Saturday, March 27, 2010

Balancing Acts

This past week I was given the opportunity to attend the Rock & Worship Roadshow at the Tacoma Dome. Here are some pics.

The most interesting part about the show was how much it clearly tried to emulate what a secular rock concert is like. As someone who seems quite a few shows of all sorts, I am comfortable admitting that they did a good job of it. Which may or may not have been a good thing; that's the rub.

My writing clearly places me in that liberal section of the theological idealists. I cling white-knuckled and often too tightly the mandate that we are to live in this world and still not be of it. So when it comes to finding a balance I appreciate the difficulty and the challenge.
"Sometimes I think the environment in which we operate is entirely too secular.  The fact that we have freedom of religion does not mean we need to try to have freedom from religion, doesn't mean that those of us who have faith shouldn't frankly admit that we are animated by faith, that we try to live by it, and that it does affect what we feel, what we think, and what we do."
-- former President Bill Clinton, 24 September 1994, Morning Edition
We should be striving to keep ourselves separate, but does that mean we can't dance? Can't sing? Not by my estimation. And frankly, the mixture and the environment at the show was really conducive to me for both and more. So I applaud the willingness to spice it up and bring a little rock to the worship.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The Magic Ten Percent

Yesterday I had a conversation with a friend about tithing. He was ruminating on the origins of the magic ten percent number.

As if often the case, I leveraged this into a larger discussion about how we shouldn't be tithing to a number from our cash, but simply living unconstrained by a desire for wealth.

This is one of those easy ideas to get backwards. For much of my life, I had it wrong too. In some ways, I'm sure I still do. But I'm working on it.

I used to be a person who had a lot. Money, homes, cars, family. You know. . .stuff. And I thought I'd earned all that stuff. That I'd worked and saved and accumulated these things and now I was the one to decide how and when to give it to God. Uh huh.

When I consider how utterly and completely backwards I had it, it both amazes and disgusts me. But even now I hear this often in discussion when it comes to meeting the magic ten percent. We forget so quickly that it is more than the money that God allows us to acquire. It is the skills and talents and time that he graciously extends to us from His bounty. We have nothing except by His grace.

My life these days is focused on service. Or at least as much as this old fool can manage. A servant heart was the blessing I received in being humbled. So now when some new resources comes into my life I seek out how I can use it for His service. I sponsor missions, donate my time where there are needs, and give to those doing His work when opportunity arises. I say this only to illustrate that even in a humbled place, we all can find something to give. By worldly measures I am a shadow of my former self, but even so I find a way to give.

The best part of this giving? No matter how much I give for Him, there is always enough to meet my needs as well. Sure life is different when you are constrained in what you spend or constrained in how you spend your time. But somehow He always makes it work out. There is always enough to help those around me, always enough to meet my needs. It's that funny math that only He can do.
And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.
-- Philippians 4:19
More than just having my needs met, my heart is lifted as well. I don't walk in fear of not having enough because I know He will provide. My walk is without temptation because I'm not driven to accumulate. All my skills are still in use as a wise investor and I do my best to be a good manager of the resources and time He allows me. Knowing that everything I have, my every breath, my every cent, my every thought comes from Him and means nothing if not for His service, only brings me clarity of purpose.

And often I get to watch that funny math He does when it turns my meager means into amazing things. And that is a reward I claim in the here and now and not just in the sweet tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Theological Liberalism

Someone was giving me a run for my money lately on a particular aspect of religious dogma. It was an exceedingly rousing conversation that was suddenly drawn to a ponderous silence when I happened to mention in seriousness my distaste for religion.

Surely the love of a thing and the study of it must not go hand in hand?

The quizzical looks I received when contemplating that I was clearly studied and indeed arguing from a position of distinct and deliberate faith, were both amusing and predictable. This just goes to show how closed-minded even the more liberal and logical of us can trend. I enjoy the use of profiling myself quite frequently so I count myself in this number as well.
Wherefore religion generally can be nothing but an empty pretence which, like a murky and oppressive atmosphere, has enshrouded part of the truth.

. . .

But the immortality that most men imagine and their longing for it, seem to me irreligious, nay quite opposed to the spirit of piety. Dislike to the very aim of religion is the ground of their wish to be immortal.

-- On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (circa 1799) by Friedrich Schleiermacher

These old dudes always had such deep and insightful things to say on weighty subjects like this one.

As the silence faded, the question arose: "Is this form of Theological Liberalism healthy?"

You might imagine that my gentle friend argued for a more structured conservative theology. Whilst my heretical self argued the more liberal of positions. (Me arguing a liberal viewpoint? Shock and awe!) The reasoning for my position is interwoven with the sentiments from Schleiermacher throughout his writings. Not to be dissuaded, he asked very insightful questions: If we are believers, shouldn't we be transformed? Aren't we to be "different"?
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is - His good, pleasing and perfect will.
-- Romans 12:2

While indeed a point of merit, it fails to incur a demand for religion, while making the case for community.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.
-- 1 Corinthians 12:27

Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another - and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
-- Hebrews 10:25
Again we see the call to serve, to participate in the body (that which I call community). This still does not to my mind settle the case for religion, but rather only for community.
Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.
-- Hebrews 13:17
Now this seemed to make a compelling case at the start because of the introduction of accountability. It clearly calls for a submission to leadership. However, the concept in question was not about submission to leadership or accountability, but rather the nature of religion and it's intrinsic place. Submission to leadership does not equate to religion. Neither does religion imply leadership in and of itself, only in how man thus far considers it.

In practical terms it is totally possible to contrive a religion without God, or even immortality. One can consider the universe (the Infinite of Schleiermachers writing) without defining or recognizing that which you term God. Of course, this would be quite the bleak and ultimately chaotic world-life view. In fact, running from this mayhem is what buttresses the need for leadership when applying morality and legalism to derive dogma. In short, it is a primary reason we have and support religions today.

Simply because one can conceive of a thing does not make it proper or right. My world-life view most certainly encompasses God but places the burden of necessity to my personal accountability above conformance to interpretations and doctrine espoused by others. This setting aside the dogmatic aspects that are derived from religion is what sets my world-view apart from the typical. However I am in good company.
Every man, a few choice souls excepted, does, to be sure, require a guide to lead and stimulate, to wake his religious sense from its first slumber, and to give it its first direction. But this you accord to all powers and functions of the human soul, and why not to this one ? For your satisfaction, be it said, that here, if anywhere, this tutelage is only a passing state. Hereafter, shall each man see with his own eyes, and shall produce some contribution to the treasures of religion ; otherwise, he deserves no place in its kingdom, and receives none. You are right in despising the wretched echoes who derive their religion entirely from another, or depend on a dead writing, swearing by it and proving out of it.
-- On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultured Despisers (circa 1799) by Friedrich Schleiermacher

In the end, we agreed there is benefit to him in his religion and benefit to me in the lack.

That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.
-- Romans 10:9-10

So it's settled then.

Friday, February 19, 2010

For Shame

You know that disconcerting feeling you get in your stomach when you realize you've ended up some place that you didn't really want to be? Perhaps you've become someone you don't want to be? You've done something you desperately want to forget about?

Yep, that's shame.

There are lots of aspects of aspects to shame. Not all shame is accompanied by guilt. Not all shame is bad. If you are acting in ignorance it is possible to blunder about and warrant shame. If you consciously engage in activities that go against your belief system, you can certainly warrant shame and accumulate guilt.

Lately, I've had the blessing of some quiet time to reflect on a few facets of my life. With fresh eyes I've been able to realize how inappropriately I've behaved. My actions weren't lining up with my acknowledged belief system. Knowing this consciously now, leads me to that feeling like I need to vomit. I've felt shame. With that realization I've had to ask myself: What next? Where do I go from here?.

Come to your right mind, and sin no more. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
-- 1 Corinthians 15:34

When you look for answers, you find them. Get your mind right, leave that place where you aren't who you want to be? Step away from the path that leads you away from your salvation. Like a surgeon, cut away the dead flesh in your life that you can save the rest. Come to your right mind!!!

The last part is the real kicker. If you're struggling with that decision, remember that even people who don't know God can do the right thing. If the unbeliever can walk right with their fellow man, how much easier should it be for a God-follower? Which tells me this shame is well-placed and appropriate.

But because I am a Believer, I don't need to wallow in my shame. I don't need to be dragged down with guilt. I just need to "sin no more". Which is way harder than it sounds.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Things Unseen

I was talking with someone I consider a friend. He happens to hold himself as an atheist.

In light of my white-knuckled grip on faith as the foundation of my world life view, it may seem strange that we are able to have intelligent discourse, let alone be friends. In reality, it works well because we follow one simple implicit guideline. I ignore his hypocrisies and he ignores mine. A discipleship group it ain't, but we go way back.

A recent conversation however put quite a strain when we left our comfort zone of theology and ventured into the realm of human nature. Specifically, faith as a part of our world view.

During the conversation he referenced a quote by Christopher Hitchens, a well known atheist. His point was that "faith is the surrender of the mind". I looked up and included the full quote:
"Faith is the surrender of the mind. It's the surrender of reason. It's the surrender of the only thing that makes us different from other mammals.  It's our need to believe and to surrender our skepticism and our reason. Our yearning to discard that and put all our trust or faith in someone or something: that is the sinister thing to me.  Of all the supposed virtues, faith must be the most overrated."
-- Christopher Hitchens (from a television interview by Penn & Tell)

This is pure quackery. Faith as a part an integral part of any healthy relationship development. The roads to schizophrenia, psychopathy, and many other attention and compulsion disorders have roots in an inability to incorporate faith appropriately. Healthy child development, including virtually all socialization skills, are deeply rooted in the ability to exercise and base our behaviors on faith.
Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
-- Hebrews 11: 1

Of course, I do like his use of the sweeping generalization. In this case, his obvious yearning desire to believe in the absence of God has allowed him to reach such a ridiculous, anti-social, untenable, and ultimately hilarious extreme.

Yes, my friend adjusted his statement. He's still an atheist, but grudgingly admits there are potential benefits as well potential negatives to a life lived by faith. Proving once again, that he is not a complete idiot.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

You Have To Work At It

How do you live your faith when you are in the workplace? What about every other community or situation when you aren't at church?

I know this isn't the popular question. For me, it's probably one of the most incriminating areas of my faith that can be examined. After all, I've studied religion and I do profess my faith clearly when those infrequent opportunities arise where I feel I can express my beliefs without pressuring others or crossing lines of courtesy. But am I shirking my duty?

The clear call would be to proclaim your faith at all times. But sometimes to show love you have to listen instead of talking. Sometimes you need to simply show mercy, or humility, or compassion. How do you balance the need to be in the world, with my mission to not be OF the world? This from the guy who routinely separates his world life view into black and white/wrong and right.

But you should keep a clear mind in every situation. Don’t be afraid of suffering for the Lord. Work at telling others the Good News, and fully carry out the ministry God has given you.
-- 2 Timothy 4:5
Intellectually, I understand the idea that you have to speak the gospel and carry out His will. Even to your hurt. I'm willing to sacrifice (or so I say from the comparative comfort in which I live). But when the rubber meets the road, am I passing up opportunities to shine His light merely because I don't want to rock the boat? Am I hiding behind courtesy and conformity when I should be striding boldly in service?

Perhaps I need to change my prayer a little. It's not so much that I need to stand up when called. Maybe I need to look around a little more and stick my neck out a little more often. I need to be more willing to face an uncomfortable silence, a confrontation of emotion, the judgment by the unbelieving. They will not all be called. Not all who are called will care to listen to me.

I don't just want my light to shine in the dark. It extra specially NEEDS to shine in the dark.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

On Prayer

Praying without ceasing.

In my own mind I often think of this as a mantra. Simply put, my thoughts lack sufficient creativity or individualism to be more than a little litany recanted. Requests are obvious. They guide and shape my thoughts which mold my deeds.

These actions when deliberate and repeated become my habits.

My habits are the strategy in this my daily war. It's not so hard to see the continuous assault on the senses that is my life as battle. From these I can only call my thoughts as pawns and bishops. They race quickly to the fray and often times slide in new directions, moving so fast they are almost of their own motivation.

My gift, discernment, the speed of thoughts intensified beyond normalcy until I find it painful to crawl within the crudely fashioned language of the normal folk.

So here is why the mantra is so vital. Praying stills my thoughts. It helps my mind to juggle and play the left-handed swordsman. It's a poor substitute for true combat but keeps my troops training sharply. And it is His will. Therefore it is my hearts desire.
So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my mind; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my mind.
-- 1 Corinthians 14:15
In each day I face struggles of intellect and emotion. Prayer is the means provided me by my Father to turn this into something more than a struggle. It becomes an exercise in service, and a treasured way to open my heart and conform my will to His.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Systematic Theology

Sometimes I feel like faith is work.

Trying to walk by faith, to keep thoughts aligned to faith, to make faith the motivation for works; these things are more than hard. They are treadmill of my days, the siege I find myself dragged awake to in the morning, and collapsing exhausted with at night. Except when I'm not.

For me, faith is both the weight and the wings. It emboldens me and grieves me by turns. And it has only been with study that an inkling of why this paradox exists has become apparent to me. It is when I am reminded of love that my feet are lifted with the power of faith. When my mind forgets to season faith with love; that is when I fall to my knees under the press of guilt and strictures.

My searching in this area, led me back to an old staple: Charles Finney's Systematic Theology.
"It should never be forgotten that the faith that is the condition of justification, is the faith that works by love. It is the faith through and by which Christ sanctifies the soul. A sanctifying faith unites the believer to Christ as his justification; but be it always remembered, that no faith receives Christ as a justification, that does not receive him as a sanctification, to reign within the heart. We have seen that repentance, as well as faith, is a condition of justification. We shall see that perseverance in obedience to the end of life is also a condition of justification."

Powerful words make a powerful reminder.

It is when I leave the leaven of love aside that my walk becomes of works and not of faith. When walking in works and not faith, it becomes a plight, a trudge through the barren landscape of life without a Savior.

Interestingly enough, this is more than just with my Christ. In all my relationships, when I fail to keep love at the forefront of each exchange is when those exchange become unhealthy and a hindrance. It is easy to serve when you start with love and a burden when you're loveless.