Thursday, April 28, 2005

Life and Human Will

I grabbed a folder to bring with me to Iowa so I would have some paper to write on . . . and found inside my notes from several years ago on a seminar on grief by John Claypool. One of his statements that I wrote down was "If getting one's own way is what brings one happiness, grief and loss will be devastating."

Accepting our "creatureliness" involves acknowledging that our lives are lived within a framework that we can neither control nor manipulate. Peace comes from abandoning the desire to write life's script and welcoming the grace that is given for each experience.

Often we curse the darkness, fight against life as it happens, and complain that the grace is insufficient and improperly focused. That is because we want grace for our purposes, rather than seeing in grace a guide to the purposes of God.

The Sovereignty of God is not a reason for me to hope that I might get what I want, but the reassurance that life may be lived on the terms of the attendant grace.

Monday, April 25, 2005

My dad had a heart attack on April 15th - not so coincidental if you know his attitude toward money, and perhaps to big government specifically.

He's recovered some, which means he's not in a coma now, but the big goals for his day are learning to swallow, remembering names, and trying to talk. It is so easy to put words in his mouth - to assume his reply - but on a few occasions he did say a word or two that was distinct and obvious, if only in a whisper.

I found that today I dealt with spending the day in the hospital room with him better than I would have thought. It wasn't as difficult as I imagined, and tried to stay 'in the moment' and not run away into denial.

It is amazing how quickly so many people jump to emphasize the hopeful and don't want to contemplate what is for them the undesirable. I'm getting to practice my belief that peace is embracing the reality of a situation, acknowledging the sovereignty of God without making him into a good fairy-godmother, and living in the sacred moment.

All good advice that I am practicing for myself, and so far have found God's presence in a situation where there is not clear right and wrong, good and bad, and all is wrapped in mystery.

Gloria tibi, Domine!

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Pagans and Tax collectors

This post has nothing to do with tomorrow - but last night. We were looking at Matt. 18:17 where Jesus says to treat the unrepentant person, unwilling to even respond to the loving concerns of the whole community, as a "pagan and tax collector".

I've always taken this instruction to mean "treat this person as a low-life, an outsider, an unwelcome person, a traitor, - an enemy, if you will." After all, Jesus is instructing us how to practice "church discipline." Church discipline has to be harsh. If a person won't follow, throw that person out and "shun" him. Of course, in love.

The question I asked myself yesterday, and the group last night, was "how did Jesus treat pagans and tax collectors?" Well . . . he loved them and invited them into the experience of God's reign. He showed them mercy and kindness. I can't find anywhere that Jesus treated these people as traitors or outsiders. He invited them to be insiders. I can't find where Jesus "shunned" them or rejected them in any way.

So what is the difference in how to treat them? Maybe it is the idea that disciples give one another the permission to correct, exhort, encourage, rebuke, and otherwise help each other. It is how we treat one another "on the journey" - but not those who aren't followers. We are not so presumptuous as to correct people when they aren't followers of Jesus. We invite them and love them. We don't hold them to the standards of a disciple when they aren't disciples.

A good question asked last night was 'what about tough love?' I am a big proponent of tough love in the sense that love is not always being nice to someone and making them happy - but love is always kind. Love says "no" sometimes: no to enabling, no to permissiveness, and no to the practice of people-hurting evil of all kinds.

Perhaps our "church discipline" ideas have gone overboard - like the Corinthians may have done after Paul's sharp words telling them to deal with their permissiveness in a matter of incest (1 Cor. 5:1-5) and then he had to urge them to forgive and comfort the offender (2 Cor. 2:5-11).

Our renewed commitment to discipleship to Christ calls us to reread the text and rethink our assumptions about dealing with sin as it appears among us (something few communities deal with). We would do better to hold tighter to love, and question not the love that says "no", but the idea of rejecting individuals in the name of love.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Questions of Ecclesiology

I am reading a couple of books that are essentially exploring the nature of the church. One is Evaluating the Church Growth Movement, a self-explanatory title. I am interested not because I need people to explain to me the manifold deficiencies of that pragmatic and shallow diversion (I think history, which is extraordinarily patient, will prove it be to an aberration) but one of my former professors is one of those critiquing the movement.

The other book is Treasure in Jars of Clay by writers from the Gospel and Our Culture Network. A representative of this group is also a critic in the first book.

In this second work the GOCN people are attempting to respond to the criticism that their work has been too abstract by providing sketches of churches that are doing the type of things they envision as theologically founded. They want to show real-world examples of something other than the pragmatism of the Church Growth Movement and its scant theological interests.

(Here's where I had written some stuff which summarized the various theological or not-so-theological options I see being championed by some Christians . . . but I started thinking it sounded too negative. So I'll just move on to what I said next).

The biblical metaphors for the role of the people of God that I can think of offhand are:
1) ambassadors who represent and witness to a different Realm.
2) those who exist "to the praise of His glory."
3) the elect, chosen from before time to be undeservedly the recipients of mercy.
4) aliens and travelers who look for something not of this world.
5) salt and light that makes a difference in a corrupt world.
6) doers of good to all people, living at peace as much as is possible, and praying for the godless authorities and systems.

The ideas that are often popular today about the purpose of the church (you'll have to imagine your own because I'm just not going there . . . if you don't know what is lacking you'll have to find someone else to tell you) have enough of at least one of these or other biblical ideas to be partially true. But today's competing visions are in conflict because they try to elevate one biblical idea over another. One seizes an evangelical purpose, another an other-worldly vision, and another an intercessory posture for the sake of the world. Each one is right, but none is wholly right.

Last night when I was talking to Don Hill about thinking about our ecclesiology he said we start getting into trouble when we want to define it too much. He stated that we need to let it be a little ambiguous.

You know, I think he's right. If I try to be succinct and clear, I'll be reductionistic and I'll lose something. Let it be all these things - doing good on environmental and social issues, doing good by serving individual people, sharing the good news of a new reality, bringing glory to God through daily living, longing for a returning Lover . . . in other words entering into all of God's work. Let it be all these things and in no particular order. Let it be somewhat ambiguous to us so that we will be open to God's continuing revelation.

Let us also be rigorously theological and make sure that we acknowledge that everything centers on God and that we are merely invited because of His good pleasure to join in His Mission. Centered-on-God and open-to-God might be a good way to seek our ecclesiology.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

A New Computer and Consumerism

I am trying to avoid being a consumer. I'm fighting an uphill battle against a horde of skilled marketing people. They attempt to create an emptiness within me (promising the product they sell will fill that need) while I am trying to nurture an inner peace and contentment.

In order to avoid being a spiritually restless consumer, I am creating my own "needs testing" for determining when to purchase something. Actually that sounds much more analytical than it is. I don't have some formal test, but I do have to question my spending from a spiritual standpoint.

There is no doubt that this is spiritual - through and through. The subject at hand for me right now is a new computer. I have a trusty iMac at home that we bought in 1999 when we returned from Africa.

I am a bit of a Mac fanatic, but the reality is that it runs great. I've never had a harddrive crash, we receive and send email, the kids do their papers on it, and it surfs the internet on a DSL connection just fine - surprisingly well for a 233 mhz antique.

I know that many might think I am nuts for thinking that purchasing a new computer is a spiritual matter. I've got news for them - it is.

The fact that it is a bigger expenditure than buying a new toothbrush isn't what makes it a faith-issue. Buying a toothbrush is a spiritual matter too. The reason I don't think as much about a new toothbrush is that there isn't fleshly lust involved in what toothbrush I use - but it enters into the computer thing.

I get a new toothbrush when the old one wears out. I'm not giving in to some consumeristic mania when it comes to dental hygiene - but I am susceptible to doing that when it comes to computers. That is why I have to be more careful about this decision.

Do I wait for my iMac to give up the ghost (that might be a lot longer than I want to wait - but maybe that is revealing)? When does it become reasonable to spend a year's wages for a third-world working man on a new computer? When I do replace my old Mac, how much should I spend?

I am forming some answers . . . for me, not anyone else. I have no compelling reason right now to buy a new computer other than desire. That just isn't good enough for my walk with Christ. So I'm not buying now. In my thinking, having a computer is a part of living life in the place where I am - so someday I will buy another one. It will be perhaps later this year. I need to pray more and want one less, I think.

Perhaps there are spiritual disciplines to preparing ourselves to acquire things we desire. If I want something too strongly, then something is wrong. This is where I come back to the consumer world around us. When someone with a vested interest in me spending money to buy his product is urging me to make purchases, I need to be wary. Maybe my desires have been too influenced. Let me turn my desire back to God. To want God and only God. That is the correct posture for my faith.

None of the this is new - I'm sure Peter had to think about whether to buy a new net or simply repair the old one.