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Monday, October 21, 2013

A Saving Grace

The other night I was literally the only paying person at a show.  It was a really, really good show.  The band was playing for me, the bar tend, the opening band and the sound man.  There are a number of things I could say about this, but it got me thinking about one thing- grace.

Much can be said about the difference between grace and mercy.  It's already been done though.  Suffice it to say, grace is favor given without a necessary reason. 

These guys could have played a very short set. They would have been well within their rights to do so. They didn't. I don't know if they were just practicing and hoping some more people would come up, check them out and stay, or what... In any case, they played a decent set, had some fun with it, and sounded great.  I don't know if meant anything to anyone else in the room or not, but it meant a lot to me.  

Grace arrives in unexpected ways daily for me.  Sometimes those ways are small. Sometimes they are massive.  This one was- amorphous? Hard to measure for sure. 

The crazy thing about grace is that I need it. Maybe some people don't need it. 

I don't think I have met those people though.  Since I need it, I try to extend grace to others. It's hard for me to do so.  Some people I have met aren't willing to extend grace unless someone extends it to them first.  It is a hard line approach to life, friends, and how to interact with people socially.  

It is definitely easier to act this way when I am having a difficult day.

However, when I have the time and luxury to reflect, as when I was listening to this set the other night, I realize I am constantly the recipient of grace. Ephesians 2:5 says, "You are saved by grace" (HCSB).  Most Christians know, or have at least heard, Ephesians 2:8-9, "For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— not from works, so that no one can boast." It wasn't until reading through Ephesians again this morning that I really noticed the simple phrase from verse 5.  

I think the reason most Christians focus on verses 8 and 9 is that they are trying to come to some understanding of the theological underpinnings of faith.  I think they might be overthinking it.  I do occasionally, and when I do I miss the simplicity of grace.  

I have been saved by grace and I needed it.   I am being saved by grace and I need it.  If I can't extend that grace to others in big and small ways I miss an opportunity to experience grace.  I miss out on what it means to live.  

The question becomes, "How can I extend grace today?" 

You are saved by grace. What are you going to do with it? 

Friday, September 27, 2013

Back at It

If you can't tell (whoever reads this?), I took quite a break from blogging.  I was thinking through a lot of things for quite a long time. 

I'm still thinking through those things. I'm still not settled in any sense of the word.  However, I am ready to get back at it.  I am ready to try writing again.  

Part of what rang through my head for a long time was a lone lyric and melody line from a Deathcab for Cutie song.  The song was "The Sound of Settling." I am only vaguely aware of what the song is actually about.  The reason this song kept coming back to me is that I felt like a failure; the song reminded me of my perceived failings.  I still feel like a failure.  There are days when I just don't want to move. 

Today happens to be one of those days.  I got up anyway.  I get up each day anyway.   In the past, there would be days when my body got up, but my soul didn't. It was down for the count.  

And that's where I return to that song.  The lyric goes, "this is the sound of settling, 'bum, bum'." It's a nice, cute, little catchy thing which absolutely fills up the void in my head sometimes.   This earworm of a song represents so much to me about the allure of failure.  Failure feels good to me sometimes.  Yeah, it does.  Sometimes I enjoy feeling like a failure because it's somewhere I have been before. It is easy.  

I'm not talking about anyone else here, just me.

Failure is easy because it is comfortable. It doesn't stretch me to become more.  It definitely does not motivate me.  It just makes me want to sleep. That song just makes me want to sing along- to go to sleep- and forget what I really want. It is like living towards death. I can understand why some of the poets talk about death like it is a calm, steady friend always inviting us forward.  Death, in this sense, is easier than life. 

So, what is the difference between the different types of days? Those days when my soul was still sleeping and wasn't? Hope. Yeah, really, it is hope.

I'm still depressed much of the time. I still feel worthless a lot. I still want more friends.  I still want to be successful. I still want to know my place in the crazy, messed up world.

More importantly than all of those things, I know I have hope.  The experience of hope in the midst of those things can't be explained well, at least not by me.  But I am confident that I have it. Maybe someday this hope will completely lead me out of death and into life.  I know it will happen, I'm just not sure if it will be in this body. 

I have hope and I know what I want. I want to live.  John 1:4 says, "In him was life, and life was the light of men."  

Monday, March 25, 2013


It's that time of year again. We will all get our fill of interpretations of Jesus over the next few weeks. It's inevitable- every Easter we hear some new or re-imagined life of Christ which attempts to show how he was different than our preconceived ideas of him. Mostly, these special articles, tv programs, and lectures serve to show how orthodox Christians are wrong in some way and need to convert to the newer paradigm.

I'm kind of tired of these. Everyone has an agenda anymore it seems. I used to care a lot more about all of these ideas. Many of the best writers have compelling stories to tell. It's just that the coherence seems to come apart.

I just don't care that much anymore. It's not as if I don't have doubts. I do. I doubt a lot of things, but when I come back to Jesus, I keep discovering a compelling and believable story.

Doubt has been healthy to my faith. Learning and exploring different ideas is challenging and interesting. It's just that the skeptical doubt is not as interesting as Jesus.

James tells Christians to ask in faith without doubting (James 1:6). Many have taken this verse (and others similar to it), and assumed it referred to all doubting. In particular, when they apply it to faith some people believe we should not doubt our faith and just accept it unconditionally without revision.

The problem to this approach to faith and doubt is that it misses the core of rational belief in Christianity. We must have a noetic (intellectual belief) system which incorporates doubt. Doubt allows us to question our preconceived ideas and embedded culture. By doing so, we can come to a better understanding of truth which is universally applicable in nature. As Christians, we must believe truth is a person (e.g. John 1:1).

How do I square this with what James says? Easy, James is addressing Christians who are going through a time of hardship and suffering. These Christians need wisdom. Wisdom, I would argue, is the personification of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. This is what we are to ask for without doubting. So, when James tells us to ask for wisdom without doubting he is telling us to approach God with full-abandonment.

The lack of doubt he refers to manifests itself as a life which wholeheartedly seeks God. This is not what I mean, or many other people mean when they say "doubt." We mean something like- questions we have concerning the nature, character, or reliability of God, Jesus, or the scriptures.

James urges us to seek God first. Don't hedge your bets when you need help, seek God and what He has given you. This is a radically different topic than the intellectual exercise which considers things like historical truth or reliability.

For example, when we approach the Gospels with an attempt to learn because we are unsure what we believe, we may actually do so in a way that is consistent with what James advocates for Christian living. However, the locus of this intellectual doubt is not holding to some impossible idea of impartiality or empirical non-subjectivity. Instead, it is an abandonment to the search for truth while realizing that truth must be a person.

The doubt of a person of faith seeks understanding. It is the prayer of the father in Mark 9:24, "I believe, help my unbelief!" Only in Jesus do we find fulfillment and resolution to our doubt.

As I finish a season of preaching/teaching about the person of Jesus (I just spent 12 weeks on the subject with my students), I return to Jesus full of doubt and full of faith. My doubt has always sought Christ, The Lord, the Son of the Living God.

It is my prayer for my brothers and sisters in Christ that they will have some doubt as they think about Jesus this Easter.

I cannot help but have doubt as I approach the cross on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Have I forsaken my Lord? Do I continue to forsake Him? Is my prayer really any different than the thief who wanted to be with Jesus in paradise?

My doubt never ends, leads, or finds it source in my own questions. My doubt comes from being in constant contact with Christ. This is the second part of my prayer; may our doubt come from knowing Christ and His death and resurrection. This is the intellectual doubt which says, "How can this be?" This is the doubt which produces genuine faith. This is the doubt which affirms His resurrection and looks into the tomb.

My doubt is found in the uncertainty of the present moment.

My doubt is not guided by inaction.

My doubt is not held in suspension.

My doubt is not based upon the wisdom of this world.

My doubt finds itself next to The Lord and says, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom!" (Luke 23:42).

It is a cry of desperation and hope. It holds nothing back. Even in my darkest hours, I say "I believe, help my unbelief!" This should be a humble and biblical prayer.

in Christ,

Friday, February 8, 2013

The Danger of Literalism

I saw this yesterday and thought I would mention something about it today.

A man in Tennessee quit his job because he received a W-2 with the number 666 on it.

Setting aside the various textual problems with the number itself, there a few things I wish Christians would keep in mind when reading and applying the Bible.

First, the book of Revelation is Apocalyptic literature.  It doesn't take a lot of studying to figure out almost everything in the book is symbolic or figurative of some other thing.  When and if there is a literal number of the beast, it probably won't actually be 666 -enough said on the particulars of this case.

Second, we absolutely must be aware of different genres in the Bible. This goes for every single book. We can't read a letter the same way we read a psalm or history or love songs or you get the point...

Third, we must leave behind as many of our presuppositions as possible when we come to the biblical text and then apply it to our life.  If God's word is God's word, then it has the power to speak to our lives across every cultural and historical barrier, but we must also allow the text to speak.  Applied to this situation- don't assume that just because something has the number 666 on it that it means the thing is somehow connected to the devil, beast, etc.

Fourth, I really don't think Jesus was a strict literalist in relation to the Bible.  Do I think he obeyed every part of it?- Yes.  Do I think he honored every part of it?- Yes.  Did he take every part literally? No.

This last part is an important point because it differs from the idea of Jesus not being a legalist. Most Christians would easily admit Jesus wasn't a legalist. When they come to the idea of literalism, I know many Christians who practically and actively maintain the literalism of Jesus.

For example, when they look at Jesus applying words from the Pentateuch, they will often want Jesus to be applying them in a literal, straightforward, non-metaphorical way.  This happens until they get to the parts of about the Sabbath (e.g. Mark 2:27). Then all bets are off, at least for a little while.  It doesn't take long for them to return to a strict literalist (or do I mean legalist?) Jesus.

This story about Jesus is pretty dumb- one more reason I don't believe Jesus was a literalist.

Jesus understood things like genre and context.  As Christians, we should too.  If we don't, we will end up misapplying scripture like the man in Tennessee.  When we do that, we miss what God really wants us to be focusing on in his word.

Get in the word. Know the word. Apply the word.   But please don't insist on being a strict literalist.