Ruling over Creation

Aside

A reflection on Genesis 1:26

There is a balance here that is difficult to strike. I grew up hearing little to nothing about the “cultural mandate” of Genesis 1, and the Christianity that grew out of that was one that had no understanding of the “goodness” or “value” that something like art, or hard work, or a well-crafted pie could have to God. I valued those things, but I didn’t see them as important to God. It was probably there and I only missed it, but what mattered to God was only whether or not I sinned. There was a big, fat disconnect between most of life and how I lived it because, well…it didn’t really matter to God, unless I had a lustful thought while skateboarding, or could be a witness for Christ while playing baseball.

I think an early part of my desire to be in ministry came from the fact that I thought it was the only thing that had value. I’m not sure how I missed this in a family of Christian farmers, but I did. It took me realizing that pursuing vocational ministry (defined rather narrowly) was only one of many ways to serve and please God, to eventually come to the conclusion that I actually did want to pursue a life devoted to ministry. Not because it was the only way I could really please him, but because he had given me the gifts and the desires to be of use in that way.

He has also given me the ability to make music on my guitar, which can please him even if I’m not singing worship songs. He has given me a love of nature, which I can enjoy with him even if I’m not sharing the hike with an unsaved person to whom I am evangelizing. He has given me a love of cooking and baking bread which can please him just as much in a feast shared with friends as in loaves baked to hand out to the homeless in order to share the gospel with them. Heck, he has even given me a love for the craft of making and enjoying excellent beer of all things!

In short, much that is not overtly religious is of great value to God and pleases him indeed. At the same time (and here is the balance), what in the world would all of these wonderful things mean without Jesus?! Without him there would be no hope or peace within which to live and enjoy the earth he has made. The things we do and enjoy as humans living in creation can only be redemptive and not destructive because he has redeemed the whole thing and will make it new someday.

If we pursue these good things as ends in themselves, we will surely not gain them or find fulfillment in them; they will master us. If we would give up all these pleasures for the sake of Christ, it is then that they can truly be enjoyed and known in proper perspective. We will rule over creation rather than be ruled by it.

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If you could only keep five books of the Bible, which would you choose?

While slogging through some of the reading for my Greek Exegesis class, a point was made regarding the fact that parts of our Scripture are more useful or easily applicable to our lives and thought.

My mind quickly followed the rabbit down his trail and I eventually asked myself which five books of the Bible I would keep if I were in some hypothetical scenario in which I were presented with such a choice. As I ran through the options in my mind, I quickly came up with the five that I would not be without. It was interesting to realize how quickly I came up with them, and how I was not able to come up with any arguments that would overthrow my previous choices.

I’d be very interested to hear which five books of the Bible you would choose to keep if you were forced to make the decision, and why.

This thought experiment brings up the idea of a canon within the Canon. This phrase refers to the fact that, whether we are aware of it or not, we all tend to emphasize and attach more worth to certain books of the Bible than others. This is a natural thing based on the diversity within Scripture and the diversity of its readers, but it is also a very dangerous thing. If we do indeed believe that ALL Scripture is God-breathed, and useful, etc. we must fight the temptation to spend all our time in our favorite books and ignore those which are less exciting, less clear, or more convicting. Of course different books have different purposes and different strengths, and I’m not suggesting a wooden application such that each book of the Bible receive equal time in the pulpit or in personal study, but most of us tend to pay undue attention to some books at the expense of others (and our own knowledge and edification!).

By considering this question and how you answer it, I hope you’ll end up with some food for thought regarding the way you think about the Bible and the way you value its different books.

I think I will wait to share my list until a few of you have shared yours, if any of you do.

Historical Mentor Revisited – John Chrysostom

St John Chrysostom, St Patrick's cathedral, Ne...

St John Chrysostom, St Patrick’s cathedral, New York City (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Some time ago I asked for some recommendations for an important figure from church history to engage with as a historical mentor. You gave me some wonderful suggestions and helped me think through the implications of some of the various choices available to me, and for that I am grateful.

I ended up selecting John Chrysostom as my historical mentor and enjoyed researching his life and thought for a paper for my Church History class. I knew next to nothing about him before my class, and since we were covering 2,000 years of history, we weren’t able to spend much time on him in class, so I was thankful for the opportunity to explore him a bit more.

 

His is truly an incredible story, and the way he has influenced our own Christianity today is fascinating.

I hope you’ll take some time to read through my paper and enjoy learning a bit about a bold man of God.

You can find it here.

Church History as a Mustache Mirror

from American Mustache Institute

Have you ever wondered what you would look like with a dirty mustache? You may have taken a dry-erase marker and drawn one on your mirror to get a look, or perhaps even purchased this thing.

 

I may have done it once or twice but usually I just utilize my own face hair to create creepy mustachios.

 

Villains have always loved their mustaches, and I have always loved to hate villains. It is easy to find villains in the history of the Church and I have long sneered at those Christians who participated in or were perhaps even responsible for things like the Crusades and the Inquisition, or the sale of Indulgences and the justification of slavery in America. My natural response to these situations is to assume that these people were not real Christians, motivated purely by greed or hate. I ad hominem them in my mind until I can squint my eyes and say, “see, these aren’t really Christians. Christians would never do something wicked like this.”

However, when we actually studied Chuch History (and not just to confirm the biases that I already have) I realized that things were not quite as simple as I had imagined. At the beginning of our semester, Marc Cortez warned us against this kind of self-righteousness that avoids seeing fault in ourselves and avoids seeing anything good in those we disagree with. He challenged us to see what we look like with the mustache of an American Christian slaveholder, or of a Dominican Inquisitor (okay, he really said “put yourself in their shoes” ,,,but mustaches!).

After an initial shudder of disgust, and imagining the whiskers getting stuck in your mouth when you take a bite of a sandwich, you take a real look at yourself. You notice pretty quickly that you look completely different than you used to…because you are completely different. You are in a different time and a different culture, with different challenges and different assumptions and different ways of thinking. You can’t understand owning another person or killing someone who you disagree with.

But after you get used to the differences you realize that you are still you. You see a passionate conviction of the truth of what Scripture teaches or a desire to protect from trusting in a false gospel because you care about their souls. You see a respect for your faith community and the consensus it has reached or a deep and biblical theology, long thought through in pursuit of knowing God and making him known.

Please don’t hear what I am not saying. These things were not okay. I am not proposing a full makeover and new jewelry for the pig, let alone lipstick and a gold snout-ring. Though we have taken the name of Christ, and make up his body, we are not always like him, and to forget that would be a terrible error. Some may need that reminder, but I have long been steering in the opposite direction. When faced with those whose actions I despise or whose thoughts I disagree with, I am quick to pat myself on the back and thank God that I am not like that poor tax collector. If we ever forget Solzhenitsyn’s lesson from his time in the Gulags, we are doomed to a life of self-righteousness and us vs. them in a world of Christ’s righteousness and me against me.

“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”

Join me in pursuing charity. Spend some time seeing what you look like with someone else’s mustache on your face, or if you’re really committed eat an entire sandwich with their mustache on before you criticize and condemn them. Try and understand why they did what to us is so obviously wrong. Name evil and label lies when you see them, but understand that we are not all that different from those who have gone before.

Calling Revisited: The Perspective of the Church Fathers

One of the first topics I addressed on this blog was that of calling. I looked at questions about the nature of calling, what we really mean when we use the term, and whether we use it as it is used in the Bible. Feel free to take a look at the two earlier posts on the subject if you would like (I Hear Jesus Calling Part 1I Hear Jesus Calling Part 2).

In my church history class, as we’ve zoomed through important figures in the early eras of the church, an interesting theme has surfaced regarding calling. Someone in class mentioned it, and professor Marc Cortez gave us some helpful clarifying comments.

Among the figures we’ve looked at, there has been no indication of viewing calling as  a deep, personal feeling given by God. In fact, in looking specifically at the calling to pastoral ministry, or to the ordination as a bishop (which would have been the rough equivalent), almost universally, the church fathers did not want to be ordained, or at least did not seek it out for themselves. Calling to “ministry,” or in this case, church leadership, was not between a person and God, but was mediated either through the community of the church, or through the leaders of the church, or both. It would have been unheard of at this time for a Christian to approach their church leaders and tell them that they had been called to be a bishop or elder. What a radically different picture than what we see today!

Neither Chrysostom nor his friend Basil wanted to be ordained as bishops and even considered running away. John avoided it for a time by tricking his friend into being ordained without him.

In my previous posts, I suggested that what we usually term “calling” is more aptly described along the lines of “what God has prepared me to do for him” as opposed to an external, explicit call from God to a very specific task, such as was given to Paul or Isaiah. It would seem that in the early church, a call to church leadership was viewed as coming from God through the community rather than an individual feeling or leading from God. But is this the biblical way of things, and we have gone astray, or is it the other way around?

Almost certainly, the correct answer is not one or the other, but something between the two, as we are almost always out of balance one way or another. However, on first glance, I lean rather forcefully towards the model practiced by the church fathers.
It seems to follow the biblical model more closely (choosing of Matthias to replace Judas, choosing of Stephen and the others, etc.), and would also seem to swing the pendulum away from an overly individualized Christian life, which I think we suffer from in Western Christianity. I think that it would also lead to fewer Pastors who are entirely ungifted for the task. Unfortunately, in part due to the way we talk about calling, there are plenty of Christians who want to follow Jesus more closely and radically dedicate their lives to him, and they feel that the only way to really do that is to be a pastor or missionary. Thus they may head off to seminary with the best of intentions, but little gifting for the office to which they think they have been called. I tell you, as a seminary student, this seriously gives me pause.

This has been a bit of a ramble, but it is far too late for me to be writing, so you’ll have to forgive me. There is a great deal more to be explored here, and I must certainly do so soon, providing I can make the time.

Please share your thoughts with me.

When you think of the call to ministry, do you lean towards a call by the community, or an individual leading from God? Should those who have offered themselves up as candidates for church leadership take a step back? Is it proper for them to nominate themselves, or would it be better to love God with all you are, serve him with all your heart, and participate in leading the church only if you are called to do so by God, through the community, directed by the leadership of the church?

Can you think of any counter-examples from early church history that would speak to this discussion?

 

Justice – Deuteronomy 10:16-22

These are brief meditations on passages that speak to justice in preparation for the Justice Conference.

 

 

16 Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer. 17 For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt. 20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name. 21 He is the one you praise; he is your God, who performed for you those great and awesome wonders you saw with your own eyes. 22 Your ancestors who went down into Egypt were seventy in all, and now the LORD your God has made you as numerous as the stars in the sky.

 

God shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.

Why does he call the children of Israel to do the same? God calls them to love the alien because they were aliens.
Why should we be just? Because God is just.

If we do not love aliens, is it because we do not believe that we were really aliens once? Have we forgotten what it was like to be slaves to sin and death? Have we forgotten the state we were in when Jesus died for us (Romans 5:8)? If we would be just because God is just, we must disadvantage ourselves for those who are in need. I don’t pretend to know exactly what that looks like in every situation we face in this world, but when we do, we image the kind of love that God has for us. We were beyond hope until Jesus became incarnate. Unrivaled humility and selflessness is the example that was set for us if we would pursue Jesus as our master and example in justice.

 

Balancing Act: Responses to Jesus vs. Religion

In my attempts to discover and walk in the way of Jesus I’ve come to realize the importance of balance. I’m not suggesting that the way of Jesus is the way of compromise, a sort of middle way, or a blending of two extremes. The way of Jesus is THE WAY, and when we Christians err in a given situation, we find ourselves falling off of the slackline on one side or the other.

If you've not tried slacklining, you probably should.

When I’ve reflected on a particular issue in the life of discipleship to Jesus, I’ve often returned to this way of looking at things, and it was helpful recently as I reflected on the recent ruckus resulting from the YouTube video titled, “Why I Hate Religion, but Love Jesus” by Jefferson Bethke. I’ll not address the contents of the video here, because it has been done ad nauseam, but I did think the way that different people responded has been rather telling, and is a clear display of our tendency to lose our balance. To be clear,  I tend towards all of the imbalances I mention below at one time or another, depending on the situation, and am just trying to stay in balance myself.

I saw at least four different types of responses to this situation, with three rather unbalanced in some way, but one closer to the mark. The first troubling type of response to this video was the most common. This is the response of those that unthinkingly shared the video and passed it on without taking the time to think through the implications of the ideas in the video. This is the response that forgets to think critically about things, and supports them because they sound good, strike an emotional chord in them, or speak about Jesus a lot.

Another troubling response was that of the hyper-critical Christian, who will not only find  fault with everything and tell you about it in great detail (except for what is written, preached, or sang by their favorite whoever) but will fail to see what is true and good in what they are criticizing.

Another tendency I saw was for those who initially supported the video to become very defensive when the inadequacies and negative aspects of the video were questioned. Of course, some of those defending the video did so because they truly agree with everything said in it, but I fear that many, having once supported something, try hard to justify having done so, whether it is warranted or not.

Thankfully, throughout the entire situation, I noticed a great many people responding in thoughtful and humble ways to the video, both positively and negatively. A great deal of fruitful discussion was born out of the different opinions regarding what was said in the video. Perhaps most encouraging was to see the way that the guy in the video responded to one of the critiques leveled against his message. He humbly admitted to agreeing with the critique that had been offered, and said he would seek to learn what he could from the experience.

So what is the way of Jesus that we must follow when we hear something, watch something, read something?

First, thoughtfully reflect on what is communicated, both explicitly, and by implication. Don’t automatically accept something because it sounds good to you, no matter what terminology it is couched in. We are all susceptible to lazily adopting phrases or terms that tickle our ears, but are only partially true, being at the same time potentially harmful or flat-out false (I don’t know how many times in the past I’ve smiled and nodded when hearing or saying, “Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship”).

Second, seek to learn, grow, and be challenged by what you’re interacting with, even if it is far from perfect. Avoid the temptation to pridefully and viciously tear apart someones flawed logic or poor rhymes, as if you are the sole and undisputed judge of all things. If you find yourself being critical of every sermon you hear, unable to learn anything because you know everything, please reflect on the humility of Jesus. Don’t abandon truth, but if and when you must fight for it, do so gently, especially when speaking to an earnest brother or sister in Christ.

Third, whether someone directly criticizes something you say, or indirectly criticizes you by addressing something that you agree with, try learning, growing and being challenged before you immediately start defending or criticizing in return. Consider the fact that you might be wrong or that there might be a side to the issue that you hadn’t considered. Take note of the tone in which criticism is offered. The word itself merely means to interpret or analyze and criticism need not be negative, arrogant or harsh. If someone attacks an author’s character because of a poorly constructed argument or questions a poet’s salvation because of a paltry rhyme, push back and challenge them to offer substantial and constructive arguments instead of tearing each other down. However, if someone does offer substantial and constructive arguments against something you approve, interact with them thoughtfully and humbly. Learn something from each other.

Be humble people. Be thinking people. Don’t support ideas without thinking through their implications. Don’t be so turned off by critics that you fail to address lies.  Don’t be so turned off by untruths that you attack the person unwittingly spreading it. If you see truth, name it. If you see falsehood masquerading as truth, name it, but humbly and with love. When you see a sister or brother wobbling on the path, gently steady them rather than shoving them off.

I realize that not everyone fits neatly into these categories, and I’ve been a bit hyperbolic in order to delineate the differences between them. I’m also not suggesting that these are the only options…just some interesting ones that I noticed.

The Hardest Thing we do as a Christian

Yesterday and the day before I got to spend a little bit of time with Alexander Strauch and was blessed to hear him speak on the topic of prayer. It was a challenging message in many ways, and one that I needed to hear. He ended his sermon with this quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones:

Martyn Lloyd-Jones

“When a man is speaking to God he is at his very acme. It is the highest activity of the human soul, and therefore it is at the same time the ultimate test of a man’s true spiritual condition. There is nothing that tells the truth about us as Christian people so much as our prayer life. Everything we do in the Christian life is easier than prayer.”

I was particularly struck by the last statement. I’m curious if you agree with it. If prayer is truly the most difficult part of the Christian life, how should that change the way we think about it, teach about it, and practice it. What is it that would make it more difficult than the other aspects of our lives as disciples of Jesus?

On a side note, Alex has a fantastic sense of humor and was really generous with his time to spend some of it with a group of seminary students. It is wonderful when someone can challenge you deeply, spend meaningful time with you, and make you laugh uproariously all the while.