take note that God's Holy Church has been caught somewhat flat-footed by just how big a procrastinator its saviour has turned out to be. Pastors and priests usually explain our unexpectedly long wait for Jesus' second coming as an act of mercy on the part of the Lord; they say He is pushing back the final hour to allow more chances for salvation. Knowing that God's love is infinite and that He has now shown the sinners of this world so much love that they have waited well over a thousand years longer for His return than they waited for His arrival in the first place (the first references to a messiah at best occur in the Book of Isaiah, written in the 700's B.C.), the Church and we members of it should probably figure out how we're supposed to pass the time.

We will toss Paul's suggestions into the recycle bin, then (because Lord knows, someone will dredge them up again), and consider other Biblical advice. The Teacher of the Book of Ecclesiastes has some, though readers disagree as to precisely what that advice is; Christians and Talmud-lovers suggest Qohelet pushes for his readers to keep their treasure in Heaven, as Jesus would say, while people who actually read the book understand him to be basically proferring the same advice as Voltaire's Candide: "tend your garden", i.e. enjoy your work, wife, and life - in short, function as you were made to function - and leave the rest up to God.

I find it an attractive suggestion, Joe. What say you?

I should warn you, modern Christian thought rather rejects the Qohelet Theory. Rather, the view of today's mainline Protestant congregations is that your lifespan here 'pon Earth is a self-improvement project. You are meant over the course of your days to be slowly but surely perfected, to morph from a vile, despicable convenience store robber into a poor copy of Jesus Christ. The climax to this evolutionary narrative is your death, whereupon you are to complete your transformation (no matter what your spiritual state at the time of your deceasing) into a glorious new creature.

This option is also attractive, actually, but in my experience deceptively so; self-improvement is hard, stressful work if you take it seriously. Martin Luther addressed the difficulties in a treatise on Galatians. To paraphrase him, if you try to become a good man and think you are succeeding, you are a deluded egomaniac - and if you try to become a good man and fail, you will beat yourself up about it, since Mankind cannot be good enough.

Unfortunately, Luther's solution for this problem - "passive-righteousness" - is one of those ideas that sounds great on paper because it makes use of theology, but doesn't make any sense when you actually try to apply it. He claims that we must simply cease to struggle to be good (presumably "active-righteousness") and allow the Holy Spirit to do the work for us.

One only has to ask, "What does this mean I should do?" to realize it's hogwash. By and large, good things happen when we do them; nothing happens when nobody moves. Mankind's effort is clearly involved, So it clearly doesn't pass the real-world test (and is also horrifically debilitating) to declare nobody can be "good" via their own devices. Yes, you can argue that the results will never equal the amazing goodness of an omnipotent, omniscient person, the every action of whom is the standard by which Goodness is judged even if we don't understand how it could possibly be good at all - but what in the world kind of standard is that? A standard which you cannot reach, as I've learned since meeting my mother-in-law, is really no standard at all (and on the opposite side of the coin, any standard which you will reach no matter what is not exactly worth striving for either).

I would therefore say that the modern Christian concept of Life's purpose is usable, but the theology that accompanies it is not. Clearer some people are better than others and you should strive to be one of them. By all means, consider the question of whether you are a better person than you were five years ago and rate yourself appropriately, if you like.

But I'm personally still not quite crazy about it. To quote one of Franklin Deleanor Roosevelt's cabinet members (I forget which), "In the long run, we are all dead." Self-improvement is not a value in and of itself; taken alone, it is but vanity. Reward for self-improvement is only found in its context. Does being a better man, for instance, result in your being a better husband and father, thus benefiting the people you love? Is that a goal of yours? If yes, it is good.

I'd argue instead for a result-focused lifestyle (and yes, "self-improvement" can be a result - but as I said, it's of no real use as the ultimate one), in which we strive to create the reality we desire.

Note that I am not suggesting a result-oriented life; there is a difference. A man who sets out to be a good husband and father has a chance of dying satisfied only if he keeps proper perspective about how much control he has over such matters.

We have actually come full-circle, since a result-focused lifestyle is exactly what the apostle Paul was suggesting nearly two thousand years ago, the important difference being of course that he had already taken the liberty of choosing the result on which to focus. When I first met my fiance, I was surprised to find her very skeptical about that focus; unlike me, she'd never thought of the commission as binding upon her. Nowadays I agree, if only because so many of my ideas about Christianity are currently in flux that I don't feel I have enough answers to share with others.

But I digress! Let me know which of these options you choose, Joe, or if you'll be selecting another. In the meantime, remember to adequately scope out your targets before you strike, and pay your taxes on whatever your take is.