Archive for February, 2006

But What Do I Know?

Posted by on Thursday, 16 February, 2006

Three incidents:

1) A fellow named D. James Kennedy has a radio show on the Christian station that I listen to occasionally. The station will also play 90 second “Kennedy Commentary” segments in between other shows. One of these a couple of weeks ago began with the announcer asking, “Why did Jesus preach the sermon on the mount?” I fully expected Dr. Kennedy to say something to the effect that the sermon was to expose the sins of the world, to convict people, show us all the need for a savior, etc, etc. He basically said that this was the standard by which we will all be judged and we will one day be called to give an account of whether or not we lived by it. I was left thinking, “AND…?” Ah, but there was more: apparently we can share this fact with our unbelieving friends! You sir, clearly do not have any unbelieving friends.

2) I do not recall now exactly how I got to thinking of it, perhaps it was again something on the radio, but I was thinking of the story of the rich young man who comes to Jesus asking what he must do to inherit eternal life, and Jesus tells him that he must follow all the commandments. When the man claims that he has followed them his whole life, Jesus responds, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” Then we are told that the man went away sad, because he was very rich, and Jesus went on to tell his disciples, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
On the surface, it seems obvious that Jesus is against wealth. I would further suggest that when the Lord and Creator of the Universe decided to come to earth in human form and chose to be born in a bleedin’ stable, in a feeding trough, then this is clearly not a guy who has a lot of interest in wealth and worldly comfort.
But as we all know, Christian = Republican = pro-wealth, so clearly there must be another explanation. I have heard several commentaries stating that it was not specifically that he was rich that was the problem, it was simply that his wealth was more important to him than following Christ. I do agree with that interpretation as far as it goes, but on this particular day, I realized that one can go deeper still. For around this time in the Bible, Jesus is walking around pointing to seemingly random people and saying, “Follow me.” But here was a guy who wanted to follow Jesus but could not. The difference I see is that while other people were being called upon, this guy was trying to come to Jesus on his own. It does not matter that he had followed all of the commandments (if indeed he had) nor that he was rich. The point is that no matter what you do, there will always be something more between you and God. “Then who can be saved?” asked the disciples. Jesus replied, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

3)In church last Sunday, the orchestra played an instrumental version of As the Deer Panteth for the Water, while the main screen displayed something like:
Psalm 42:
1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?

Curious, I turned to Psalm 42 in my Bible. All I can say is that I feel that they SERIOUSLY cheapened that Psalm by only quoting the first two verses. My church does not deserve the blame for this however. Not being raised in an environment where I had much exposure to traditional Hymns, I had to look up the lyrics to that song when I got home. I think that it was really the author of this song, Martin Nystrom, who took all of the punch out of the original Psalm.
We can not really blame him either though, because this is a problem that runs throughout both worship and popular Christian music. This unabashed praise, as if nothing bad has ever happened to you; I can not speak for anyone else, but that kind of thing really turns me off. The thing is, I simply do not believe it. I do not believe that you have never had any doubts and struggles with God, and if you try to suggest otherwise, or pretend that none of that matters, then I ultimately just feel that you are being deceitful, and I reject that as a form of worship.
So, dear readers, let’s have Psalm 42 in its entirety, and I ask you, is this honoring to God? Would you dare to sing this in church?
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God;
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
These things I remember and I pour out my soul within me
For I used to go along with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and thanksgiving, a multitude keeping festival.
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him
For the help of His presence.
O my God, my soul is in despair within me;
Therefore I remember You from the land of the Jordan
And the peaks of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.
Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls;
All Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me.
The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime;
And His song will be with me in the night,
A prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God my rock, “Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As a shattering of my bones, my adversaries revile me,
While they say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
Why are you in despair, O my soul?
And why have you become disturbed within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.

So, am I wrong? Who am I anyway? It seems the very height of arrogance to even suggest that I might have a better understanding of the Bible than people who have been studying it longer than I have even been alive.

Strange But True

Posted by on Wednesday, 15 February, 2006

While my dad was visiting California several months ago, he made the observation that the church had become my community. It was an innocent enough observation, but it troubled me greatly. I did not initially go to the church in search of community, I was looking for truth. Yet I realized that he was absolutely right, I still had not found truth, but I had grow (relatively) comfortable in my community. For that reason, I seriously considered leaving that church and that community to start over somewhere else. I decided against it at that time, mainly because I recognized that there was just a little too much “I’ll show him,” and not enough honest searching in my motivation.

A month or two later, there was great concern over the diminishing attendance in our Sunday night group, and they began a series of meetings to discuss the future direction of the ministry. After the first of these, it suddenly seemed as though I would not even need to make the decision to leave, for they were throwing out everything I came for anyway. Of course, by that point, I was considering leaving, not to go a different church, but simply to go away.

As I said, there were a series of meetings. Over the course of these, different opinions were expressed, and it was eventually decided that the Sunday night meetings would take on a variable format with different people responsible for one evening a month. It was further decided that this new format would launch the Sunday following the Superbowl, with the first session being a discussion group led by… me. That’s right, me.

Now just try to tell me that God does not have a sense of humor. This is exactly the kind of crap that made me believe in God in the first place. Honestly, though- how would you like to walk in to a church on a Sunday evening, bright eyed, Bible in hand and ready to be fed the word of God, only to find me in charge? Me, who wouldn’t know Jesus if He spit on the ground and rubbed mud in my eyes? What were they thinking? Desperate times all around, I suppose.

Well, if you’ve done the math, you may have figured out that the first Sunday after the Superbowl was last weekend. So what in the world did I talk about? Why… U2 of course… what else?

And There Was Light?

Posted by on Thursday, 9 February, 2006

I mentioned rather in passing that I saw a movie about God last week. It was called End of the Spear. I do not know how much press this is getting and whether or not to expect that any of you have heard of it. Without saying too much, this movie was about missionaries to an indigenous people in the Ecuadorian Amazon, and if you did not know going in that the story was true, you would never believe it. At least, I would not have.

It is so easily to believe that God exists while sitting in church, or reading the Bible. So easy to go into that “world” where God is real… and then walk back out again when you are finished. God is in there, he’s not out here with us in the real world. Not really. So what are these people doing? God really did that? Out here? HOW? I find that thinking about this movie is like staring at the sun; I just can’t bare to do it for very long.

I am not merely saying that this movie is true simply because it states, “From a true story,” at the beginning. Who knows what that “from” might mean? I know that it is true because I have heard this story before. The headquarters of the missionary organization depicted in this film is located in my home town. I know several people who work there. This is not just something that happened to some people sometime in history; this story is true in the sense that it actually intersects my own life, albeit through several degrees of separation.

For my believing friends, who may not understand the difficulty in facing this, I would say that it’s something like reading …oh let’s say… 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and you really just would rather turn the page and not think about it. [Maybe you are fine with those verses, but I’m sure there is a passage in there somewhere that you feel that way about, please don’t miss my point on a tangent.]

In another interesting moment this weekend, I was thinking through a certain issue- rationally, logically, empirically- and when I finally reached a conclusion, it suddenly occurred to me, “But that’s what the Bible says!” And in that moment, I felt as though my eyes were open. I did not quite understand what I was looking at, just blurry shapes and colors, but, perhaps for the first time, it was light.

I know what some of you are thinking. Wrestling demons? Seeing light? Raise your hand if you think I’m losing my mind… again. Or maybe you just wonder how few meals I had last week.

As I was piecing together this post in my head, I caught upon the U2 song with the title Staring at the Sun. I actually learned how to play that song once upon a time. I always just considered it a light-hearted summertime song… nothing to do with what I am talking about here. But I pulled out the music for it to refresh my memory and was reading through the lyrics, and suddenly, “Jesus! This is exactly what I’m talking about!” Who knew? Now don’t worry, I won’t subject you to another craptacular cover version, just go find it yourself if you are interested.

In the Locust Wind Comes a Rattle and Hum

Posted by on Saturday, 4 February, 2006

If my posts have been a little down lately, it’s because I have been wrestling with demons all week. Imagine the things that I DIDN’T feel like sharing. Or maybe you shouldn’t.

Last night, I honestly believed that God broke my computer in order to teach me a lesson. (Not a lesson related to the computer, that just happened to be the last in a series of things to really drive the point home.) I have to admit, that seems more than just a little silly today. Today I took my computer over to a friend who was able to diagnose the problem in under two minutes. That left an hour or so before we joined some others to see a movie about the grace of God, followed by a nice late night breakfast. It was the most peace I have had all week.

Then as soon as I came home, it was straight back to the darkness. I mean I was literally still sitting in the car with the garage door open not even wanting to move. Does fellowship really have that dramatic of an effect on my mood? …Or is it something worse? Maybe the reason I was not wrestling with demons while at someone else’s house was simply because there aren’t any demons in that house… but there are in mine. Meaning, of course, that demons would have to be actual real beings that occupy a specific location.

This is not something that I want to be true.

Stare Into the Pit

Posted by on Wednesday, 1 February, 2006

I was in Paris for Christmas last year. Walking back from church the Sunday before, I passed through the Jardin de Tuileries. A young woman approached me, asked if I spoke English and handed me a note. It basically said that she was a refugee from Sarajevo (or somewhere in that area, I forget exactly where), and that she needed money for food for her mother and herself. I did not want to give her money. I did not bother to explain that I only had American currency that would not be of much use to her- largely because that wasn’t actually true. I had a 20 euro note that my mother had given me the previous year, but I was not about to give that away, for a couple of reasons, neither of which is good. I don’t think I even told her that I was sorry, perhaps because I wasn’t sorry, but more likely because I did not want to betray the fact that I spoke fluent English, and leave her to wonder if I actually understood her note. (Although the fact that I stared at it long enough to have read the whole thing ought to leave little doubt there.) She proceeded to follow me through the Jardin, and I kept saying simply, “Non,” while wondering if she was going to follow me all the way home. Eventually, she left me alone.

In the past, I have given both money and time to various charitable causes, but I did not help her, for no real reason other than that I just did not feel like it. And do not forget, I was on my way back from church.

I mention this incident, not because I see it as a low point in my life, but rather because I think it is merely one of the more interesting examples of what is my typical way of dealing with people. My interactions are almost exclusively for my own benefit and/or at my own convenience.

Whenever I think about the resources and the opportunities that I have been given, how little I use them, and how little I even care, I quickly come to the conclusion that I fully deserve to be beaten unrecognizable, nailed to piece of wood and left for dead.

Now, it has been mentioned more than once that I have a tendency to be harder on myself than most people. If that be true, I can only presume that most people do not have as much darkness on their soul.

I think it fair to say that I am mostly like not going to be tortured and killed, regardless of what I may deserve. There are some who say that this is because, a long time ago, someone else declared, “It’s cool… this one’s on me.” I can definitely see how that would be a great comfort to someone like me, if only they should happen to believe it.

There are, of course, a great many people in the world who are being tortured and killed as we speak. Children even. So what about them? Do they simply deserve that fate more than I?