Discipleship in the “Age of Authenticity” | TGC

 

This is a very important article, in my opinion.

You should read it, maybe twice, if you want to gain some perspective about what is really happening in our culture. It is beyond left and right. And it is likely that you are aware of this as a problem existing in other people rather than yourself.

Personal expression as a moral virtue has become an unquestionable absolute. It is driving the bus. To suggest that it might not be a virtue is blasphemy. It rages against any other idea or obligation- historical, political, biological, familial, or religious. While it promises fulfillment it will leave a trail of broken promises that are an opportunity to speak about a better way.

 

Source: Discipleship in the “Age of Authenticity” | TGC

All Our Good Guys are also Bad Guys: Steve Jobs

Last night my wife and I watched the documentary  Steve Jobs-The Man in the Machine. It is now available on Netflix, and I think it is worth your time.

The film is a depiction of his life that includes his darker side, which was largely lost in the hero worship of the wider culture. It is full of original footage and lots of interviews with people close to him.

This essay reflects on some of the themes in the film. While I don’t agree with all that the author says (who ever does?), the big picture is spot on. All of our good guys are also bad guys. One point that comes across so well is that Steve Jobs was celebrated and promoted even though he was such a bad person. Those around him, and the broader culture was willing to accept so much evil because he gave people what they wanted. When and why we turn a blind eye to evil may be one of the most revealing tests of character there is.

That is a sobering reality.

Here is the conclusion of the essay:

“Jobs did not need to be cruel, but he chose to be; we did not need to reward him with our dollars, but we chose to. Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine shows us, because we desperately need to be reminded, that all our good guys are bad guys. Lest the viewers judge too harshly, though, the film’s implicit concluding argument is, essentially, that we are allbad guys—not just Steve Jobs, but also Steve Wozniak, Bob Belleville, you, and me—because we tolerate and even admire such outward cruelty. The screen of an iPhone dims after 30 seconds, but, thank God, grace shines the light of forgiveness when we are alone in the darkness we allow and the darkness we create.”

Only in the grace of God do we find the hero and leader that instead of exploiting us, lays down his life for us.

 

Some Unexpected, And Brutally Honest Marriage Advice from Tolkien.

I stumbled on this blog post and had to share it. I am not a Roman Catholic, but I agree with most of this article.  Our culture is awash in selfishness. It is so deep that it has been camouflaged as “love.” We have attempted to twist the virtue of love into “loving yourself,” which is actually the opposite of love. The very nature of love is to put others before ourselves.

Concerning the article, I think I would temper some of what he says regarding self denial and monogamy with “the rest of the story.”  The honest truth is that self denial is necessary because of our fallen nature. The idea that men are “not monogamous” is true because we are fallen, discontent, and unfaithful creatures. It is true in the same way that men are not peace loving by nature.  Only when we operate in grace and practice self denial we will find the truest expression of ourselves.

Tolkien’s perspective reminds me of the premise behind Tim Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage.  I would highly recommend the book and use it for premarital counseling.

The excerpt below comes from a letter that JRR Tolkien wrote his son:

“THERE IS NO ESCAPE”

“Men are not [monogamous]. No good pretending. Men just ain’t, not by their animal nature. Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of ‘revealed ethic, according to faith and not the flesh. The essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called “self-realization” (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering. Faithfulness in Christian marriages entails that: great mortification.

For a Christian man there is no escape. Marriage may help to sanctify and direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains. It will not satisfy him—as hunger may be kept off by regular meals. It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state as it provides easements.

No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial. Too few are told that—even those brought up in ‘the Church’. Those outside seem seldom to have heard it.

When the glamour wears off, or merely works a bit thin, they think that they have made a mistake, and that the real soul-mate is still to find. The real soul-mate too often proves to be the next sexually attractive person that comes along. Someone whom they might indeed very profitably have married, if only—. Hence divorce, to provide the ‘if only’.

And of course they are as a rule quite right: they did make a mistake. Only a very wise man at the end of his life could make a sound judgement concerning whom, amongst the total possible chances, he ought most profitably have married! Nearly all marriages, even happy ones, are mistakes: in the sense that almost certainly (in a more perfect world, or even with a little more care in this very imperfect one) both partners might have found more suitable mates. But the ‘real soul-mate’ is the one you are actually married to. In this fallen world, we have as our only guides, prudence, wisdom (rare in youth, too late in age), a clean heart, and fidelity of will…(Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, pp. 51-52).”

Source: Tolkien Speaks: The Secret to a Happy Marriage | The Catholic Gentleman

A Secular Defense of REAL Faith

 

Beware – I would say to believers – the patronage of unbelievers

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This author rails against the notion that because faith has social benefits, believers shouldn’t worry about the truth of what they believe. While I disagree on many points, I appreciate his candor. He warns us against unbelievers speaking glibly about the social benefits of religion without addressing the truth of the claims. And even though this may feel good, believers should beware of it as well. Useful lies are still lies. And truth is truth even if it doesn’t appear victorious in the moment.

“One of the reasons we can be pretty sure Jesus actually existed is that if He had not, the Church would never have invented Him. He stands so passionately, resolutely and inconveniently against everything an established church stands for. Continuity? Tradition? Christ had nothing to do with stability. He came to break up families, to smash routines, to cast aside the human superstructures, to teach abandonment of earthly concerns and a throwing of ourselves upon God’s mercy.”

And again

“As I get older the sharpness of my faculties begins to dull. But what I will not do is sink into a mellow blur of acceptance of the things I railed against in my youth. ‘Familiar’ be damned. ‘Comforting’ be damned. ‘Useful’ be damned. Is it true? — that is the question. It was the question when I was 12 and the question when I was 22. Forty years later it is still the question. It is the only question.”

 

Source: Beware – I would say to believers – the patronage of unbelievers | The Spectator

That Annoying Rattle- What A Snare Drum Can Illustrate About The Heart

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This is the bottom of a snare drum. Notice the beads stretched across the bottom drum head. 

I have two teenage sons that are both involved in high school percussion. They are in the marching band and play with several other ensembles at school and church. Prior to this high school music experience it would be safe to say that I was almost completely ignorant of the world of rhythm and percussion. I carefully maintained this state in spite of drumming on the steering wheel for most of my adult life. Anyway, I have learned a lot from their passion for drums. And I have learned that the world of rhythm is a delicate (yes “delicate”) blend of tones and instruments. Good drummers are serious about the smallest details.

One important instrument is the snare drum. The ones I have seen include a set of “snares”– very small beads strung across the bottom of the drum (see the picture above). When the drum is played the beads on the snare gently rattle against the surface of the drum adding a unique sound. This rattling is very sensitive to any action on the drum, even delicate strokes from a brush. Many snare drums have an off/on lever that can pull the snare away from the drumhead to keep it from rattling. The drum can still be played, but it makes a different sound. No rattling.  I hope you are impressed a little, and now slightly informed.

I mention this because a few nights ago I went to see one of my boys play in a concert where the snare drum featured prominently. This was unfortunate because it was NOT supposed to feature prominently. The high orchestra played first and then a visiting university symphony followed them. The music was beautiful, but because they were sharing the same space, some of the percussion instruments were left on the stage and moved to the side. As the university ensemble was playing, it was obvious that something wasn’t quite right. There was a strange noise overlaying the beautiful music. I am sure my face was wrinkled with irritation because there was something incongruent between the music I knew they were trying to play the sound I was hearing. Their group was larger and louder than the high school band. The increased volume caused a nearby, unused snare drum to vibrate. In response, the snares on the bottom of the drum began to rattle. It was NOT pleasant. After a while one of the band members walked over and switched the lever to the off position, silencing the annoyance.

This made me think of the conscience. Often this  effect is what happens inside our souls when we hear the truth of God. Human beings are unshakably moral creatures. And even relativists like to take the moral high ground when they insist it is wrong to judge them. God has reserved an ambassador within the soul, and when he speaks, our conscience rattles like that snare drum. This is especially true when we step over the line into the world of evil. It happens when we hear the truth spoken by friends or enemies, echoed in stories or songs, or read in the Bible. And often it happens during our own self-talk. We know how we ought to act, and that inner voice reminds us when we are in step or when we fall short.

Speaking of people that have never heard of the God of the Bible the Apostle Paul writes, “the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.” (Romans 2:15)  I say this so that you will recognize the sound the next time you hear it. This sound is actually desirable- it was put there by the composer. Don’t try to turn it off.

Photo used by permission CC3.0 OCDP

I wrote this post several years ago, but lost track of it. It was recently discovered and I am happy to share it with you here.

 

 

 

Peace or No Peace? Which Is It? — Free Grace Church

Here is a post I wrote on our Church blog at Freegracefresno.com

Jesus says “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51).

After discussing how sin reveals itself in social structures I discuss the way that Jesus calls us to stand against the current around us. But that is still expensive. How could anyone be joyfully willing to pay that price?

“Here is the good news. Every other group that demands your allegiance will take advantage of you. They will use you for their own ends. They will expect you to sacrifice yourself for the good of the group. But Jesus is different. Just before he says that he did not come to bring peace, he says this, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished?” (Luke 12:50). What is this baptism? It is referring to his death on the cross (Mark 10:38).  Every other group is a kind of vampire. They will use you for their own ends.  And if you fail them, they will disown you. But Jesus, the only one worthy of your complete devotion, laid down his life for yours.  And he had to do that because of your misplaced loyalties.   And it is this love and sacrifice that is the power that moves us. It allows us to suffer the loss of relationships, respect, and approval that comes from standing with Christ against the world.”

Source: Peace or No Peace? Which Is It? — Free Grace Church

You Need To Go To Church

You need to go to church. Sometimes people say ridiculous things about Jesus and Christianity. And here is something crazy: Christians can be the worst of all at this.

Here is one of the most ridiculous things I have heard believers say, “You don’t need to be a part of a church to be a Christian.” Some nuance is needed to pick this statement apart because there are some christians that are separated from the body of Christ. But when I have heard this statement the overall meaning is that we can do this on our own… that we don’t need to give or receive fellowship.  That we can live as amputated limbs without the rest of the body.  Well, below is one of my attempts to Biblically deconstruct this idea. Here are some notes and a link to a sermon I recently preached on this.  At the core of this message is the truth is that Christian community is tied to the work of Jesus on the cross and in our lives.  The need for fellowship and worship is much bigger than “being a good Christian.”

Hebrews 10:19-39 “Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

Community starts with understanding what Christ has done for us. This is true because sin has separated us from God and one another. And the most important work, the first work is to repair the breach that our sin has caused between us and our God.

Sin separates us from God, and God from us. And sin also separates us from one another. God’s righteousness has barred us from his presence. And because our consciences are defiled, being in the presence of God is no longer pleasurable. We now run from him rather than to him. The OT temple worship was a depiction of this situation. We are separated from God’s presence, but he has made a way for us to return and be cleansed.

The work of Jesus (especially v. 19-21), as described in this passage, shows us 4 things that are the foundation of Christian community.  We cannot separate the way we relate to God from the way we relate to other people.

1.     We are welcomed. We have bold access to God’s presence because of the sacrifice of Christ. His blood has cleansed us. We are no longer banished. This is not because we have become good enough or worked hard enough. This is purely because of his work on our behalf.

2.     We are clean. Our hearts have been sprinkled by his blood. We are washed and forgiven and our consciences can be at peace. What the Old Testament animal sacrifices could only depict, Jesus has accomplished. We no longer need to be controlled by guilt and shame.

3.     We are secure. A promise is only as good as the one who makes it, and we are safe and secure because he who promised is faithful.

4.     We are in process. Though we are forgiven and accepted completely, there is much work to be done in us, on us, and through us.  And this work is explained (in part) in this passage.  God is at work in us through other believers. We desperately need them to help and encourage us.

Continue reading You Need To Go To Church

God Loves Me & So Does My Dog, But It’s Different

God Loves Me,And So Does My Dog. But 2

I have a 1-year old chocolate colored poodle. She’s a great dog and she’s always happy to see me. Wait, that’s an understatement. She goes nuts when we come home.  She is so excited that often she wets herself.  We feed her, and pet her.  We take her for walks occasionally. We play with her and hang out together. And that’s enough, she thinks we are wonderful.  She jumps on the bed in the morning and licks my face to wake me up. She always wants to play. And even when we aren’t playing she just wants to be near me. She follows us around the house and lays at my feet.  And all her enthusiasm and love is great for my self-esteem.  And she does this even when we ignore her. Sometimes we have to lock her up in a crate for most of the day to keep her from destroying the house. But when we come home and let her out, it’s a celebration.

For some Christians, this is a close description of how they understand God’s love.  He is really excited about us, makes hardly any demands, and won’t mind if we lock him away in a crate when we have better things to do. They have attempted to tame God, and as a result his love is… Well… Just okay.  But it doesn’t match the love we see at Calvary where we see Christ pouring out his life for an unfaithful spouse.   The puppy-dog  kind of love doesn’t produce the (seemingly) irrational joy, worship, and sacrifice we see described in scripture.  It doesn’t buoy up the soul in the face of great sin and suffering.

I am slowly working my way through “Yawning At Tigers” by Drew Dyck. He writes about this phenomenon, and our tendency to domesticate God.  Writing about modern preachers, he says:

“Unfortunately, in our efforts to make the Bible interesting and relevant, we try to normalize God. We become experts at taking something lofty, so unfathomable and incomprehensible, and dragging it down to the lowest shelf. We fail to account for the fact that God is neither completely knowable nor remotely manageable”

Unfortunately, in our efforts to make the Bible interesting and relevant, we try to normalize God.

He says that we are often uncomfortable with the mysterious, and transcendent descriptions of God. They are too strange or even unpleasant to our American sensibilities, so we explain them away.  Again, he writes “Here’s the beautiful irony: making God strange actually enables us to know him more. Once we have marveled at his magnitude and mystery, we are able to achieve the deep intimacy that grows out of a true appreciation for who God is. Instead of treating him as an equal, we approach him with reverent awe. Only when we’ve been awestruck by his majesty can we be overwhelmed by his love.”

I love my dog, and enjoy the way she worships me. And that would be the best word to describe it!  But God’s love is different, it’s not about his infatuation with my greatness.  One of the reasons we are “yawning at tigers” is because we are not impressed with the love of God. And we are underwhelmed with his love because we don’t understand his holiness, majesty, and greatness. If we did, we would understand our own sin as well and see just how much it cost him to love us.  And that would make his love something to live for.

Monday Morning Haiku on Rest

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More amateur poetry offerings.  In the last year I have been writing more haiku. Today I am taking a day off and wrestling with the benefits and difficulties of rest when it is both needed and difficult. I am a workaholic and have been learning that rest is a form of both worship and repentance. It is a way to confess that I am not God,  and that it doesn’t all depend on me. It is also a way to express my trust that he will take care of “business” while I enjoy some time of restoration. Enjoy.

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