Thursday, October 19, 2017

Complexity part 8: Challenged

Matthew 5-7 is what is known as the sermon on the mount. Jesus' only documented sermon, and arguably one of the most powerful passages in all the Bible. Jesus speaks on many subjects, but the overall theme is one of challenge. Specifically, he challenges our understanding of God, his word, and what it means to be holy.

With the beatitudes, he challenges our notion of what it means to be blessed. It's not simply a warm and fuzzy picture of prosperity, comfort, and ease that we want to be true. Then, he goes on to address many familiar subjects to the people of the time, many of which he starts with the phrase "You have heard. . . " Then proceeds to tell them how what they have heard is not entirely right. Yet, there is the implication that we need to be more active in our own understanding, to not simply follow what we have heard, but to seek truth for ourselves. As complex a task as that may seem to those who just want it explained to them, I know you are out there. It does not stop there either; he goes on to challenge our motivations in following the truth. Do we truly do it to honor God, or merely to impress people, or avoid their judgement.

Which begs the question, are we simply taking the easy way in and accepting the word of others on what people tell us about the truth, and risking incomplete and inaccurate information? Or are we taking the complex path and confirming it for ourselves? How might Jesus challenge us today? What subjects would he address when challenging our understanding of God and his word? Where might he indicate that we are applying truth wrong? In what areas would he address when challenging our motivations?

They are all valid questions in any age, but especially now in the age of social media. Where everyone is adding their two cents on every issue imaginable in rather impatient, unkind, rude, critical, unloving, and ultimately questionable ways. Where we can display our actions before everyone. In the midst of this information overload can we sort out the unfavorable facts from the desirable fiction, sincere actions from posturing, reality from mere feelings? Can we ask ourselves objectively, why am I sharing this? Are we sharing it in true humility or mere pride? Are we trying to do what is right, or just be right?

Are you up for a challenge, or is Jesus’ challenge too complex for you?

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize. - 1 Corinthians 9:24-27

a person jumping over a mountain
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Friday, October 13, 2017

Complexity part 7: God's Holy Spirit

The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” -John 3:8

If you were to go to seminary, you would have to take a class called systematic theology. Which in all honesty, I find absurd. I liken that to phrases such as systematic marriage, or systematic romance. You never hear such things because it would be ridiculous. It would be treating people like mechanisms not living spiritual beings. Yet, somehow we think it's okay to think of God as a lifeless mechanism.

Yet, there is one part of Christian teaching that cannot be made systematic, mechanized, or simplified into a rigid definition. Which would be the Holy Spirit. An important player in the life of a true disciple, for he is our connection to God, his strength, and his wisdom. Someone we very much need to deal with the many variables found in the human heart, not to mention our complicated culture. Since the spirit cannot be defined simply, he is often overlooked by many in the church. Yet, followers who ignore him wonder why their faith lacks true power.

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people. -2 Timothy 3:1-5

I honestly believe true understanding of the Holy Spirit cannot be achieved by just having him explained to you. He can only be understood by experiencing him. Which means you got to seek him out for yourself. Not the simple, systematic, or formulaic answer you were probably looking for, but a true one. People keep telling me; they just want someone to explain it to them. Do you ask someone else to explain your relationship with your spouse to you? That would be absurd, just like wanting God's spirit explained to you wold be absurd.

A place to start, every one of the verses reveals something about the spirit.

John 14:26

Acts 1:16, 2:4, 7:51, 8:29, 11:12, 13:2, 16:6-7

Romans 8:26-27

1 Corinthians 2:10-11, 12:11

a person consumed by holy fire of the spirit
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Thursday, October 5, 2017

Complexity part 6: Facing issues

Forgiveness is an important part of the Christian creed. Even among those who have a hard time accepting it, like the idea, and want to believe in it. (At least as far as it applies to self, not so much when it applies to others.) Yet, many people seem to believe that forgiveness somehow excuses us from having to face and deal with our complex issues that lead to the actions that we need forgiveness for. That seems to be how many people are applying it at least, if not in actual words. But is this perception true? Well the story of the woman at the well (John 4:1-26) and the rich ruler (Luke 18:18-29) seem to indicate otherwise. In both cases, Jesus puts a proverbial mirror up to their hearts to reveal exactly where they were lacking, and ultimately what they had to deal with. Which begs the question why? This Old Testament passage is a strong clue.

But if you do not drive out the inhabitants of the land, those you allow to remain will become barbs in your eyes and thorns in your sides. They will give you trouble in the land where you will live. 
-Numbers 33:55

Forgiveness is of great value in being able to move forward. But that in itself does not prevent these same destructive patterns of behavior from recurring and having a negative impact upon our lives. These issues that we try to avoid often become barbs in our eyes, and thorns in our sides if we don't face them, and eliminate them at the root.

Obviously, the woman at the well looked to relationships for hope, and amassed many ex's; as a result. I'm sure it doesn't take any explanation on how past relationships can become a set of virtual thorns in the side. She would have done well to seek another source of hope. The rich man clearly looked to riches for hope. If the never ending cycle of celebrities dying young has taught us anything, it's that fame, fortune, and achievement are no guarantee for wholeness and peace of mind. We need to seek the eternal wholeness that Jesus offered, not the temporal things of this world. All the things that we try to avoid, stand in the way of finding that completeness. An obstacle that we refuse to acknowledge is no less an obstruction after all.

With that being said, what complex issues are you avoiding? What do you look to for hope other than God himself? What is keeping you static and unchanged? What issue do you need to face to move forward as a disciple.

A person unsatisfied with who they are being consoled by Christ.
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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Complex part 5: Passion

The word passion often has a negative connotation attached to it in the church. Unless it is Easter time, then we attach the word to Christ. So why in the world do we freely accept the concept in this singular context without question? Yet categorically condemn it in every other context, also without question. Granted, many so-called "normal" passions that we gravitate to the most can have many consequences. That in itself does not mean that we can't be passionate about positive and constructive things. Although many are assuming, righteousness is the same as being dispassionate.

I contend that the reason for the decline of numbers in the church is the result of a lack of passion. How do we honestly expect people to live with purpose and commit to the work of the church without sincere passion? If we assume all passions are bad, then we end up killing our own heart in an attempt to be holy. That is definitely not what Jesus meant by denying self. (Matthew 12:35, 22:37) Not only that, when we end up applying this all or nothing notion about passion, it will fall on the "fruits of the spirit" as well. Which will make us guilty of quenching the spirit. (1 Thessalonians 5:19) So all our efforts will end up being puny and powerless, since they are only done legalistically, and not with sincere passion from the heart.

We need to move past such simplistic notions about passions, and seek the more complex notion of discerning the difference between passions of the flesh, and passions of the spirit. (Galatians 5) Otherwise, the church will continue to die a slow stoic death.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. - Colossians 3:23-24

The Visual PARABLEist

A person trying to drive a very large nail with a tiny hammer
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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Complexity part 4: Diversity

The word diversity has become a rather common buzz word in the world. So much so that church people have become rather suspicious of it, even with the parts we have no moral problem with. Despite that it plays a vital part in Christian theology. (1st Corinthians 12) A complex part that the church has failed miserably at I dare say. Allowing the world to uplift their redefined concept in a seemingly positive way, and attaching it to themselves as a badge of honor. As well as give them a reason to accuse the church. Which has only caused the church to neglect true Christian diversity even more, only to embrace the misguided notion of normal that we talked about last time. This has been detrimental to the church universal.

When faced with the word diversity, we need to remind ourselves that worldly diversity and Christian diversity are completely different concepts altogether. Worldly diversity is about race, culture, and sexuality. Where Christian diversity applies to, talent, skill, and ability. Worldly diversity is supposed to be about equality, but in practice is only applied to those who think, feel, and believe a certain way. Where Christian diversity is meant to be about the common good, helping one another, and establishing your unique place within the community of church. Allowing all our best qualities to work together, so we as a group can be truly Christ like in a way that we can't as an individual. Yet, in practice the church doesn't do any better than the world does in living up to their definition.

True church diversity cannot happen if we as individuals have no sense of whom God made us to be. We will never discover that if we are following a one size fits all legalistic theology, or if we choose to be content with a simple whitewashed faith, instead of deal with the complexities of the brokenness in our heart. See my post titled talentless for more on this.

With all that being said, let me remind you of a very vital truth about diversity. Humanity does not naturally gravitate to it. Most people prefer the more comfortable but inefficient uniformity. Mainly because many of us feel threatened by people who think, feel, and do things differently than we do. Even down to innocuous subjects, and trivial details. I've seen people lecture others on how to eat an ice cream cone. I’ve seen people debate which ingredient should go first when making a root beer float. I've seen people fight over the proper way to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich as if their happiness depended on winning that argument. So it is no wonder that humanity is so terribly divided on important issues. Such attitudes reveal the core of whom we are as humans. A core that we should seek to overcome, but do we want to? Even those who uplift diversity as a virtue will become rather hostile towards those who define and apply it differently than they do, since nobody is applying diversity and equality to schools of thought.

Even beyond issues of mere preference, the church is making a big push on evangelism out of necessity right now. So much so that if that is not where your gifting lies, you are made to feel guilty for it. That necessity doesn't stem from just a lack of outreach in years past, but because of the many parts of the body that we have neglected, alienating a large group of people who have those gifts. The more the church fails at unity in diversity; the more desirable worldly diversity appears. We as a church should not be letting this happen, but clearly we are. The question is, what are we going to do about it?

The Visual PARABLEist

Some of us are Jews, some are Gentiles, some are slaves, and some are free. But we have all been baptized into one body by one Spirit, and we all share the same Spirit. -1 Corinthians 12:13 nlt

many bodies becoming one
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Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Complexity part 3: Normal?

Awhile back I was looking through reviews of CCM albums. I came across one where the reviewer criticized a song called Anti-conformity. It seemed rather evident that this person saw holiness and righteousness as normal, and that Christianity is merely a matter of conforming to normal. A rather common, yet completely inaccurate and superficial perception about Christianity. 

Holiness is anything but normal. The word holy literally means "set apart" so obviously true righteousness is more about growing beyond normal, yet, sinful human instincts and tendencies. Even the secular world knows this on some level. Even they are trying to rationalize their sinful behaviors under the term of "normal." But, just because something is "normal" does not make it right or holy by default. So much pain, suffering, and abuse has been brought into the world in the name of "normal." Often "normal" is just an excuse to conform to the masses, indulge the evil in our hearts, be selfish, and treat people as irrelevant. If Christianity was really about normal, we wouldn't need a religion or doctrine centered around it, because everyone would be doing it already, and find it rather easy. Clearly that is not the case.

While words like normal, conformity, and rebellion, may have certain stigmas attached to them. Relying on such broad notions is really over simplifying complex truths. Since even so-called rebellious people seldom rebel in original and isolated ways. They are typically part of a larger movement of people all rebelling in the same way collectively. In other words, conforming to one another in an attempt to create a counter culture where they can find acceptance outside the mainstream. Like most counter-cultures, if they become popular, they will eventually become passé over time. Just as holiness, is a choice to rebel against worldliness and wickedness. So it's not merely a matter of if we are rebelling or conforming or not, since we are all doing both in some fashion. It's a matter of what we are choosing to conform to, and what we choose to rebel against. Weather that is a misguided notion of normal, or striving for better than that.

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. -Romans 12:2

a unique person wanting to join the normal bandwagon.
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Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Complexity part 2: Legalism

It truly is a complex world with complex problems. Yet, many people don't want to face that complexity and make efforts to keep their beliefs simple and comfortable. One of the ways we do that is through legalism. It is a simple cause and effect theology after all. Perform X task, get Y result. Don't perform action A, you don't get consequence B. The why never really comes into it ever.

The problem with that is that legalism looks only at surface behavior, and ignores where our heart is at. Which makes it rather easy to fake. The Pharisees were prime examples of a heartless legalistic approach, yet Jesus told them it wasn't enough. (Matt 15:1-10) Christ tried to tell everyone that the root of our behavior is the heart, so that is what needs to be addressed to truly change our actions in a real and steadfast way. (Mark 7:20-23) Yet thousands of years later people still struggle to draw the line between surface legalism and sincere actions from the heart.

It just seems to be human nature to desire such simplistic answers to complex issues. Even the secular religion of political correctness is very legalistic in its approach when you get down to it. It is about living by a definition, about using the right terminology. It doesn't seem to matter what your intent is, or if you actually mean it. Just as long as you are using the right pre-determined words, and stay away from the established taboo words.

For example, say the problem was a drippy sewer pipe. A legalist sees the symptom and mops up the mess to make everything look clean, because that is the pre-determined way to deal with spills. Yet, they fail to look into the source of the leak. So the problem always returns, so they spend their lives mopping up the same mess. Where a true disciple seeks out and fixes the pipe that is responsible for the leak. It's a more complex solution, which takes effort to hunt down the source, special tools, and training in how to use them. It also requires more time to implement than a mere mop up. Plus, repair jobs are often messy in and of themselves, and make the mess worse before it gets better. However, the result lasts much longer. But, we are not really talking about leaky pipes, we are talking about the brokenness in our heart, and it is indeed a complex thing.

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end. -Ecclesiastes 3:11

What we must always remember is that holiness is the goal, and not the means of obtaining that goal. It's been said that if you try to be righteous by simple acting righteous, then every impure thought imaginable will go through your head. Which is true, Paul indicated so in Romans 7:5. It's why we need the council of fellow believers who have actually dealt with the issues of the heart to help us, not legalistic white washers who only know how to teach us to fake it. This is a method that requires transparency, which is a scary prospect that makes legalism more desirable to many. It also requires the council of the Holy Spirit, which is another complex issue which legalists ignore. Which we will address later.

a person painting over his blue heart
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