Friday, April 27, 2012

A Christian's Achilles Heel

In February of 2006 I  ruptured my Achilles’ Tendon at a men’s retreat.  In one sudden burst of pain I found that I had a great difficulty walking – and you really don’t want to do that if you have a choice. 

I remember vividly sitting in the doctor's office a day or two before the surgery, getting the low-down on what I would be facing both during the surgery and in the weeks of recovery  that followed: Six weeks in a cast followed by six weeks in a boot.

After going over a lot of details, Dr. Licht looked squarely at me and said,  “I’m good at what I do.  I can repair this tendon perfectly one time!  If you follow my instructions things will go well!  If you don’t follow my instructions to the letter, and you rupture this tendon again, I won’t be as successful, and you’ll likely walk with a limp for the rest of your life!  I want your leg elevated every waking moment unless you are in the bathroom or brushing you teeth.  Do you understand?"

 For  twelve weeks I did exactly what he said.  Today, my Achilles tendon is perfect and I have no limp and no limitations.  What made the difference?  I chose to trust someone who knew far more than I. 
Here’s a painful truth: we are headed down a road of destruction because we have trivialized the Word of God.  We bend and manipulate the Word, trying to make it to say whatever we choose; whatever suits our weak behaviors.  We don’t regard it as what it truly is: the unalterable Word of God. 

We view this book as an accumulation of interesting stories, and we assign those stories whatever value we deem appropriate.  We don’t view this as being a book of Words that were divinely inspired, coming from God, revealed by His Holy Spirit to man, and intended to be received and accepted as authoritative.  

Oh, sure, we still check out God’s thoughts on a range of topics - and we blend His thoughts with ours.  It’s not just that it’s wrong thinking, and as such an offence to God.  This kind of worldview tears apart the very safeguards that God established to protect us.  The church at Thessalonica received and accepted what Paul said AS THE WORD OF GOD,"...which also performs its work in you who believe." (Philippians 2:13)

Sunday, April 22, 2012

It's Not Rocket Science

I grew up on a small farm, less than a hundred acres. My dad had small orchards of cherries, apples, and some peaches and plums.  Although we were never wealthy, I was very happy.  Well, for the most part!

My neighbor Pat and I (Ted Smith) played together a lot, especially riding bicycles in the neighborhood. We’d pretend that our bikes were cars, and we’d identify them according to what our dad’s drove.  My dad, being a small-scale farmer, drove a rather plain Oldsmobile. 

So --- my two-wheeler became an Oldsmobile.  I was o.k. with that… first!  Pat’s father was an Orthodontist, and he drove a Chrysler Imperial (the word “Imperial” even sounds impressive, doesn’t it?)  So there we went, riding around the neighborhood: Pat on his IMPERIAL, and me with a plain Oldsmobile.

There is a streak in us from the get-go that seeks to identify and quantify our existence, and more often than not to exaggerate our importance.  Sometimes, when we become educated and enter the employment realm, we seek to define ourselves by our careers and the importance that comes with that job title.  I guess you could call it “positioning.” 

There’s a new television ad that I’ve seen several times recently – it features a few laborers who work for an electric utility company. They’re in a bar bragging about what they do as workman.  In the conversation they imply their daily labor somehow involves the very beer that they’re all enjoying, so one of the other guys says, “Do you MAKE the beer?”  To which another guys says, “No, We make the POWER that makes the beer!” 

If we can’t get recognition one way, we’ll get it another.  We want so desperately to be “large and in charge!”   And then, operating out of that exaggerated importance, we set out to rule the world.  Well, at least our portion of the world.  And this arrogance has gotten us in trouble since the beginning of time.  Long before Frank Sinatra sang, “I’ll Do It My Way,” we’ve been doing in our way!  Sinatra just gave it a theme song.

Look at what scripture says about this:
• Judges 17:6 (NLT) In those days Israel had no king, so the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes. 
• Psalms 10:4 (NIV) In his pride the wicked does not seek him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. 
• 1 Samuel 2:3 (NIV) “Do not keep talking so proudly or let your mouth speak such arrogance, for the LORD is a God who knows, and by him deeds are weighed.
Like I said, this has always been a serious problem for mankind, but today it’s causing us pain and heartache like never before.  And I don’t think people realize the source of the pain.  There is hardly anything we haven’t changed to suit our wants and wishes and whims.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

Between Crucifixion and Resurrection: A World Without God

      Cormac McCarthy wrote a post-apocalypse book called the The Road that was turned into a movie last year.  In his vision, we see a world where few people have survived, the planet is dying, and the few people who remain are cruel. It’s hell on earth.   The main plot involves a dying father trying to get his boy safely across America to what he hopes will be safety.  He fails. One of the quotes from the movie could be the tagline for the story:

 “There is no God, and we are his  prophets.”

Here are some of those prophets in a world without God:

We must build our lives upon “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.” – Bertrand Russell

“Modern man does not feel the chasm that unceasingly surrounds him and that will certainly engulf him at last...”  -  Ernst Bloch

     But the prophets are not just philosophers in universities. There are plenty of prophets in pop culture too. Smashing Pumpkins’ 1994 “Bullet with Butterfly Wings,” voted as one of the top 100 Rock Songs of All Time by VH1, states:
And I still believe that I cannot be saved
Despite all my rage am I still just a rat in a cage

Linkin Park wrote “In The End” in 2002. (It was the second Most Successful Rock/Alternative song between 2000 and 2010).  Their conclusion about a relationship gone wrong seems symbolic for a world equally daunting:
I tried so hard and got so far
But in the end
It doesn't even matter
I had to fall to lose it all
But in the end
It doesn't even matter

     McCarthy also wrote a play called The Sunset Limited (recently made into a movie starring Samuel L. Jackson and Tommy Lee Jones).  In it, a ex-convict Christian stops an atheistic college professor from throwing himself in front of a train. The rest of the play involves the Christian trying to provide hope to the atheist. It ends badly. The atheist concludes:

 “The shadow of the axe hangs over every joy. Every road ends in death, every friendship, every love. Torment, lost, betrayal, pain, suffering, age, indignity, hideous lingering illness... and all of it with a single conclusion. For you and everyone and everything you have ever chosen to care for… Perhaps I want forgiveness, but there's no one to ask it of. And there's no going back, there's no setting things right, there's only the hope of nothingness.”

And at the end of the play, he leaves to kill himself, engulfed at last by the chasm.  In the end it didn’t even matter.

DESPAIR IS A SHARED HUMAN EXPERIENCE.  I know this is grim, but the Bible doesn’t shy away from recording despair.
  • Solomon in Ecclesiastes sounds like he understood Bertrand Russell’s “firm foundation of unyielding despair.”
  • Job wanted to die, and the Bible records it all.  I can almost hear,  “I tried so hard and got so far, but in the end it doesn’t even matter.”
  • Gideon, a great warrior, gave up and hid on a farm until an angel went and got him.  Despite all his rage he was still just a farmer in a barn, hiding while his nation was dying.
  • Naomi said to Ruth, “It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has turned against me!”  Sounds like she felt something of the chasm that she believed surrounded her.
     We know these stories have happy endings because we read the biblical stories in hindsight.  Solomon finds true wisdom; Job’s life and health are restored; Gideon leads God’s people out of bondage; the story of Ruth and Naomi has become one of the great stories of love, companionship, and hope.   I think it’s easy for us to forget that they didn’t know at the time how the story would end.

I grew up in the South. I spent my formative years listening to spirituals, and it’s a style of music that doesn’t look away from these seasons of life. “Precious Lord, take my hand, lead me on and help me stand, I am tired, I am weak, I am worn….”

I love that music to this day because I think it’s honest.  Life is hard.  There are times when we are tired, weak, and worn, and we don’t yet have the benefit of hindsight to tell us how the story is going to unfold.

(Part 2: "Between Crucifixion and Resurrection: Two Kinds of Roads"

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Death of the gods

      We all worship a god.  By “god” I mean the things to which we give our lives as  we search for hope, meaning, and peace. It’s another way to talk about the things we have leaned on for support, the things that we expect to hold us up. The Bible is full of stories which involve gods with statues; the modern gods do not necessarily have statues, but the gods are still there nonetheless. Using stories from the Bible, history, and pop culture, I want to look at what happens when the gods die.

Story #1: Elisha and the prophets of Baal (1 Kings 18: 25-29)
   Then they called on the name of Baal from morning till noon. “Baal, answer us!” they shouted. But there was no response; no one answered. And they danced around the altar they had made.
27 At noon Elijah began to taunt them. “Shout louder!” he said. “Surely he is a god! Perhaps he is deep in thought, or busy, or traveling. Maybe he is sleeping and must be awakened.” 28 So they shouted louder and slashed themselves with swords and spears, as was their custom, until their blood flowed. 29 Midday passed, and they continued their frantic prophesying until the time for the evening sacrifice. But there was no response, no one answered, no one paid attention.
Sometimes, when the gods die, people give in to  self-destruction.  They were so sure that the god they had chosen would hear and respond, they assumed the problem must be their own, not that the god cannot do what they asked. In this case, they hurt themselves to show their sincerity.

This doesn’t always feel like destruction or desperation even though it is.  This happens when:
people know that their lifestyle is eating away at them, but they assume it’s because they just haven’t learned how to really indulge correctly, so they just kick it up a notch. They are empty, but they continue to pursue the next high, the next binge, the next big shopping spree.
people know they should stop viewing porn because it is damaging their mind, attitudes and relationships, but they have to believe that if they just use it right it will all be fine.  But the gods of lust cannot bring them fulfillment, so they continue to spiral downward as they seek greater and more disturbing thrills.  
The “god” can't' be the problem.  So we frantically try harder and harder to “get their attention,” and that story never ends well. This was recently highlighted in the tragic death of Amy Whinehouse, a young lady with such musical promise who spiraled out of control as she offered herself on the altar of drug addiction. One newspaper wrote, after her disastrous attempt at a comeback:
“The question is: how much longer can Amy Winehouse go on like this before she kills herself? And how can the people around her allow such a public car crash to happen...? Winehouse is the architect of her own misery. However, the sight of her flailing around self-destructively while the world looks on, munching crisps, is wretched.”
Or this update from a mission outreach on a beach during Spring Break:
Yesterday was the beginning of the period of the trip when the spring breakers begin to get frustrated and disillusioned with what has been going on. There have been several rapes. There have been at least 3 deaths. People are roasted and cooked from the sun and are recovering from hangovers or drug highs. The disappointment starts to set in because these things, appealing as they are, leave us empty and do not satisfy.   – Austin Gravely