Tag Archives: Skepticism

Some thoughts on Adoption and Identity

Our beautiful son, John Will is turning one this week. I wanted to share with you a few thoughts as his birthday approaches.

I always viewed adoption as a good thing, but I have to be honest: For many years, I saw it like many people do—as a sort a predicament of permanent estrangement.  I mean, consider the reality:  The child will not grow up with his real parents.  He will never know his real siblings.  He and the adoptive parents will never have that real biological bond.  Then there is the most unfortunate part of all—He will always be the token adopted kid.

I know what you are thinking:  What do you mean by the word real?  Well, what does society say about it?  What is real to most people is what they see on TV or the internet.  If you listen to the armchair philosophers in the media, the above realities are real.  They are real in a ubiquitous sense.  Everywhere.  Case closed.  Settled science.  Hashtag it.

Let us be honest:  If the adopted baby happens to be of color, he could be looked at by his white parents and predominantly white peers as the definitive voice for the whole of the black race.  What he says about social justice will be accepted as gospel for many whites.  Can you hear it?  “My son is black, and he isn’t offended by that flag,” or, “My son is black—I couldn’t possibly be a racist!”  Because they have a black kid in the family, they think they are somehow experienced in the black experience.  He is their calling card in a sense.  Unfortunately, if he takes on the traits and speech patterns of his white adoptive family, he may run the risk of being an outsider when it comes to his black peers.  What if he grows up to be a political conservative in the vein of Clarence Thomas?  In this case, he will be cast out of the black community.  He will be in a sense living in no mans land.  A man with no country.  They may call him things like, “Uncle Tom.”  If he is nominated to the Supreme Court, men who are lifelong Lotharios (Ted Kennedy) may actually ask him during his confirmation process about his private entertainment habits.  This is just the truth.

Then, some will use him as certificate of absolution for white guilt.  By adopting a black child, they are absolving themselves of the great sin of the past:  Slavery.  They are enlightened now.  They are a part of the black experience.  They have evolved.

He will be seen as a racial bargaining chip in many instances.

If, on the other hand, he is adopted into a wealthy home, he could be seen as a status symbol.  Some people buy expensive rugs and pets from exotic places.  Today, the collector item that is style in some circles is the adoption of babies from exotic locations.  It is kind of like the cult of being a vegan, using a Mac, driving a Tesla, or choosing to obey the gluten free diet.  “Mine is from Nepal,” or “I got mine from Uganda.”  Two international adoptive mothers come into a coffee shop.  How do I know this?  They announced it loudly.

Then again, he might be seen as a leverage tool for advancing the pro-life agenda.  Heck, he may even be used just so that the parents feel good about themselves.

So, as for me, though I saw adoption as a positive, I saw it as the “last resort” option.

Because all the horrible things above exist, and I had just heard horror stories about them…I determined that adoption was better than abortion, but least the least preferable alternative.

This isn’t the first thing I have been wrong about.

The first thing that I failed to notice about my observations above is that they all presuppose that adoptive parents necessarily see their adopted kids as objects used for consumption rather than persons meant for relationships. In this thinking I was no different than the person who saw a black man as a piece of property.  I was no different in thinking that all whites think all blacks should be slaves.  My point is—though the above realities do exist—it doesn’t have to be that way.  The fact that those realities exist shouldn’t stop me from adopting a baby.  Why do I have to live like that?

I also failed to see that many of my objections came from an elitist progressive white Eurocentric worldview. Now, before you think I am some indoctrinated leftist who gets his news from the Daily Kos, hear me out.  I was Eurocentric.  Trust me:  The children in Mexico, war torn Africa, the slums of India, Thailand, or Vietnam—they would give anything to be adopted into a white family in the United States.  I am not even talking about a rich one.  Poverty in the United States is a lifestyle of luxury to the poor people in Laos.  I once heard a guy tell me about his ordeal in trying to gain citizenship into the United States.  I asked him why he wanted to come here so bad.  His answer blew me away:  “I want to live in a country where the poor people are fat.”

It isn’t insensitive or against multiculturalism or diversity to realize that compared to the rest of the world, the United States is the land of luxury.  This is the most exceptional place on the planet.  You want proof?  Go to the slums of India.  Check out the way people live in Cuba.  Go look at Kandahar.  Go see what they do to disobedient little girls in Saudi Arabia.  To presume that because I am from the West, that I couldn’t not contribute to the lives of people from the East is just absurd.

But then there is the unconditional love aspect—or sacrifice:  Many of the children adopted internationally have biological parents who love them so much, they would do anything for them to be adopted—just to escape real poverty.  The fact that I was unwilling to imagine such a reality shows how narrow minded I actually was.

But, then I also made the mistake of thinking that I wasn’t qualified to adopt. Sure, I had a biological child already—but adopt?  I don’t look like the adoption type, do I?  I have never contributed to any adoption agency.  I have never been a foster parent.  I have never sent money to one of those sad “Feed the Children” TV ads.  I am not an activist.  The only thing I know about kids is that I spoil my daughter.  How could I adopt?

Then I learned the reality:

Had we not adopted…our child—John William would have been aborted.

But my last objection was perhaps the most insidious of all: He will not share my genes!  He will never fit in at family reunions!  How will he carry on our family name—really?  He may have our name, but he isn’t one of us.  It could cause problems later on!  There might be challenges.  Oh No!

I can say it: What a bunch of narcissistic and selfish petulant idiocy. 

It is actually possible to adopt a child and love them for who they are—a distinct, unique, beautiful person—of infinite value.

Oh I forgot the other one:  We cannot afford it.  Ok.  My goodness…where is the faith?

Well, on a Wednesday in September of 2014, my wife got a phone call. It was through a convoluted maze of connections; but, there was a woman giving birth the NEXT day that wanted to give her baby for adoption.  Could we be at the hospital for the “C-section?”

After picking my wife up off the floor, we rushed to get ready for the birth of our…son.  We actually went that day and met the mother.  My son was in her belly sitting across the room from me.  She told us that she was at Planned Parenthood ready to abort the child–but something stopped her.  What?  Really?

Well, it happened.  He is our son.

Can I tell you that I have never viewed John William as adopted? I mean, I know he is, but—other than people bringing it up, or the doctor asking about his family medical history—I never think about it.  There has never been a moment in time that I knew about him that I didn’t think of him as my son.  What else could he be?  Who else could he be?  When he had trouble taking his first breaths, I felt pain.  When he had to have the chest tube and stay in the NICU for over a week—I felt the stress—and worried.  Me.  Not someone else.  I felt innate pain.

It may sound strange to you, but I see him in exactly the same way that I see our biological daughter, Ava. Even in the hospital, once he was born—with the birth mother just down the hall—he was my son.  Even as we waited the mandatory 72 hours for the birth mother to change her mind, I saw it as 72 hours for her to dispute the truth:  that I was the father of this baby!  When I first touched him, I didn’t feel that I was touching some child that we were going to take home—and learn to love.  I felt I was touching my son.  What womb he was carried in was the last thing on my mind.  I couldn’t have cared less.  When we went to visit him in the NICU, and had to use the name “Baby Boy White” to gain access, because they weren’t legally allowed to accept the name we had given him yet, we called him John Will.   You think that’s strange?  Can I tell you that when I look at him, I find myself involuntarily comparing his appearance to us?  “Oh, he looks like Ava when he does that.”  “Andrea, he has your smile.” “I think he has my…well, hopefully nothing.”  Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t, but I identify him as ours.

Identity. What a word.  I don’t think I can remember hearing the word identity growing up.  Today, you cannot turn on a television set without hearing some blowhard pontificating about identity.  We live in a day and age where a man can use a woman’s restroom, so long as he self identifies as a woman.  If a woman in that restroom is offended by the presence of this man who identifies as a woman—it is HER problem.  She is the bigot.  His identity cannot be challenged.

Can I just say, our idea of identity is wrong? Our identity isn’t wrapped up in our sexual proclivity, our color, our intelligence, or our size.  Our identity is wrapped up in the idea of who we are.  Let me ask you a question:  Who are you…really?  How would you describe, you?  Most people would respond with a name and their occupation.  That isn’t what I asked.  I asked who you are?  There is more to who you are than what you do, your skin color, or what your name is.  If what you do is what defines you—then we have a pretty sad world.

Many today see themselves as objects to be consumed. They desire to be used as a commodity.  Just look at the clothing that many young people wear—or the outspoken statements on shirts that read, “I am a porn star.”  Even the LGBT movement—they will identify by their sex.  Ask them who they are and they will respond with their name and at some point their sexual proclivity.  If I were to walk into a room and say, “Hey, I am John and I am straight,” how would that be received?  It’s odd isn’t it?  So many of us place our identity in what we do, that we have no clue what a real person is.  If you think like that—that people are just objects, it will not only affect you:  It will affect how you treat those around you.  If we are nothing but the product of a mindless unguided process (Darwinian evolution), why would we treat each other as if we were more than just a bunch of matter?  What is the point?  But that question turns around:  If I am nothing but the product of evolution, why should anyone treat me as more than a heap of dirt?  There is no purpose.  The universe just is.  It’s all blind pitiless indifference.

Pathetic.  If you want to expose the malarkey in that, just walk up to the person that thinks that way—reach into their pocket—and take out their wallet.  Their real presuppositions about how they should be treated will emerge.

Why do I believe that people have worth? Well, quite frankly, it is because I believe that God created us in His image.

But, let us look at it a bit more philosophically:  If you take any philosophy in the world, you will find that it is based or grounded in one of three systems of thought.  They are epistemological, existential, and pragmatic.  Or quite simply, right thinking, right feeling, or right doing.  If you think the right things or acquire the right knowledge, or feel a certain set of feelings or have the right intentions or motives, or if you do the right things—you will have achieved what is ‘the good.’

Now the idea of good needs to be fleshed out. G.K. Chesterton once talked about what is good.  He wrote an essay called The Medical Fallacy in which he lamented the use of medical terminology when talking about social issues.  He noted that many politicians will say, “Our country is sick.  It needs a remedy.  Vote for me and my benevolent policies and we will see true healing begin.”  The problem Chesterton points out, is that social science is not medical science.  In medicine, doctors all agree on what a healthy body looks like.  They disagree on the malady.  In social science, it is the malady that is agreed upon.  We all can agree on what a dysfunctional society looks like.  It is the idea of what is good that we rip each other’s eyes out over.  One person sees this “solution” as a remedy—but the other guy sees the remedy as worse than the original problem.  Chesterton goes on to say, it may be necessary medically speaking, for a man to walk into a hospital and come out with one leg less.  But he quips, you will never see that man go into an operating room, and in a moment of ‘creative rapture,’ come out with one leg more.

The good. Can we find it in right thinking?  Many philosophies say yes.  How about in feeling or experience?  Many say yes.  How about in doing the right things?  Many say yes.  If our philosophy is based in these three areas, there are arguments to be made for which persons should be treated as objects.  Maybe they don’t have the right knowledge—or they are incapable of it.  Are they a drain on the taxpayers?  What is the solution?  Perhaps they haven’t experienced what they ought to—or they have the wrong feelings on a certain issue.  Can these bigoted people live in a tolerant and just society?  Then again, maybe they have done something that isn’t ‘o.k.’ by conventional standards.  Maybe they put up a flag on their flagpole that represents something awful.  Can we tolerate them?

Certainly arguments can be made that would subjugate each of these individuals to a second class.

The reason I believe people are of infinite worth is because I believe in a system that isn’t rooted in any of those three things. I believe in Jesus Christ.  Christianity is a system that is rooted in being—specifically—the being of Christ.  When I became a follower of Christ, my being was conformed to that of his.  I am no longer who I was before.  Now, I am an image of Christ.  This life isn’t rooted in right thinking, although there is no greater knowledge than knowing Christ.  It isn’t about feeling, even though I can think of no greater feeling than experiencing God’s presence.  And it isn’t about doing, even though Jesus said that true Christians will be known by what they do.

It is about being. I see people as beings—not machines.

Back to adoption:

Now, the conventional wisdom says children who are denied their biological parents—despite how wonderful their adoptive situation might be—face more challenges than other children. Those views all presuppose that we are purely biological.  I don’t buy this.  I have seen too much evidence to the contrary.  Plus, the Bible doesn’t teach this.  God told Jeremiah that He knew him before He formed him!  How could he know him before he was a living, breathing person?  Well quite simply, there is more to us than our bodies.  There is something to this knowing before forming business.  When I think about my biological daughter…I can safely say I didn’t know her or have any knowledge of her before she existed.  But God did.  There is something to that.

Ephesians says that before the creation of the world God chose us! That has some serious implications.  First of all, to be chosen before the creation of the world, means that before the first act of creation—we had some sort of existence.  We at least existed in the mind of God before “In the beginning.”  Let us put it this way:  The crucifixion of our Lord was foreordained long before the first verse in Genesis.  Why?  Because there would be a need for redemption.  Why?  Because of us.  Second, the Bible says that God chose us.  Out of all the things in His creation that are beautiful—out of all the capable animals—he chose us.  Why us?  There is obviously something different or unique about us.  C.S. Lewis once said that we aren’t bodies with a soul; we are souls with a body.  There is indeed something that I cannot see—or test in a laboratory—that makes my son who he is.  His physical appearance is a joy, but this is not who he is.  He is connected to us, despite what his DNA might say.  You could run a paternity test all day long, and I would fail it every time.  But you could put man after man in the room with my son and I am the only one he knows as “Da da.”  Despite the reality of what his DNA says he is, he is ours.  He is a person created for relationship!  He is a soul created in the image of God.  He has an identity that is beyond his blood and chemical makeup.  He was chosen before time itself.  God knew that this little boy would need a Mom and Dad who were not his biological parents.  A real sacrifice would need to be made for this little boy.  But more importantly, God knew that for this little boy, The ultimate sacrifice would have to be made on Calvary.

“Before” time began, my son and all his needs were known.

Likewise, you and I are connected to Christ despite what our pasts might say.  My spiritual DNA says sinner.  It does not say holy.  I am unworthy of the name Christian.  Despite that, Christ has adopted me as His child. I am connected to Christ despite the sins I will commit today.

Despite the reality of who I am, I am His.

Advertisements
Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Peter and How Jesus recalibrated his view of reality and fishing.

Have you ever had your idea about reality recalibrated?  You might say, “Yeah, I used to be an Atlanta Braves fan, until they traded everyone away and started losing.”  Good point, but this is not what I am talking about. I do not mean to be persuaded as to another point of view because circumstances change or because new evidence is provided. What I mean instead is, that which was once was reality ceases to be.  It gives way to a new (real) reality that causes an unstoppable and utterly complete paradigm shift.

I have often heard about people who have been trapped in blizzards and were forced into using a pocket knife to sever a trapped leg out from under a boulder so that they could get to shelter. The reality of life becomes suddenly more important than the need for a leg.   Their idea of pain is recalibrated.   I have heard about POW’s who begin to view torture as normal (because they know that pain is an indicator that they are alive), or prisoners in Auschwitz engaging in activities that would seem gross and inhumane in order to survive. See the story of Roman Frister or Victor Frankl for more on that.

What if I were to tell you that our idea about what is the “good” can be recalibrated by a fresh glimpse of reality? It is even more than that. It isn’t only that our idea about what the “good” changes (that places too much importance on our ability to think); in reality, that which is the good itself completely changes around us.

Have you ever learned a new word, or come across a fact that you previously didn’t know? Have you noticed that when this happened, all of a sudden you started hearing that word used in conversations, you started seeing it in books, or that fact that you just learned suddenly shows up in every article you read? It isn’t that those things have just come to light. It isn’t that because you learned them, all of a sudden they exist. In truth, it is because they exist—and because they have been imparted in you that now you notice things around you that you didn’t notice before. You are different.

Do you know the story about the calling of Simon Peter?  If you don’t, there is no better time to brush up on it than now!  The story is located in Luke 5:1-11 and it is captivating.

Done reading it? Short and potent, huh?

To begin, this story doesn’t take place in a synagogue, nor does it involve a hushed crowed listening to an intellectually learned and eloquent disquisition on a Psalm.  Instead, a crowd has gathered to hear Jesus (a traveling teacher) teach on a smelly boat landing—with fisherman nearby (no doubt smelly)—who are disgruntled (probably using the language or sailors) and cleaning their nets after a night without a catch.

The first glimpse of reality:  Jesus walks into a world of people rather than summoning them to step out of their world and come to him. We often think that God is calling us to leave the pull of earth’s gravity and meet him somewhere in the sky. This couldn’t be further from the truth.  If we all lived in California and Heaven was located in Hawaii; and all we had to do to get there was swim the whole way, how many of us would make it?  There would be some who would drown nearly as soon as they started.  Some would drown a hundred feet in.  Some would make it a mile.  The triathalets might make it several miles.  But the point is, we would all drown.  Unless Hawaii was moved closer or we were carried to Hawaii, none woud make it.  God did this for us.

God became a man. He came to us. There is no way we can go to Him. The last folks who tried by way of a huge tower were stopped dead in their tracks. They got pretty high, but God still “came down” and stifled them. We don’t have the ability to climb that high.

So—the boys (professional fisherman—serious anglers) have just returned from a night of fishing—they caught nothing.  While they are maintaining their gear, and probably complaining, Jesus hops onto the boat belonging to one of the fishermen, Peter.  He tells Peter to take the boat out to the deep water and to lower the nets.  So, let us set the scene:  Peter is an expert fisherman and Jesus is a traveling preacher (who has probably never fished in his life) who has jumped on a fishing boat (without so much as an “excuse me but I’m going to be joining you”), and is now giving a trained angler instruction on how to fish.  Imagine for a moment a professor of postmodern Spanish History at some Ivy League school walking into an auto garage and telling the mechanics to let him look over the engine.

Now—Jesus doesn’t get right to it—telling Peter how much his life is lacking because Christ isn’t in it—No.  Instead, he plays up to Peter’s greatest strength—fishing.  Jesus basically jumps in the boat and says, “Bro, I need your help!  Please help me!”  Now this is realistic.  I am sure Peter’s nautical abilities have been relied upon before.  People know he is an expert on the water, and an expert at catching fish. In this case, Jesus needs a platform from which to teach and he needs a source of amplification.  He needs Peter, because he cannot simply preach from a drifting boat.  He needs Peter to steady the vessel so he can effectively teach from a stationary position.  He also intends to use the natural sound carrying properties of the water as a natural amplification device.  This is all very realistic.  It shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus relies on humans for help.   If you remember simple pleas for help from Jesus like, “Give me a drink,” then you will see this request as the same.  Often times, Jesus puts people through tests.

What I find interesting is that Jesus isn’t really “teaching.”  He is fishing.  He is fishing from a fisherman’s boat, with a fisherman, but he isn’t after fish.  He is after the fisherman, himself!  He is fishing in a fishing boat to catch a fisherman. In Peter’s world, when he catches fish, the fish die in the process.  In Jesus’ world, when he catches fish, they begin to live.  This story converges two different realities of fishing.

Reality is about to be changed.

Peter was no doubt very adept in the water.  For this reason, he was probably able to put his boat steering skills on autopilot and listen to the teaching of Jesus. He had no choice—and he was helping!

I am reminded of a guy who was a skeptic who started attending this youth group. They decided to take a retreat, but because they lived in a country in which Christianity was illegal, they had to figure out a way to get to the camp which was a few kilometers away and would have police all along the route. The skeptic, however, had powerful parents. The mom actually once dated the chief of police. She phoned this man and said, “Do you remember me?” He replied in the affirmative and asked what he could do for her. He granted them the request to go. They also needed the permission from the Minister of Interior. It just so happened that his mother knew the minister of interior. With a second phone call the trip was set. The young man actually went with the camp organizers three days in advance to set the camp up. He helped set up the living quarters, the teaching areas, and the recreation activities. He was saved on the second day of the camp. You could say he played a role in planning, organizing, and executing his own conversion. Peter is pretty close here!

Now, when the sermon is over, we expect Jesus to thank Peter for his services and to be taken back to shore and to go on his way.  This would be reality.  Instead, this land-loving carpenter gives orders to the professional fisherman concerning how and where to catch fish. This is a new reality.  It is also a test.

Jesus commands him to “Put out into the deep and let down your nets for a catch.”  Now, let us be honest: this may be the most absurd suggestion ever given to a fisherman.   There is only one right response to such a situation:  “Get off of my boat you moron!”  After all, Peter knows that the fish they are after in Sea of Galilee do not live in the deep water, but rather, in the shallower, more oxygenated areas near the mouths of streams.  This is how they stay alive (eating the bait fish entering from the streams).  Secondly, it is daytime.  The fish they are after congregate under the rocks during the day.  They are night feeders.  If you go to the Sea of Galilee today, you will see the fishermen fishing at night.  Not the day.  William M. Christie notes,

“We have seen shoals at ‘Ain barideh and ‘Ain et-Tabigha so great as to cover an acre of the surface, and so compact together that one could scarcely throw a stone without striking several.  In such cases the hand-net is thrown out with a whirl.  It sinks down in a circle, enclosing a multitude, and these are then gathered in by the hand, while the net lies at the bottom.”

This may sound foreign but it isn’t.  Go to YouTube and type in, “cast net for mullet” and see that it happens TODAY in the South.  In fact, I learned to fish using a cast net. I once heard a man say, give a young man a cast net and he will never starve. That is great wisdom.

Now—The Sea of Galilee drops off into deep water very close the shoreline, and is dangerous in many areas for swimming.  Casting for fish is either done by boat or—for more experienced fishermen, standing in the water.  The fisherman in this lake know that successful fishing takes place at night.  The very idea that a preacher would suggest dropping the nets in the day is bordering on the absurd.  Now, Peter isn’t a teacher.  He knows very well that he cannot enter into the debates about the law or the finer points of the Sabbath—but he does know a thing or two about fishing.  He replies to this request with sarcasm:

“Teacher!  We toiled all night and took nothing!  But at your word, I will let down the nets.”

Let me do my best to paraphrase this exchange:  “Listen teacher, me and my boys are pros.  We know were the fish feed—it’s along the shore and at night.  In fact, we were out there all night and didn’t catch a darn thing.  We are tired, and I have stayed awake much longer than I would have liked—helping YOU—serving YOU—ever since you hijacked my boat.  You rabbis think you know everything and now you think you can hop on my boat, preach to a bunch of peasants, and then tell me where to tell me to fish?  Very well!   We will go do it.  Let’s just see who knows about fishing!”  It reminds of the scene in Jaws where the salty sea captain Quint, tells the college trained rich boy, Matt Hooper, “It proves one thing Mr. Hooper:  That you college boys don’t have the education enough to admit when you’re wrong!”

In fact, when Peter calls Jesus, “Teacher,” the word used is “epistates” which not only can mean teacher but more accurately, “boss,” or “chief.”  It is a term of sarcasm.  So, tired and weary—and annoyed—Peter and his team set out to fish the deep water in the daytime.

But something happens. Reality strikes.  They catch a great wealth of fish.

He hauls in a large catch.  The nets break the catch is so heavy.  He signals over for help and both his boat, and the boat of the helpers become so full, they both begin to sink.  This is worth commenting on.  He signals rather than calling for help.  Just as we saw Jesus use the sound carrying characteristics of water, Peter doesn’t want to inform EVERYBODY about the fish.  Financial secrets must be kept! This is his livelihood. If you were a beggar and lived among other beggars and you found a supply of food, would you tell everyone where it was at? This is a question worth pondering.

He waves them over discretely.  Jesus is watching this behavior as well.

This next part is the gem of the story:  You see, Jesus has approached Peter at the point of his greatest strength:  fishing.  But Peter isn’t shocked at the catch—at least not for long.  What shocks him is that this person, Jesus, has obviously made a choice between money and something else.  Here is a man who could be the best fisherman in the world.  He has caused Peter to catch an abundance of fish—when the fish weren’t supposed to be there.  The thing is, Jesus doesn’t want it.  He doesn’t care about the fish—instead he is wandering around the Sea of Galilee teaching the crowds for free. He is interested in something else.

For the first time in his life, Peter has met someone who is driven by something greater than mammon.  Could you imagine meeting someone who could shoot 10 under par—every round they played—at any golf course in the world—giving that up so that they could wander around rural driving ranges and giving free talks on a second birth?  All night, Peter and crew work tirelessly to catch fish—but this man—says, “drop the nets,” they catch the motherload—and he isn’t cashing in? He is more interested in people.

Peter knew that anyone with this knowledge of fishing could be rich instantly.  So, why was Jesus, a poor traveling teacher—traveling around teaching people for nothing?  What could possibly be worth more than 2 boats full of fish? Like Isaiah, Peter knows instantly that he is in the presence of someone great and that he is unclean. Reality strikes.  His vocabulary changes.  Where once he called Jesus, “epistates” or “boss,” he now calls him “kyrios” or Lord.  “Teacher” opens the first speech, and this one closes with “Lord.”

Oh, what a little reality will do.

He begins his repentance by asking Jesus to get away from him because he is unclean.  Jesus dismisses this.  Jesus wants to recalibrate Peter’s understanding of reality.  You see, when Peter uses his sarcasm, rather than getting upset, Jesus reprocesses his anger into grace.  Peter is not blind to this.  He has insulted someone holy.  Peter is now acting as if he were a leper in the presence of a healthy man. He thinks that his uncleanness can defile Jesus.  But unfortunatley for Peter, he has never met the giver of life.  He is about to have his world rocked.  In reality, it isn’t that Peter’s sin can defile Jesus; but rather, that Jesus (the Good) can offer Peter the gift of righteousness. Peter’s sin cannot infect Jesus, but Jesus can infect Peter with the Holy Spirit—and as a result, cure Peter’s illness. Reality.

The Son of God did not come to make men good.  The Son of God came to give men life.

Jesus dismisses Peter’s concerns.  He assures him that he will still use his fishing skills, but for a different type of catch.  He was now to enter the business of catching people.  No longer will he catch things that die.  He will catch things and Jesus will give them life.

From this very boat, Jesus caught people from the shore and gave them life—including Peter!

Now, he is offering this to Peter. Reality has changed.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

God’s Character

Have you ever known you were called to do something, and you were good at it?  As assured as you can be that you are right for this particular thing, we cannot escape our human instinct that manifests itself in a performance mentality—which is usually judged by numbers.   I remember Michael Ramsden, who is the European director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, once admitted that he had lived by this rubric, and then at some point had retreated from it.  Though his ministry was based around this numbers system, he says a turning point came when he was preaching in South Africa, at a golf club.   A prominent member of the club had arranged an evening meal. Hoping for 60 people to come, it turned out that 137 came. There were more non-Christians than Christians. The group was comprised predominantly high class business types.  Michael says that he was extremely excited about the meeting, but then minutes before it was time for him to speak, a colleague approached him and said that the meeting was a mistake—that this audience would not be receptive.

He said that he went on to give the worst sermon he has ever preached.  None of his points seemed to connect—no one seemed to be moved at all by what he had to say.  At the end, Ramsden gave an invitation—and he also handed out cards for people to critique what they just heard. 

He asked them to mark their card, on each respective question:  A to E. These people would essentially grade his sermon. 

Grade it:

 A = one of the best sermons you have ever heard

E = The worst.

The card also had a place for them to circle a statement.  From “I became a Christian tonight” to “Never invite me again.”  Ramsden says that after the meeting he couldn’t sleep.  He was intently concerned about what had just happened. 

The next morning at 7:30, the organizer called him.  Michael said his wife answered the phone and told him who was on the line.  He was hesitant when he put the phone up to his ear:

46 people ticked box A – ‘I gave my life to Jesus.’

48 people ticked box B – ‘I want to go to the Bible study.’

4 ticked box E.

Weeks later, most of the people from box B became Christians.   2 from box E did too.

Ramsden said he learned valuable lesson.  He decided that from that day forth,  to always give people the opportunity, no matter how I feel. He said, “My feelings are not a strong basis to operate this ministry from!”

He’s right you know.  It’s about trust—Trusting God.

 

There is a problem though.  Many Christians are not sure if they can morally trust God.  Non-Christians like Richard Dawkins, the Oxford biologist, would say our God is morally abhorrent.  He even goes on to say that the theology of the cross is abusive and sickening. Here is the thing—and I am not trying to exculpate Dawkins—but—if you don’t know God is trustworthy – you can’t trust him.

 

Well, is God trustworthy?  What is his true character?

In the book of Jonah, which is arguably one of the oldest pieces of Biblical literature we have, we see a remarkable story about God’s compassion. The whole city of Nineveh was saved.  Who was Nineveh?  Just know that they were considered an enemy nation to the Israelites—if for no other reason than they enjoyed using the skin of Israelites for lampshades.  Isn’t this remarkable that God would have mercy on them—and use an Israelite to bring the message to them?  You’d think that was encouraging.  Mass salvation of an enemy nation. So, just how does Jonah the preacher feel about it?

Chapter 4:1 – it displeased Jonah greatly – (literally gut wrenchingly exceedingly upset) and he was angry.

As Christians, we get displeased that revival doesn’t come.  Here is Jonah made that it has come.  He hated the people he was preaching to, but he knew God was gracious and compassionate.  In fact, you could say it this way:  The kind of God he was, is Jonah’s problem.

Often we can get angry and upset when we see the people who are our enemies forgiven and restored.  Doesn’t it sometimes seem like God is schizophrenic?  One the one hand he is loving and nice, and on the other, there is fierce wrath.  We need to not set them in opposition to each other, but see them in the light of each other.

In Jane Austin’s novel, Pride and Prejudice, there is a scene where Mr. Darcy says he loves her (Elizabeth) against his will, his better judgment, and his character. (Unsurprisingly she rejects him!)  If there are some people who know you (everything- the real thing), YET they love you – those are the most valuable relationships. To be known warts and all – and loved.  What could be better?

Here is the truth of the matter:  True love does not exist in the absence of judgment – but in the presence of it.  Think of a marriage where as you get to know each other and in the face of flaws etc., you healthily grow in depth.  As they get to know you and your faults better, the love gets stronger.

God really knows you. Do you have emotional stability that comes from knowing that God loves you despite your flaws? (Tis doesn’t mean God is happy with them or that we should excuse them). He knows it. God is not interested in covering things up. That’s not the path to true relationship.

 Have you ever said something stupid to a friend and made them upset or hurt them?  Lets supposing the next day you go to them to apologize.  It’s great when they forgive you.  All is well in the world, right?  But, consider if they say, “It’s nothing” – and walk away, and you know – it’s something! And now there is something between you. It’s not the same.  Things are estranged.  Or suppose we try to make up for it. We make a fuss. We try to serve them in some way to earn the forgiveness rather than look at the problem. We no longer have real relationship. Covering up wrongdoing (in that sense) becomes a barrier to relationship.

Isn’t that what we are after?  Restored relationship?

The word Compassion – comes from ecclesiastical Latin. It literally means ‘With Passion.’ It means to make a moral judgment and be moved from the depth of your being to do something about it. You have compassion when you say, “That’s wrong – we have to DO something!”

 

God is compassionate in this way.  He looks at the world and all its sin, and he is deeply moved to step in.  He goes to a cross, NOT to cover our sings—but to justify us by publically dealing with it.  He has to deal with the wrath of God.  God is fully merciful but also fully just.  He cannot extend mercy while at the same time undermining justice.  Justice isn’t served despite merry, it is served through it. 

Through Christ on the Cross.

The message is nothing other than that while we were still sinners, he found us! He had already paid the price, he has moved! He knows exactly what we are like, and what was required. And he’s with us.

We hear the phrase, “God loves you” so much, it becomes meaningless.  The truth is, God loves you and me because he knows exactly who we are—and what we have done.  He isn’t deluded.

We don’t have to pretend to be someone we aren’t with God.  He is already fully aware.  It isnt any help to myself or God to refuse to be transparent with him.  It also gives me transparency with others. I know I have been forgiven – because he forgave me.

There is only one basis for me to be forgiven:

If I have done wrong to someone – I should not be able to say ‘I’m forgiven’ – except and unless the other party is willing to forgive, and offers it – and through repentance I have received that forgiveness.

If that’s the case, it is not arrogant for me to say, “I am forgiven.”

We are dependent on him, his promise. God has said it! It’s dealt with. So I can be secure, whatever other insecurities I might wrestle with.  Are you totally assured as to the character of God? Are you utterly sure of him?  Are you utterly sure he really means his words of love and assurance? That he has chosen, called and loved you? That’s the reality!

Are you prepared to fail on that basis?

The basis on which I know I can fail, is that I know it’s not about me. I do and can blow it. When preaching or leading worship, it’s not about how many respond etc. I am okay of others reject me on the basis that God has accepted me.

We need confidence – to trust the God who transforms lives.

In all other worldviews God can be merciful, by passing over his justice. For us, it’s not at the expense of his justice, BOTH operate together.

 

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Yeah you know that whole Tony Dungy thing?

With just a few words, the great coach and football analyst Tony Dungy has literally found himself in a red hot imbroglio.  It’s really a shame too.  Let’s look at his comments:

Dungy noted in an interview, that if he were still coaching today, that he wouldn’t have drafted Sam “(n)ot because I don’t believe Michael Sam should have a chance to play, but I wouldn’t want to deal with all of it. It’s not going to be totally smooth…things will happen.”

I cannot for the life of me see any problems with this statement.  Let’s take something a bit less controversial.

What if a player was drafted in the 7th round who actively campaigns for the KKK?  What if he had made numerous comments in interviews that included the “n word,” referred to blacks and other minorities as less than human, and was regularly on the cover of white supremacy literature?

What if a player was drafted in the 7th round who was an ardent supporter of the 9-11 terrorists?  What if he said that he was going to use his platform in the NFL to bring attention and provide support to al Qaeda terrorists?  What if numerous interviews found him denouncing Americans and calling for jihad on our soil?

If either of those were the case, would you have a problem with Tony Dungy saying, “I do not believe ________’s (white supremacy) (Islamic faith) will be a distraction to his teammates or his organization,” like he said in a statement on Pro Football Talk.com? What if he went on to say about the two cases, “I do; however, believe that the media attention that comes with it will be a distraction? Unfortunately we are all seeing this play out now, and I feel badly that my remarks played a role in the distraction. I wish __________ nothing but the best in his quest to become a star in the NFL and I am confident he will get the opportunity to show what he can do on the field.”

You have to admit, considering those two egregious hypothetical situations, that is an extremely benign statement! In this case, we have a known racist or supporter of terrorism and Dungy still wants the guy to get a “shot” and to “show what he can do on the field.” I think people would argue for a more vociferous critique by Dungy! “This isn’t enough…he is a Christian, and a man of character. He must stand against racism against blacks.” “How can he support the 9-11 attackers? He must not allow this to be swept under the rug!”

So, now—let’s look at the situation as it really is. We have an openly homosexual Defensive player named Michael Sam drafted in the…7th round by the St. Louis Rams. Upon his draft, leading up to it and following it, he has been the recipient of lavish media praise. In fact, Oprah was in talks to make a television show about him, but it was subsequently nixed because it was decided by his drafting team to be a distraction!

Dungy was asked if he would have drafted Sam. I think a succinct, “No” would have sufficed, but the interviewer wanted more. So, we have Dungy’s comments.

Notice in his comments, he didn’t condemn Sam for his lifestyle choice. He didn’t say, “eww gross.” He didn’t say that Sam was less than human. On the contrary, he said that HE wouldn’t have drafted Sam, but that he felt he deserved a chance to prove himself on the field. What is the problem?

Here is the problem:  On Tuesday, Pardon the Interruption’s Tony Kornheiser and Michael Wilbon were discussing former NFL coach Tony Dungy’s recent comments that media attention would have pushed him away from drafting Sam. Kornheiser said he was optimistic that NFL players would be personally tolerant of Sam, though.

And then this was said:

“I’m more skeptical,” Wilbon countered. “I think there is a component, a subculture of the religious Right, that is very influential in football — maybe not the other sports, but football — and I don’t see this going as smoothly as you see it.”​

Now, what does Wilbon mean when he talks about the subculture of the religious Right?  Well, he is talking about Dungy!  He is talking about the players who circle up and pray after games.  He is talking about Tebow.  He is talking about Christians.

Christianity makes liberals nervous.

You have to remember, Christianity makes some exclusive truth claims.  First of all, it claims that Jesus Christ is The way.  It claims that all men are sinners and in need of redemption that humans are not in a position to secure for themselves.  It claims that who we are is defined by our identity…in Christ—rather than the things we do, or our biological DNA.

The above is highly controversial to the Left.  The Bible even tells us that it will be controversial.

The first statement, that Christ is THE way—that runs right into the oncoming traffic of the leftist ideology.  The liberal believes that all ways are THE way—well, with a caveat:  They believe they are the most tolerant people on the planet—they say that all ideas are equal—but then comes the clincher:  All ideas are equal, until you disagree with the idea that all ideas are equal (which if you really think about it, necessarily follows. If all ideas are equal, then it would also affirm the view that says “no ideas are equal.”  This contradicts.  It cannot be tenable).  At that point, they become the most intolerant group of people on the planet.  They aren’t interested in debate, dialogue, or Obama’s favorite word, “bipartisanship.”  They are only interested in destroying the opposing view.

Christians on the other hand, believe that all people are equal, but all ideas are not.  It is wrong to embrace Nazi ideology.  It is wrong to embrace ideology that affirms pedophilia.  Liberals believe that all ideas are equal but all people are not.  My evidence:  Read Wilbon’s quote.  They are not attacking Dungy’s ideas—or engaging with the arguments:  They are attacking HIM and this fringe element called the religious right.  Notice, they aren’t saying, “I philosophically oppose the view that all men need redemption from God.”  They are instead saying, “Tony Dungy just admitted that Tony Dungy isn’t a skilled enough coach to deal with the distractions of doing the right thing…”  You even have people saying, “Dungy is entitled to his opinion, he just cannot say it aloud.”  Wow—so now, Dungy, who is a black man…is now a second class citizen who is unable to speak his mind?  My how times have changed.

The second statement:  All men are sinners and in need of redemption.  Well, aside from the obvious objections to masculine pronouns that feminists will bring up, this goes against the entire humanist doctrine.  In their view, all people are good; it is society that lets them down.  It is the culture who is to blame for bad behavior, not the person themselves.  They take away all need for personal responsibility.

Why is it that when crime happens, instead of punishing criminals, they always want to find the root cause of it (by root cause, I mean…the societal cause)?  They are not interested in dealing with the personal responsibility of certain actions.  The person CHOSE to commit a crime.  It doesn’t matter what society has or hasn’t done.  They are only interested in how the crime came to happen.  They don’t care to ask, “Are people flawed,” but rather; “why was he born into socioeconomic conditions that produced this type of behavior?”  It is a very different view of human nature.

The other side of this matter is that the left believes that we are all the product of time plus matter plus chance—and as a result, our DNA dictates to us what we will do.  We cannot be responsible for things that happen at the microbiological level.  We are compelled to behave in this way without any choice.  It is determined.  If that were true though—and everything was predetermined, then does the statement, “He should keep his opinion to himself” have any meaning?  On the naturalistic view, which the left overwhelmingly affirms, I haven’t weighed any arguments, or looked at the pros and cons of that statement.  I am just wired to believe it is true.  Why should that hold any weight?

The Christian believes otherwise.  The Christian believes that man is born flawed—as Kant said:  “From the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was made.”  We cannot resist sin, or doing wrong on our own.  We are drawn to it and consumed by it.  In the Christian view, sin doesn’t just describe something we do; it describes a power that controls us.  Until this problem is dealt with, we cannot escape it.  We will continue to be owned by it.  As a result, we need redemption—and it is a redemption that we, because of our sinful nature, are not in a position to secure for ourselves.

 

Finally, the idea of ontological being.  The humanist or liberal believes that we are defined by what we do. The Christian believes we are defined, by our being—and specifically the being of Christ in us.  If we don’t have Christ in us, we are ontologically dead.  The liberal would say that “I am a homosexual,” or “I am a heterosexual.” Even the liberal Christian will say, “I am a body who has a soul,” or, “I am a social activist—and I believe in God.” It is enough to be those things.

The Christian on the other hand says, “I am a Child of God…and I DO things.”  Being is always before action to the Christian.  Being a homosexual or heterosexual is something that we DO.  Being a social activist is something I do.  What I do flows from my being.  My being doesn’t flow from what I do.  I cannot truly be in a relationship until I decide to ACT.  I have to talk to my spouse.  I have to engage with her.  If I lived in a vacuum, I would not be in relationship.  It requires action.  It requires doing.  Saying, “I am a heterosexual” really has no meaning at all without action.  Likewise, you will not hear any denunciation of homosexuality in the Bible as long as it is contained in the person.  It is the act of doing homosexual activity that is condemned.  After all, the Bible clearly says that Jesus WAS tempted.  It isn’t that he was tempted that is important.  What is important is that he DIDN’T do what he was tempted to do.  His being informed what he did—and he didn’t sin.

Being on the other hand only requires…well, life.  In the Christian view, it is the fact that Christ enters us and gives us life, that our ontological being is changed.  We are no longer only a lump of flesh and DNA.  We are more:  We are no longer a body who has a soul; we are a soul who has a body.  Another way to say it—Ravi Zacharias routinely says, “Jesus didn’t come into the world to make bad people good.  He came to make dead men live.”  Being.

With those things being said, I think it is clear why there is such a negative reaction by the secular journalists when someone like Dungy says what he says.  It isn’t so much his comments, as they were fairly benign.  No—the problem is that his Christianity is seen as his prevailing ideology.  It is the fact that his being (Christ) informs all that he does.  He doesn’t believe it is his DNA or societal conditions that inform it.  He believes in Christ as the only way, he believes in original sin, and he believes that he IS a Child of God—not a football coach or a heterosexual.

Do you see the problem?  It is a matter of truth claim.  Dungy and all Christians are making an exclusive claim to truth when they identify as a Child of God.  They are saying that ALL men are flawed, that Jesus is the greatest who exists, and that it is ONLY through Jesus that ALL men can become, unflawed.

Let me put it into the lens of a personal story—and see two reactions to truth:

I once went to get a haircut, and in the middle of my cut, the lady cutting my hair said to the other lady working, “Business is good, but there must be more to life than this.”  I caught her eye in the mirror and said, “You know, in life, we aren’t made happy by what we acquire, but by what we appreciate.”  She was clearly interested, so I went on:  “The trouble as I see it is, that we often think we have nothing to be grateful for, but I think the real problem is, many times we think we have no one to be grateful to.”  She began to engage with me, and told me that she was very fearful about the future; and specifically, about bringing a baby into such an evil world.  I asked her then, “What is more troubling, the evil out there, or the evil inside?”  She agreed that the evil inside was more troubling, and she said, that it often felt like there was a power that controlled her—and that no matter what she did, she always feel prisoner to it.  I told her, “that power is what we call sin—and it doesn’t describe only actions that we do…but like you say, it describes a power that controls us.”  She nodded, and said, “I sometimes wish there was a way to be free from it…its almost like I need a……..”  I interrupted…”A savior?”  She lit up and said, “Yeah!  A Savior.  That is what I need.  What a great word.” 

A couple of weeks later I went back to check up on her…and she immediately sat me and began cutting my hair.  She told me that after our talk, she went home and told everything to her husband.  I thought to myself, “This will be interesting.”  So, I said to her, “what did he say?”   She said, “he said I was preaching at him!?”

Well of course she was.  Can you imagine coming home for dinner and hearing this:  “Hey honey… I need to tell you something….”  First, “You aren’t made happy by what you acquire, but by what you appreciate.”  “It isn’t that you have nothing to be thankful for, but that you have no one to be grateful to.”  “You aren’t held captive by what you do, but instead by a sin that controls you.”  “The only hope you have of getting rid of this sin is a Savior…and that savior is Jesus Christ.”

Was he ready to hear this?  No.  Why was she?  She had stated a cry of the heart when she told her coworker, “There has to be more to life than this.”  That was my way into the game.  The husband on the other hand was just trying to eat.  We need to be very mindful when we talk to people—and actually listen to what they say—to know when to engage them with the Gospel.

Now, I bring that up to show you how the gospel can be effectively communicated without causing a media imbroglio.  I think the left and seculars in general could take note from such a conversation. I don’t know that what Dungy said is any more offensive than the conversation I had with the woman.  He was asked a question and he responded.  Had he refused to respond, he would have been accused of not lending his moral authority to such an important issue in the NFL.

It brings up the issue of tolerance.  Tolerance as properly defined means existing in peace with those who you disagree with.  It has nothing to do with condoning, celebrating, or affirming.  Instead, what it is about is:  People are equal, ideas aren’t.  Because I see all people as equal, and ideas on a merit based plane, I am able to coexist with those whom I disagree.  I engage with their ideas—I do not engage them as people.  A good understanding of tolerance is:  “Gross.  You actually engage in that?  That is disgusting.  I cannot support such egregious behavior, BUT, I am not going to infringe on your rights to do that as long as you don’t infringe on mine.”  That is a textbook understanding of tolerance.

The problem is, tolerance has been redefined to mean, “You cannot disagree with anyone.”  There is a problem.  In saying, “You cannot disagree with anyone,” you are disagreeing with those who say, “You can disagree with anyone.”  It is a self-defeating proposition—it is meaningless.

Can we live in a fully tolerant, free, and just society?  Can those three coexist IF tolerance is defined in this new way?  No.  For justice to occur there will be disagreement.  For disagreement to occur there must be freedom.  For freedom to occur there must be the right to disagree and justice must exist.  If disagreement exists, then the new tolerance cannot exist in a free society.  Or to say it more poignantly, if the new tolerance exists, then there can be no true freedom.

I may disagree with you, but support your right to state your beliefs—that doesn’t mean I support your beliefs.  That doesn’t mean I celebrate them.  That doesn’t mean I would draft you.

 

What may be the most troubling is this:  “Thank God he wasn’t the coach of the St. Louis Rams…And like everyone in America, everyone is entitled to their own opinions.”  Michael Sam is right.  The problem is, there is a priestly class in America who do not really live by that philosophy.

What the media is really saying is, “Everyone is entitled to their own opinions, but we do not agree that all people are equal—and some people should keep their mouths shut.”

Dan Graziano from ESPN said this:  “I’m not here to call Tony Dungy a bigot or to dispute his right to say what he wants to say. My point here is that Dungy has a platform and that his words matter to those who work in and follow the NFL. And on an issue such as this, it’s important for a person in Dungy’s position to understand that and to think about the impact his words have on the world at large. Again, he’s welcome to his opinion. He just needs to remember how many people are listening to it.”

He isn’t disputing his right to say it, but he NEEDS to remember how many people are listening.  Where does this moral objectivity come from?  Dungy NEEDS to…?  I have seen other articles that say, Dungy SHOULD refrain…or Dungy SHOULD have kept his mouth shut…

What gives them the right to stand on this moral platform?  If the fringe religious right and their claim to truth is absurd and dubious—then from what entity do we (read ‘they’) draw objective moral truths and duties?  Those are the questions we should be asking—before it is too late.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Apostle Paul and Rhetoric

We all know there are famous speeches that last the test of time.  Some orators are able to say things that make the events that they are describing seem more spectacular than they actually are.  Great rhetoric is instantly identifiable, and upon hearing just a few words, the listener is able to know who said the words, what they were talking about, and what the nature of the speech was (all without hearing the speech in full).  Take for example these opening lines: “We will fight them on the beaches,”  “I have a dream,” and “Four score and seven years ago.”  Every culture has rhetoric that children learn from an early age.  We know these speeches instantly even though Churchill was decades ago.  Gettysburg was centuries ago as well, but the speech lives on.  Finally, Martin Luther King Jr. is from a time past, but his “I have a dream” is still as recognizable as it was that day.

The question must be asked, which is greater, the rhetoric or the subject matter?  Is it the subject matter that makes the speech great, or is it the rhetoric that makes the subject matter great?

In the ancient world, around 480 BC there lived a prominent Greek statesman, orator, and Athenian General named Pericles.  He was well-known and was widely regarded the most prominent in each of those areas.  Now, when Athens was attacked by the barbarians, the Greeks successfully held them off and gained military victory.  Upon winning this battle, the leaders called together the great rhetoricians to write speeches to commemorate the victory.  Pericles wrote one of these speeches.  His was the greatest.  In fact it was so moving that grown men who had fought began to weep instantly upon hearing it.  It was so powerful that today on the anniversary of the speech it is still read today.

There is a problem though.

Even though the Athenians held off the barbarians in this attack, in a subsequent attack a short time later, the Athenians were beaten.  The defeat is more significant for the Greeks than the victory, obviously, but today we only remember and celebrate the victorious speech by Pericles.  It isn’t remembered because of a lasting victory, but because of lasting rhetoric.

In this case, it wasn’t the event that made the speech great, it was the rhetoric that gave meaning to the event itself.

Even Aristotle says, that he knew it was a folly of a speech, “but it causes my heart to soar like an eagle.”  It adds significance to the events that they don’t have.  His (Pericles) eloquence is so strong it adds meaning to the events!  It is purely his rhetorical skill that makes the speech memorable.

Now Paul was extremely well learned in the intricacies of Greek oratory.  In fact, in his book 1 Corinthians, he uses this very model found in Pericles.  The passage we are going to look at has 17 points of reference to the Pericles speech!  It has four sections of four verses.  It is a rhetorical gem in comparison to Greek oratory.  Here is the passage:

17 For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.   18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written,  “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”  20 Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?

 

21 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

 

 25 For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27 But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28 God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are,

29 so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.  30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.[1]

Now we instantly see the four sections.  As interesting as this is, it gets even more stimulating.  In the entire passage, Paul is exhorting the Corinthians not to employ lofty rhetoric above the Gospel itself.  He is saying “it isn’t the rhetoric that makes the Gospel special, it is the Gospel that makes the rhetoric special!”  Despite this, and in seeming defiance to his own admonition, Paul breaks into a rhyme!  Now, if you are warning against trendy rhetoric, the last thing you would encourage is a rhyme scheme.  Look at verse 23:

23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,”

This is a powerful verse.  It is amazing that he declares that Christ dying is a stumbling block to Jews.  They were waiting for a political leader who would free them from oppression in this world.  Jesus talked about freeing people from sin.  The fact that He died was not seen to the Jews as a victory, but instead it was viewed as a defeat.  How can a leader lead if they are dead?

It is a truly remarkable phrase.  I think the fact that Paul employs the rhetoric he has been warning against makes it all the more special.   Look at what it says in the Greek:

“hēmeis de kēryssomen

Christon estaurōmenon,

Ioudaiois men skandalon

ethnesin de mōrian.”

Do you see the rhyme?  He is using incredibly powerful and straight forward rhyme scheme here with an easily flowing cadence to get this message of “Christ crucified” across.  The problem is, there is no rhyme scheme like this found in any Greek poetry.  Where is it from?  It is Hebrew.  Paul has taken Hebrew literature and translated it to Greek.  Do you know how difficult this is to do?

Paul is reversing what happened with Pericles’s speech.  Pericles tried to give meaning to meaningless events through rhetoric.  Paul is saying it is not the rhetoric that gives power to the Gospel, but the Gospel that gives power to the rhetoric.  As a matter of fact, if you are using rhetoric to add power to the Gospel, the Gospel no longer has power—its all about the messenger!

The fact that Christ is deity, died, and resurrected—is power enough.

Here is the challenge I would leave with you—are you relying on your gifts and using God, or are you relying on God and using your gifts?  It is a powerful question we must all ask ourselves.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (1 Co 1:17–2:2). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

Tagged , , , , , , , , ,

Does Sin Exist?

We live in period of history in which nothing is wrong, well except to claim unequivocally that there is such a thing as wrong.  We live in a society that that feels that nothing is off limits, well except the idea that there are things that are off limits.  We happen to live in a world that dogmatically asserts that what we do is what we are wired to do.  That is, in the words of Richard Dawkins, it is our DNA that dictates what we do, “and we just dance to its music.”  We have moved a long way from Flip Wilson’s, “The devil made me do it.”  Now, we are prisoners of our own material body.  My DNA made me do it!

Before you you go believing this rubbish, let me just plant a word of doubt and skepticism in your mind (and yes you can be skeptical of the self styled freethinking skeptics).  When someone says that you are pre-wired to behave a certain way based on your DNA or molecular makeup, what they are saying is:  You are determined.  Determinism is the view that there is no free will and that we are captive to time, matter, and chance.  In a sense, it is the belief that Darwinian evolution is in business, and it will do what it likes–including controlling your behavior and thoughts.  Here is the problem.  If one holds to determinism, by definition, they did not come to hold this view based on weighing the pro’s and con’s for the argument.  They weren’t persuaded rationally to believe that determinism is true.  Instead, determinism would purport that they just hold the view because they were determined to do so.  If we are determined to do the things we do and believe the things we believe, how can we rationally affirm anything?  How can determinism be rationally affirmed if we are predetermined to believe it?

Don’t buy this stuff. Well, that is, if you are determined not to buy it, don’t buy it.  If you are determined to buy it, you have no choice. (please sense the sarcasm)

 


 

Now, the more interesting question is,does sin exist? Is man by nature good, or is man evil? These are questions that must be answered.  And trust me, regardless what worldview a person holds–whether they are a theist, atheist–whatever–they have a position on these issues.

Consider a story:

“Two brothers were notorious around town for being as crooked in their business dealings as they could possibly be. That notwithstanding, they continued to progress from wealth to greater wealth until suddenly one of the brothers died. The surviving brother found himself in search of a minister who would be willing to put the finishing touches to the funeral. He finally made an offer to a minister that was hard for him to refuse. “I will pay you a great sum, he said, “if you will just do me one favor. In eulogizing my brother, I want you to call him a ‘saint,’ and if you do, I will give you a handsome reward.” The minister, a shrewd pragmatist, agreed to comply. Why not? The money could help put a new roof on the church.

When the funeral service began, the sanctuary was filled by all the important business associates who had been swindled through the years by these two brothers. Unaware of the deal that had been made for the eulogy, they were expecting to be vindicated by the public exposure of the man’s character.

At last the much-awaited moment arrived, and the minister spoke. “The man you see in the coffin was a vile and debauched individual. He was a liar, a thief, a deceiver, a manipulator, a reprobate, and a hedonist. He destroyed the fortunes, careers, and lives of countless people in this city, some of whom are here today. This man did every dirty, rotten, unconscionable thing you can think of. But compared to his brother here, he was a saint.”

Every group of students I tell this joke to laugh out loud.  Why?  What is it about this story that resonates with all who hear it, regardless of cultural background or place of birth? Why can a stadium of people hear this story through their respective linguistic interpreter, and all at once let out a seismic roar of laughter at the punch line? The answer is quite simple. We are all aware of what man can be at his worst. We know the evil that resides within all of us and what it can do if allowed to prevail. If this was not a common understanding, there would be no laughter. Am I wrong?

I am reminded of the great English journalist Malcolm Muggeridge, who wrote in the first volume of his two-volume biography, a story that dealt with sin.

Working as a journalist in India, he left his residence one evening to go to a nearby river for a swim. As he entered the water, across the river he saw an Indian woman from the nearby village who had come to have her bath. Muggeridge impulsively felt the allurement of the moment, and temptation stormed into his mind. He had lived with this kind of struggle for years but had somehow fought it off in honor of his commitment to his wife, Kitty. On this occasion, however, he wondered if he could cross the line of marital fidelity. He struggled just for a moment and then swam furiously toward the woman, literally trying to outdistance his conscience. His mind fed him the fantasy that stolen waters would be sweet, and he swam the harder for it. Now he was just two or three feet away from her, and as he emerged from the water, any emotion that may have gripped him paled into insignificance when compared with the devastation that shattered him as he looked at her.  Muggeridge writes:

“She came to the river and took off her clothes and stood naked, her brown body just caught by the sun.  I suddenly went mad.  There came to me that dryness in the back of my throat; that feeling of cruelty and strength and wild unreasonableness which is called passion.  I darted with all the force of swimming I had to where she was, and then nearly fainted for she was old and hideous and her feet were deformed and turned inwards and her skin was wrinkled and, worst of all, she was a leper.  You have never seen a leper I suppose; until you have seen one you do not know the worst that human ugliness can be.  This creature grinned at me, showing a toothless mask, and the next thing I knew was that I was swimming along in my old way in the middle of the stream—yet trembling…It was the kind of lesson I needed.  When I think of lust now I think of this lecherous woman.” 

The experience left Muggeridge trembling and muttering under his breath, “What a dirty lecherous woman!” But then the rude shock of it dawned upon him—it was not the woman who was lecherous; it was his own heart.  He was the lecher.

Muggeridge himself admitted the real shock that morning was not the leper, as mind-banding as that would be. Rather, it was the condition of his own heart, dark, with appetites overpowering his weak will. He writes,

“If only I could paint, I’d make a wonderful picture of a passionate boy running after that and call it: ‘The lusts of the flesh.’”

Muggeridge, who was himself a latecomer to the faith, would go one to say,

“The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”

Are instances like this reserved for the elite caste of the most lecherous and morally repugnant individuals in society? Hardly. Think back to the great figures we know from the Bible. David, a man after God’s own heart. He let sin overcome him and it let to lust, immorality, deceit, murder, prevarication, and dishonor. Why? All because of sin that was not dealt with properly. Think of King Saul. Perhaps Saul is a man who could have been the greatest King to ever live. What was his problem? Pride. He could not stand the fact that David had slain the giant, and as a result the songs were being sung about him, and not himself. This sin led to problems. Remember Jonah? His sin of disobedience didn’t only affect him, it affected all of the other men on board the ship!  If you remember, it took the pagan captain of the ship to get Jonah to pray to God!  You know things are messed up when sin takes control of your life to the point that unbelievers are willing to ask YOU to try God out.

I was once talking to a woman about the Christian view of the world, and she admitted,

“Being a woman about to give birth, I do wonder to myself how anyone could bring a baby into such an evil world.”

I responded to her,

“You are right about the evil out there, but what about the evil in us–in you?”

You know, the Bible refers to sin not only as being something that we do, but also as a power that controls and consumes us.  It isn’t that we do sinful things, but rather, that we are sinful.

Sin is a problem!

 


 

Fast forward to our modern age. Sin has become a problem “no more.” Sin is now seen by the postmodernists, liberals, and relativists as merely a concoction and archaic holdover from fundamental Christian dogmas.  Jacques Derrida, Michael Foucault, and their ilk will tell you there there is no absolute truth (though didn’t they just state an absolute in making their claim?). There is no absolute truth; so, how could there be something called sin?  It was Foucault who noted,

‘To die for the love of boys: what could be more beautiful?’

and,

‘all the rest of my life I’ve been trying to do intellectual things that would attract beautiful boys.’

 

Isnt it a shame that a man could admit these things, but his biographer only refer to them as the “passions of Foucault?”  This isn’t passion, this is depravity.

 

This refusal of sin as a reality affects more than just sexual freedom, however.

C.E.M. Joad once noted that

“It is because we rejected the doctrine of original sin that we on the [political] Left were always being disappointed”

Unfortunately for the Left,  this is right (pun intended).  Why is it that we can erect all-powerful legislation and control the lives of all citizens, yet still stand in complete shock when something tragic happens at the hands of human beings?  I posit that it doesn’t matter how many laws are instituted.  If man doesn’t realize that sin is real, and that evil is a reality, then I agree with Dr. Johnson who lamented:

“All the laws of heaven and earth are insufficient to restrain them from their crimes.”

 

I think G.K. Chesterton can teach us a few things when it comes to this issue of objective sin.  First of all, objective morals do exist.  Chesterton once noted that,

“Though we may differ over whether or not abortion is virtuous, we all agree that they should be performed with sterilized instruments.”

That quote may seem a bit harsh, but think about it.  Two people may disagree over the virtue of abortion–that is to say, whether it is right or wrong.  What they do not disagree over is the medical necessity of universal precautions.  Why are precautions universal if there werent a moral mandate to take care of the patient because–well–life matters?

This is the essence of the medical mistake.

G.K. Chesterton taught us that in medicine we all agree on what a well person is, but disagree on what sick is. In social and political theory however, we agree on what a malady looks like, but tear our eyes out over what a well-functioning society looks like.  The problem is, politicians and social critics continually use medical terminology to talk about social issues–“The health care situation in this country is sick.  It needs to be reformed.”  OR  “The country is sick–vote for my policies, and we can return it to health.”  This is a fallacy says Chesterton.  How can they talk about what ‘well’ is in absolute terms, if the idea of well is the most disputed issue in all of academia?  Only in medicine can this terminology be used.   It is a fact that a man may have pain in his leg and walk into a hospital, and due to medical necessity, come out with one leg less. Never will that man walk into a hospital and in a moment of creative rapture, walk out of the hospital, having being given one leg more.

Absolutes do exit.  Wrong exits.  Good exists.  We just refuse to say what it is.

I believe that Oliver Sacks, an M.D. who is no Christian said it best in his blockbuster book, Awakenings:

“For all of us have a basic, intuitive feeling that once we were whole and well; at ease, at peace, at home in the world; totally united with the grounds of our being; and that then we lost this primal, happy, innocent state, and fell into our present sickness and suffering. We had something of infinite beauty and preciousness-and we lost it; we spend our lives searching for what we have lost; and one day, perhaps, we will suddenly find it. And this will be the miracle, the millennium !”

Did you understand that?  Isn’t that interesting?  Billions of dollars have been spent on research–and here we are–stuck at Genesis 3.

Along those lines, here is an interesting quote from the renowned professor of psychology; and one time president of the American Psychological Association, Hobart Mowrer. This man was also an atheist who took his own life in his seventies:

“For several decades we psychologists looked upon the whole matter of sin and moral accountability as a great incubus and acclaimed our liberation from it as epoch making. But at length we have discovered that to be free in this sense, that is, to have the excuse of being sick rather than sinful, is to court the danger of also becoming lost… In becoming amoral, ethically neutral and free, we have cut the very roots of our being, lost our deepest sense of selfhood and identity, and with neurotics, themselves, we find ourselves asking, “Who am I, what is my deepest destiny, what does living mean?”

What is the solution?  The modern man has a solution for what the archaic man calls sin. That solution is education.  Notice that the boundaries of this debate are enforced by the self styled intellectual caste.  Is this really the way things should be?  Wasn’t Oliver Wendell Holmes correct when he stated, “The life of the law is logic not experience”?

Contrary to the beliefs of modern utopianists, education does not change the way people behave. This has been exemplified by various instances of white collar crime where ivy league university graduates are the ones committing the crimes. What then is the difference between the common street criminal and the thoroughly educated high class criminal? Method and magnitude! The common street criminal will employ crude weapons to steal a car from the other end of town. The educated criminal will employ his academic degrees to gain prominence and steal millions of dollars from the corporation that he runs. The uneducated criminal will break into a house and rape a woman. The educated criminal will use position and power to rape a nation.

As D.L. Moody put it,

“If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway track, and, in order to change him, you send him to college, at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track.”

It is a snobbish assumption that the ignorant are the dangerous criminals. The most dangerous criminal is the educated criminal. All education does is to make the criminal more sophisticated.

The only solution to sin can be found in the person of Christ. Listen to what an the avowed skeptic, E.H. Lecky had to say on the matter:

“It was reserved for Christianity to present to the world an ideal character, which through all the changes of eighteen centuries has inspired the hearts of men with an impassioned love; has shown itself capable of acting on all ages, nations, temperaments, and conditions; has not been only the highest pattern of virtue, but also the strongest incentive to its practice; and has exercised so deep an influence that it may be truly said that the simple record of three short years of active life has done more to regenerate and to soften mankind than all the disquisitions of philosophers and all the exhortions of moralists.”

G.K. Chesterton said that original sin is as “practical as potatoes.” We may try to deny it, overlook it, or re-describe it, but the fact remains. We are capable of many kinds of evil. The diseases of the body are not nearly as hideous and grotesque as the diseases of the soul.

It is not merely external behaviors that vex our souls, but our internal intentions as well. Jesus explained this clearly when he said that if we lust after a woman we commit adultery with her in our hearts; that if we are unforgiving of our brother, it is like murdering him. Jesus brings ethics from the social sphere to the personal one by showing how intentions can be just as wicked as actions.

Have we taken stock of our soul recently? Have we sensed the nuances of evil in our own hearts? We need to stand guard today, and every day, with humility that we are capable of terrible evil. And at the same time, we need to avoid those things that draw us into it. Sin starts at the heart level and works its way outward.

Comparatively, leprosy on the body is not nearly as ugly as the pockmarks of sin on the soul. The good news is that Christ has broken the power of both and asks us to begin eternity now by building a soul in this world appropriate for our glorified body in the next.

How do we find the answers?  What worldview gives us a hope? Ravi Zacharias gives us an interesting method:

First, there are 3 tests that a worldview must pass.  It must be:  1)Logically consistent (its teachings cannot be self-contradictory), 2)Empirically Adequate (its teachings must match with what we see in reality, 3) experientially relevant (its teaching must speak directly to how we actually live our lives.

Second, each worldview must address the following four ultimate questions:  1)Origin (where do the universe and human beings come from?), 2)Meaning (What is the meaning or purpose of life?), 3) Morality (how do we know what is right and what is wrong?), 4) Destiny (What happens to us after we die?)

Third, there are five academic disciplines that must be employed to comprehensively study a worldview:  1) Theology (the study of God), 2)Metaphysics (the study of what is ultimately real), 3)Epistemology (the study of how we can know things), 4) Ethics (the study of moral right and wrong), 5) Anthropology (the study of what and who humans are).

You will find that only a worldview based upon God and through a relationship with the person of Christ will one view hold up to this test.  But, don’t take my word for it.  Do your own work.  Try it.

Joseph Damien was a missionary in the 19th century who ministered to people with leprosy on the island of Molokai, Hawaii.  Those suffering grew to love him and revered the sacrificial life he lived our before them.  But even he did not know the price he would pay.  One morning before he was to lead them in their daily worship, he was pouring some hot water into a cup when the water swirled out and fell onto his bare foot.  It took him a moment to realize that he had not felt any sensation.  Gripped by the sudden fear of what this could mean, he poured more boiling water on the same spot.  No feeling whatsoever.

Damien immediately diagnosed the problem.  As he walked tearfully to deliver his sermon, no one at first noticed the difference in his opening line.  He normally began every sermon with, “my fellow believers.”  But this morning he began with, “My fellow lepers.”

In a greater measure, Jesus came into the world knowing what it would cost Him.  He bore in His pure being the marks of evil, that we might be made pure.  “For this I came into the world,” he said (John 18:37).

The gospel points to the person of Christ who went to the cross, not just to transform the Jeffrey Dahmers and the money-grabbers behind the scenes, but to renew even those whose self-righteousness blinds them to their own need.  It wasn’t just the prodigal who squandered the fathers love, it was also the older brother—for he was so close to the fathers love the whole time.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,